One year on

Yesterday, marked the one year anniversary of my move to Belgium, to take on a five month internship with the European Parliament as part of a career break, that I never returned from.

Although, it was never my intention to stay, as my life unfurled over the past 12 months, in turns of the utmost unexpected, Belgium became more of a home to me than England.

My internship officially ended on the 31st of May 2019, leaving me to face unemployment for the first time in four years. Growing up in the UK, I was often advised to avoid gaps in my CV as this reflected poorly, a notion that meant that I had been in continuous employment from January 2015 until May 2019, switching between five different roles for three different public sector institutions, despite the sometimes gut-wrenching periods of my life, that almost drained me absolutely.

Unemployment scared me, more so than the physical and mental burnout that I tried to rectify through short breaks to somewhere – minimal rest for maximum exhaustion in some cases. Employment for me was a mandatory dependency, lacking a parental unit to catch me when my world went to shit, self-sufficiency was my safety blanket in life and I was unsure how to survive without it.

In the end I was unemployed for 16 weeks, or a little over 3 months, and in this time I learned more about myself than I ever could have imagined, and my mindset and outlook on life drastically changed.

I spent the first month in my flat alone, waiting for a job interview for a position that fell at the last hurdle after I had depleted my savings, and also made me realise that I needed to work somewhere that was aligned to my values and beliefs or I would continue to live my life in deep blue hues.

During this time, before the last hurdle fell, I reached out to my mother for support to catch me as her child, but unfortunately this was once more met with the rejection, that I had become accustomed to expect from her, as I was told she was ‘unable to support me emotionally or financially, but she was always there for me.’

This was painful, but not unexpected, and was followed by a series of events that meant I finally stood up to her for the first time in my life. My courage was met with blatant faced denial, but although the voice of my truth was not fully heard by her it lifted the greatest weight off my soul.

It was a painful severing.

Part of me sees the possibility for reconciliation if my truth is heard and listened to, but part of me sees it like an infected limb – excruciating to live with and to remove, but better to live without even with the phantom feelings from time to time.

In this moment, that would have previously been awash with inky blue hues deeper than any ocean, another revelation was bought into my view; a new familial support network, unknown to me before I came to Belgium in 2018, in my aunt. A kindness unlike any that I have experienced prior, she has cared for me and shown me what unconditional love is; and for this I am eternally grateful. This act of kindness has allowed me the courage to stand up for myself and has given me hope in the future, my future.

Often when you read about battling the black dog of depression or the pressure of anxiety, finding someone that scares your internal demons and makes them run scared is recommended. It is often implied that this is a romantic partner, but it doesn’t have to be. I have been fortunate to find this in my family – my aunt(s), my cousins and older brothers; in my friends – in the UK, Belgium and elsewhere; and finally in myself.

So, as I sit and type, watching the sun-soaked trees go by in a green blur from the train window fading slowly in the vibrant but calm orange hues of sunset, which occupies most of my new work commute, I smile a little to myself in knowing that I am loved, I am supported, I am courageous, and for the first time in a long time I am happy– all I needed to do was follow the butterflies and take a leap of faith into the unknown, it wasn’t so scary after all.

Time to stop running from reality

For the past three years I’ve been running from reality, ironically since I started to gain a better understanding of my mental health, and the life experiences and events which contributed to the alteration of my mind, I also began losing a grip on many parts of myself.

The facade built by denial was breaking apart and the intricacy of my mental mechanics was being revealed. Coming face to face with my flaws was never going to be easy, humans rarely likely to be proven wrong. For me using the excuses of my upbringing and mental illnesses was an all too easy scapegoat, a denial to my reality and the fears it was revealing, yes I was working at becoming better and still am, but I was also throwing caution to the wind in the name of acceptance, even though this led me down the path of destructive and dangerous behaviour.

I’ve been living in a prolonged period of turbulence over the last three years, a constant pattern of altercations which have made me tackle numerous obstacles that I was not prepared for; political discourse; the loss of love; the death of a friend; the terminal illness of parent; and the overwhelming sense of fear and hopelessness that accompanied them, all collapsing in on my existence like dominos. The tethered moments as I broke along side my fracturing world.

Although I have admitted to these moments, it doesn’t mean that I have fully accepted their existence. I hate these moments, even though they are the source of much of my strength, they have also warped my soul, leading me to run from them, but I’m tired of running.

