I feel like it can hit you at the most random of times, it could be a song coming on the radio, a stranger with the same hair cut as your mother, a laugh like your sisters, a voice you swore sounded like your father calling your name. It will feel like it’s caught your throat, filled your eyes and pulled your heart strings, and it can happen anywhere at anytime. En-route to the Abu Dhabi city centre with a friend a couple of weeks back, U2’s Beautiful Day (my mothers favourite) plays and you’d swear I had just finished watching Marley and Me. Smiling and laughing literally two minutes before, the thousands of miles between us felt like millions and not knowing when I would see her again due to the (yep, we’re all sick of hearing about it, pandemic) just crumbled me instantly. Being far from your home land, where you can easily speak at normal speed and use all the slang of the day, where the tea tastes like no where else in the world, you soon start to appreciate the small things you once took for granted. (I will say I don’t miss the Irish rain however, that can go!).
Being Irish in Abu Dhabi, my piercing blue McGowan eye colour has stunned Arabs, Asians and Africans. I am often am asked where I got my coloured contact lenses from. Sunglasses work wonders for me when eye contact throws so many people during conversation due to the rareness of my light blue eyes. I have literally multiple times been stopped and asked to have a photograph taken. It is crazy! My thick County Tyrone brogue speaking broken Arabic brings a smile to fluent speakers faces as I ‘HELLO.I AM EMMA. NURSE. YES.NO.GOODBYE.OK.’ stumbling my way through conversations. I will get there eventually, inshallah as they say here in the Gulf. Any Irish abroad will know the accent struggle, I soon as I open my mouth for someone new to me, the jaw drops and the ‘what?’ does not stop. I feel for the strong Irish named people, this is for you Caoimhes, Niamhs, Grainnes, Aislings, poor critters. However, you do get used to it and I have to say over time I’ve learnt how to speak this weird accent with no slang where I clear and draw out my words, it sounds so strange but it’s the only way I get people to understand me. My phone voice on a whole different level, cringe.
I remember two weeks before I left for London in Summer 2017, a relative of mine said something to me that I’ll never forget. ‘Wherever you go, remember when you come back, things will always be the same. The only thing that’ll have changed, will be you’. And they could not be more right. It never fails to amaze me no matter how long I can be away for, I can be back only two days and feel like I never even left the place. My family will even say it too, it’s like you never left, part of the furniture, still a nuisance! But you see things differently, you hear differently, your views and priorities are different. It’s quite surreal to return to your childhood places after you’ve been away for a long time. It makes you realise how much you’ve changed, grown, and the things you have seen outside of those familiar places and faces.
Unfortunately, as we sit in August 2020. Homesickness is not like any time before. For a lot of us far from home, we have no idea when we will get back again and the freedom of travelling internationally so easily has been taken, for now. Uncertainty, loneliness and isolation have affected so many of us. The irony of many collectively feeling lonely. Samineh Shaheem, a psychologist who studied homesickness among expats, said that ‘homesickness goes beyond missing or mourning the loss of a familiar place. It’s also brought about by lost memories and a lack of family attachment’. The loss of memories is a key part of the struggle all expats face, all of us have moved away for a different life, opportunities and experiences, but the unfortunate side of that means missing life events back home. Weddings, funerals, births, parties, birthdays, it is the price that is paid by many and the emotions that come with it are heavy.
Homesickness can present physically in the body; a loss of appetite, lack of sleep, gastrointestinal problems, headaches, crying, poor concentration, withdrawal and muscle tension. It is definitely not to be underestimated! We expat friends check in regularly with each other, because we all go through this at one time or another and sometimes a shoulder to lean on takes off a lil bit of the weight.
Like any illness, when home sickness comes, the best thing to do is relax, rest and let time heal. I swear I have had episodes where I never thought it would never leave, it was exhausting and awful. My heart was broken and nothing would make it stop. But it does pass, and you always come out the other side, just like the tummy bug or a cough, it goes away after time. Why did you moved away? Those reasons still exist, you must keep them in mind and turn to them when the doubts and anxieties begin to set in. What did you promise yourself when you got on that plane? Tell yourself all those things again, life may feel like its on pause now but even back home people are isolating, social distancing etc. The grass always looks greener, especially Irish grass. The pandemic has thrown a spanner in the works, it sucks sure but it’s also out of our control. We need to control how we respond to anything, if breaking news hits your phone now and stays ‘Lockdown activated from 12pm tonight’, your heart might feel like breaking in half, your stomach dropping on to the floor. Can you control the situation? No. Can you feel devastated? Yes. Can you get yourself in an absolute state of distress and panic? You could, but you could also think right okay, the Government are taking action, they’re taking care of us, this is for our own good. We are safer at home right now. When I go home or travel next, I want to be healthy and my friends and my family to be healthy too, it will be worth it. Every single country has the potential to do this, and like I said, it is out of our control if they do. But if we can repeat the above, it is a far better, healthier way of thinking to combat the negative emotions that come with this situation. Being a nurse, I am terrified of another wave. My skin has really suffered with all the excessive mask usage and I have got the worst acne I’ve ever had in my life. But does the mask keep me safe? Yes. Would I rather acne or get sick? Okay choice made. I missed seeing my boyfriend all those weeks, but when we met after it was amazing, both safe and sound. At the end of the day, it is, what it is.
So maybe you’re feeling a little homesick today. Here’s a little guide to help you get through this and have you feeling a little better soon again. For it could hit me tomorrow and I’ll do exactly the same thing. For you are never alone , when so many feel the same. Big love your way superstar, you got this.
Emma’s Guide to Treating Homesickness
First off, it’s normal. Doesn’t matter if you’ve been away one week or 30 years. You can feel it anytime and any place.
Talk to your friends & family. Facetime, message, whatever you’re feeling. They love and support you and will provide the words of wisdom you need to hear. Remember, you are surrounded by a big bubble of love and you’re never alone. Ever.
Get plenty of sleep. Sleep is the cure for everything. Dark room, take a bath before, soft music, lavender spray, fresh sheets, no screen time for two hours before.
Eat well. When you eat good you feel good, but it’s okay to have a little pick me up treat when you’re feeling a gloomy. Go easy on yourself. You’re the only one who can.
Watch a feel good film. Your favourite, Disney. Comedy. You’ll smile and laugh again, and it’ll lighten the load.
Make a bucket list. What thing do you want to do, write it all down. For there’s still so much to look forward to!
Take a break from social media. Great advise in general but scrolling is a spiral. Snap out of it.
Exercise. Sweat. It. Out. You may feel low and lacking energy but there really is no better feeling that after sweating it out when you’re feeling emotional.
Make a scrap book. Collect photos and memories, you can appreciate the good times and look forward to the future ones ahead. How wonderful it is to look at captured moments of living our best lives- So much to look forward to.
Reach out to other expat friends. People on the same boat know the feeling of seasickness I often say. A problem shared is a problem halved.
So whenever you are, hang in there.
It is okay to miss home, because it misses you too.