Blog : Tales From Indonesia Part 4: This Too Shall Pass – homesickness, guilt and recovery

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Buddha. Borobudur.

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Homesick. The word conjures up such a whirlwind of emotion; the first time you spent away from your parents as a kid, the feeling you were too proud to admit was slowly swallowing you as you bravely stepped out from under their wing for a school trip, the feeling that brought you to bitter melancholy when you realised that perhaps you weren’t quite ready to fly out into the world alone, aged eight…

I’ve had flashes of it as an adult too, touring far flung countries, usually when I wasn’t having a brilliant time, but it’s been at least 10 years since I cried my eyes out in a Sydney hotel suite due to a killer combo of jetlag, sore legs from the flight (I remember describing the sensation as feeling like someone had smashed them with a hammer) and everything looking topsy turvy and just too bloody sunny. On that tour, playing festivals around the world, I was given a series of gorgeous hotel rooms to myself that on low days I found incredibly depressing because I had no-one to share them with, because I was working. I remember the nicest ones being those I got to spend less than 4 hours in, arriving late from the gig and having an early lobby call for the next flight. All glamour, all the time.

Complaining about this sort of thing is nonsense really, isn’t it? Poor me, being paid to travel the world and play music, staying in luxurious accommodation. I’m really not whingeing – on balance I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my oddball career so far and I appreciate the opportunities I’ve enjoyed – but occasionally I think it’s useful to share the reality of situations that a lot of people think are 100% brilliant all the time, because nothing is 100% brilliant all the time and none of us should feel guilty for being sad sometimes.

Caveat: I’m not talking about clinical depression-level, need-to-take-medication sad, the kind of sad you can legitimately refer to as an illness, the kind that shouldn’t be dismissed or joked about – just your run-of-the-mill oversensitive, introverted, artistic songwriter / adventurer-level sad – which can be very sad indeed, and never at a useful time. And oh, heark at me qualifying the level of sadness so no-one thinks I’m piggybacking on peoples’ “real” issues! This has always been part of my problem…

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From the entrance to an art gallery in Yogyakarta.

It’s not always homesickness. Last year I learned once and for all that it’s okay to feel shit sometimes in scenarios where I feel I should be enjoying myself. I found myself crying my eyes out in an Insta-beautiful AirBnB apartment in New York because I was having a sad few days, and no amount of “I’m in an awesome place what’s wrong with me?” or “the flight here was SUPER expensive, I must cheer up now” or “everything is great, I’m making a music video with Tanya Donelly this weekend!” thinking was going to change that fact. Sometimes you can’t “just cheer up”, however much you want to (and sometimes you don’t want to). Sometimes you have to ride it out and all you can do is be kind to yourself to help ease your mood back upwards, and sometimes you have to remove yourself from the situation to make that easier on yourself and the others around you. In New York I rode it out with the kind understanding of my boyfriend Tim who, if he felt exasperated with me (and how could he not?), hid it very well. He’s the best one.

Last June I broke my foot. I mentioned it a few times (A LOT) online, because I was so very pissed off about it. It was a complete nightmare – it hurt, I couldn’t do anything I wanted, I needed help doing everything, I found recovery really tough, I got frustrated and angry and cried a lot and generally was a terrible patient and I was incredibly hard on myself for feeling that way because, well, some people don’t even HAVE feet. Writing that down makes me laugh – while it’s true some people don’t have feet, and I’m sorry about that, it doesn’t alter the fact that my foot hurt and I felt rubbish. A healthy dose of perspective is definitely required to keep one’s first world problems in check, but it’s okay to feel pain and annoyance.

Despite this great wisdom of mine, I wasn’t prepared for the gut wrenching wave of homesickness that hit me about 10 days ago. I’d been having such a nice time; I was feeling happy and creative and settled (my earlier blog posts are completely genuine), so my first feeling when my mood nosedived was guilt. I’m lucky enough to have been chosen to come and take part in this incredible, funded, programme, where I’m hosted in a lovely family home by some of the most welcoming people I’ve ever met. I know people are watching my adventures unfold from afar with a degree of “lucky her” in their minds, and I want to live up to my self-proclaimed musical adventurer role, fulfilling my obligations to the British Council and to my generous hosts.