Over the past three years I have not been the most sensible, responsible or logical person, as I desperately try to cling to any sense of certainty to solidify my identity and break away from scars of my past and the echoes in my present, using them when I lose grip of that inkling of certainty to behave irrationally and frankly like a bit of an arsehole, the excuse being that if the world is turbulent why can’t I be?

This is not a good enough excuse, mental illness and past cruelties are not a green light for bad behaviour, for dangerous behaviour, or for destruction behaviour, they are instead cautionary tales to be sensible, responsible and kind. If you know the world to be unkind give kindness to it, not unconditionally at the cost of ones self but in the moments where you can.

Remove toxicity from your life but be careful to not let it tarnish your soul, take pride in who you are but do not do it at the cost of belittling others, realise that you will not get everything you want in life but if you keep hope in your heart you will eventually get what you need. Life is unfair and unpredictable, but that doesn’t mean it can not be understood, it just may take some time.

I myself regained my equilibrium this weekend just past, I learned that it is not a place or a time or a moment, but instead something that resides within me, it is my core and my centre and it is with me always. External factors will influence my life, I will occasionally have no control over these and the consequences they bring, I will be affected by them emotionally and tested mentally but it doesn’t mean that they will hold control over me and my life forever. I may have no clue what tomorrow will bring, but if I have to meet with oblivion I will do it with my eyes wide open and standing a full 154cm tall, shoulders back, head high and brave.

Brave enough to be kind in a world that’s gone to shit, to overcome some of the most devastating obstacles without polluting my soul, brave enough to be me – not unapologetically but with enough grace to admit when I am wrong, when I need help, that I have a soft heart, and I need to do better and be better. No more excuses or running from reality, it’s time to face this.

Travel, stereotypes, and being a coconut.

If you follow me on social media you may have seen that I spent the first 2 weeks of July country hopping in Eastern Europe and Germany.

Following the breakdown of a long term relationship in 2016, I subsequently was bitten by the travel bug, and have since visited 18 different cities (19 if I count the hour spent in the Eurostar terminal in Brussels).

In other words I embarked on a budget friendly, I’m a 20 something renting in London, and trying to maintain a full-time job, version of ‘Eat, Pray, Love.’

Travelling for me, like many things I do, is not only a way for me to broaden my view of the world – learning about new cultures, people, and experiences – it’s ultimately a way for me to understand myself and who I am, and how I fit within the society that surrounds me.

Figuring out who I am and what my place is in society is not a new concept to me, it is one I’ve struggled with my entire life.

I’ve previously written about growing up in British Indian household, and have touched upon aspects of my less than ideal childhood, from the stigma surrounding mental health in the South Asian community and also my relationship, or lack thereof, with my estranged father.

However, I’ve never really spoken openly and honestly about my experience growing up between two cultures, and how this has shaped the person I am today.

In an ideal world both my cultures would coexist peacefully, my Britishness and Indianness would no conflict in the slightest, and they most certainly wouldn’t lead to a conflict of existence in my inner being, more articulately describes as an identity crisis, which fuelled most of my childhood, adolescent, and early adulthood angst.

For me growing up with two cultures often meant choosing sides or being stuck in the middle, there was rarely a neutral point, I was either one of the other but never both.

Memories of my childhood visits to my father’s family in Yorkshire mainly consist of judgement and disappointment from my extended family over my apparent failure of not being Indian enough, and or appearing/behaving too ‘Western’. Visits often included questioning by various aunts and uncles over my ability to speak and understand Gujarati (my mother tongue) – with my elementary grasp of it often being considered a betrayal against my heritage, which was often accompanied by negative comments on my appearance and attire due to my choice of jeans and t-shirt over a ‘traditional’ salwar kameez.

On the other side of this, I spent a majority of my school years as a spectacle for my peers to examine, the curious minds of children never ceasing to amaze as well as the ignorance of some teachers – which I would grow to become amazed at and wished would cease. Each wrongly directed “namaste”, “I wish I had a tan like yours,” “when did you come over to England?” and “but where are you really from?” starkly reminding me that I was different and didn’t quite fit into their predetermined idea of what was British.

It didn’t take me long to realise that in the eyes of my family I was too ‘Western’ to be a proper Indian, and in the eyes of my British peers I was too brown to be a proper Brit. I was a ‘coconut’, stuck in the middle of constant reminders that I wasn’t enough of either of the two cultures I’d grown up in to be considered a legitimate part of them.

