What they don’t tell you about coming home
I’ve traveled lots, usually in six-week time frames, and it was always hard to get back in the swing of things – to set an alarm, to commute to the office, to reconcile what you’ve seen with where you live.
So I imagined it would be the same after coming home from a year of travel, perhaps a little bumpy at first but things would smooth out.
But they haven’t.
I’ve struggled with whether or not I should share what I’m going through because I don’t want people to think it’s something they said or didn’t say, they did or didn’t do, and I don’t want to appear ungrateful for the amazing life I live.
However, I’ve spent a year being vulnerable and writing about how I feel, and I don’t want to stop simply because I’m home and it’s hard.
Coming home after an extended time away is much harder than I expected. There’s the excitement of seeing family and friends, the joy of discovering the changes in your hometown, the bliss of snuggling into your own bed.
But there is also the loneliness of being separated from the people I just spent a year traveling with. There’s the isolation of having no one understand what you’ve been through, no one who relates to the range of emotions rolling under the surface.
I feel sad and yet I don’t know how to express it or even if should express it. I worry that people will think I’m ungrateful for the experience and I should be happy to be home.
And I am happy to see my family and friends but there’s also this huge hole – a space that was filled with 45 people that shared every day with me. A freedom of living life on our terms. An excitement of chasing whatever dreams caught our eye.
We held each other through the loss of family members, pets and careers;
we nursed each other’s broken hearts, broken bones and upset stomachs;
we celebrated new loves, new jobs and overcoming fears;
we stayed up all night talking about what happens next, what scares us, what makes us feel alive.
We also did the mundane tasks of normal life – we shopped for groceries, we took out the garbage, we paid our bills.
It wasn’t a vacation, we were simply living our life in another city.
Only my closest friends, who have known me for years, can see that something has changed, that I’m not the same, that I’m struggling with being home.
I feel like I’m living in two worlds, straddling the dimensions and not sure where I belong.
I don’t fit back into my old life – I’ve been stretched, expanded, tested and grown. It’s simply not possible to come back and carry on as if nothing has changed – when truly everything has changed.
The hard part is that all that change is on the inside and you have to look closely to see it.
One friend said my eyes have changed, the color, the depth. Yes, they have – because of what I’ve seen this year.
Another friend said she feels like she has part of her back that she didn’t really know had been missing.
This is so beautiful.
Yes, I am loved. I am so loved and blessed.
Which is why I struggle with this transition.
Why am I not more excited to be home?
Why can’t I find my footing?
Why do I drive down familiar streets feeling completely detached?
Why do I want to cry but have no idea why?
People ask me how it was or what my favourite part was or if I’m glad to be home – and I don’t know how to answer. A quick response or even a few minutes can’t begin to explain everything I’ve seen and learned, nor the unsettled state my emotions are in.
I usually gloss over most of it – say it was great, such a good year, not without its challenges but I’m glad to be home – and I move on.
But my stomach is in my throat. I feel sweaty and anxious, like I’m not being honest.
Home should be comfortable and welcoming and familiar – but all the sudden it’s not, because I’m so very different.
Yes, I’m grateful. I’m so eternally grateful for the experience and the people and the life lessons.
But I no longer identify with the person who used to wear the clothes I left behind in my closet. (In fact, I sometimes put on my “travel” clothes just to feel like myself.)
The food I used to eat on a daily basis no longer appeals to me.
The things I used to love no longer light me up.
And it makes me sad, and I want to express that, but I don’t know how.
I’ve always followed my heart, not my head and this sometimes makes me experience a wide range of emotions. And when my emotions are this charged, it’s usually best to simply sit with them – to just allow myself to feel everything and not hide from whatever comes up.
So, here I sit in this grief and this sadness and understand that it exists because I played full out. Because I made the choice to leap – and I went. Because I pushed the boundaries and chased a dream not everyone could see.
And people say that I’m brave and I want to tell them I’m not brave, I’m not extraordinary.
There were so many times I was scared – about being a freelancer, about getting hurt, about fitting in, about the next step.
I cried, I stressed, I worried, I screamed, I laid awake at night.
I didn’t feel brave. I only knew that I had to do it, I had to follow through, I had to pursue this dream even when my knees were shaking.
Does that make me brave or crazy? I don’t know.
I wasn’t expecting the depth of personal growth I experienced.
I wasn’t expecting the deep personal connections I’d make – and how much I’d miss them.
I wasn’t expecting my views on life and love and career to change – but they’ve been refined, chiseled to a clarity I can’t ignore.
I know what I want. I know what it looks like. I know how it feels. I’m moving towards it.
The path I take may not be conventional, it may look risky to some, but for me, there is simply no other way to live.