‘I had just started a new life in another country, but I was afraid to stay there’
24th Mar 2020
Amid the coronavirus outbreak with travel restrictions all over the world, Jennifer McShane had saved for years to start a new life in London, but soon realised her appreciation for home
For the past few years, all I talked about was getting away. Dublin was too small. Nothing changed. It was always the same. Anonymity was what I craved; the chance to start over without the seemingly constant questions of why I wasn’t saving for a wedding or a house or trying harder to meet someone so that I could do what everyone in my circle was doing.
I scoffed at the above, subconsciously, at least.
I didn’t want to settle, I wanted to travel and see the world. How boring other people were for conforming to the norm! Though I felt mean for thinking that because ‘the norm’ as we know, is different for everyone.
This was how I justified my need to leave – run out of – the place I’d called home for 30 years. Looking back, I didn’t even realise I was doing that – it’s out of character for my usual way, which is to do and live as would make you happy, no matter who you are.
It must have hurt those around me, my mother in particular, so devoted to her care of me. Or my twin – all I spoke about was leaving, almost forgetting that I’d be leaving her behind along with my mother, my best friends.
But, my family understood that need. I’ve had mild Cerebral Palsy (CP) my entire life and I feared being wrapped in cotton wool, missing out because life was harder in a physical sense.
So I saved every cent I could for two years and finally made the move in November 2019. It took all my savings but I found the perfect flat (not easy, give my long list of must-haves) and finally had my own place, a new life in London, my vibrant city of choice. It was the centre of what I wanted: culture, film, more media work (hopefully) and the ideal place to stand on my own two feet once and for all.
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I couldn’t have done it without the constant support of my family and friends. They urged me on, told me to go for it – even at the last moment, when the doubt crept in. And I never thought of home; I was too focused on the future.
It turned out getting there was only the first hurdle. One week in, I slipped on a mat in my shower and sliced my nose on the edge of the shower. Late at night, an instantly bruised face, (a lot of) blood on the floor and no family or friends close by reminded me you are far from home. I somehow called an ambulance and got myself to the nearest hospital and I have to hand it to the NHS. I needed 10 stitches, two x-rays and had to see a reconstructive doctor (part of what they call the MaxFax team) and I’ve never been so reassured. The stitches painstakingly put into exacting standards as I tearfully worried about scarring. They were incredible (and you can’t even see the scars).
The wait time was five hours in the ER and still, I didn’t think about home. I instead focused on how not to tell my family this had happened, only seven days in.
Then while home for Christmas, I slipped in our kitchen and fractured my shoulder requiring another 10 weeks at home. Of course, all I focused on then was getting back to London. The tears more for that rather than the fact that, in the beginning, I couldn’t sip a drink without a straw.
Finally, in early March, I made it! Back in London, back to my adored little flat. I got into a routine and five days in, I was thrilled. News of the coronavirus had gained traction but I had spoken about it at length with my parents: no matter what, I was staying put.
I can’t remember when exactly I felt homesick. Ten days there and hearing nothing about how airports might close for months, waking up alone in a quiet flat, dreaming of the virus, of an indefinite time in one place alone, maybe that was it.
Homesickness is funny like that. It creeps in when you least expect it and fills every thought in your head.
It was when Boris announced 12-week isolation for at-risk groups (me) that I felt my sense of unease grow. My days were filled with an internal call-and-response; I couldn’t think about anything else. Should I stay or leave? Part of me hated that I felt I should go. Was I just running away? Shouldn’t I stick it out? I spent my days in self-isolation, barely seeing a soul. Add to the fact that the UK was so slow to act, so relaxed in their messaging. Wash your hands, they said, while countries around the world prepared for a lockdown.
How I had longed to get away from all the comforting things I had known. And now I feared it’d be months before I’d know them again. I realised that even after I had just started a new life in another country, I was afraid to stay there. Afraid my family or friends would get sick and I wouldn’t be there. Afraid that all I’d then have was the guilt of knowing that I could have gone home but stayed alone in a flat because I’d put my heart and soul into getting it.
After a tough decision and trying twice now to start a new life in London, I’m flying home this week while the worst passes. The alternative would be 12 weeks in a flat alone. I’m unafraid coming back seeing the fabulous efforts of our Government ??? I will isolate right away! https://twitter.com/gavreilly/status/1239637362528915464
— Jennifer McShane (@Jenny_McShane) March 16, 2020
What did any of that matter when we were all so worried about the next hour, the next day, the next week? So, I clocked everything up to now down to bad timing and two weeks after I got there, prepared to board a flight back to Dublin.
I left my flat, tucked up and awaiting my return (because I will go back) and for the first time, allowed myself to think of home.
Allowed myself to think of how happy and relieved I’d be to make it back there – to be tucked up (albeit, quarantined) – with my family and friends while we waited out the worst together.
It’s funny how I ran so fast away from home, and then realised how much I missed it.
Main photo: Unsplash
Read more: Coronavirus Diaries: The Dublin writer who’s ‘sheltering in place’ in an eerily still New York
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