Old Habits

Saturday October 27th the anniversary of the closing down of Leavesden Imbecile Asylum, the day Diana and Stephen Ryle made the move from their London flat to their new house, and the day a young woman’s body was found in the shed in the bottom of the garden of 45 East Lane, stabbed to death by garden shears.

“You’re not wearing your coat” Diana mimicked a shiver and turned on the cars heating.

Stephen smiled. He loved her caring personality, he believed she had enough care for every and anyone that needed it. Stephen glanced into her eyes, and felt sorry for his wife for being cursed with an aptitude for kindness he had witnessed nowhere before.

The road was clear of the usual weekend traffic, and the journey was as effortless as he had envisioned when he was lying awake and anxious in bed last night. In the early hours of the morning as Diana slept, he watched her, mesmerised by how vulnerable she looked asleep.

“We should be there in twenty minutes Di” reaching the end of the motorway, Stephen stroked her cheek imagining her in the home he had been waiting for since they met. As soon as he could he used his inheritance to put down a deposit for a house. Stephen spent no longer than half an hour in the estate agents before deciding on a new build in the leavesden estate. A fresh red brick, two bedrooms, with a large garden, and easy access to the Country Park and chapel.

As they pulled up to the entrance of the estate a mid morning fog was falling on the houses, restricting their view of the new slate rooftops. Stephen stopped quickly swerving to avoid the man in the middle of the road. The man who was dressed in brown suede trousers and a dirty grey shirt revealed a tobacco stained smile as he limped to the pavement.

“Great way to introduce yourself to the neighbours Ste, by nearly running them over!” Diana chuckled as Stephen turned the engine back on.

“Knowing our luck the poor old sod probably lives next door” she opened her window to wave the man over and introduce herself, but when she looked out he was gone.

“Here we are Di! 45 East Lane” Stephen pulled up on the drive and leant over to kiss his wife

Getting out of the car and looking at the house, Diana’s face froze. Her pupils dilated, and her skin acquired sheen of frost. She had the face of a frightened little girl, her fear was confirmed with a zipping of her coat right up to her chin and the folding or her slender arms. Stephen went in, and she followed. She stopped on the doorstop and glanced back at the street, scanning her eyes across the view searching for the limping old man. Disappointed, once inside she closed her eyes and inhaled the smell of fresh paint and removed her coat.

The house was empty, and undecorated. White walls, and white carpets. The removal van had been the day before and the living room was full of boxes and furniture. Diana sat on the kitchen worktop and ran her hands over the granite surface in a motion similar to disturbing the surface of a pond with your little finger.

“Hello in there! You okay?” Stephen’s voice was uncomfortably loud and he pressed his face against hers.

“Shall we start unpacking?” she jumped up, and out of her momentary trance.

It was late evening before even half of the boxes had been unpacked. They had unpacked the essentials, the bedding, a lamp, the wine glasses, the toiletries, her books, the case of wine her mother gave them as a small moving in gift, and her rocking chair. As dusk gradually calmed the walls of their luminosity they stood and looked out at the garden.

“You look tired, take a break” Diana whispered as she moved his fringe away from his eyes “I’m fine, where’s the rest of those boxes?” he took a sip of wine

“Stephen the boxes can wait until tomorrow, nothing else matters tonight, the bed is made. Relax” she took the glass from his hand and stole a sip.

They stood there watching the sun fall and the autumn darkness exhale its maroon smoke into the air. She looked up at her husband, back to the mess of boxes and furniture, and back at him again and let herself smile genuinely for the first time that day.

“Ste did you see the local down the road as we drove past? Why don’t you go, check It out, have a pint, relax?” She asked finishing his wine.

“I’ll be okay, I could do with a long bath and when you get back we’ll have a nightcap in the garden” she picked up his wallet from the kitchen counter.

“It’s our first night here Di, and you want to get rid of me. It’s my house” he teased as he retrieved his wallet.

“Maybe I’m planning a private housewarming and want it to be a surprise” she leant in and kissed him.

