Is This Grief We’re Feeling, or Homesickness?

When I read this Harvard Business Review story by Scott Berinato this week (yes, brag alert, I can read), a jolt of recognition went through me—and judging by the amount of times I’ve seen it shared on Facebook, through a lot of others too. Berinato posits that the emotional response we’re having to this pandemic isn’t just anxiety, but a collective sense of grief. 

“If we can name it,” he says, “perhaps we can manage it.” The idea made me feel a lot better when I found myself crying over my jigsaw puzzle yesterday evening (another big night on the ol’ self-isolation calendar). Now they weren’t just general feeling-sorry-for-myself tears, or a reaction to the particularly sad songs my husband was blasting at the time—how dare he play “Strange Overtones” at a time like this!—I was grieving it all. The tumultuous times happening at the office, the death of my routine, the other people out there losing their lives and jobs. I’ve been trying to keep calm, cool and collected and self-soothe with a season of Drag Race a day, but I guess there has to be a bit of a pressure release at some point. 

And as poor Max was trying to find a song that wouldn’t make me continue to cry (spoiler: there wasn’t one), I recognized another feeling I could name: homesickness.

Considering I’ve barely stepped outside in the last three weeks, I know it’s hard to fathom how anyone would feel lonesome for their house right now, but stay with me. For anyone who’s ever moved away from home, or gone on a long-term trip, there comes a point in any adventure—whether you’re living in a remote cabin at a salmon research facility or backpacking across Europe—where the novelty wears off and the longing for home kicks in. 

I feel like, right now, I’m—spiritually at least—hitting that same wall. It’s like we’ve all moved to a small English town where we haven’t met anyone new yet or figured out how to get a job. We’re all broke backpackers, far from home, even though we haven’t left our couches all day. There’s a tug of regret for taking your friendships for granted this whole time; a wistfulness for those days where you’d complain about a soccer game scheduled in the rain.

If we name it, we can manage it. I’m untethered, even though I’m stuck in one place. If we name it, we can manage it. I’m lonesome, even though Max is two feet from me (sometimes DJing), at all times. If we name it, we can manage it. I’m homesick for my real life, for the good ol’ days of February. 

When you’re away for real, homesickness begins to fade after a while, but with no clear end date in sight for our collective purgatory, I’m fearful this feeling will be a chronic emotional disease.

What can you do about homesickness, or grief, or fear? Not much, other than to let it wash over you like a song (Max’s current, unintentionally emotionally antagonizing track: “I Miss My Mum” by Cavetown) or the bickering of reality-TV drag queens, and to hope that saying it out loud—or at the very least, typing it in an indulgent internet essay—will help. 

Here’s hoping we all get to go home soon.