I admit it. I think I might be homesick today. I’m currently writing this from Highwire coffee in Berkeley, California. I have been in California for 5 weeks now, with another 4 before I return to Berlin.
I generally don’t feel homesickness amidst all my travels and living far from family and friends; or at least I have never really felt sure I could define what the feeling actually was. It’s generally not a feeling of sickness or sadness I find, it’s more one of being muted. Just a little softer, quieter, sensitive, distracted and more downbeat than usual. But there are a couple of occasions I can acutely recall feeling this way – once in Berlin, once in Melbourne and now here.
I came across this study about homesickness in children by Edward Walton and Christopher A. Thurber and their definition of this feeling suddenly gave me some clarity:
Homesickness is the distress and functional impairment caused by an actual or anticipated separation from home and attachment objects such as parents.
Functional impairment. That’s exactly it. All week I have been all over the place, completely chaotic and out of sorts, replying to the wrong email threads with emails intended for others. I have also had a much more negative approach to the projects I’m currently working on. I’ve acted and felt markedly different to my usual self.
So this all adds up. My Father was admitted to hospital in the UK this week, and my mother went through heart bypass surgery at the start of the year. A lot of my time was spent between the UK and Berlin, caring for Mum, working remotely etc. Dad is in good hands, and things are under control this time. Nevertheless, I am sure I underestimate how much this separation can affect my cognitive function and general mood.
All of this aside life for me personally right now is really great, which is why I find this emotion and “functional impairment” so hard to get my head around. I am happy, well and doing lots of fun and fulfilling activities with lots of fun and interesting people. I genuinely am having a fabulous time here and I am very privileged. However, sometimes this feeling naturally creeps in and it brings you down a notch or two.
When I feel low energy like this, its too easy to get wrapped up in negative thoughts and de-motivate yourself. There’s no need. Here’s my top tips and advice for working through a sensitive mood and getting some inspiration when you’re in limbo.
Remember this is natural
This is a very usual reaction to separation and change. Go with it, and don’t be too hard on yourself. Its a completely human reaction and so don’t try and glaze over it. Acknowledge it and smile.
Focus on the time you have
Now this is twofold. Firstly, this is a natural emotion and will pass like all the others. So don’t stress about this being a permanent feeling. Secondly, It may only be a certain number of days, weeks or months until you can settle back into your apartment, see family and friends etc. Focus on the time you have in the place you’re currently in and use it to the max! You may not have that moment again so embrace it.
Do something familiar in your new environment
I really don’t know Berkeley very well and everything is kinda new and a little challenge in itself sometimes. I wanted to grab coffee and write this blog this morning but wasn’t sure where to go. I know Highwire from the Rockridge location but hadn’t been here before. So I figured let’s stick with the familiarity of Highwire but at least I’m mixing it up by trying out the other Berkeley location. So I travelled north from my place to here. It sounds silly, but this somehow felt more secure to me than going to a totally new coffee joint, which in my current mood would have made me feel more anxious if I didn’t like it.
So my advice here is make safe decisions, based on the things you like and know are familiar. Mix it up a little, that’s fun, but try to find small familiarities in the new environment that help you to build up mini routines. It’s kind of comforting.
Whatsapp is your friend, Tinder is probably not
It might somehow feel like a chore to keep up with all your messages to family and friends when you’re feeling low energy, but it actually helps. Get on GIPHY, message your Mum and reply to your mate who’s currently freaking out about why cute guy from Hamburg has seen her message but hasn’t responded yet. These kinds of comms are more meaningful and deeper than sending out a “hey, how was your Friday night?” message to your latest Tinder match. Besides, it 100% backs up Walton and Thurber’s study in that it’s good to write home.
Get on Whatsapp and write some fun notes to your nearest (or currently farthest) and dearest with some light, funny chats. It will root you in a really immediate way to those who are far currently and allow you to get on with enjoying your current surroundings. Tinder, as we all know, is instant gratification. So save your swipes for next week when you have your usual sunny vibe back. You’re not in the mood right now, and you don’t always have to be.
Do the things YOU want to do
Today I am going to drink coffee, eat sushi and maybe catch the Dyke March through the Mission district. I can’t help but feel like a should ping a few messages out to my friends here to see if they want to hangout at SF Pride, but I’m enjoying being on my own watch today. So whatever it is, just make sure you do something that fulfils you.
You don’t have to do things that you think you should whilst you’re away from home. Pick things that you like, indulge but don’t bite off more than you can chew. You’ll feel rested and refreshed so you can get back to full power.
On that note, its time for me to head to Basa Seafood Express in Mission District – which was a recommendation from my friend Eva in Berlin. I’m excited about today, and to see what this awesome city has in store for me. I’m already feeling relaxed and ready for the week again.
I hope this helps you to do the same, wherever you are on the planet right now.