“D, what’s wrong? You don’t look too good,” Mom said to me as we sat at the kitchen table following dinner a few days after my arrival.
She was right. I wasn’t good. I was far from it.
The day before, my mom, dad and I drove up to Pennsylvania so I could say “goodbye” to my grandmother at the cemetery. Sitting on the freshly dug up ground, I buried my head in my knees and sobbed. And talked to Grandma. I thanked her for supporting me, for being the wonderful and amazing woman she was. I pulled the stone I had grabbed from the sea the day she passed away and tucked it into the dirt.
Then, after wiping the tears from my eyes, I pulled myself together and went to see Papa. Which, of course, caused more tears to flow. Then, after spending some time sitting outside with him and crying, met up with my cousins, aunt and uncle for lunch.
The next day was more uplifting. My niece and her mom came down to visit.
“I have all of your postcards,” the six-year-old informed me. “They are hanging up!”
In Europe, there were very few people that got postcards, but nearly every major place I went, I purchased a colorful little card to send to my niece back in Maryland. Originally, I had been sending her photos of castles because she is my little princess, but one day she told my parents to please tell me I could send her other cards too, so then I changed it up.
After spending the day with her, Mom, Dad and I sat down to dinner. And I froze.
“No, I am not OK,” I said, looking at my plate, then to the clock, then to my parents.
5:30 p.m. What the hell am I going to do for the rest of the day?
“I don’t know, I just … I just …” I trailed off.
What was I trying to say?
Help me. I can’t be here. I can’t sit at this table and look at the clock and see that it is only 5:30 p.m. and I have the entire evening in front of me. And, then, after that, I have tomorrow morning. And tomorrow afternoon. And tomorrow night. And then …
My heart raced. Anxiety took over.
“I have to go,” I said, getting up from the table, grabbing my car keys and my purse. “I need to get out of here.”
“Where are you going?” asked my Dad.
“I have no idea. But, somewhere.”
I got into the car and burst into tears.
Was this my life now? A series of minutes ticking by that held nothing to keep my attention? There was no looking forward to anything. There was nothing to look in awe at anything anymore. My life, which had been so exciting, so passionate … so perfect, now held nothing.
Ah, re-entry depression.
I drove around my town, trying to sort my thoughts. Trying desperately to get out of my funk.
I walked into Target. And, nearly immediately, walked back out. Pre-travel, whenever I needed to get out of the house, I would drive to Target or a book store and just wander, letting my mind go blank as the marketing gods of products tried to appeal to something inside of me.
It wasn’t happening this time.
Instead, the two-story monstrosity creeped me out. Made me even more anxious. Reminded me that even if I wanted something, I couldn’t buy it since I was unemployed and had a finite amount of money left to my name.
“Megan,” I said into my phone trying to keep the panic out of my voice as I sat in my car, in the parking lot, “I think you need to come and meet me at Unce Julios. I think I need a drink. And company.”
Bless her heart, within 30 minutes my friend was sitting with me on the patio as I sipped on a Dos Equis and she enjoyed a swirl margarita.
Slowly, the ugly feelings running through me began to dissipate and I began to feel more calm. And slightly buzzed.
We went to another bar after Uncle Julios, a bar where a friend of mine from high school works. He and I had just gotten back in touch the week before I left for Europe, so seeing him was a nice reunion.
That night, as he and I sat at the bar, we made plans to get me out of town for a day trip.
“I just feel like I have to do something,” I explained to him. “I have to go somewhere. I can’t just sit here and think about what the hell I am going to do with my life now.”
“Let’s go,” he said.
Then, our day trip to the mountains began to take shape.
14 thoughts on “Adjusting to American life”
This sounds exactly, word-for-word, how I felt when I get back from Australia. Nothing made my feel better and I would burst into tears for now reason. Even the bit about Target, my safe haven, it wasn’t safe anymore; it made me anxious and uncomfortable.
I’m glad you are doing better now!
Thank you, Annie. It makes me feel really good that other people went through the same thing I did. It’s like you come down from the best high you will ever have in your entire life to be greeted by the worst low. It takes a bit to get back up to normal again.
I had the same feelings when I returned from living abroad. It feels really paralyzing not knowing what to do but knowing you need to do something. But for me something good came out of it as I focused all the energy in learning how to cook well. Find something that piques you interest and it will help the transition.
Very, very true. It is paralyzing — that’s a good way to describe it. I focused my energy on changing my life and getting into something that I was excited about (although traveling is still my first love).
You gotta know that you’re definitely NOT alone on this!!! Thankfully my trips are short, so the period of “depression” upon returning is short as well, but it sucks nonetheless. I think the key for us travelers once we return is to blog the heck out of travels and/or try to “travel” within our own city.
Thank you, love! Writing has certainly helped me work through it, as has (once again) changing my life. I am so glad I am not the only one. The support I have received from everyone regarding re-entry has been really appreciated! xx
I have no doubt this will be me after my parents pick me up from Dulles in just a few months and I’m back home…it’s too soon to be thinking about the return but it creeps up on me from time to time. Glad I’ll have other travelers to turn to if/when family & friends at home don’t understand.
It is hard, but you make it through — that’s the most important thing. I had some great support from my parents and definitely reached out to the travel community for reassurance. We should start a support group!
I had lived in Chile for a year and a half and when I came back to the U.S. to finish up school, I actually ended up going to see a psychiatrist (because of that and various other reasons). But, it’s rough. I think people underestimate how rough the re-entry time is.
It was/is a lot more difficult than I could have ever imagined it! Even today, after three months of being stateside, I still have moments where I just want to curl up in a ball and be whisked back to traveling.
Ohhhh, I know!!! So happy we’re going through this together!!
Me toooooo!!! xx
Ahhh!!! I am having the exact same anxiety on a daily basis. I got home last week from my RTW and after a few days and the excitement of seeing everyone wore off I’m faced with the dreaded “WHAT NOW?”I’ve never felt MORE confused!
It is SO hard! But, the good news is you get through it. If you need some support adjusting/reassurance, let me know. I’ve been through it.