It takes Stephen seven minutes to walk from his house to The Swan, he walks briskly. He walks, with his hands in his pockets, facing the ground. It’s only 7pm but the street feels emptier than London in the early hours of the morning. When he gets to the pub he considers turning back. It isn’t what he’s used to, it’s dimly lit, what Diana would describe as homely and he misses her. He crosses the road, and walks in.

“I’ll have a Brandy please” he leans over the bar and scans the shelves.

Sipping his drink he searches for a place to sit, he decides on a round table with one chair beside the open fire. He falls into the chair and let’s himself deflate. He feels the flames of the fire comfort his cheeks and palms and offers his hands into the fire.

“Careful, one more drink and we’ll have to rush you to hospital with burns” Stephen stood up startled by a man’s voice, wavering and interruptive.

“I know you, I, I think I owe you an apology” Stephen reached for an extra chair and hurriedly places it beside his own

“It was a joke, put your hands as close to the fire as you like what do I care” the man laughed revealing a couple of eroding teeth

“No, I think I nearly hit you with my car earlier? I was with my wife and I couldn’t see you through the fog. I swerved and you ran off”

The man prolonged his grin and sat down beside Stephen, offering his hand to shake. It was unusual for Stephen to experience such humility and carefree a nature in a person, he found it hard to respond initially and simply shook the man’s hand and smiled in return. All Stephen could see was a grotesque smile and dirty clothes and he felt an unusual guilt surface, realising he was one of those people who judges a person’s intentions by their appearance. He picked up his keys from the table and half stood up, it was an easy time to make his excuses and leave, his drink was finished and the silence between them was becoming awkward.

He stood up and went to the bar to order two brandies.

“You’re definitely new, no one orders Brandy in here, rip off!” the man was laughing so hard he spilt half his drink before even taking a sip. “It’s Roy by the way”.

“I’m Stephen, I just moved in down East Lane” Stephen sunk once again into his chair

“East lane, that’s where I used to work before they laid me off. That expensive new housing estate made sure of that. I used to work as a gardener in the asylum, but three years ago the decided to shut the place down and build houses. East lane was the chapel and recreational grounds. Being a gardener wasn’t as carefree as you would think! My god were they strict, they made a fuss about what we had to wear, how many hours we worked, how short we cut the bloody grass” Roy rolled his eyes.

“The asylum? The estate agent said it was a hospital”

“Ha! Is that what they call it? Flaming ignorance. Forty five years I looked after the gardens there, with the help of Eric mind you. Eric is a better worker, but that’s because of his ways. He’ll do anything you tell him, anything. He came to Leavesden as a patient in 1958, he was accused of murdering his young wife. They thought he did it because of his ways, you see he’s particular, likes routine and doesn’t adjust to change. That’s all he was. Eric was no murderer, I’ve been there long enough to know which of em’ where criminals and which were misunderstood.”

“If he was there for murder surely they locked him up?” Stephen struggled to conceal an amused expression

“Sure he sounds suspicious, but they proved him innocent in the end, like I said. About fifteen years after admission, he was cleared of charges. They said the girl killed herself and made it look like he did it. Then he was allowed to work. Stabbed herself she did, who would be able to do that, sick woman” Roy smiled, and offered Stephen a cigarette.

“Bloody hell, I didn’t realise. I hope you don’t mind, but how could you really be sure he didn’t, you know, kill her?”

“Ha! Ha! Because he’s as daft as anything. Let me tell you, whatever them instincts of ours are, they’re rarely wrong. I knew he was innocent the day he turned up all tears and wails he was” Roy exhaled the smoke from his cigarette.

“You’ll see if you meet him, daft as anything. Harmless.” They finished their drinks.

“Oh stay! Stay for another” Roy leaned closer to Stephen, forcing him to wince at the smell of his sour breath.

“I would stay for one more, but Diana’s waiting at home. But it was great to meet you properly. I need to tell Diana your story, she loves all that stuff. Safe journey home Roy” Stephen picked up his keys

“Let’s hope I don’t get run over” Roy laughed uncontrollably. Weeping with laughter, he was stamping his feet on the floor and saliva was seeping through his charred gums.

