What to do When Isolation and Loneliness Strike.
Upon return home you probably experienced an array of emotions. Happiness, excitement, and sadness, just to name a few. All of these feelings flood you and for a while everything seems fine. You finally get to visit the people and places you have missed and you begin figuring out where you belong back in your home culture. Things seem great, but all of a sudden you begin experiencing new emotions: frustration, irritation, disappointment, confusion, just to name a few. The honeymoon phase is now over and you find yourself in a place that you haven’t been in a while or ever before: isolation. Hmmm. “What am I doing here?” you may wonder.
I remember when I first got back from Hungary. I was thrilled to see people, but slowly it became evident that they had moved on with their lives. Of course this is completely natural. They were not in the wrong for continuing their lives. They had changed and I had changed. But that didn’t change the fact that it still hurt. Little by little I built a fence around my heart to “protect” it. Without realizing, I pushed my family out too. The very thing I thought would protect me only made my situation worse. I was stuck in isolation with no words to explain what I was going through.
Unfortunately, as I speak with people and share my story, they tell me a similar story. People who have returned from living overseas have unique hurdles to jump over. Looking back, I wish I could have warned myself of the hurdles I was headed towards. Rather than facing them in the dark, I could have jumped over them in the light. As a family member or friend of a returnee, or a person who just returned, please realize that there are hurdles and get help if you need it. I want to mention just four things that can cause isolation after returning home:
1. Your inability to describe emotions
2. Others’ inability to understand the situation
3. You have changed and others have changed
4. Your unshared frustration with home culture
I remember waiting for my family to ask me questions about my time in Hungary. But when they didn’t ask, I began to feel like they didn’t care. It took over a year and a half after my return to really talk with my mom and figure out her side of the story. Apparently when I had returned, I was irritable when it came to talking about Hungary, so she just figured it was better not to ask. It wasn’t that she didn’t care, we just didn’t communicate well. I wish I could go back to tell myself that she does care, just didn’t know how to bring it up with me.
Some of the problems with isolation:
We feel like we are the only ones experiencing it
We convince ourselves that no one understands or cares
We are scared to take the first step to building a new friendship because we have so recently lost friendships or we have been rejected
We allow lies to infiltrate our minds and tell us we are alone, purposeless, and silly for feeling the way we do
So what should we do when these feelings strike?
First, know that you are NOT alone. Do not be afraid to seek out a person to talk through the hurdles. You are not weaker for seeking help; it will only make you stronger.
Second, there are others out there who understand. Find a community of people who have spent time overseas. If you live in a place that is rural and no one has ever lived abroad, seek out a community from the organization you went with, AND find someone local whom you can speak with. Even if they haven’t lived abroad, it is helpful to have someone asking you questions and listening to your heart.
Third, be bold. Treat your home culture like you did your host culture when you were first trying to meet people. Get to know the culture around you and don’t be afraid to ask questions.
Lastly, stand firm on the Word of God which tells us the truth that we are loved, that we have a purpose, and that we are understood. Find a community of people who believe the gospel and join in wholeheartedly.