The separation I felt between the two cultures worsened following the breakdown of my parent’s marriage when I was 9. As I has opted to stay with my British-born mother as a opposed to my Indian-born father, I found myself assimilating with my British surroundings more and more, as our tie with the Indian community I had grown up knowing was severed – due to my mother’s apparent ‘unthinkable’ and subsequently ‘unforgivable’ act in their eyes (this act being my mother’s bravery to stand up to a man who was meant to love her but instead forced her to live in constant fear of him, through a myriad of psychological and physical abuse).

We were ostracised and isolated. I still had my melanin and my name, but my connection to that part of me was lost. As I had been shunned by my family and community I began acting in ways directly opposed to their values, I shortened my name to make it less Arabic sounding, I denounced my childhood faith becoming a kaffir, I started drinking alcohol with my British friends, and at 19 I got my first tattoo.

However, despite all these acts I was still a ‘coconut’. Instead of appearing British, I was just a non-traditional Indian girl who drunk and had tattoos, I still didn’t quite fit in.

The constant reminders of my otherness was apparent in multiple aspects of my life, from going to the shop to buy a pint of milk and explaining my entire family background to the shopkeeper out of politeness, to the backhanded compliments and fetishism that would paint my love life (my earliest encounter of this being at the age of 12, where I was informed by a boy in my year that none of the other boys would be as “open minded” as him as to like a brown girl).

To this day, dating and romance often comes with a caveat, usually accompanied by overthinking on my part. I spend a lot of the time wondering if someone genuinely likes me for who I am, or whether they hoping I fit a preconceived set of of stereotypical traits they think I have (which I will inevitably disappoint).

The constant exposure to phrases and sentences like “sari seduction”, “Asian persuasion”, “I’ve always had a thing for brown girls”, “I bet you make a great curry”, and a multitude of Kama Sutra references that I’m not even going to start on, have left me weary and skeptical about love (although I still remain a hopeless romantic despite this).

However, the more I travel, the more places I visit, the more people I meet, and the more cultures I am exposed to, the broader my view of the world has become.

I’ve come to realise that for every person who says I don’t belong, there is always another who says I do, and this has given me hope.

I wish I could say I’m no longer affected by the commentary which comes with being British Indian, but I would be lying.

Although, I am confident in referring to myself as both British and Indian despite growing up with the two cultures conflicting and I’ve learned that I don’t need acceptance from others to be myself, and I certainly do not need their permission.

Finding my balance

Thank you to everyone who has reached out to me, and offered their support. Your kind words and actions mean a lot to me and I appreciate them, and you.

When I’m struggling to cope with my depression I often forget that people genuinely care and love me. I convince myself that I am unlovable, unwanted, and unworthy of kindness from others. I focus on the love and the affection that is missing from my life, craving it so much it blinds me from the love and affection that surrounds me.

Depression is selfish in this way. It floods my mind with negative thoughts and convinces me I don’t know how to swim. It is often accompanied by anxiety, which can lead me to over analyse things, through a mindset of catastrophic thinking. I become afraid to tell anyone about the negative thoughts, out of fear of being judged or considered a burden. It convinces me that if I hate myself, then others must too.

This is however false; I am not a burden, and I am not widely hated or disliked. The support I have been shown over the past few weeks is evidence that I must be a half decent human being, if people are willing to lend a helping hand, and effectively fight to ensure that I stay in their lives, even on the bad days. I apologise for not recognising this sooner.

In the past I was afraid to speak openly and honestly about my mental health. I believed in the stigma that surrounds it, and I was scared that if people knew about the carnival inside my mind then they would disown me or use it to harm me in some way.

Some people have left my life when the topic of my mental health has come up, which is upsetting, but many people have also stayed.

Mental illness can be a difficult thing to cope with, especially when it is seemingly destroying someone you care about. When those some have left, I find myself wondering in moments following their departure how or why they have left, especially if they claimed to care about me. In hindsight, I can find reasoning in their decision. There is sadness for things lost but there is also appreciation and happiness for the things found.

In learning to control the carnival in my mind, I need to identify the good things in life, instead of dwelling on the negative and allowing myself to be blinded by it. In order to aid this need, I have started to keep a daily log which notes three things I have accomplished or enjoyed in my day.

I can’t change my past, and although there are things in it that I regret, I can learn to accept it as part of my history, and use it to shape a better future.


If you’re experiencing similar thoughts or feelings to those expressed in this post, it’s okay to reach out for help. You can find information about what mental health crisis services are available, how they can help and their times of operation here: https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/guides-to-support-and-services/crisis-services/useful-contacts/