There’s this irritating tingle – this subtle contemplative rash that, every now and then, starts to tickle the corners of my mind. The Itch. I know that it’s coming because I’ll find that my day-to-day contentment is lessening. Conversations with The Native will begin with, “I’m afraid…” and “What if we never….” I’ll begin to spend hours online searching for a job, a home, a life that isn’t my own. Searching and searching but never really finding what I’m looking for because I don’t know if it actually even exists.
Sometimes, like a mosquito bite at the back of your knee, I’ll shuffle and try to adapt to avoid scratching it – to avoid making it worse. And while that particular bite may go away in time, a fresh bite will always come and The Itch will reappear.
I used to think that I’d get The Itch because after I left America, I spent a lot of time travelling during those first two years in the UK. I thought maybe I was longing to get back on the road, to see more of the world, to experience different languages and architecture and to try horrible and wonderful, but all undiscovered, food again. But being the homebody I am, now I’m not so sure.
Perhaps the most recurring symptom is that question of whether I’ll ever really feel home again and I’m searching. I can’t sit with my husband and reminisce about our similar childhood. We watched different TV shows, we had different hobbies, we belonged to different cultures. I don’t fully belong here. Nor can I run into the arms of the America of my past and pretend that she will be the welcome and safe friend that my rose-tinted glasses want her to be. I have changed. I no longer pledge my allegiance to one culture. I’m searching, but I don’t think it’s out there.
I expect you don’t have to be an expatriate to get The Itch though. Experience change; The Itch will eventually come.
The complicated part is sifting through my own longing to belong to find what the truth is. Is it simply that I’m holding on too tightly to the past? I don’t think it’s right or possible to let go of it fully, but neither do you want to drag it behind you like a lifeless body that weighs you down and prevents you from moving forward. Is it time to settle down properly and dig my heels firmly into the soil so that strong, deep roots begin to grow here? — because I don’t think I’ve allowed myself to let them grow too deeply just yet.
But maybe it’s that it actually is time to start looking at that new house, new career, new city, or even that new country. Maybe to avoid stagnating, to avoid months, even years of frustration I need to pluck my heels from the soil and seek out the opportunities that might be waiting.
The Itch is a complicated illness. It could be caused by a loss of perspective, thankfulness, and love for the life we have built in this country town. It could just as easily be life’s call to move us on to experience more of what is on offer.
How do you tell the difference?
For me, I have to go back time and time again to what my main symptoms are. Am I frustrated? Am I sad? Am I overwhelmed? Am I bored? Am I lonely? If I answer yes to any of these questions (and sometimes all of these questions) then it’s quite likely that a move, a change in job, a change in lifestyle won’t actually cure The Itch. I’m not saying that they can’t be symptoms that I need a greater change, but quite often the reason behind running towards change is that I’m just running. It might mask the symptoms for a while, but give it a month, give it a year, The Itch will be back.
I am living in this place at the moment. I am itching all over. I just need to take some time and figure out what the right prescription is.