Stephen made sure he had his wallet and his keys, took the glasses to the bar, and thanked the young boy polishing the taps.

“Poor old guy, comes in here every night and gets himself plastered. Been that way for years Dad said, he calls him a raving lunatic, but I think he’s just bored” the boy dimmed the lights and rang the bell.

“Roy, last orders mate!” he ushered Stephen closer and whispered “we have to make sure he doesn’t leave Eric home alone for too long”.

Diana poured herself more wine, and took the bubble bath and the bottle of Chardonnay in either hand. Switching off the lamp she let out a sigh of relief that lasted the entirety of her journey up the fifteen stairs to the bathroom. Turning on the taps and removing her heavy jeans, she climbed into the bath. She took a long sip of her wine as she poured the bubble bath under the faucet leaning in to inhale the scent of rose and lavender, the scent of her wedding night.

When the doorbell rang she giggled. A little drunk, she took no precaution getting out of the bath. She nearly slipped as she grabbed a hand towel that only covered her torso.

“Forgotten your keys yet again! Oh old habits will definitely be dying for you darling” Assisted by another giggle. Feeling a draft she paused as she reached the hallway, she wrapped the towel tighter around her shoulders.

Then opened the door.

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Hazel: A Ghost Story

Early morning and a crowd of mourners are gathered around a plot of distressed earth. A silent rain is weeping from the sky. There aren’t many of them, three umbrellas shelter their heads comfortably. Only one of them, an elderly woman is crying the rest are looking into the grave with resting expressions. Aching from the weight of the freezing dew the white tulips decorating the headstone hang their heads. The elderly woman emerges from underneath her umbrella, and hands it to the vicar. She is shaking and walking towards the headstone.

“Michael had to go, they were going to lock you away” her voice is quivering.

The umbrellas remain still, a strong roof hiding the heads of the locals gathered here to pay their respects to an old friend. The woman who is now hunched from the weight of her wet clothes has tired from crying, her voice wails like the crows circling above. Head bowed like the limp January grass, she reaches for the headstone. Trailing her chalky anaemic fingers across the inscription she kneels and rests her forehead against the side of the expensive grey slate. Here Lies Hazel Luna Born March 3rd 1935, Died December 31st 1965 Taken Suddenly May her soul Rest In Peace. Minutes pass with her sat in front of it. The wind sways like a metronome, and the woman continues gliding her fingers back and forth as if playing a stringed instrument. The mourners are all close their eyes in appreciation. She sits there, dead still, as if imagining time had frozen.

“Hazel, my dear Hazel, please find peace” a whisper is all she can manage.

The vicar reaches for her hands, helps her to her feet and offers her a handkerchief. Mrs Luna stands slowly then holds onto his coat and sobs violently. Rain progresses into hail and sleet, urging the gravediggers to begin shovelling earth onto the coffin, and finalise the burial of Miss Hazel Luna.

“Forgive me” the woman utters as she is cradled and taken aside by two of the mourners.

It was a January evening when I arrived in St Lawrence Village, a small Hamlet just west of the capital. As I walked through the high street towards the Churchyard the hairs on my cheek stood up although I felt no chill provoking their movement. Had I not been so cold and immobile I would have shuddered upon realising nothing had changed, the Village was still in the winter of 1947. I wanted so badly to see the Butcher still alive and well handing out his warming broth. My journey through the village to the church was uninterrupted. Releasing the latch from the gate and stepping into the churchyard the memories of evenings playing hide and seek, of hours spent in amongst the gravestones trying to guess what each person would have looked like replayed in front of me. I was briskly reminded of the way the church deprived the grounds from any light, its muddy brick exterior meant it was permanently cloudy and damp. The grounds resembled a swamp, and every step was taken with caution. Not long after I walked across it I slipped and fell onto my back, I lay there for a few seconds imagining what it would be like to be dead and buried in here. As I stood up, I looked at the trees. Such gaunt things with no leaves or colour, as dead as the skeletons they were supposed to be sheltering. I couldn’t help but view them as symbols. Perhaps they spell out what it means if you find yourself roaming here too long. It means you too, are dead and rotting, a resident of the earth and no longer a wanderer.

