Homecoming

By Jane O’Connor

My journey back over to Cambridge felt like a perfect summary of my process of returning here as a whole. In the first instance, Ryanair seemed to have lost my suitcase, and so I spent an hour in tears, hanging around Stansted Airport, until it mysteriously showed up on a completely different luggage belt, a wee bit scuffed but otherwise none the worse for wear.

From there, I thought – this is okay. This is normal. And so, I proceeded to Stansted train station only to be treated to the announcement that all trains to Cambridge were cancelled for the weekend. Brilliant. With some difficulty, I found the bay for the replacement coach – which wasn’t due for another hour and a half. When I did catch this coach, it took nearly a further hour to arrive in Cambridge – all in all, my journey was delayed by over three hours. It felt like a symbolic final hurdle.

I had been away from Cambridge for about ten months, having intermitted due to depression. I have always been desperate to be able for this place, and to be able to prove myself here. The year out had been tough – I had struggled to socialise, spent a lot of days lying in bed crying, and done a tiny fraction of the reading I had promised myself that I would do before returning.

This three-hour delay was insult added to injury.

Nonetheless, it was worth it, as I really feel that this is where I belong. Coming from a decently sized city – Dublin – where I never quite fit in, to a small, tight-knit university town like Cambridge felt like the beginning of my real life. When depression snatched that away from me for most of a year, it felt cruel and torturous, as though nothing in my life could ever really be good.

Arriving back here on the last day of September has truly been a homecoming. I cannot emphasise how valuable it has been to me to walk down streets and see people I know – indeed, to be greeted by them; to stop and chat to them. It feels special to fit in – to mischievously give a fake name at Van of Life or to stop and make small talk with the porters whenever I like.

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Partying like you’re at Cambridge in 1954 : Photo by George Douglas/ Getty Images

I needed to be away from here to recover – that much is for sure. It is sadly a reality of Cambridge that our fast-paced, often unreasonable work environment is detrimental to anyone suffering with any form of mental or physical illness. Unable to get out of bed, never mind do the daily assignments that my previous course demanded, there was no way I could have sustained that year in Cambridge. I know that.

However, this is home to me. The things that once brought me fear and anxiety about Cambridge now give me energy. I almost dance down the streets on my way to Sainsbury’s, smiling to myself as I remember all the little things that make this place special, whether that be the people or the architecture or even the shops I walk past.

Sitting in my lectures and taking notes and asking questions just feels right to me. Being in Cambridge awakens in me the little girl who worked and fought since the age of ten or eleven to gain the skills and the knowledge that would get me here.

For all the difficulties it causes me, and for all the things about Cambridge that still intimidate me, this is my home, and it feels so refreshing and so good to be home.

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