But, you know, nothing is 100% ecstatically amazing at all times – that’s how we’re able to tell when things are brilliant and when they’re bad, and then feel better when they improve again. My feelings had very little to do with what was going on out here, though at my lowest moment I did write a now-hilarious list of “Things I Hate About Indonesia”. Examples: “rice” and “mosquitoes can go fuck themselves”. Cutting stuff. It didn’t help that I’d got it into my head that I’d be playing full sets of my songs to people out here and sharing my experiences as a songwriter, producer and session musician when the reality was that I was there mostly to observe.

I couldn’t help how I felt. I wanted to go home. I wanted to change my flight, whatever the cost, and get on the first plane back to Bristol so I could hug my boyfriend tight and run home to lie on the sofa where my dogs could jump on top of me, and we could have pizza from my favourite place and get cosy under a blanket and watch anything at all on Netflix, holding hands. This little vignette has me tearing up a little even now I’m feeling okay again. I’m so lucky to have such wonderful creatures in my life. It’s no wonder being almost 10,000 miles away from them has an emotional effect.

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Graffiti, Yogyakarta.

It didn’t help that I didn’t have the best time in Yogyakarta. We had four days off before playing a world music festival in Bandung so I decided to fly to “the soul of Indonesia” to appreciate some art and culture and have some much-needed introvert alone time.

I did have one brilliant day in Jogja – art curator Emily and I went on a fantastic bike tour of surrounding villages then visited a bunch of art galleries at speed before she had to zoom off (literally – on the back of a motorbike taxi) to catch the flight back to her residency. After that I had the best, and coincidentally the cheapest, massage EVER followed by dinner at my local mall. I felt like I was getting the hang of Asia, as I so proudly tweeted then and there.

However, on balance it was a crappy trip. On day 1 the over-camera’d tourist horde at Borobudur got in the way of me having the moving sunrise-over-the-Buddhas experience I’d hoped for, and then back in town I got neverending hassle from men offering transport whenever I tried to walk even short distances, culminating in one of them shouting “You’re so stupid! You’re so stupid!” in my face because I walked away from him when he was trying to make me go into a puppet museum. FUN.

While I understand that people are just hustling to scratch a meagre living, and as a Western person you become a walking $ sign to some of them, their intentions are usually friendly in this country. However, not being able to walk anywhere without being stared at, yelled at or grabbed for a photo just wore me down after a while and after hiding in a cafe for a couple of hours trying to get the courage up to walk the 7 minutes back to where I was staying, I spent the last afternoon and evening of my trip holed up in my hotel room with only bakpia for sustenance, basically waiting for it to be time to leave for Bandung the next morning. For the record, I never want to eat bakpia again. I loved it before!

5 weeks, I’ve realised, is about 1.5 weeks too long for me to be out of my busy, creative life and still be Happy Laura.

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Floor tiles at Alea Coffee Shop & Gallery, Borobudur.

When it’s a physical issue people are quick to help. I was feeling so spaced out because of all this that I cut my finger open reaching into my toiletry bag (oh hai razor!) right before we were due at a gala dinner at the Governor’s house in Bandung last Friday night, and I was very quickly given concern and strips of cloth to pull tight around it under the tap (it was a big cut) and plasters for when it eventually stopped bleeding for all of which I’m very grateful.

I don’t think I’m good at hiding my feelings, but people often don’t know what to say to someone who is essentially a stranger amongst a group of people who know each other really well, let alone someone who doesn’t speak your language. I’m very far away from anyone who truly knows and cares about me, and all the texting and Skype and Facetime in the world doesn’t make up for that (and wifi is pretty terrible here anyway).

