When visiting your home town brings up mixed emotions

  What it feels like to return home. Photo: Stocksy.

What it feels like to return home. Photo: Stocksy.

No matter how far we’ve moved, or how long it’s been, surprising emotions can surface when we’re due for a visit home. Whether we’ve relocated to another country or live just a few hours drive away, it’s usually with a blend of anxiety and excitement that we make our way back to that old, familiar place.

I grew up in a small coastal suburban town, until, at age 19, I packed up my things and moved all of an hour's drive away. There I stayed for four years, signing new leases and switching addresses frequently. Although this marked my first taste of independence, the short distance also made it easy for me to make regular visits home, so the safety of my parents' nest and the familiar faces of my high school highschool friends remained a close comfort.

Later, that distance expanded over continents as I worked and lived abroad. With each notch on my travelling belt, I got to know the world outside the cul-de-sacs of my home town hometown. New friendships were formed, new independence was found and when it came time to return "home", the definition of that word had changed forever.

Life had changed, I had changed. My aspirations had grown, and I craved the pace and excitement of the city. And as the years go by, my concept of home continues to shift. My visits home are becoming more rare, and with each visit, my feelings towards the place where I lost my first tooth, had my first kiss and learned my first life lessons becomes a little more unfamiliar.

In an attempt to understand the reasons why returning home now brings up so many mixed feelings, I reached out to psychologist Meredith Fuller.  

Fuller explains that in the first 18 months of moving away from home we continue to see our home town through rose-coloured glasses, a place where times were simpler and we were more carefree. 

"It acted as our go-to place when we needed to retreat from the 'real world' in which we have newly entered – like our very own Garden of Eden," she says. But then things begin to change.

"More and more of our friends move away, and we find ourselves having less in common as time passes with the ones that have stayed," Fuller explains. "Going back starts to feel like a school reunion, where all conversations are based on the past; 'Do you remember when we did this?' 'Remember that one time we went here?' But eventually we run out of old stories and memories to tell and we're left there feeling like an outsider."

I'm not alone in feeling this way. One friend shared that they felt as though the streets, houses, faces, and even certain times of day feel like a dream, as though the the past and present merged seemed to merge whenever she made the journey home. 

Another said that the fact that her high school still looked exactly the same filled her with nostalgia. "It feels like it should have fallen like Rome on the day I graduated – I'm sure I wouldn't feel this way if I saw it regularly, but after years of absence, I pass it and cannot believe that new generations of kids live their adolescent lives there."

I'm reminded of the film, Garden State, where the character of Andrew Largeman returns home after many years to attend his mother's funeral. "You know that point in your life when you realise the house you grew up in isn't really your home any more anymore? All of a sudden, even though you have some place where you put your s---t, that idea of home is gone," he says.

"You'll see one day, when you move out. It just sort of happens one day and it's gone. You feel like you can never get it back. It's like you feel homesick for a place that doesn't even exist."

His comments resonate. It's a sad feeling, really, a feeling of loss. But it's all part of the bigger picture, Fuller reassures me.

"The bigger picture is that we grow, even if this comes with uncomfortable and unforeseen growing pains," she says.

Maybe that's just it; I'm not the same person I was in high school highschool, so it should come as no surprise that I don't feel the same way about my home town as I did back then. The important thing for me is to live in the now, so I can continue to move forward towards my own sense of "home" – a place where I can build my own family ... who will go on to grow up and grow out of that home, and find their own place to settle down.

Originally published on Domain.