That unsettling, hollow, all-too-familiar feeling is gnawing at my guts again. Striking swiftly, without warning, as another sweltering day begins in a strange new metropolis. Or as the silent darkness slowly steals over an unfamiliar city crowded with grim, weary strangers.
Homesickness occurs when we literally leave our comfort zones and have minimal access to our normal support systems of family, lifelong friends and the familiar routine of structured schedules. Basically, our world just seems horribly out of whack. As expatriates, symptoms we’ve learned to recognize include fatigue, irritability, loss of appetite, difficulties in sleeping and yes, let’s face it, even occasional depression.
“You still get homesick? But you’ve been away from the Philippines for more than half your life! You should be used to this by now, “ a well-meaning friend recently pooh-poohed.
Uh, hello??? Just because we’ve all been homesick doesn’t make it any easier each time it strikes.
So, how exactly do I deal with homesickness?
When I was younger, I used to drown my homesickness with what I called “white noise”. Kind of like leaving the TV on at home without even watching it, finding consolation in the empty chatter of disembodied voices, anything to avoid the stillness of a lifeless apartment.
During that period in my life, if 75% of my existence was spent with excessive career demands, the rest was spent with relentless socializing, self-medicating with alcohol at parties, cocktails, bars, dinners, and flagellating myself afterwards with compulsive competing in endurance sports, such as marathons on the road (running) and on water (outrigger canoeing). Deprived of my normal support system, it was as if I was always compelled by a sense of urgency in seeking substitutes to externalize my internal loneliness.
Now that I’m older, hopefully wiser, I’ve learned to develop healthier behavior patterns in dealing with homesickness.
I’ve come to recognize and seek out my faith on my own terms. I’m not ashamed to say that I rely on it and deeply, truly appreciate its intrinsic value in my life. Carving out a regular schedule for prayer and meditation has become a necessity. Going to church to worship with a regular community – something which I basically took for granted growing up – has actually become a tremendous source of comfort and joy each week.
I’ve learned to take advantage of the wonders of technology to the fullest and to the best of my abilities in order to keep regular and open communication lines with loved ones back home. How extremely fortunate are we in our day and age to have such innovations as Skype, Face Time, Viber, even old-fashioned SMS and email, at our fingertips? Yes, I’ve learned to use them all, sometimes not without a struggle, but eventually, wisely and well.
Along the way, I’ve discovered that sticking to my own habitual modes of self-expression can also be extremely beneficial. For some people, cooking or gardening can be therapeutic. For those blessed with musical or artistic talent, they may like to unwind by playing the piano or by sketching and painting. For others, shopping isn’t called retail therapy for nothing.
In my case, self expression translates to writing – which is why I blog! – and to exercise, such as running. But unlike in the past, these days, I don’t run for pain anymore; I run long and hard and fast enough up to the edge of pain and then, when I’m at the precipice, I give myself up to the pure enjoyment of it. To the sheer pleasure of being alive, healthy, young and free.
Within a few more months, I know I will find that core group of new friends in this strange new city, people who share my eclectic interests. People whom I can feel comfortable enough to call on a random Friday night just to say, “ Hey, what’s up? Hubby’s working again. Wanna hang out?”
The homesickness will slowly, eventually, fade away.