I have centring tactics that I use to keep a hold of myself when travelling, which work brilliantly for about 3.5 weeks, as I’ve just discovered, and have helped me to cheer the fuck back up over the last 10 days. I’d love to know what you’d add to this list – let me know in the comments!

+ writing a diary / keeping a scrapbook
+ crafty stuff like drawing, painting, knitting
+ exercise – preferably daily, otherwise my bad foot starts hurting and gloom descends. Running here is impossible so I’ve been doing YRG at least 5 times a week except last week…oh, coincidence?

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Now *that’s* hard work. A healthy dose of perspective from the hard working women of Yogyakarta.

However cool I try to be with everything so as to make sure my hosts feel valued etc, it’s also been 10 years since I lived with anyone other than my dog/s and boyfriends. It’s hard being around people all the time! And yes of course I’m being professional and everyone’s being welcoming but it hurts when no-one asks if you’re okay. No-one has my back out here in the way they do at home, and that’s not a nice thing for an extended period of time. No-one knows me deeply enough to know if I’m all right, or care enough to ask if I’m okay. That’s probably the thing I miss the most.

I could depress myself by making a list of all the things I miss about home, but mostly it’s my boyfriend and our dogs, living in my own place and being able to do what I need and want to when I need and want to do them. Independence! I also miss not having to put bug spray on before getting into bed. I HATE MOSQUITOESSSSSSSSSS. I’m lucky that I have such great things to be grateful for.

The phrase “this too shall pass” is a really valuable one to remember in times like these. The clock will tick on regardless of my existential crises, and I know if I keep drinking water and eating my greens and getting fresh air I’ll feel better eventually. Saying it’s all a matter of perspective is a bit too simplistic because it implies I could just buck myself up and “get over it” etc, but while I know my recovery period can vary from hours to days to (thankfully rarely) weeks, I also know everything will be okay eventually. In the meantime I have all these colourful photos to remind me that the bad stuff is far outweighed by the good.

This too shall pass.

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21 thoughts on “Tales From Indonesia Part 4: This Too Shall Pass – homesickness, guilt and recovery

  1. Steve says:

    Yep. Sad, moving and heartfelt. Well done Laura, and well done for surviving.

    1. Laura Kidd says:

      Thank you Steve! I’m looking forward to writing a couple more blog posts about the trip to remind myself of the really good bits.

  2. Pip Barlow says:

    Very honest just like your songs and a very lovely share. I work with people lost in a loop of low moods and learning to give oneself permition to experience sadness in vital. We are human it’s how we function we go up and we go down so striving for constant happiness is a waste of energy and totally toxic. Great to read that you have strategies to get through tough times the only addition I would surgest would be some kind of Mindful practice that will give you more resilience and a quicker recovery time. Your creations continue to have a special place in our lives X

    1. Laura Kidd says:

      Thanks so much Pip! I actually did start meditating when I first went out there after meaning to start for a reallllllly long time. I loved it, but I was in such noisy surroundings that I only managed a few days then just kept on with my yoga. Now I’m home I’m trying to figure out a new routine to incorporate meditation, I know it’s going to benefit me so much.

  3. Janice Crane says:

    Felt soo sad reading but is inspiration too what you do for your music ! thank you took me back to my travels the mixed feelings, the adventure, the gratitude, the missing finding the true meaning in what we hold dear, the missing the longing for security of own space and being with loved ones. I travelled US for 6 mths when loved up with my fella of back then a trip to find ourselves ….we found sights lin national park that are places i can close my eyes and be in but we experienced longing for home to get up in my niece had major op when i was away and like wise just thought of flight home. But the travelling has given me gratitude for all I have, boy perspective !!! to see what others endure to just scrap by ; ( im using a book Buddha in me Buddha in you its a hand book of happiness ” Do you want to be happier? Find inner calm? Enjoy a rich and rewarding life?” by David Hare I think you may enjoy reading it as it touches on much of your insight above .. Its really helping me with come to terms with disability and this life is what we make. thank you for great gig at Kidder minster and the music that realates to my ow values in life . .