The wind animated every skeletal limb of those awful ugly trees, but I heard no rustling. The silence was ethereal. With every gust that passed a craving in me grew stronger, I had no idea what this craving was for but It whirled and spun faster and faster. Until my stomach felt like a small innocent bird trapped in barbed wire manically flapping its wings trying to break free but only speeding up his death. An overwhelming feeling of anxiety surrounded me, and I feared I might faint. I made my way to the bench beneath the trees, offering a panoramic view of the graveyard and the dimly lit high street illuminated the background replacing the missing stars from this evening’s sky. The crows gathered and opened their beaks, they were screaming and screeching at each other but I heard nothing. Looking up at the sky clotted by sharp black clouds, I took a seat. I waited to feel the icy rain water solder my thighs to the bench, but I felt nothing. Too cold to feel numb. I could feel, taste, smell, hear, and see only my thoughts, and I felt like a migraine.

The churchyard was empty. Desperate for company, I scanned the ground with my eyes hoping to spot a dog walker or someone. Half an hour passed and it was still just me, the crows, and the trees. A darkness was looming over the village, night was setting in but my thoughts never turned to leaving and finding shelter. Instead I wandered further into the graveyard, I wandered until I was amongst the oldest of graves and the Church began fading from view. Wading through headstones I saw names from my childhood. Every other headstone a person I saw last time I was in St Lawrence. This was the longest I had been here without seeing another human being. The privilege of company seemed illegitimate, as though I had returned as a criminal, or as though I wasn’t really here at all. I reached in my pocket for a tissue to catch the tears I expected to warm my cheek any second now, I took hold of my scarf and brought it closer to my neck preparing to comfort my throat when the lump that accompanies the doom of loss blocks your airways. Neither the tears or the lump came, my vision and my airways were clear. More than clear, I felt every molecule of the ice in the air. The anxiety returned and I had an urge to move in some drastic way to confirm myself as living, I wanted to collapse onto my knees and scream. To never stop screaming until someone came. I would scream in mourning of the village where nothing has changed apart from the faces or lack of. I looked up to remind myself I was actually alive, walking, and breathing. The clouds began to rapidly cluster. I felt an intense claustrophobia, and an impending sense of doom like I might die if I didn’t feel something soon. Then the rain came, the fine type that you think won’t affect you much but when you get inside you’re soaked through to the bone. I ran towards the church for shelter. The door was already open, inside a fire was burning, but no one was minding it. I walked straight over to it and leant my face close in to dry off, but I was already dry. Not a drop of rain had landed on my body.

“Am I alone?” I asked, but I couldn’t be sure if any sound surfaced from my lungs.

The church was as silent as the yard. Not even the pelting rain which had quickly progressed into a storm could be heard. Nor the cracking of each flame, or the echoes of my heavy breaths.

I couldn’t return to my mother’s house in this state. I hadn’t seen her in five years, since the summer of 1960. On a beautiful Tuesday morning I gave birth to my Michael. Mother had had the adoption arranged soon after I told her the news of my pregnancy. All the while I carried Michael I knew he wasn’t really mine, I wept night after night. But she had no words of comfort to offer, all she had to say was “actions have consequences Hazel” which she said every day for nine months. I woke the day after his birth to an empty cot, and she woke the day after that to an empty house. Lily from school moved to her parents’ farmhouse the year before, and I knew where it was because I stayed with her at Easter. It took me a few days, but I got there and begged her to let me work for her. I vowed to never see mother again, never set foot in St Lawrence.

