The official start-date of my “homecoming” adventure isn’t entirely accurate, in that technically I have been home since December 18. However, it was only when I finally got the visa rejection email from my lawyers in late March that I began to accept this fate as my new reality.
When I first returned home, the levels of hermit-like behavior were somewhat ridiculous. I completely refused to unpack my suitcase – a task that was further hindered by my mother’s refusal to make room in her wardrobe – and restricted my social life to the bare minimum.
I would see my boyfriend, the few friends who had also just returned from New York, and no one else. I avoided large parties, or any social gatherings that involved more than four people.
While my parents went to work, I would sit in their small apartment all day watching Friends re-runs and obsessively refreshing my inbox, waiting and waiting and waiting for an email that took three months to come.
I had saved just enough money to come home for six weeks, and had paid the rent in my New York City apartment until the end of January, so I felt pretty confident that even if there was a delay on visa progress I had a solid back-up plan in place.
Au contraire. As the end of January began to creep up on me I was faced with the ugliness of an empty back account and an equally empty bedroom 3,000 miles away.
What had I even been spending my money on? Oh yes, food. Tons and tons of food. I believe the phrase “eating my feelings” was highly appropriate at this point in time. I deserved treats, so I ate billions of them.
Once there was a sublet secured on my room in New York, I braced myself for February. Realistically, I had another month of uncertainty ahead, absolutely no money left, and no clothes that fit me anymore because I had eaten myself into an unrecognisable oblivion. Christmas was a weirdly indulgent time that bled into the whole of January, and when I looked to my fellow returnees for support I found that they were in similar situations.
Among us is a chef, and editor, an engineer and another “floater” just like me with no idea what to do next. At the end of January, we were all exactly where we had been when we had returned to Ireland almost two months previously – broke, unemployed, living at home and, in our own minds, entirely lacking in prospects.
Here we were, a group of educated, smart and strong women who had been reduced to sad, moping losers picking fights with our moms about what kind of cereal we didn’t like.
It seemed to be an unspoken rule that we all allowed ourselves that month of excess to sulk and consume before getting it together. The thing is, as much as I like to bunch myself in with these gals now, they came home and knew they were home for good. None of them were waiting on a visa, and they knew from the minute they stepped onto Irish soil that they wouldn’t be going back to the U.S. any time soon.
I, on the other hand, was waiting for my chance to go back, which is why they all got the urge to get their lives together a hell of a lot faster than I did.
The first step to coming back to Ireland from New York is learning how to slow down. Even after just one year, we had all become conditioned to the fast pace of borderline insanity.
I automatically woke up at 6:30am and could only sleep for five hours before bolting upright in a panic-sweat, certain that I had missed something, forgotten something or was just generally wasting precious time by snoozing my life away. Those initial weeks home were like some weird form of rehab, re-educating myself on the merits of a long night’s sleep and the sheer joy of not setting an alarm.
The second step is restoring your physical health. Having spent the three months prior to my return working five jobs – yes, FIVE – I had completely abandoned eating healthily and was living primarily on chicken wings and pancakes. Bartending meant drinking copious amounts of liquor and eating fried food at ungodly hours, while the 100 hours I spent working every week resulted in upwards of 10 million cups of coffee a day.
The third step is to tackle your mental health – or if that seems far too overwhelming, to at least address that you’ve probably lost your mind.
I’ll touch more on step three over the coming weeks, as this does seem to be the most prominent issue in returnees. New York is like some sort of highly addictive drug – a caffeine, if you will – and the withdrawal symptoms are pretty terrifying.
Of course, these first three steps can really only be acted upon when you actually know what’s happening with your life. I had no idea what was going to happen, so I found it incredibly hard to kick these bad habits and to kick my life back into gear. How are you supposed to prepare for not knowing?
Moving from one continent to another is a big deal for anyone. When that move is a new adventure away from home, it’s incredibly exciting.
However, when that move is returning home when you feel like you’re not ready to go back, it can be quite traumatic. To top that, when you think you’re only going home temporarily, and then find out that it’s actually permanent can be a massive shock to the system.
Now that I’ve come out on the other side of that particular trauma and am starting to feel relatively normal, there are certainly a few helpful steps that I would recommend to anyone else going through a similar visa crisis. Check back in next week for my ultimate survivor’s guide to limbo.