Last week I packed up my passport and sent it to be renewed. As I dropped it into the mail slot, a sick nervous feeling filled me. I walked out tense and anxious, and have remained that way since. I can’t shake a lingering dread, anchoring me in place, making me feel trapped.
There’s no blue booklet resting in my desk that can be grabbed at a moment’s notice to transport me wherever I want to go. I’m landlocked, firmly entrenched within the boundaries of my own country until such time the government deems to send me a new passport.
It is of course, an absurd concern of an anxious mind. I’m far too anal retentive to ever grab my passport and go. But having that option available, my key to my great escape if life gets too hard has been a large component of my sanity.
Over the last decade, I’ve spent a combined total of around six months of my life in the U.K.. I carve out half of my annual vacation days just to go back and visit. When my life is falling down around my ears, I spend a disproportionate amount of my time on Indeed.co.uk searching for jobs, finding flats to rent nearby, and working out how many vacation days I’d need to be able to come back home to see my family a few times a year. I’ve plotted Underground commutes to the city, calculated taxes, researched the NHS, studied work visas, and even plotted how to bring my dogs with me.
If you begin to calculate the number of hours, days, and weeks spent imagining a new life for myself in the U.K., those six months become years. I’ve lived a hundred British lives in my head, from a cramped flat with a nice garden in Bath, a musty-smelling attached family home off the Isis in Oxford, a quaint cottage by a small Cornish quay, to a glen-side Hagrid hut in the Highlands. It’s where I slip off to at the worst of times, this secret place in my mind where I tell myself one day it will be true. One day I’ll move there and it won’t be just an escape route, but my home.
There’s nothing innately harmful in having a fantasy of a better life until it begins holding you back from reality. For the last few years I’ve had somewhat of a life plan. The first step was to get out of the soul crushing job that had zero security, to reach a key salary level in my next job, and when both those things were accomplished, I’d buy a house. I’m now firmly on that path. I quit my awful job and applied across industries and the Atlantic, thinking this might be my chance to make this dream a reality.
But the jobs I applied to in the U.K. didn’t get beyond the first few rounds, and now I’m firmly ensconced in a stateside position that’s unlikely to transfer me abroad. I took the job and the salary anyway and tried to ignore the niggling concern that this was the beginning of saying goodbye to the U.K.. Without that sponsored visa or a spouse, it’s unlikely I’d be able to make my move.
So I’ve spent the last few months looking for houses to buy, meeting with realtors and the bank, going to open houses and spending hours looking at real estate. In its own way it has created another fantasy world, where I live in my perfect house, decorated just to my liking, and host elaborate dinner parties. And while I’m legitimately excited about it, I can’t stop taking minuscule baby steps toward making it a reality.
Every time I find a house that could be the one I panic. When people try to talk me into it I get insanely defensive, I start sweating, my heart pounds, and if it’s not a full-out anxiety attack, it’s damn close. Suddenly my world begins to feel very narrow, very tight, and that door to some other life in Britain is slamming shut, locking me into the life I have now. It’s an oppressive claustrophobia constantly finding excuses for why this house or the next isn’t right. “It’s too expensive,” and I won’t be able to afford to travel with that mortgage payment. “The resale isn’t great,” meaning if I manage to get a job abroad I won’t be able to sell it. There’s always something that holds me back from committing. I think of buying a house and filling it with things and that deed begins to feel like a shackle. In settling into adulthood, I’m chaining myself down with stuff that’s holding me back.
I can’t bring myself to let that door close. I tell myself I’ll just take one more trip to England this summer, one last one and then I’ll settle. I’ll buy the house, put down the roots, and let go of childish fantasies. I’ll sink my finances into something tangible and appropriately grownup instead of on escape routes abroad. Just give me two more weeks by the English sea, and I’ll learn how to turn my gaze back west toward the American dream.
And if my new passport is clenched in my fists as I close on a house, I’ll think of it as a security blanket for my new home.