Last week the migraines and the pains started, Lily said I might have Polio, that horrendous disease that killed Tommy Cleaves last month, he had migraines and muscle weakness that made him bed ridden. On Friday night his mother sent him to bed with a cup of Horlicks and a cold flannel for his head, when she went to wake the poor thing in the morning he was dead.

“Nonsense!” I told her “I don’t have a disease Lily, I am exhausted from the guilt of leaving mother”

“Go back home Hazel, god knows how long your mother has left on the earth, maybe you need to forgive her and if you can’t do that just forget” Lily stroked my face and told me to have the afternoon off. I didn’t want to admit it, but she was right. I needed to go home. I told her I wasn’t to be disturbed, made a cold flannel for my head and buried myself in my bed.

Our reunion will be tomorrow. Yes, I will show up on her doorstep as the Hazel she knew and supported. The only child she and my father adored and nurtured. We’ll talk, my headache will clear and Michael’s memory will be just that, a memory. Not a reason for hatred, or a trigger for pain, but something that happened to me that I will never forget.

All actions have consequences Hazel her face refused to fade with the closing of my eyes, her eyes pierced through my eyelids and into my dreams. Terrified of the darting stare and the repetitive snarlthat grew into an unbearable bark, I curled into the foetal position for protection. Craving peace and ignorance of my senses I was soon guided into an anaesthetised sleep by the white light of the fire.

When I woke I went outside to check the rain had cleared, it hadn’t. There were people huddled around a plot in the distance, I probably knew them everyone knew everyone here, but from back here their faces were hidden by a black and white mosaic of umbrellas and tissues. I walked over, and joined them. I tapped who I recognised as Ian Somers from the watch shop on the shoulder but he didn’t move a muscle. I put my face right up to his and whispered “Ian, is it someone I knew?” and his face remained still and emotionless.

“Ian! I know it’s a funeral but you can talk to me, even just a whisper?” still nothing.

I wandered into the crowd, and saw an elderly woman hunched in front of the headstone. She was blocking the view of the name, and I turned to Rosemary, who lived two doors down from us.

“Rosemary?” she didn’t move, or blink. I felt worse than invisible, I felt completely visible and painfully ignored. My head felt as though it might explode, and I felt like throwing myself into the grave just to get a reaction.

Then the elderly woman stood up and turned around.

Sense and Sensitivity: does ‘atychiphobia’ sabotage your success?

In her latest column for Exepose Features, Sarah Wood discusses the prevalence of atychiphoba – the fear of failure – at university, and ways in which it can be overcome.

There’s one question I get asked over and over and it is one I feel a lot of people will identify with. It is “why are you always so stressed?” to which I usually reply “I don’t know”. The truth is I know the exact answer to that question, I know why, how, and what makes me ‘so stressed’. Atychiphobia, from the Greek Phobos meaning ‘fear’ and Atyches meaning ‘Unfortunate’. I have a fear of failure. For me this fear is complex, because whilst I am ambitious, and believe there is no better way to learn or obtain success but through trial and error, the very utterance of the word error cripples me with anxiety. At university, fear of failure is something I notice daily, and it is especially visible in deadline or exam weeks. I overhear phrases such as “this essay is worth so much, I cannot afford to fail” or “what if I have to re-sit in the summer?” They and I included are anxious, stressed, and phobic of failing because we care so much about our success, whether it is in our degree, in one essay, or in our careers. We care for and nurture our studies and our work and I question why fear of failure should be allowed to threaten us?

Stephen Schochet author of Fascinating Walt Disney provides some fantastic inspiration and comfort to those that suffer with a fear of failure. Although his book is not written specifically for fear of failure, it is a useful example of the failure vs. optimism battle. In his book he recounts how Walt Disney suffered many failures before reaching success. In 1927 when Walt tried to get MGM to distribute Mickey Mouse, he was told that his idea would simply ‘not work’ and that the idea of an animated mouse would frighten women. Walt Disney was also fired from a newspaper he worked at in his early career, the editor’s reason being that he supposedly “lacked imagination and had no creative ideas”. An opinion I’m sure many of us find laughable. Walt Disney is an ideal example of the value in persevering with trial and error. However,
for people who really do suffer from fear of failure so badly that they live a life characterised by constriction, stress, deadline charts, and
Friday nights writing essays, when they probably deserve to be letting their hair down (no reference to myself there at all) inspiration is admirable, but it only leaves them feeling even more overwhelmed. Yes, I wish I could have the failure breeds success mind set, but I don’t. I do however, firmly believe that the only person that can truly help me is myself. I’m not suggesting that we shouldn’t ask or accept help from others, of course we should, but even the very choice to accept help is an example of helping yourself, and putting your health at the forefront of your priorities.

