Courtesy of Brad Necyk and Dan Harvey


When Home Doesn't Feel Like Home

Sometimes you leave a place. Sometimes it leaves you

By Stephanie Bailey, '10 BA(Hons)

With no end in sight to the pandemic, the sad realization is beginning to sink in: things might never be the same again. Our world is getting ever stranger as the weeks turn into months, from wearing masks indoors to facing the corners in elevators. It turns out there’s a word for that feeling, that sense of loss or longing for the carefree comforts of Life Before.

“Solastalgia,” a portmanteau of solace, desolation and nostalgia, was coined by philosopher Glenn Albrecht in 2005. If nostalgia is the longing we feel for home after we leave, solastalgia is the distress we feel when home becomes unfamiliar — when it leaves us.

“[It] is the pain or sickness caused by the loss or lack of solace and the sense of isolation connected to the present state of one’s home and territory,” writes Albrecht, a former environmental studies professor at the University of Newcastle in Australia.

The concept describes the anxiety we feel when our sense of place is challenged by environmental change, whether natural or manmade. Drought, flooding, war, terrorism. Or infectious disease.

Take, for example, the U.K.’s 2001 epidemic of foot-and-mouth disease. It had a serious psychological impact, Albrecht says. Farmers and other community members directly affected by the sudden change felt “distress, feelings of bereavement, fear of a new disaster … flashbacks, nightmares and uncontrollable emotion.’ ”

Solastalgia is a concept Brad Necyk, ’06 BCom, ’11 BFA, ’14 MFA, ’19 PhD, and Dan Harvey were exploring even before the pandemic arrived. In 2019, as part of a group art show called Dyscorpia at the University of Alberta Enterprise Square Galleries, they produced a multimedia exhibition (above) that focused on solastalgia as a psychological effect of environmental change. Through hyperrealistic 3D renderings, their work depicts uncanny natural landscapes and people in radiation suits navigating them. The exhibition proved to be prescient, as art often is.

Just look at the way the coronavirus pandemic has destabilized our lives, whether it’s through job loss, the strain on family life or fear for our own well-being. The life we once knew has been altered in ways we couldn’t have imagined.

When our home becomes unrecognizable, says Albrecht, it no longer comforts us in the way it once did. “In short, solastalgia is a form of homesickness one gets when one is still at ‘home.’ ”

As we continue to navigate the changes COVID-19 brings, it may be a helpful term to add to our growing pandemic lexicon. 

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