How come I’m lonely when I’m having such a good time in New Zealand?
I have a good job and great friends in Auckland, but homesickness is catching up with me
Niamh Dunne: I did things I never thought I’d do – a bungee swing in Queenstown, a skydive in Cairns, and scuba-diving in Koh Tao
It started with a two-month holiday. I was going to take a break, let my hair down, come back refreshed, press the restart button; get a new job, get fit, lose weight, be more fun, try to be a better friend and daughter: you know the kind of chat you have with yourself every now and again.
I left behind a stressful few years of working full time, studying, and filling the gaps by gorging on takeaways and going on benders, possibly still carrying the hurt from an old break-up that I never allowed myself to get over.
The terminal illness of a loved one was enough to spur me on. I needed a shake-up. I quit my job and planned my escape. If Facebook is anything to go by, everything is better in the land down under, right?
I never had the big goodbye party; sure I was only going on two-month holiday. That was December 2013.
During my travels I returned to the fun-loving, carefree person I was in my early 20s. I did things I never thought I’d do: a bungee swing in Queenstown, a skydive in Cairns, and scuba-diving in Koh Tao. Even while travelling on my own in Southeast Asia I never once felt lonely. I was having far too much fun.
At one point, I was so sick of meeting new people and arranging where we would have beers at sunset that I booked into a studio apartment in a 5-star hotel for three days and became a hermit. I am clearly not a very good backpacker, but it was pure bliss.
When I arrived back in Melbourne to work, my best friend said I was like a new woman. And I was. I loved the city. I missed my family and friends in Ireland, but I was having the biggest party of my life. I was in no rush to return.
Looking back, I didn’t give myself a minute to think. I can count on one hand the number of nights I stayed in. If I stayed in on my own I might have started thinking, and if I started thinking I may have started feeling, and I certainly didn’t want that.
When my time in Melbourne was up, after a year, I jumped at an opportunity to work in New Zealand for six weeks. I thought it would be a nice soft landing before I returned home. But I really liked Auckland and decided to stay. I found a job, bought a car, moved into a lovely flat and made great friends, but after three months it came over me.
Maybe it was because my second birthday away from home was coming up and I felt I was getting old and hadn’t achieved much. Maybe it was how I was affected by the Berkeley tragedy, watching those heartbroken parents making that unimaginable trip. I thought about my own parents and how they would be if anything happened to me while I was here. I considered writing a will.
Maybe it was because in Auckland I seemed to spending a lot more time around Irish bars.
Maybe it was because I saw how my Polish friend at work, who lived in Ireland for ten years and missed it dearly, sobbed as her son returned to Ireland to complete his degree.
Maybe it was because my best friend is getting married next July and that’s the next time I’ll be home. I will miss her hen party, and I won’t be there for her in the exciting run-up to her big day.
Whatever the reasons, for the first time since leaving I felt alone. Driving home from work one evening, when I couldn’t get through to my best friend, I started to cry. I cried the whole way home.
After a few weeks with this cloud over me I decided to ring a friend. Then I rang another. Then I rang my mam. All of them offered comfort and suggestions about how I could feel better: talk to friends, go for a walk, organise a short break away, don’t ignore how you are feeling, keep busy, and my personal favourite, eat a bag of Tayto.
I am not feeling this way because my life in New Zealand is bad and I haven’t made any friends. It is quite the opposite. I have a good job, great friends and an active social life. My Kiwi housemates are like a second family. Funnily, all of this somehow makes me feel worse, like a spoilt brat. How can I feel lonely when all these people are so good to me?
I guess it is the first time I understand the notion of feeling alone in a crowd of people.
One friend sent a link to a Generation Emigration article in which a guy described the similar feelings of isolation he felt away from home and the unrealistic way your life appears on Facebook. I flicked through my profile, full of smiling faces and endless activities and days out. Friends who read this will probably be surprised.
I received a card from one of the friends I talked to. On the front of it read "Today is your day". Inside were some suggestions on how to beat the feelings of homesickness. I have this on the wall beside my bed and I read it when I get up in the morning before I start my day.
I need to remind myself that I’m choosing to be here. I’m not an economic migrant. I am not a refugee fleeing my war-torn country in fear of my life. I am a privileged, educated, young(ish) woman experiencing temporary homesickness.
I just hope these feelings will pass. If they don’t I can rest in the knowledge that home will always be there for me. Isn’t that the beauty of having a choice?