When my mind isn’t wrapped up in my family, I’ve been thinking of my packed studio back in LA or about how to get back out of this country. Re-entry Syndrome has been brought to my attention and so I looked it up. Its the stress and anxiety that occurs when one returns home and feelings of foreign estrangement accompany abnormal behavior. I think about my apartment which I rented out since January, it’s been rearranged, filled with another’s belongings and smells different. As much as I’ve always loved that apartment, it’s not my home any longer.
In finding an article that was written about reverse culture shock, or re-entry syndrome, I found a definition of home. It says, ” Our concept of ‘home’ is built on these ideas of familiarity, routine, communication and identity. Home is more than the physical place in which we live.” When we leave a place where we are most familiar and become accustomed to new routines, feeling more “at home” in new surroundings, it’s confusing to uproot and revert back to where we once were. But upon return, I realized that I’m not the same and my once home isn’t the same, but we’ve grown in different directions, at different rates. I thought that at least my relationships would stay the same, but after a few conversations, I realize that too has become difficult for me to navigate. I’m staying in my parent’s house right now, but this isn’t my home. I don’t have a routine or purpose, my days are filled with family time, medical appointments, working on my website and errands. I’m living in a state of limbo, where I have so many ideas, thoughts and plans, but I’m unable to move forward. So much is on my mind, but I must wait.
I miss the simplicity and routines I developed while living in Nepal, now it seems like life is so clouded. I look around myself and see distractions, drama and vices we use to prevent us from tackling our issues. I find myself getting frustrated and angry seeing time and resources being wasted on frivolity.
The other day I went to see my grandfather. He was diagnosed with dementia a few years ago and each time I’ve been home, I’m warned it’s probably the last. But, he’s held on, making me think maybe he’ll outlive us all. My Grandfather is 90 years old, he’s had a slew of medical conditions and diseases but somehow keeps going. He never thought he’d grow old and I don’t think he ever wanted to. His personality has always been one of a stoic scholar. He taught me the Greek alphabet, but also took time to shoot hoops with me and take me ice skating around the corner. After he retired as a pastor, he kept working as a janitor at McDonalds so we always got a free ice cream cone, or volunteering at the state fair so we could visit him while grandma walked us around. He wasn’t much for hugs, never held or shook hands with anyone and was always paranoid about getting sick or gaining weight. Once he had an idea of a food that wasn’t good for him, he refused to eat it, but he loved his peanut butter sandwiches and Dr Pepper. He was an avid gardener, reader and historian. My grandparents loved to travel, they went to Europe every few years and drove around in their scamp, a trailer they adored.
As one gets older, especially with Dementia or Alzheimer’s, they retreat into a shell of who they were, many times the negative aspects of their personality take over. For my grandpa, it’s his paranoia and refusal to be helped or acknowledge that he is old. All of this is confused by the cyclical thought process that occurs when the connections in the brain cells degenerate and die.
The saddest thing in the world is watching someone older and wiser than you throw a tantrum because he doesn’t want to put clean pants on. The hardest thing is knowing there is nothing you can do or say to ease the suffering he doesn’t understand. Logic doesn’t exist, time doesn’t exist, anything could have happened previously to this event and he simply doesn’t know what it was. Nobody fully grasps how to interact with him and it changes hourly and daily. Sometimes he asks me questions about my sister and if she’s married, then he’ll make reference to when he was in the army as if he’s about to get an inspection. He’s overly concerned with being judged and doesn’t want to be rushed or touched. The aides want him to be medicated, make him less resistant, I think they want him to be a vegetable like the others who are wheeled in front of the TV in order to live out the end of their lives reminiscent of a human.
My re-entering, I think, helps me sympathize with my grandpa. He too is in a foreign home, getting used to new patterns and people, the obvious difference is that I understand and have chosen to be where I am. I can see the undercurrents of why my emotions and thoughts are spinning around. He doesn’t necessarily know that his world has changed. Maybe on a physical level his body is confused, but maybe his mind is trying to bring order and control, to make sense out of transitions; change in location, change in his mind’s landscape.
The world of our own minds can be more frightening than moving to a foreign environment. The time we have on this earth is limited, our own grasp of what has and is happening is subjected to our thoughts and surroundings. Which makes me think, is my grandfather’s past now void because his present and future have faded? And what about the toys he has always collected, that only hold value to him and his loved ones who can look upon them and remember the love he has for inanimate objects and collections. When we don’t understand our psyche and the workings of our unconscious mind, how can we comprehend the truth of our worlds. Material possessions give you the illusion of wealth, but when you live at peace with your surroundings, the whole world is your wealth.
Tonight my mom took me to a production of King Lear at the Guthrie Theater. I absolutely love Shakespeare, when I worked in theater, they were my favorite plays to design and the coming alive of words is always exciting to watch. This one though, it’s a long play, very word-y and definitely a hard one to act out. It’s about a king who decides to step down and hand his kingdom over to his 3 daughters, things don’t go as expected and he is driven mad by the behaviors his daughters present. He can’t fathom that two of his daughters could proclaim their love for him, then turn around and change everything in a mixed web of treason, affairs and jealousy. After King Lear dies with his youngest daughter dead in his arms, the last words of the play encompass and explain better than I what I feel in my current home and surroundings.
The weight of this sad time we must obey;
Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say.
The oldest hath borne most: we that are young
Shall never see so much, nor live as long.
Maybe my grandpa’s history is a stepping stone, a way for me to continue an evolution. A way for me to understand my own home, wherever that is. We will always look to our elders, no matter how foreign their minds become because they hold the key of knowledge and perspective we cannot yet fathom.
But as my home moves, as I continue on in life, eventually moving forward again, I realize I’m grateful to this re-entry trauma. I’m content that my brain might degenerate one day too. Because to have these experiences that lead to emotions and knowledge and perspective, I am experiencing what it is to be human. To bask in the being of human being-ness and realizing that feeling contradicting thoughts is part of that, and it’s all valid. That if I hadn’t felt so at home and so welcomed into the culture of Nepal, I wouldn’t feel this shock of coming back.
I’d rather live a full life and see and feel more on this earth, even as one home might disappear. Shattering my perspective, but gifting me a deeper understanding. And in King Lear, as a son holds his dying father’s hand, his father says “What ill thoughts again must men endure, their going hence, even as their coming thither, ripeness is all.”
As humans we endure so much, but in the end, a full life lived is the ripest one.