As an expat, leaving the sanctuary of Berlin for an extended break and life pause in the résidence familiale (sleepy Midlands, United Kingdom), a drop of good, old-fashioned Geduld could get you through some hairy moments and dark thoughts. Here are some tips.
Nobody said returning to live with your parents as an adult would be easy. Even your parents warned you. The house has shrunk since you lived there and someone is always in the way. Often it is you. You feel fifteen again. Your mother reminds you when you leave the house which way to look when crossing the road. Your father often only pretends to listen when you talk. Your mother hums tunelessly when she walks. Some of the bigger battles you find yourself fighting look the same as the battles you fought a decade ago. It is tempting to regress.
The difference now is you no longer have that raging hormone-given right to slam your door. After your parents’ initial, optimistic de-childifying of the ancestral home, you probably no longer even have a door of your own to slam. Where it was once par for the course that you were cooked for, taxied from place to place and otherwise seamlessly integrated into parental daily life, since you moved out these efforts are not to be taken for granted.
Grit your teeth (gnawing lightly at the inside of your wrist also works) and smile. Let them laugh loudly at their own unfunniest jokes, and realize this is precisely what makes them funny. Recognize that you also hum tunelessly when you walk. Maybe, with a little stretch of the imagination, it could become the picture your mother painted optimistically on the phone before your return: a hip, cross-generational house-share. In no time you’ll all be passive-aggressively labelling milk and drinking spirits from the bottle. In the meantime, do this test and ask in times of crisis what your spirit vegetable would do.
If “fake it till you make it” leaves you with a bad taste and aching facial muscles, it’s time to try something new. It’s really not about changing them — they have been around far longer and are set rigidly in their ways — it’s about you. Review the list boldly entitled “How To Be A Better Person”, which you desperately wrote after the last Christmas gathering.
You might, as a result of this list, have sprung, lycra-clad and green smoothie-slurping, into the New Year, smugly presenting an improved, upgraded you to the punters. You own a new gym membership, many knobs of ginger, and a wok for making vegetables palatable. But over three months later you realize none of it really makes being back where you started any easier. Possibly you are once again in your daytime pjs, back on the burgers, and searching out new, more expensive and “healthier” gins, with more juniper berries per centilitre than any kind you drank last year… whatever. Life is too short.
But stick, at least, with the meditation. Especially now. Sit down. Cross your chronically jiggling legs. Close your eyes. Listen to the birds, the postman, the ticking clock. Listen to your body: the gurgles, the aches, the tightness. Watch your thoughts, and let them go! (Your spirit vegetable, the Belgian Endive, would do the same.) It is difficult, sitting for ten minutes. Think of all the things you could be doing, and then don’t do them. You don’t really need to wipe the dust from the spines of your books right now, to refresh your feeds, to tune that ukulele you can’t play.
Take ten minutes a day to do nothing. Check out this wonderful app, Headspace. Spread the word. Meditation en famille, anyone?
If, despite your best meditative efforts, you still feel the crushing metaphorical weight of your childhood ceiling as it metaphorically falls, take a little break and go your own way. Start small; be a lone wolf and cook your soup-for-one instead of partaking in homemade pizza assemblage. Embark on extreme, ultra-marathon-worthy runs round (and round and round) the suburbs.
Even better, get away for longer. Tour the country you grew up in; reacquaint yourself with acquaintances from your former life. If they live in London they will likely have finished a grad scheme, gone traveling for a year, exacted an ambitious career-180, and become wildly successful and unimaginably rich working in law or something niche like rare waterborne diseases — all in the time is has taken you to leap from your own career ladder and plummet into the deepest pits of debt. PANIC NOT! Your salvation is the Berlin equivalent to everyone else’s just-about-scraping-by, aka “jobbing”, as you patiently go deep into yourself to figure out whether money and happiness can be compatible.
You’ve been fed enough fish and lean meat to last you, protein-wise, until Christmas, and Berlin is pulling you back by your heartstrings. Listen to your parents when they tell you with unfathomable sincerity that you are winning at life, that it’s sensible and even normal in these financially and politically unstable times to be back home. But you always knew you were never going to stay forever, so stop teasing them with threats of a permanent return — their saintly patience is perhaps also a hard-won veneer. It is okay to be a boomerang kid – but it’s even better knowing you’re ready to boomerang back. Take a breath, unpause life, and book a flight home!
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