I had considered writing about something else this week, but Coronavirus and isolation are still dominating my thoughts, and I suspect those of many others. It is an interesting and, in some ways, difficult time to be an expat.
I live in England and consider it my home; my children go to school here; my husband and I work here. Although I am happy where I am, I still feel the poignant pull of going home to the country where I grew up, and I find the yearly trips back crucially important. Most of my extended family is back there, as are the places I miss that have so much personal history attached.
It is an odd feeling knowing that my annual trip home is now in jeopardy. I cannot see us being able to travel this summer, and we might not even get there in the winter. Knowing this, I find myself living in my head a lot at the moment – fantasizing about the places and people I love on the other side of the sea. Somehow, knowing I probably will not be able to get back ‘home’ this summer has shifted my psychology and I feel like I am living here, but living a half-life in my head over there. I find that my dreams are full of airports, airplanes, and travel; sometimes successful and sometimes aborted.
Having been an expat for most of my adult life, I am accustomed to living apart from the family in which I grew up. But I always knew that if I wanted or needed to go back and see them, I could. This feels different. I am aware, very suddenly, of the vast distances separating me from my family and the landscapes of where I grew up. Vast distances that are unbreachable without access to flights. The world has ground to a halt, and this has left many of us expats stranded psychologically in ways we have never been before. Although I am happy in my life here, and my day to day remains fulfilling and somewhat normal (as much as it can, despite shifting to home schooling and only going outside once a day), my head and heart are feeling the distance between my current home and my other home.
I am trying to breach that gap by being more regularly in touch with the people who matter to me, and by planning on having an amazing trip when we next go back. Having ideas and plans about what we will do when we next visit is an exercise that I find helps me to feel connected. I also find that having a mindfulness practice can help to pull me out of my head and into the present moment. For the present moment is all we really have; thoughts about visiting the country of my birth are just that: thoughts. And as I find I am pulled psychologically towards another continent, I need to equally anchor myself here: noticing the beautiful weather we have been having, playing with the children, appreciating the family I have here, and enjoying nature in the beautiful spring. Those are my ways of coping. We will all have our own, and in the current circumstances these will be evolving to meet our changing needs.