Yes, moving to a new place is without any doubt one of the most stressful experiences you can undertake in your life. It is hell. But, after almost three weeks, I can honestly say we’ve come out that dark tunnel remarkably unscathed. And now that I’m sitting at my desk, looking out over sparkling Lake Austin (which is actually a river, but no true Austinite calls it that), it’s a beautiful day, and I have a whole morning to myself – I’m actually really, really at peace. I adore my house, the girls are happy, people are friendly, we are here. We’ve done it. I’m under no illusion though. Things won’t always stay so mellow…. that nasty feeling of missing the people and places we left behind will catch us from time to time, and it’s not easy dealing with it. But for now, things are good.
I’m attributing this to our extensive experience in this matter, a certain feeling of “been-there-done-that”. I’ve developed and honed some helpful characteristics, with which I surprise myself from time to time; let’s call them the three Rs:
I’m resilient, resistant, and resourceful.
Managing to block out emotions, focusing on tasks (school registration, finding a vaccination certificate when you have 10 possible moving boxes it could be in but only 5 minutes to locate it) and plastering a big smile on your face when you really don’t feel like it are all very useful.
Of course, these attributes come at a price. Let’s not forget the 3 Ls: I’ve also been remarkably lonely, loony, and lenient (“Mummy, because we’ve just moved, can I have chocolate ice cream with gummy bears for breakfast and watch 3 episodes of the Bachelor in my PJs on the couch?” “Of course you may, darling.”)
Loony isn’t quite so funny, but my family has been patient with me, and I feel almost normal now. I think moving makes you slightly Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, but more about that later.
Loneliness is the biggest issue, and there is no more profound sense of loneliness than when you move to a new place and don’t know a soul. You feel displaced, like you’ve lost part of yourself, and all you crave is familiarity and someone you know to be there alongside you.
This really hit me when we left the UK six years ago, and my world changed overnight. I felt like I was catapulted from everything I knew and trusted, and dropped into a new universe, all by myself, as none of my friends knew, or even thought about how they could help me through this. I don’t think anybody even thinks about this unless they’ve undertaken a big move themselves.
So this time I was prepared for it, as, naturally the same thing happened. I left California, jumping into this new life, and in the first 10 days, I received a staggering 1 email, 1 text message and 1 phone call from friends checking in to see how I was doing. It was hard, hard, hard, especially when the kids are constantly on whatever electronic devices that connect them to their old mates, and you feel utterly left out. But those few sweet messages totally made my day, and the feeling of someone out there thinking of you and sending positive thoughts is absolutely priceless. And just as I was starting to feel bitter, more calls rolled in, and they still make my day.
So, anyone who has a friend about to move away, listen up. Your friend might be out of sight, but she will need you desperately over the next few weeks. And no, there is no excuse for not checking in! Excuses I’ve heard over the years include (I’m not making these up):
“I’ve just been so busy!” – how long does it take to send a text message?!
“I wanted to give you some time to settle in.” – settling in is so much easier when you know someone has your back.
“It upsets me too much to talk to you; I don’t know how to handle the distance.” – I don’t even know what to say to this. I totally get how it’s not just hard for the person moving away, but for those left behind too. And I’ve not been amazing at keeping in touch or anything, but I’m not talking regular updates and telephone dates. I’m talking a little message here and there.
So, for future use, I’ve come up with a list of things to do when a good friend moves away. Of course everybody’s different, but these little things are not hard to do, but will make a big difference:
- check in by text or phone, it really doesn’t take that long. If you have time to post vacation photos on Facebook, you can find 20 seconds to send a text message. Just a little “I’m thinking of you” is balm for the soul.
- send a postcard. It’s something your friend can put up on her fridge, and will put a smile on her face.
- send flowers. It doesn’t have to be a big, expensive bouquet, but just a little something to pretty up that new house and draw your friend’s attention away from all those boxes.
- plan a visit. Email her and tell her you want to come visit soon. Even if those plans don’t work out, it will mean a lot to your friend. Sharing one’s new surroundings is one of the happiest experiences for someone who’s moved away.
- check if your friend has gone to join that book club/yoga class/running group. If she’s anything like me, she will have mentioned a few things, but whether she’s actually done them is another matter….
But of course, you can only really beat loneliness by going out and meeting people. New friends need to be made. And while I’m not the shy and retiring type, I’m not the most gregarious either. A true case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, where I have to don my smiley, outgoing, effervescent mask and lock up the witchy one that wants to crawl under the duvet. Some days I can do it. But other days, it’s just too hard. I recently came across this article on extroverted introverts, and I laughed out loud because it was so spot-on! At least I know I’m not the only one who feels this way. And that knowledge alone will get me out of any dark hole.