I graduated from the course today, will move out of the apartment tomorrow, and stay at a hostel for about a week. I plan to travel a bit before deciding on a city to teach in. It has not sunk in yet that I am moving “on”, what ever the “on” signifies.
Because so many things have happened in the past four weeks, I thought it would be best to do a short series of major experiences, realizations, and ponderings I encountered during that specific period of time. I know this first one is kind of a downer but it’s an important one. Some (tentative) upcoming posts in the series include the graduation itself, thoughts on teaching, weird stuff in Arequipa/Peru, social interactions/exploring, and Things I Have Learned. I hope I can get them out in a reasonable amount of time.
Without further adieu – thoughts on homesickness and loneliness. PARTY TIME!!
I think it’s important to separate homesickness and loneliness. The two are related but also vastly different. By my definition, when you are homesick you have a general idea about what you are missing – significant other, parents, friends, pets, family, neighborhood, general comfort and familiarity of home. Loneliness on the other hand is severely isolating because it is a vacuum of nothingness and uncertainty
Homesickness is out of my control but in a more controlled environment. There is something or someone at the end of the Homesickness Line (like a Metro line) which creates a sense of tangibility. You know what is back home. You know it’s there. You just can’t have it, but at least whatever you are missing exists.
There’s no such assurance with loneliness. You feel completely alone on this planet that has 7 billion people. There is no end in sight with loneliness – that’s why it’s so crippling. You don’t know why. You don’t know what. You don’t know how. You. Just. Don’t. Know. And there’s not a damn thing you can do about it for some reason or other.
The last characteristic of loneliness is that it can hit you even if you live with a sense of purpose.
I have surprisingly not gotten homesick thanks largely due to technology. I email and Skype friends and family often and keep up with social media. That is not to say I haven’t had my moments but considering it was one of my biggest fears before leaving, it has not been bad at all.
Loneliness on the other hand has been extremely challenging to address. I am naturally not-so-outgoing and have a tendency to be sad more than happy (I’m working on that though!). It has been exacerbated by the fact that I lived with a British couple and a roommate who was in a relationship and had no issues whatsoever befriending people. When you are surrounded by people like that, the laws of human brain dictates that you are bound to feel left out (source: my vast background in neuroscience). They would be laughing and interacting while I…well, I wasn’t.
I can see how having a stable relationship with your significant other would help in these situations. You have a guarantee every single day that you will have someone to talk to, someone who cares about you. That is significant. Sure, I have great friends and family and I talk to them often but it’s different. That’s why we don’t marry our family or platonic friends. We need meaningful human interactions. Anyway, I digress.
I tried my best to tame the beast. You have to remember that the point of loneliness, as I mentioned above, is that it’s beyond writing or talking to your friends and family. That ship has long sailed. The best solutions were usually exercising, going for a walk, and/or taking pictures. Least appealing option was to just ride it out.
It also helped to talk to people. I don’t mean the obvious roommates or classmates but cashiers, janitors, security guards, taxi drivers, et cetera. Yeah, I realize I was pretty desperate when I did that, but it helped. It’s not the deep connection that drives and makes us thrive, but when you feel like there’s nobody in this world any bit of interaction was a lifesaver.
I also asked myself the “w” questions. Why am I feeling lonely? What happened or did not happen that lead to this feeling? How can it be resolved or alleviated? It’s important to identify the source of problems.
I am not sure which is worse: feeling alone when I’m with a group of people or feeling alone when I am alone. I think the former is worse for I have to pretend that I’m okay. It’s usually not their fault, though.
I don’t know how to wrap up this post. In the four weeks I have felt alone more times than I would care to count. As I explained, I developed some go-to techniques I perform when the loneliness hits. I think it’s also in my inherent personality that makes me feel so lonely. Anyway, the point is that it’s okay to feel lonely but you can’t wallow in it. Face it headfirst. Sorry it’s such a lame wrap-up – I wish I was Ian McEwan – he explains emotions so well.
I was unsure about keeping a blog but I am glad I have it because it helps with the “meaningful human interaction” aspect.
A more upbeat post next time.