I spent our first two days back in the UK alternating between unpacking, bingeing on dark chocolate, and bursting into tears.
(Shhhh…I may even have had a glass of single malt Islay whisky around 1pm that second day.)
I took a couple LONG walks in nature, let myself feel all the feels, cried some more, sat under a huge ancient tree for awhile, and then gave myself a stern pep talk.
Re-entry into “real life” after two years abroad was much, much harder than I’d anticipated.
My husband and I just spent two years living in Hong Kong. Then, instead of flying straight back to London, we took 2.5 months and did a crazy overland adventure from Hong Kong to London – all by train!
The theory was that the overland trip would make adjusting to London life easier. And it did. I can’t imagine the shock going directly back from Hong Kong to London and just picking up life where we left off two years ago. The trip made me eager for a home (not hotel), more clothes (instead of living out of a suitcase!) and a kitchen to cook good, healthy food.
But still. I struggled, a lot. I’m still finding my feet here again. I feel like I have to re-create my life here to fit me, now. Not me-of-two-years-ago.
Moving Back vs. Moving Forward
I’m American by birth, so by living in London, I’m already living abroad. I left the USA a decade ago, first moving to Paris (lifetime dream!) and then to London. But even in the States, I’d moved around. Although my “home” was always New Hampshire where I grew up, I worked and lived in San Jose, California, Tampa, Florida, and for a long time in Washington, DC.
But every time I left a place – I moved onwards, to somewhere else that met the criteria of what I wanted next in life.
Returning from Hong Kong to London is the first time I’ve ever “gone back” to live somewhere — and it turns out, that was the problem.
When we arrived back to our flat in London, it felt like stepping back in time two years ago:
- Every box I opened was filled with belongings that fit my life, two years ago.
- All my clothes were from Amanda, two years ago.
- Even walking around our neighborhood was revisiting all the places I used to hang out, when I was that person, with that life.
And on, and on, and on.
Those two years in Hong Kong were hugely transformational for me. I felt great in my skin, LOVED the hot weather, and made fantastic creative + entrepreneurial friends. Sure, there were some things I missed about London (friends, proximity to Europe, and our spacious flat!), but overall I felt better in Hong Kong. (Can I say again how much I thrive on the ocean and hot weather??)
So suddenly coming back to “Old Amanda’s Life” was really depressing.
Where is “Home”, Really?
The other issue that has come up is this idea of “Home”. Where is “home” for me?
I honestly don’t know.
I kind of refer to wherever I’m living at the moment as “home.” It’s really odd. On our long trip because we felt so displaced, we’d unthinkingly refer to our hotel room as “home” (as in, “Ok so we’ll visit The Great Wall, and then head home for a bit, before going out for dim sum.”)
So, London definitely feels like “home” but even moreso, because it’s the home I share with my husband, we own our flat, and all of our stuff is there.
But real, everlasting HOME I think is New Hampshire. Even though I haven’t lived there in over 15 years.
I’m increasingly interested in the sense of connection you feel with a place.
There’s the feeling of being “home”. There’s also the sense of being connected to the environment/land where you live (that was missing for me in Hong Kong, and I really noticed it.) And then I wonder if there’s an ancestral connection that we can’t quite put our fingers on … could we feel connected to a place simply because our ancestors lived there for hundreds of years? Could it be passed down in our DNA? Hmmm…
That’s an area I’m exploring at the moment – and it’s a topic for another time… but back to coming home to the UK.
The One Strategy that Has Worked So Far
After my meltdown of the first few days, I realized I wasn’t going to be able to force my life back to feeling good again. It was going to take time.
So I decided to forget about unpacking everything.
Instead, I just setup my home office.
Ok, it’s technically my workplace, but it’s not very ‘office’ feeling – it’s really just my sacred space, only for me. It’s comfy and cozy and all mine. It’s where I like to work all day. But it’s also just my sanctuary.
So I shifted focus to only setting up my office, and making sure that it felt like “New Amanda’s” space… not just re-creating what was here before.
That’s been really key for me, so that I have a fresh space where I can hang out (without seeing the never-ending stacks of boxes yet to unpack) — and most importantly, start working on these new creative projects. (Working on a creative project that I’m really interested in is my happy place!)
So what’s the verdict about coming home?
I’m still too close to this whole situation to have perspective. Ask me in six months for my sage advice to offer to fellow expats returning home.
Right now I know I just need to be gentle. Let myself feel the feelings, but not wallow. Focus on what I AM excited about being here in London. Reconnect with friends and nature. Take salt baths. Eat vegetables. Give myself time. Time, time, time.
Have you gone through a big move or transition? What helped you through?