Sense and Sensitivity: Owning Your Homesickness

In her latest column, Sarah Wood tackles an homesickness, an issue the majority of us will have faced, and asks whether is can be classed as an illness.

After wasting two hours creating a ‘homesick’ playlist on Spotify, I admitted to being more homesick than I felt comfortable with. I felt embarrassed, and to be honest a little childish. I mean I had been at university for over a year and I still found myself trying everything I could to grip hold of memories from home. I know that everyone is bound to get homesick at least once at university, but this was nearing double figures of the amount of times I’ve missed home unbearably. Sitting on the edge of my bed I was overcome with feelings of confusion. I settled into university life just fine, great in fact. I can handle the workload, I have an adequate social life, and I have time to exercise regularly, I didn’t feel as though I warranted being homesick.

Image: Feminspire.com

Emily Brontë is known to have suffered from intense homesickness, in summer 2002 in Victorian Studies Linda M. Austin published an article in which she explored Bronte’s homesickness being considered by her family as an illness. Reading this article revived the question of whether homesickness really is an illness. If it is consistent and intense to the point whereby it is interfering with your ability to proceed with your daily routine, is it not making you suffer, making you ill? Perhaps we prioritise taking care to address our painful symptoms. Perhaps this is an illness that has a cure, by eating mood boosting, antioxidant rich foods, exercising regularly, nurturing our relationships, and taking time to consider the things in our lives to cherish and be grateful for I question how poignant the sting of homesickness would be. Homesickness still requires ‘coping with’ as other illnesses such as depression, anxiety disorders, eating disorders, and other mental and physical illnesses do. Whether or not it is medically categorised as an illness, the symptoms are just as exhausting and treatment just as vital.

Roald Dahl accurately described homesickness he suggested that:

“Homesickness is a bit like seasickness. You don’t know how awful it is until you get it, and when you do, it hits you right in the top of the stomach and you want to die.”

Homesickness doesn’t approach slowly, it strikes you in the face suddenly. I cannot help but feel that the lack of regard for it as an illness means that it isn’t anticipated by students as much as it could be, and that there isn’t the time allocated to prepare for the possibility of it occurring.

When you first settle into university life a large trigger for homesickness is the change of scenery. Whatever your home situation was, it was something that became habitual in your life. Now you have suddenly moved to a (undoubtedly) small room in a hall of residence. You are also readjusting to a different diet, a kitchen full of unfamiliar faces, and a new routine. Whether you are conscious of it or not, the change is overwhelming. It is when we own up to why we are homesick and not what we are missing that solutions begin to present themselves.

Using myself as an example, If I’m totally honest with myself, my homesickness it not about being unhappy at university, nor is it about a lack of friends or social life. It is about the routine and habit of years of everyday life at home that I no longer have in place, when I explore this further it also becomes clear to see that of course this is why I’m homesick, I am the type of person that fears change. The solution is obvious, but I cannot see it because my eyes are blurred with tears that needn’t be. I need to change my outlook, use this change to do away with my apprehensions, or at least try. Everybody will have a different reason for their homesickness, and that’s why it is important that the help comes mostly from you.

University can become a second home - Photo Credit: jcbonbon via Compfight cc

The common advice I came across on numerous student sites were suggesting you need to join more societies, or get a job with more hours. I want to be realistic, I want honesty. This advice is not helpful, but simply offers methods to bury and mask your homesick feelings. It could even be more damaging to a student, for example, the student that has joined a couple of societies (and that was making an effort) and joining anymore would upset their work life balance. I suggest giving yourself the time to let yourself just be homesick, be uncomfortable for a while. There should be no pressure to get rid of homesickness as soon as possible, instead, perhaps stop looking at it directly in the eye, and give time to other thoughts. Give time to optimistic thoughts, and of the great work and opportunities that the place you’re in will present to you. Homesickness feeds and grows on anxiety and negativity.

There is no disputing that university life if often difficult. There is pressure everywhere, academic pressure, social pressure, the pressure to look after yourself properly. Perhaps when we feel as though we are not on top of these pressures we are more prone to the onset of homesickness. In that case, perhaps students will be less likely to frequently feel homesick if they consider and confront expectations. Ask themselves if they are happy with the expectations placed on them? We all have expectations to fulfil, but if they are unrealistic, this can be a real problem because it can leave us vulnerable not only to homesickness but to other forms of anxiety. Every single one of us deserves to feel at home at university, even if it is only our temporary home.

There is no shame to be had in booking a counselling session, booking an appointment with a member of the wellbeing team, or simply confiding in a housemate if that is what will help. Especially considering that the person you will speak to, whoever they may be, has probably been homesick at some point. In 2013 the charity Nightline Association conducted a study of homesickness, they found that out of a thousand students a third of them felt homesick at one point during their degree, they also found that 75 per cent of students experienced emotional distress at university. Statistics that hopefully offer comfort to any ashamed to reveal or admit their homesickness.

It’s OK to feel homesick whatever stage of your degree you are in. It’s OK to cry, but it’s also essential to probe and ask yourself why you feel homesick, and comfort yourself with the belief that these feelings will pass eventually. If you feel like you are fighting a losing battle and nothing dulls the sadness, I leave you to consider the positive revelations behind your homesickness. It is evidence of the strong love you have experienced, it is proof that you have created and nurtured precious bonds, and it is the knowledge that no matter where you may travel to or live for lengths of time you have a place that you can one day return to and finally feel at home. Go easy on yourself, be brave, and own up to your
emotions. Own your homesickness rather than letting it own you.

Sarah Wood, Online Features Columnist

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