Repatriation: Unfollow

September 11, 2018

Are you struggling as a repat? Returning home after our time in Zurich was, and some days still is, the hardest thing I've ever done in my life. If you're newly back home, or even if you repatriated a few years ago and still can't find your footing, I have a simple tip to share. A few months ago, after the decision to stay put for a while and make the most of life in Spokane had been made, I did something I wish I had done a lot sooner: I unfollowed just about every Instagram account I had been following that had anything to do with Zurich.

You see, it kept happening that I would open Instagram and see a photo like this one and be instantly teleported back to Zurich. I would actually be able to feel the rumble of the tram beneath me and to hear the robot announcer's voice announcing the next stop. I wanted to be there so badly, just back in my old life, riding the tram into the city, or on my way to meet a friend at the Bürkliplatz market. In other photos, I'd be reminded of little traditions we had at cafes or favorite spots. In others, I'd see places from my bucket list which I had never visited. And every once in a rare while, I'd see a photo that was almost identical to a photo of my own. Like this one, taken in Neumarkt, of J walking with baby Coco in the BabyBjörn.

Regardless of the instance, the result would be the same: I'd wind up feeling all angsty and sad and cycling through all of the emotions of regret and longing and yet being grateful for where we are now, and it was plain exhausting to do that every day, once or twice a day, or more.

It took a while. At first I thought I would just unfollow the big ones like Visit Zurich, the official Instagram account for Zurich Tourism; and Zurich Seefeld, the account for our old neighborhood. But over time, I realized that I had to unfollow friends, too. It was hard to do, but now that it's been a few months, I can see that it was so necessary.

So what will happen to you if you unfollow your old life? Well, you'll start noticing more in your current life. You'll begin paying attention to the aspects of it that have the ability to make you happy. For me, that's decorating my house, enjoying things like walking Coco to school and paying more attention to and participating in local events. It may be very similar for you, or it could look different. There's one easy way to find out: unfollow, unfollow, unfollow!

It can feel scary at first, as if you're forsaking all that you had in that place. It can feel as if the identity you have wrapped up in your former life is rooted there and you cannot bring it with you. But you're not, and it's not. Remind yourself that those photos and accounts are always there if you go look; and that place will always be there. The important thing is to begin watering the grass you're standing on because it matters a lot. When we focus our energy on our current reality, it makes space for being present and experiencing joy in a way that is otherwise impossible when you're constantly being pulled backwards by Insta-reminders.

Would you unfollow for the sake of being happier? If you're a repat, what have you found helpful in adjusting to life back home? Even if you're not a repat, it always makes sense to unfollow any Instagram account that makes you feel sad as you scroll past their photos, don't you agree?

(Photos via 1 / 2 / 3 / 4 / 5 / 6)

Join the conversation!

  1. Such a good point that I think it applies to many other circumstances as well. Sometimes it’s better to unfollow people in your former life (your high school clique) or bloggers who are constantly traveling (why can’t I be vacationing all the time like that?) so you can focus on all the good in your own life right now.

    1. OH YES! High school cliques are to be forgotten. Like totally! I completely agree. :) And ditto on the travel bloggers. SOB!!! xoxo

  2. We were out to dinner last night with friends, and while Italy would not be my choice to settle permanently, we were talking about how amazing it is to live in Europe and I blurted out to my husband, "Don't make me leave!!" I know our time here has an expiration date, and so I almost have the opposite problem -- it's hard to enjoy it fully when I know it's going to end. And that's just silly! It's so important to stay present so we can be grateful for what we have when we have it. Everything is fleeting. Your house, by the way, is my dream style of home for when we're back in the states. :)

  3. You are surely my soul sister. I stumbled across your blog after Charlotte Stone mentioned you and posted a link to your blog on Facebook. I'm in the process of reading all of your repat articles and they completely mirror what I'm going through. I've been back in the States for 2 years after having lived in Switzerland for over 20 years. I lived longer in the Zürich area longer than I have ever lived in any area here in the States. I'm so homesick I feel like it's going to kill me on some days. I follow multiple Swiss Instagram accounts and have been contemplating unfollowing them for my mental well being, but I just have not been able to bring myself to do it. And, yes, I'm crying as I type this. I don't think I will ever be able to move past this, but it is comforting to know that others like yourself have also struggled with re-entry. Thank you for putting into words how I have been feeling! xoxo

    1. Oh, your words bring tears to my eyes! I know that feeling and the sense that it will kill you. I felt like I had actually died inside; like I was just a shell of a woman, but not actually alive anymore. It’s so painful and raw and real. I wish you weren’t experiencing any of it, but don’t lose hope. It gets better. I know it seems impossible now, but it will get better.
      And keep coming back! This is a topic I made a conscious effort to write about openly and often because there is just not enough out there for repats. Reaching you and making you feel less alone is exactly why I’m doing this. I felt so alone for so long. But you’re not alone! And feel free to email me anytime on lindsey at Swiss Lark. Hang in there! xoxoxo

  4. I really had to think about this post (sadly? haha). I feel really torn about the idea of 'unfollowing' something that means a lot to me.

    On one hand, I LOVE seeing pictures of all my favourite places. It makes me feel joyful and in my case, has me really looking forward to the future. On the other hand it certainly fuels the homesickness.

    I think having that link through social media somehow feels as though I haven't lost that strong connection with Zurich. I knew before I even arrived at my current location that I would never love it here like I loved living in Zurich. I know that sounds like a terrible attitude to have but it is the honest truth and no amount of trying to immerse myself has made a real difference. That being said, I'm not bitter about where I am. I'm always trying to look for the good and I have become far more positive about this city that I'd imagined I would. However, part of me thinks its because I also know 'the end' is in sight.

    So, if I deleted all the accounts that make me long to return to Zurich, would I feel any better? Would I start focusing on the here and now or would I be just trying to distract myself from what I know is my truth?

    Sorry that all sounds so deep a bit confusing haha!
    PS: I so agree with the comment above. It's so nice to know there are people out there who really get me :)

    1. I agree with you. During the years (!!!) when I believed going back was just around the corner, it made me so happy to see photos of Zurich every day. But knowing we will be here for a few more years, I can’t deal. I have to focus on where I am and find some way to be present. And I peek! It’s true. But it’s better when I don’t. ;) I know you get it. And I’m glad you feel understood! Hugs to you, Rhiannon. I loved your insights. Definitely made me think. xoxoxo

    2. I really do take my hat off to you. You're really strong! Regardless if you peek or not, it's not easy to find the will to consciously remove yourself from something you love, even when you know it's necessary. I think if I were staying longer (although there are a few variables currently going on which means we don't have an exact exit month which drives me INSANE....I'm a planner!) I would probably have to do the same at some point.....and it would kill me! Hugs.

  5. YES to all of this! I suffer from a persistent and painful case of "grass is always greener" and sometimes I feel like I'll never be fully happy or fully settled in one place (chalk that up to being a third culture kid, I guess).
    Not only do I like to disconnect from all of the glossy images, I like to intentionally REconnect with the place where I am. I live in an absolutely beautiful country but it's easy to forget when I'm caught up in daily minutiae. I feel better about my choices when I really go out of my way to be a "tourist" in my own town.


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