There’s a stigma about living with a parent(s) after you’re reached a certain age as if you’ve somehow failed in life. There’s the cliché of the man in his mum’s basement playing video games with one hand while the other wanks furiously and insistently until he splurges onto his fat belly dotted with Dorito crumbs. For a woman, we have that Victorian image of the spinster all grey-skinned, pinch-faced, and bitter about life. With so many people being forced to move back in with their parent(s) for a variety of reasons, I wanted to talk about my experience and reassure people that it might not be that bad.
I feel like I have to justify my decision because of the stigma and come up with a positive spin on it. After all, most people want the polite small-talk answer as opposed to the messy long one. I’ve got a variety of those short answers that are half-truths but here’s the long, full truth. Let me start with setting the scene. Before I moved back to my childhood home, I probably would have been seen as successful. I’d bought my own flat. Isn’t that what we’re all meant to be working towards—owning property? It does make sense to buy a place. It’s cheaper than renting. You have more security. You don’t get lumbered with magnolia walls, dodgy heating, or dampness. Oh wait, that sounds like my flat, minus the magnolia walls. But living the dream isn’t always dreamlike, especially when you have anxiety and depression tugging on your hands and stopping you from taking action to correct those problems. For one thing, it means interacting with people. Yes, it is possible to be a dickhead landlord to yourself.
I felt stuck there, mentally and physically. The same record was playing, the same scratches bumping me into the same crackly riff. I was dating the same men and having the same problems with them. I was experiencing the same soul-deep dissatisfaction with every job I tried. I was meeting the same new people that I had nothing in common with. Not even my thoughts were new. Herculean efforts to flip the record only gave me a different song with the same theme, like the worse concept album created by a mediocre musician. There was no real long-lasting change. I just needed something to be fucking different. And I was exhausted from trying to make it be.
Another pressure, and something I don’t hear much about, is how sensitive to sound anxiety and depression can make you. It kind of makes sense, for me at least because I was constantly in a hyper-alert mode. Sound plucked at my nerves, making me even tenser. Noise reminded me that the world and people existed outside my window. It was the same as having a persistent toddler shouting “mum, mum, mum, MUM!!!!!” at you when all you want is to have a piss in peace. Considering I lived on a busy road, this wasn’t great. It got worse when a local club was granted an outdoor license and allowed to hold weekend-long events. I saw my Falling Down moment flash before my eyes and thanked the lord that I didn’t live in America where guns are so easily obtainable.
The solution was an easy one—move. Why back to my home town though? A place I had always hated because it is so conservative and small. I couldn’t stay in the city because I couldn’t afford to sell up and buy a new place there. Maybe getting a full-time job would help with that but that felt like a familiar trap I’d been caught in before, one that had led to my breakdown. Besides, what could I do? I was scared of leaving my house, of people, of my own body. This wasn’t the only reason I wanted to move back to my childhood home, though.
Do you remember when you were a child and you’d fall down or get sick? All you wanted was your home and your mum (or dad). Maybe that’s because your parent(s) make you feel safe and that things will eventually stop hurting. I felt that same need, that same urge deep in my belly. I’d cry and say to myself, “I just want to go home”. Perhaps I wanted to give up control and stop fighting to be okay. After a while, fighting gets exhausting even if it’s only your own brain and it feels like you’re never going to be better again. Home kept calling to me. I don’t have to make an effort to be chatty with my mum, to be nice or to be fun. I didn’t have to do everything on my own. Armies call in reinforcements and retreat for tactical advantage so why couldn’t I? I like that analogy better than being a weak child with a hurting knee.
So I sold up and took a leap of faith. At least my walls would be different, I told myself. I hoped going back home would give me a chance to stop the record, take it off the turntable, and hold it up to the light so I could see where that scratch was. Maybe I could even fix it by repairing the relationship I had with my family. Maybe if I could be myself with them then I’d learn to be myself with other people and stop trying to be who I thought they wanted me to be. Maybe if I sorted out my daddy issues, I’d stop dating emotionally unavailable men and I’d stop trying to be the perfect skinny martyr. Hope. That might have been all I needed at that time. It certainly gave me that.
