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

Sense and Sensitivity: ‘clearing up’ emotional acne scars

Sarah Wood is one of five new Features columnists who will be writing each fortnight. Sarah’s column is based around the title ‘Sense and sensitivity’ which will explore health and social well being as a way of raising awareness of issues that a lot of students suffer with but are not spoken or written about as often as they ought to be.

In her first columnist post of the year, Sarah Wood looks at the emotional effects of acne and the lasting emotional scarring it can leave. Should more emotional, as well as physical support, be given to those with acne?

A Canadian study published in the British Journal of Dermatology found that depression can occur even in the mildest cases of acne and that the 15-24 age group are the most affected. This study is frightening considering just how many students this involves. If we haven’t grappled with acne ourselves, it is likely that we know someone who has.

There are a wealth of treatments available from pills to lotions and even laser treatments for those who can afford it, and hopefully after much trial and error we find the most successful treatment for us. Even if the acne clears and we finally have the clear (or at least less red) skin everyone else has. I ask what about the emotional scarring acne leaves behind. How do we deal with ‘clearing up’ the low self-esteem, the social withdrawal, and the poor confidence that is often a by-product of acne?

A study has found that depression can occur even in the most mild cases of acne

Aged seventeen and right at the beginning of my A-levels I experienced my first acne breakout. Talk about bad timing. I couldn’t bear to leave the house, I became socially anxious, and consumed by a deep embarrassment. School was a place I always thrived in and enjoyed, and suddenly I became painfully aware of the amount of people there were in one small space, and how many would have to look at my face throughout the day. I proceeded to spend the days looking down and avoiding eye contact, no longer actively participating in class and my ability to interact with other students suffered.

It wasn’t until I went to the doctors and was informed that Acne Vulgaris is thought to be caused by an imbalance of hormones, and is not directly linked to diet and lifestyle that I began to feel a little more positive about dealing with the issue. Initially I was convinced that I had caused this myself as a result of poor skin hygiene. Around school all I could hear were the voices of my peers whispering “doesn’t she wash her face” or when I stood in line in the canteen with a cookie “the last thing she needs is more sugar”. In reality no one probably cared or noticed my acne, but for me it was as though I had a vulgar tattoo on my face and was asking for negative judgement wherever I went.

I was prescribed Limecycline tablets to take once a day for six months. They didn’t work. My volcanic face only started to clear up when I was eighteen and prescribed DalacinT topical solution. This is a liquid antibiotic that you apply directly to the affected area (my whole face). To this day I still use DalacinT habitually and highly recommend it to other acne sufferers.

In hindsight I am fascinated that such a cosmetic problem as a ‘spotty face’ effected my life socially, educationally, and mentally. Going to the beach or the pool with friends was a terrifying thought; the thought of bare skin exposure was tear inducing. I would avoid parties because all of the other girls had clear skin, whilst I would have to pile my face in makeup aggravating the problem and making me feel like I had an angry bee under my skin.

I had a part time job in a retail store and I would always volunteer to work in the changing rooms or stock room, in an attempt to come into contact with as little of the public as possible. Parties and work should have been ways to help me grow and blossom socially but they just made me more anxious and fearful. Writing this now it sounds as though I overreacted and blew my acne out of proportion. Perhaps acne is a little easier to deal with as an adult when you have other more prominent problems and have already jumped the hurdle of learning how to form relationships with others. However, at seventeen years old when you are just learning how to form serious bonds and relationships the fear of negative appraisal and the anxiety of not being accepted by others makes you feel frozen and deters you from forming those bonds.

Acne can leave scars deeper than those that are visible - Source: Huffington Post

When I get an acne breakout now I do not get as low as I would have done then, I don’t avoid people, and I don’t hide away in the house. I just get on with it, if you like. After repeated episodes of acne followed by mild depressive episodes I’m tired and bored. I approach acne differently as an adult and I am adamant not to let it control my emotions anymore, but the scars still pulsate ever so softly and threaten to rip open and bleed.

I am concerned that simply offering teenagers or adults lotions and pills to treat acne just isn’t enough. In an ideal world medical staff and dermatologists would have the resources and time to treat acne from a physical and emotional aspect, an acne care package! If this is not feasible perhaps we can do something?

We could campaign to have schools teach students in detail how acne is caused and that whilst it can be controlled with diet, it isn’t necessarily a result of diet. That acne is not something to be ashamed of but it isn’t uncommon the feel that way and they do not need to suffer silently. If you can go to a school counsellor to discuss issues such as mental health there should be no shame in going to discuss acne and subsequent feelings of depression. Giving acne and its emotional effects more time, prominence, and speech are treatments we can give to other sufferers for free. We can use vigilance and sensitivity to notice those suffering with acne and address the social isolation. If that cannot happen, well we must be strong enough to help ourselves and do away with the pessimistic attitude that our acne will never vanish. I wish I had been as strong at seventeen as I am now.

Sarah Wood, Online Features Columnist