The reasons to fear failure are unique to the person affected, for me there are two reasons that I fear failing. Firstly, I struggle to comprehend how I would deal with the associated emotions, namely shame and guilt. Partnered with this is the thought of being considered by others as someone who makes poor choices or frequent mistakes. When these two are fed by the anxiety of fearing failure, it results in the individual putting a wall around themselves, attempting to protect themselves. This response obviously only makes the problem worse, because as time goes on, withdrawal becomes a habitual response. For example, when an important essay is due, I don’t want to be presumptive or speak for anyone else, but I’m sure others will identify with the way I approach my fear in this instance. I over-estimate how much time, and work I need to put into the essay, I reject plans and events in the name of work, and my social life suffers. It’s a truly awful way to be. However, it is essential to admit to yourself that you are like that. It is then that you can tailor a method to help yourself overcome fear of failure and begin to obtain the
work life balance that is so yearned for.

Everybody dislikes failing, or feeling as though they could have done better. However, when this becomes a phobia the psychological consequences can be damaging, and distracting. The problem with phobias and fears is that they work on a subconscious level, meaning that all of the shame, guilt, frustration, and disappointment are constantly sabotaging and threatening potential success. Most poisonous of these
sabotaging emotions is the disappointment, being phobic of the prospect of failing before you have even sat the exam, or ran the race puts disappointment at the forefront of your mind blocking the way for confidence. Fear of failure is essentially a fear of disappointing oneself. Dealing with fear of failure is much like dealing with homesickness, agoraphobia, or another anxiety related concern, there is usually an underlying issue allowing the fear to shout and thrive. I have found that the best way to really fight, and confront this fear is exactly the same way Arachnophobia can be tackled. Face the fear. Put yourself in a situation whereby failure is likely, and experience it. Fail! Because when you do that, you will have no choice but to figure out how to deal with shame, how to strive for success, and hopefully it will work in your favour, wetting your appetite for success in the future. We are human, we are not concrete plans, and we make mistakes. Perhaps I’m stating the obvious, but I cannot help but feel it sometimes gets forgotten. There is so much value in recognising that every single one of us shares the similarity of adaptability. We are wonderful at adapting, we are intelligent, and whilst we all have different definitions of failure we can all cope. Fear is a matter of perspective, and it lives in the realm of the mind, and fortunately the mind welcomes change, even if it takes a long time to be convinced or coerced into it.

I have spent a lot of time contemplating how to really get rid of, or solve my fear of failure and the most useful advice I have to offer is to think about the worst case scenario. If it really is rationally disastrous then don’t punish yourself for being scared, don’t associate that disaster with shame. Instead replace the shame and guilt with courage, because if you are taking on a challenge that could end in disaster you are brave, courageous, and deserve credit for trying. If on the other hand, you analyse the worst case scenario and realise that you are perhaps being irrational, and failing wouldn’t be as awful and shattering as you are convinced of. Then as difficult as it may be, consider how commendable your effort will be. Effort is extremely admirable, and sometimes the result isn’t as valuable as the knowledge, sense, and perceptions collected in the process.

On the note of boldness and perseverance I leave you with the words of Vincent Van Gough “What would life be if we had no courage to attempt anything?” if you suffer from fear of failure I urge you to contemplate Van Gough’s question, and I would like to put forth my own question: how many times has failing ruined your life beyond repair?

Sarah Wood, Online Features Columnist

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