    1. Laura Kidd says:

      Thank you for reading, Janice, and for such thoughtful and kind words. Indonesia absolutely showed me the great luxuries that I enjoy just for being accidentally born in the UK. It’s incredible the strength and courage people have in countries where you have to look after yourself and really make your own way. The things we complain about in the West are laughable compared to the daily struggles of a lot of people on this planet. I’m so pleased you’re enjoying my music, thanks for letting me know.

  4. See says:

    Thanks for sharing, it’s great to hear your thoughts on the ‘shouldn’t feel depressed’ way of thinking, I get it myself too. Appreciate your honesty x

    1. Laura Kidd says:

      Thank you for reading! I wrote this in July and wondered whether it would be useful to post it at all – not everything has to be shared online after all, and I tend to use writing to work through problems privately – but I hoped that others might find it interesting and perhaps see their own experience in some of my issues. Personally, it’s good to know I’m not alone in feeling this way sometimes, because as I expressed in the piece, when given such great opportunities I feel obliged to have the best ever time, all the time, and that’s just not possible. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

  5. Peter says:

    Thank you, Laura, for also sharing those bad days. Cuz life’s really never instagram-perfect though loads of people try to make you think theirs is. I, too, know doubts in paradise. Still I do hope that overall you had a good time in Indonesia.
    Hope my travel tips didn’t make it all worse (I was a first time east Asia traveller, too). Some things are rough and tough for us Europeans there. Especially if you’re travelling alone, I suppose. However: thank you, Lau, for sharing this. Xoxo Peter

    1. Laura Kidd says:

      Peter, hello! No, your tips were super helpful actually, though there was no way in hell I was ever going to sit on the front or the back of a motorbike. Too dangerous for me! It was really interesting visiting such a different place to anywhere I’ve been before, but it wasn’t ever going to be brilliant all the time. I think the country has a lot of issues, but also it’s just so strange to my Western eyes that I obviously don’t understand everything I saw. I learned a lot though.

  6. Catherine Gardner says:

    I totally understand and sympathise, Laura. Being in a beautiful, interesting place doesn’t automatically equate to having a beautiful, rewarding experience some or all of the time. Travelling abroad can be wonderful but being harassed, bitten by insects etc. is no fun. Cultural differences can be challenging in a fun way but can be equally exhausting.

    I lived in Germany and Russia as part of my degree and was homesick for most of the time. I am now living in the Netherlands and trying hard to fit in and make a life. It is not always easy and achieving that goal of happiness is often elusive.

    Enjoy those things that give you comfort and chalk up the rest to experience!

    Btw – we bought two of your albums after hearing you play in Bristol! Love your sound!

    Take it easy!

    Cath

    1. Laura Kidd says:

      Thanks so much Cath – wow, living in Russia must have been quite an experience. I visited Moscow and St Petersburg on a tour years ago and found them both absolutely nuts places to be. How interesting getting to immerse yourself though. That’s what I was looking forward to about Indonesia, and if I’d had more autonomy over my movements and activities then I think I’d have had a much better time. If nothing else, I’ve learned that stuff is vital to my enjoyment of time away and will be protecting myself better in future!

      Thanks for buying the albums, that’s really cool of you. Hope to see you at the next Bristol show! Watch out for news…

  7. Guy says:

    The first time I went east to Thailand, Cambodia and Indonesia I was gripped with a terrible sadness that reduced me to tears most days. There I was in some of the most beautiful landscapes on earth but I couldn’t stop any of the homesick/negative feelings.
    I could only find respite from this when I went off into the countryside on my own and visited wonderful things (like a golden Buddha in a cave on top of a mountain).
    As soon as I returned to any degree of civilisation the awfulness returned.
    This depression totally blighted my whole visit and I especially remember feeling that all the locals were out to con or rob me. Shamefully I remember describing Thailand to someone as “the land of smiling thieves”
    As you stated, the constant unwanted attention from local people became overwhelming.
    After months of these peculiar contradictions I left and flew home in a very poor state of mind. Sure I had my “tourist” memories but in between all of those lurked this resentment, this lie which I couldn’t express.
    Oddly enough as soon as I got off the plane in England I was crying because I wanted to go back.