At first, it was hard not to fall into old patterns, especially because I moved during lockdown when everyone’s emotions were on edge. I did have a teenage temper tantrum. Nothing can trigger you quite like family. When my parents were going to break lockdown rules, our discussion escalated into an argument with me yelling at my dad, swearing at him and storming off. Exactly as I did when I was a teen. Back then, I’d sulk in my room and then the next day everything would be forgotten but I’d feel ashamed, weak, pathetic, and I’d hate myself. I never knew how to deal with the original issue or how to address my reaction. Saying nothing was a way to pretend it had never happened. I’d push down that problem and those emotions. I grew up thinking it was better to not say anything and suppress my emotions so I didn’t have to feel like that about myself. Perfect pretty people don’t have ugly emotions. I’d run away from conflict and difficult conversations scared of the repercussions, scared of how I might show too much. There was nothing worse than people seeing I had emotions, I could be hurt, and they could make me cry. Emotions should only be expressed when I was alone. Or drunk. Or high.
But I’m not a teenager anymore and my adult patterns of avoiding conflict obviously weren’t working. This time I could try something different. I could accept I’d not been perfect, address it, and apologise. When I apologised an odd thing happened, the shame I experienced went quicker and none remains for this event. It feels like I’ve been given a valuable lesson. I don’t have to be scared of conflict and difficult conversations in the same way. It’s not the end of the world if I make a mistake and I don’t express myself perfectly. I can apologise and I can be forgiven. It’s a lot easier than beating yourself up about it for years while at the same time hoping the other person didn’t realise you were a dick. Yes, I could have tried this with friends where I lived before it feels too threatening to try new ways of behaving with friends because they’re more likely to tell you to fuck off and never speak to you again. Your family’s stuck with you.
I’ve seen my parents in a new light too. When I was a child they seemed perfect and all-knowing and good at everything. As a teen, it meant that whatever they did wrong must have been an intentional choice and they intended to hurt me as opposed to it being an intentional consequence of a bad decision. It led to a lot of resentment. Why did I expect them to be perfect? Why did I presume they had this thing called life all figured out? I guess it’s important as a child to think this. I remember one counsellor telling me that turning against your parents is a rite of passage that most teens go through, and this is to force us out of their house, into independence, and eventually create our own family. As I’ve aged, I’ve realised that my parents didn’t have life all figured out, same as I don’t. I fuck up. They fucked up. It’s a part of being human. However, there’s a difference between knowing this and feeling the truth of it.
Now I’m home, we’ve talked more about their regrets and that’s enabled me to let go of some of my resentment. I understand better. I don’t think these conversations wouldn’t have happened before. When you don’t see someone that often or for that long it’s easier to fall into those superficial chats. I understand that my parents were trying their best with the knowledge they had and with their own issues from their pasts. I finally feel that truth. And there’s nothing more freeing than seeing your dad muck up some DIY, proving he doesn’t do everything perfectly. I feel freer to muck things up too.
Moving home, at this moment, is the best decision I’ve made. My current mental state shows me it is. I have a part-time job. I’m going abroad again. I’m thinking maybe I could go on a date and avoid the same patterns. These are things I never thought I would be able to do when I was stuck in my flat, constantly braced for danger and constantly replaying the same hurts. I’ve been able to do these things because I’ve given myself the permission and the ability to fail by moving back home. Here I have a support system, people that love me, and I’m starting to appreciate this in a way I wasn’t able to before. Moving home shouldn’t be a bad thing, shouldn’t be a shameful thing. It’s the same as hitting a factory reset. It’s a new start and that’s what I needed so badly. And I’m proud of myself for doing what was right for me as opposed to clinging on to the things society says I should have. Onwards and upwards.
Photo by Antonio Alcántara on Unsplash
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