What is home?

The past 15-ish weeks, I have been couch surfing. I had moved out of my first post-undergrad apartment and was planning on moving into my grandmother’s old house in Pacifica. Due to the fact that it is a 1950s original ranch style house, however, it required significant renovations. A “simple” electrical rewiring has turned into a close to 5 month project (still in progress!), and I have been out of a permanent home since late March.

This means I was couchsurfing all of spring quarter while trying to take classes and be a full time student.

Ummmmm…….

This was a struggle to say the least. Thankfully, I made it through the quarter relatively unscathed, GPA and mental health intact (damn the system that makes us value one over the other. You know which one I’m talking about. More on that another time.)

This experience challenged me with situations that I don’t think I would have ever intentionally put myself in, and I learned a few important things over the past two and a half months.

  1. People are incredibly generous

I would not have made it through this period of my life without the generosity of friends and family opening their doors to me. I don’t even know where to begin thanking those who have taken me in; it feels like a “thank you” and anything material just isn’t enough.

A big lesson here is that it is ok to ask for help. It is a humbling experience, especially if you’re particularly stubborn or proud. Asking for help is scary, but I learned that it is ok to ask. I know I’m repeating myself here — but seriously, it’s important! The worst someone can do is say no, but people can’t offer their assistance if they don’t know something is wrong. Whether it’s housing, transportation, or as simple as “I need five bucks for dinner,” you probably have someone you can ask for help. Do it. And then, remember to pay it forward.

2. It’s pretty damn hard to get anything done without a home base

I’ve often referred to myself as “homeless” during this transitional period of my life. While I know I’m being a little hyperbolic for dramatic effect, I find it important to reflect on my word choice. Part of what I say is true — I do lack a long-term home base. However, I’ve never lacked for a roof over my head and somewhere warm and safe to sleep. Sleeping on a couch or in a guest room is outside of my normal comfort zone, but it’s much more than many people have access to — something I’ve seen more and more of as I’ve transitioned out of the Stanford/Palo Alto bubble.

I’ve been incredibly fortunate throughout my life — I acknowledge this. I’ve even been able to live in places that let me avoid the notion that others have much less fortunate lives. Spending more time outside of the wealth of Silicon Valley has helped me realize just how important it is to select my words carefully.

I am not homeless. I have a robust support system in place that is there to catch me at the smallest of my failures. The experience of discomfort I had through changing housing every week or two showed me just how hard it is to accomplish anything without a consistent home base. I gained much more empathy for those who are truly without a home, and more of an understanding* as to why people who are homeless don’t just “get a job.” It’s pretty fucking difficult to think of anything other than your own personal autonomy and safety if you don’t have a consistent home.

TBT to intro psych with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

3. I am RESILIENT

I spent a lot of time once I started college giving myself a really hard time because I thought I was a quitter. I quit the rowing team from my position as a walk-on coxswain, I changed majors to what many consider an “easy cop-out” major, and I prioritize my sleep over my homework — the list goes on. No matter how many on-paper accomplishments I had, I still felt like I didn’t belong.

Imposter syndrome, anyone?

At the risk of sounding self-congratulatory, during this quarter when people would ask how I was doing and I’d reply, “Oh yeah, classes are going, couch surfing this quarter so a bit more chaotic than usual”, the replies I would inevitably receive (especially as the couch surfing period got longer and longer) were along the lines of “I would not have been able to do that!” “How have you stayed sane??” and “I would have lost it by now!” As for the last one, I’ve started to answer “Oh I already have, don’t worry…” with an uncomfortable laugh…

I typically undersell myself. While I try to not rely too heavily on external feedback for evaluation, the constant information I got from others validating that “what you’re going through is difficult, good for you!” made me realize that what I was going through actually was difficult. The acknowledgement I was eventually able to give myself about my challenging experience made me realize that I was successfully surviving in a challenging situation, and that I could give myself a pat on the back for finishing the quarter under ~unusual circumstances~.

I’m really looking forward to when our house is completed, and I have a more permanent place of residence. Life would be easier without these kinds of hardships, but what kind of people would we be without a little bit of fire under our butts to get us going?

Questions or comments about housing during grad school or in the Bay Area/Peninsula area? Find me on Twitter!

*I recognize that homelessness is an incredibly complex issue, and that my experience cannot even begin to touch on that issue. However, I wished to share my experience and how it made me rethink my perspective on homelessness and consider what more I can do to utilize my skills to help this sector of the population.

https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2017/jun/23/ceo-sleepout-criticised-as-dystopian-for-homeless-simulation-with-vr-headsets

http://www.stanforddaily.com/2016/08/01/virtual-human-interaction-lab-uses-virtual-reality-to-foster-empathy-for-homeless-community/

http://vhil.stanford.edu/becominghomeless/

That REALLY AWKWARD moment when you try to reference an article referencing the tone-deaf attempts to understand homelessness and find your alma mater’s participation in the event. Problematic faves, anyone?