What It’s Really Like to Move Far, Far Away from Home

October marks six months since Trev and I arrived in Hawaii. That’s half a year in our new home and I can hardly believe it. I thought now would be a good time to revisit the whole concept of what this move has really been like. This dream grew out of a sense of stagnancy. Trev and I left Massachusetts never having lived more than 30 miles from home. We wanted new, different. We wanted to push ourselves beyond what was comfortable. In retrospect, we kind of took the concept to its extreme. We crossed the country in search of adventure and we found it. The cross-country trip was my favorite trip of all-time. Arriving in Oahu felt like winning the lottery. It was sunny and warm and beautiful beyond words. I always knew settling in a new place wouldn’t be easy, though.

As it turns out, Oahu is one of the most difficult places in the country to relocate to. We’ve been extremely lucky to have jobs and an apartment and enough money to live comfortably. One thing that’s glaringly obvious to me now is how easy it is to become homeless here. Honolulu has the highest homeless population per capita in the country. In fact, the Governor just declared a state of emergency for homelessness. Coming from a solidly middle-class upbringing, armed with a college degree and a lot of savings, I thought we had this move covered. I think it may actually be impossible to put into words why it’s so much harder to settle here than other places but I guess I’ll give it a go anyway.

A lot of it has to do with people like us, who have an idea of living in paradise and come here expecting things will just work themselves out. I recognize my privilege more acutely now than ever before. The concept that “everything will work out” is an idea created and perpetuated by people who have never had to deal with things not working out. I’ve had my share of emotional tragedy and obstacles in life, but I don’t know what it’s like to try and fail at surviving. This is the American dream we all grew up with: work hard and you will make it. The less-inspirational coda on that dream is that sometimes people work hard and fail. Sometimes having a job isn’t enough. I see people living on the streets all over the city, suffering from mental illness and addiction, unemployed or underemployed, and I realize how easy it would be to find myself in that situation. We used a good chunk of our savings getting here and I never forget how lucky we are to have landed on our feet.

Things working out wasn’t our only expectation moving here. We thought we’d live in a vacation rental for a month while we found a new place to live, take a few months vacation together while we found work, and we’d use that time to explore our new home. You know, adventure! We came very close to not making it into an apartment by May 1st. Trev was fortunate enough to find work within hours of arriving, but I wasn’t so lucky. What ended up happening is I took our three-month vacation by myself. On the surface, this doesn’t seem so bad and for the first month or so, it wasn’t. Trev’s hours weren’t bad and my days were filled with apartment and job-hunting, dog walking, writing, yoga, and beaching. After we moved to our new apartment, things changed a bit. I was frustrated looking for work (because job-hunting is the absolute worst). Hobbes was having a rough transition to our new building and its dog-filled lobby. Trev got a new job working 70 hours in his six-day work weeks. I couldn’t walk to the beach or yoga anymore. My days got repetitive and lonely.

I make a point of approaching life with a good attitude. I’m always one to find a silver lining or a half-full glass, so I wish I could say I handled all this change like a champ, but I was kind of a mess. Truth time: I’ve always struggled with bouts of depression and anxiety and I’ve never been good at change. This situation brought out all my worst, self-destructive tendencies. There were days when Trev left for work and I just cried until I fell back to sleep. There were days I didn’t get off the couch. I was homesick and wallowing, telling myself I was never going to make it here. What’s strange is I never regretted the move, I just hated where I was in that moment. I quickly realized that I felt worst when I was inside and sedentary. Having Buffy and Hobbes to keep me company and get my butt outside at least three times a day was my saving grace. When I was walking them, hiking, running, doing yoga – I loved this place. Trev was unbelievably supportive and understanding during my darkest times. He knew I’d find work and friends and my place on this rock.

I also underestimated how different it would be living here. I’m an outsider for the first time in a true racial melting pot. While the aloha spirit is alive and well in the islands, there is a very vocal group who hate outsiders like myself. It’s something I’m conscious of all the time. While I think this attitude from anyone, anywhere, is unfortunate, it’s been a learning experience for me. It’s inexplicably valuable for a white person to experience firsthand just a taste of the prejudice so many others face daily because of the way they look. Eventually I was fortunate enough to have amazing co-workers and a few wonderful friends, but the time I spent alone on this island being an outsider was tough. Just to complicate things, I was living life six hours behind everyone I knew. Connecting with friends and family has been difficult at best and impossible after six pm. I knew the time difference would be hard, but it pretty much means I don’t talk to anyone from home unless it’s the weekend.

The truth is moving far, far away from home sucks. There, I said it. But that’s not the whole story. Hawaii is an amazing place, unlike anywhere else on Earth, and I am so very lucky to be able to live here. The vast majority of what you’ve read on this blog has been a collection of all the fun things I’ve done since I’ve been here and that’s all true too. It’s a strange paradox living in a place that causes me to oscillate between love and hate at breakneck speed. I think that’s just the process of making a new home, a new life. Especially if it’s your choice. There’s so much pressure to love it that any moment of panic or sadness feels like failure. It’s not, it’s just part of the process. At the moment I felt most low, my whole world turned around because that’s life. I spent the day before I got my job at the Hawaiian Humane Society crying and feeling sorry for myself. I’ve spent the days since then making friends and rediscovering my sense of self-worth.

This experience has been the most valuable of my life thus far. I’ve learned so much about myself and my relationship with Trev. I learned that an extended vacation sounds incredible, but humans need to work. Work, no matter what it is, exercises and validates the brain. I learned I could do more if I let myself be challenged. In fact, I learned I really liked it. I also learned making new friends as an adult is actually possible. I miss my life-long friends at home like crazy, but I love the new friendships I’ve made. It was almost always terrifying and difficult, but I wouldn’t trade a second of this journey. The good days are starting to far outweigh the bad and this place is starting to feel like home.

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