I read this article by Hugh Mackay this morning, and it reinforced my view that one of the main reasons behind the increase in mental illness in the modern world is a disappearing sense of community and isolation. The accusation that perhaps we’ve got our priorities wrong in terms of our lifestyle choices makes perfect sense to me.
After the old man and I had one of those weekly regret-box conversations the other night, about where our lives went wrong, we came to the conclusion that we’ve moved house, neighbourhood and countries too often in our thirty-something years together – a decision that has not only affected the state of our personal wealth but more importantly, our connection to others.
We have good friends in both countries and in the neighbourhoods we’ve left behind, but the old man says that if my itchy feet hadn’t forced him to jump ship so frequently, we would have deep-rooted friendships by now and a true sense of security borne of being an integral part of a neighbourly community.
So sayeth the introvert.
‘But we’ve had more experiences,’ I always counter to his argument, ‘and anyway, you hate people…’
‘But we wouldn’t know what we’d missed if we’d remained in the same house for twenty years,’ he retaliated, the finger of blame pointed squarely at me.
Of course, there is hyperbole in my re-enactment of these discussions, because I’m certain that we are as fundamentally happy with our lot as the next middle-aged couple prone to whinging at this final stage of our quest for happiness in our lives. The influence of alcohol has a lot to answer for, because it increases this scourge of self-pity about our first world problems.
Which is probably why old people stop drinking.
And inevitably, I always come to the same conclusion that we are nothing more than spoilt, glass-half-empty, over-thinkers who will find something to moan about no matter how close we are to our neighbours and what decisions we make. That even though both of us are aware of the irrelevance of regrets, the ‘what if’ need to seek perfection culture is something we share along with anxiety, and it can be hard to control as age and fear of death creeps up on us.
I’ve spoken many times before on this blog of the blight of migrant homesickness that can infuse our happiness as we age. Yet we made the choice to leave our motherland. Pity the other migrants, the Asylum seekers and refugees who switched countries for reasons of safety or even survival.
So ours must simply be a mild case of middle-class internal dissatisfaction that has emanated from ‘making our bed’ and questioning now why it isn’t completely perfect; an issue that has recently become more sensitive as we watch world borders being strengthened in the wake of the potential increase in fascism, and since NC broached the delicate topic of leaving Australia to go back to the UK to work. Needless to say, my anxiety has flipped into overdrive as I consider all the potential implications of both kids leaving us, being forced to raise grandchildren without us, and having to wipe my own bum in old age.
In reality, I know that many parents all over the world are deserted by their adult children and that it is nothing we’ve done wrong; rather, we should see this as a parental success. And it can be advantageous for the economic stability of backpackers-Central such as Earls Court in London, that would never have survived without its influx of Antipodeans. I know this, because I help those very same ambitious millennials on the ground here in Sydney, the fresh batches of twenty-somethings driven by opportunity, the promise of success, who each have a hunger for new experiences and the adventures they know they must enjoy before they have toddlers yapping at their heels.
I don’t doubt that there are friends of mine in the UK who sometimes sit in their kitchen and regret that they didn’t do more, didn’t travel more, or didn’t live in another country like we have; while I sit on my deck swatting flies and thinking melancholically about frost and The Sunday Times.
I do miss aspects of the community we gave up, yet I refuse to negate the opportunities and experiences that we’ve taken advantage of due to improved travel and communication technology. It’s not all bad. Many have been amazing experiences. No-one’s life is perfect and perhaps my infatuation with FB exacerbates the feeling of homesickness over what I’ve gained. Had we remained in England, I suspect that we would have still been nomads, just chilly ones.