    Eventually I met another person who had travelled regularly to the east and he asked if I’d experienced the extreme “culture shock” that some travellers do. He said that people just didn’t realise how devastating the effects of this misunderstood everyday phrase could actually be until experienced.

    I didn’t immediately believe his explanation but it did help me come to terms with my feelings about what had happened.
    On his advice I returned the next year to the same countries and had a wonderful time with absolutely no trace of the awful negativity/homesickness that almost totally overshadowed my first visit.
    Interestingly a friend who came with me this time reported the exact same symptoms I suffered from on my first visit.

    I now accept that my experience was pretty common but it was all brought back to me, for first time in over 20 years, when I read your blog post.
    I do hope you get the chance to make further visits to that amazing part of the world and enjoy the full experience without all those contradictory feelings.

    1. Laura Kidd says:

      Thanks so much for sharing, Guy – wow, I genuinely hadn’t considered “culture shock” as part of this at all! I think because I’ve decided so strongly in my own mind that I’m a “citizen of the world” I just assume I’ll be fine wherever I go, because I try to visit without prejudice and be open to experiences and whatnot. I think you’re absolutely right that the total contrast between South East Asian and European cultures could have had a lot to do with my mood, especially after hearing about your intense experience.

      I remember everyone telling me how lovely Yogyakarta is, and booking myself excitedly on a plane for those days off, then arriving and thinking that it was just as ugly, sprawling and not-at-all-lovely as Jakarta and Depok. Of course my brain is wired to imagine new places as looking European, not Asian, so my subconscious surprise at greeting something so unfamiliar to me could have knocked me sideways along with all the flack I was getting for being a tourist.

      Very interesting also hearing that you went back and had a way better time. There are future opportunities I could explore in Indonesia and now I’m definitely going to go for them. So thank you!

  8. Helen Leigh-Phippard says:

    Such a thoughtful honest blogpost that resonates so deeply with me. Beautifully written too. I’m so glad we’ve connected on IG ❤️

    1. Laura Kidd says:

      Thank you Helen – me too, I so love seeing your beautiful drawings every day. I seek them out, I find them so inspiring. I’m gearing up to setting myself some sort of art challenge thanks to seeing yours…maybe on tour next week 🙂

      I really appreciate you paying me a visit and reading, thanks!

      1. Helen Leigh-Phippard says:

        I look forward to seeing the rat you make

        1. Helen Leigh-Phippard says:

          Oh lol! Auto-correct turned Art into rat – please don’t make rats, make art

          1. Laura Kidd says:

            Haha, lots of great inspiration for “rat art” on Google Images – this one is great http://www.dailyartfixx.com/2011/10/11/si-scott-drawingillustration/rat-si-scott/

  9. Jan Doig says:

    Hi Laura,
    I haven’t travelled much but through various situations I know the feeling you describe well.
    Short term…listening to music is my pick me up of choice. And writing, as you know. Sometimes I write things and delete them. Just the act of putting pen to paper so to speak helps enormously. Therapeutic.
    A really interesting post. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Laura Kidd says:

      Thanks for reading, Jan! I honestly don’t know where I’d have been without my diary on that trip, it became my main focus for getting this all out of my brain and for celebrating the brilliant stuff too. I’m enjoying looking back through it and seeing all the visual stuff I pasted in, it’s a really good counter to the overriding feeling I came back with which was of disappointment – at the experience / my reaction to the experience all mixed together.

      Keep on writing!

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