“Oh, there’s no place like home for the holidays, ’cause no matter how far away you roam, if you want to be happy in a million ways, for the holidays – you can’t beat home, sweet home.” – Carpenters
If home doesn’t feel the way that it used to, does this classic line still hold some value and truth? Sometimes going home for the holidays is more stress-inducing than it is comforting. This was something that I experienced first-hand just a few years into my collegiate career.
I remember my first year of college being a time where, though I was definitely enjoying my time away, I always was looking forward to coming home. I chose to attend a university that was definitely the outlier in comparison to those that my high school friends had chosen, so returning to a common place where we could all be together, was extremely important to me. Those few and precious nights with the people who shaped my high school experiences were irreplaceable, and are still so vivid in my mind.
Something that is unique and revitalizing about continuing on to college, is that it offers the opportunity to “reinvent” yourself. It is comforting to know that there are no preconceived notions about who you are, what you have to offer, or who you are supposed to be; you can shamelessly be true to yourself and to the person you’ve grown into. We are taught that as we grow, the people, places, and things around us change. Priorities change, ideologies change, habits change; and these changes, unfortunately, can construct a conflict of interest among those we once held close. This was something that I noticed very early on.
Ultimately, an unfortunate blend of a conflict of interests and a physical distance, turned into a relational distance between my high school friends and me – which made coming home for the holidays challenging, to say the least.
Another common saying is, “home is wherever I’m with you” but what if those you found shelter within have changed the locks and boarded the windows? Can you return to a home that has been broken? Can you really go back to a home where you’re no longer welcome?=
Home didn’t feel right because for so long, it was the people who I grew up with, that made the town I grew up in feel like home. When I drifted apart from my friends, being back in town filled me with despair, and a dark, mournful nostalgia. The memories of the past, and the thoughts of what could have been drove me mad – and being in a place flowing with reminders of what I had lost and longed for, wasn’t healthy for me.
I’d drive downtown, looking longingly at the skywalk that embellished the space between the title company and the hotel, and reflect back on all the times we had passed over it. Watching the cars on the avenue below, we’d tell stories about the people in them and where they were headed; but now we too, were just stories. I’d climb to the tops of the parking garages where we’d watch the strawberry-orange sherbert colored sunsets that painted the sky, as we made foolish promises about “forever” and “tomorrow”, but this time I’d solemnly watch the day sink into “tomorrow” alone, without them there. I’d pass by the park, where back then, we had spent so many late nights confessing our fears and our dreams, imagining a limitless future, and solidifying a bond that couldn’t be broken, and where now, I’d scowl and choke back the tears. Where I was, wasn’t home. At least, it wasn’t the home that I wanted it to be.
Eventually coming home for the holidays turned into somewhat of a sorry routine. Without my friends to keep me company, I was much more tuned in to the fact that life back in my hometown flowed on effortlessly without me there. Returning was always exciting at first, but my siblings had friends of their own, my parents had to get back to work, and I quickly grew tired of watching Netflix to fill the void. I was left waiting. Waiting for the break to end. Waiting for the drive back to school. Waiting to go back to where things felt more comfortable. And all the while, I was left alone with my thoughts. It tore me apart to know that I was sitting alone at home, filled with sorrow, while my high school friends were likely all reunited once more.
For my own mental health, I had to make the decision to not return home for one of the holidays that we had. I instead, found new a job in my college town, surrounded myself with new friends who didn’t carry the weight of the toxic relationships my high school friendships had morphed into, and filled my free time with positive, uplifting activities.
If you are struggling with a skewed sense of “home” and are feeling anxious or depressed when returning home doesn’t offer you the security that you once took comfort in, this is the advice that I have:
- Focus on the things that you can do – This is a piece of advice that is applicable in so many scenarios – focus on what you can change, not what you can’t. It is so easy to sit back and feel limited, if the option that you would prefer is not the option that is realistic for you. Instead of consuming yourself with the thoughts of the people who you no longer can spend time with, remember the people with whom you can. Spend the extra time talking to your parents about your crazy college professor, treat your little sister to a manicure, take your grandma out to breakfast – simple actions similar to these will shape and strengthen meaningful relationships with those around you.
- When your only option is to spend time with yourself, spend that time wisely – Sure, binge watching the new trending show sounds great after a stressful week of finals, but there are better ways to spend time alone. Take the chance to learn something or try something you’ve been meaning to, but have been too busy for, spend an hour at the gym, meditate or practice yoga to strengthen your mindfulness. Investing time into yourself is something you will be thankful for and proud of later.
- Be thankful – This one is difficult, but it is an essential part of the healing process. Look back fondly on the good memories instead of dwelling on the negative ones. They say that life is ten percent of what happens to you and 90 percent of how you react to it- this is especially true when it comes to mental health – because filling your mind with negative thoughts only prohibits you from moving forward.
There is no place like home, because homes offer safety, security, and warmth – but if going home has become something that doesn’t feel right, take comfort in knowing that you have the ability to redesign and remodel it to become the space that best suits your needs. Coming home for the holidays can and should be an experience that is filled with laughter and love, so long as you allow yourself the strength to push out the negatives that are holding you down, and to focus on the positives. The relieving things about homes, is that no matter how long they’ve been standing, who has occupied them, or what damages they may have been exposed to, renovation is always an option.
By: Katie Ahrens, Anxiety In Teens Contributor