When I first started talking about my Year Abroad my preferred phrase seemed to be: ‘I won’t be back until September!’ I was adamant that if I was going abroad, I would be staying abroad: for why would I want to waste my time and money going back to England? This year I have understood how family will always be my reason to return home. Family, love, support: and for the escape I never thought I would need.
I have always enjoyed living alone. I enjoy being in control of my own space and find comfort in the order it allows. There are days when I need solitude: times when I don’t want to talk to people, to interact, nor pretend that everything is alright. And there are days when I need the chance to simply recharge and take care of myself. However, I do get lonely: and this year, more than ever, I have craved the comfort of my family.
Since becoming ill towards the end of October, I knew going home was what I needed in order to heal. I wanted to be with my mumma, in my own house, with all the familiarity and comfort being at home entails. I needed to escape the responsibility of living alone: of maintaining a life abroad whilst trying to recover both my mental and physical health. But going home isn’t always easy. My younger sister has battled with anorexia, and the subsequent illnesses it involves, over the last ten years. When speaking to mentors, tutors, friends and colleagues, no one can quite imagine how the phrase ‘I bet you can’t wait to go home!’ simultaneously invokes a sense of longing and anxiety. My reaction to both my problems and the circumstances at home, has always been to run away: from leaving home at nineteen to live with my nonna in Spain, to moving to London for university and taking two years abroad during my studies. I want to go home. I want to see my family. But I am always in fear of the situations that can arise when you place two sisters in one house, each fighting their individual battles.
Yet, going home this Christmas has been better than any other; perhaps because I have become more controlled and understanding of my own difficulties: perhaps because I needed a rest from the life I had been living alone. Two weeks wasn’t long enough. I wanted to stay at home indulging in mince pies and hot chocolate, cocooned in the soft glow and warmth of Christmas lights and cuddles. I wanted to stay on the sofa watching films with my mumma and I wanted the chance to perhaps mend the relationship I have with my sister. Only when I left did we embrace, and I appreciated how beautiful and precious a person my sister is. She can’t help the stress and pain anorexia causes our family, nor could I help what I, in turn, have put my family through. I will never run away from my family again: nor will I run from admitting my own actions and feelings.
This year I have learnt there are some things I cannot alter and must, therefore, learn to accept and overcome, yet I can strive to change that which I do not wish to accept for my present and future. I accept that it’s normal to have ‘down-days’; that it is normal to feel overwhelmed, to feel upset or like nobody understands. People go through these same emotions every single day without ever having suffered from trauma or mental illness. Families fight, sisters argue, and the house still needs to be cleaned! Being at home, I was able to accept the hurt and pain mental illness has caused my family, and to accept that going home may never be quite what I imagine or hope it to be: and that that’s okay. But change can always be made for our future, and more than anything I have learnt to accept that I don’t have to do it alone.
Because of my illness, because of the things I have been through, I have treated my family in ways I never imagined doing. To run away was never the answer I should have accepted and now I endeavour to find a better one. Most of the time, our families are struggling right alongside us; wanting to make everything better: never knowing what to do. But they are there, so don’t push them away. Do not forget them: for by going home we never have to be alone.