Turkeys voting for Christmas

As a British expat, who has resided in Belgium for a little over a year now, the thought that’s taken up residence in the back of my mind for quite a while now is, ‘what will Brexit do?’

‘What will it do to my rights to remain in Europe?’
‘What will it do to my job prospects?’
‘What will it do to my way of life?’

In my heart I’m European, but on my passport I’m British.

Growing up in London, I was exposed to the melting pot of cultures, that makes it such a beautiful, wonderful city. A diverse city of differing but shared ideas of multicultural acceptance, but following the Brexit referendum in 2016, I saw that melting pot image harden. As seeds of hate planted through a campaign trail, born from fabrication and false promises, took root, watered by the demonisation of immigrants and the less fortunate to cover up the consequences of austerity, that had mined our public services, leaving them as husks of their former selves.

In March 2019, I braced myself for the worst, two years of back and forth bickering leading us off a cliff’s edge without a paddle, or so it seemed. However, with each deadline extension, I started to gain new hope. I thought for a moment that perhaps we would stay as part of this union, which is far from perfect, but holds true in its missions and values in the shared interest of peace, defenders of them many not the few.

Although, now, almost nine months later, from that initial leave date, I began my morning abruptly woken by a 4am news alert from my BBC News app. A declaration that hope was lost. A Conservative Party victory, that has now sealed our fate. Led by the demagogue figure of Boris Johnson, who will inevitably lead my home down the path of maximum destruction under the guise of freedom, and taking back control.

You may argue that in the name of democracy, that it is the will of the people and must be respected, and perhaps my thoughts and feelings exist in an echo chamber of like mindedness. If my social media feed is anything to go by, this is definitely true.

Looking out over the grey and rain filled streets of Brussels, I know that I live in and work in a bubble. However, my beginnings on a council owned housing estate in Hackney, have remained with me, as I climbed the ladder of society, now comfortably existing amongst the middle classes, and I fear what is coming.

We’ve all read or seen the news stories of the victims of austerity, thousands of societies most vulnerable being forced into dire situations, as their basic human rights and needs are not met, many cases costing them their lives. The elderly will suffer. The disabled will suffer. The poor will suffer. The NHS will most likely be privatised. All in the name of control and the will of the people, have we forgotten our humanity?

In times like this, where I’m forced into questioning the reasoning of reality, I’m reminded of Book Six, of Plato’s The Republic, where he recalls Socrates conversation with Adeimantus, highlighting the flaws of democracy – drawing comparison between society and a ship and asking if you were heading out out on a journey by sea, would you want anyone or someone educated in how to properly run the vessel – naturally Adeimatus responded in favour of the latter.

As although, kind in concept, the rise in reality star culture has made a mockery of the very word that is democracy, with improper or minimal education available to the voting masses, rational has been lost, as single issue politics takes flight fuelled by populist notions, of us vs them, without a second thought to consequences or repercussions.

As I watched the ticker flicking across the bottom of my television screen, interrupted by phone notifications from shocked friends and family, both in the UK and in my residing country, I watched as historically strong Labour and Liberal Democrat seats swung from red and yellow to blue. Constituencies with strong union pasts, and integrated migrant communities, seemingly voting against their best interests, like turkeys voting for Christmas or slugs for salt, to be ruled under a mandate won by hate and fear. To get Brexit done, whatever the price may be.

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.

10 … 9 … 8 … 7 … Sh*t

In 10 days my home country is set to depart from the European Union. As a British expat living and working in Belgium, this is a period of grave uncertainty for me.

Like most expats, both British and mainland European, living and working within the EU28, I’m still unsure about what the 29th of March will mean for me or them.

Will I be able to stay in my newly found second city? Or will I have to pack my bags on March 29th and bid farewell to the place I’ve called home for the last 6 months? Will the deadline for departure be extended until June, so I can live on borrowed time and in denial for a little longer? Or will we actually leave at all?

In short the will we won’t me of the situation is driving me a bit barmy, I hate the uncertainty. Not just this uncertainty, but all uncertainty. A somewhat ironic notion, as I love spontaneity.

A realisation I made a month ago, during an impromptu visit from a former colleague and friend, where a bottle of red wine on a Friday night resulted in a weekend trip to Amsterdam, the following day, because “Flixbus tickets are only €10!”

Following the 3 hours coach journey, we arrived in the Netherlands and I was washed over with a sense of calm. I often feel this way when I visit different cities and countries, despite the fact I often don’t speak/know the language, I’m usually alone, and my entire life in that moment is dependent on my mobile phone and EU data roaming.

As an anxiety sufferer who has struggled with my identity and finding clarity of thought throughout my life, arriving in an unknown place without understanding should probably feel me with dread, but it doesn’t. I didn’t realise this, until I saw that expected dread in another person.

I began to question why someone with my past life and current experiences, that could make up enough content for at least three series of a tabloid talk shows, was so calm with uprooting myself and placing myself in an unknown place without understanding.

After a day of thought the answer was simple: I inject cultivated chaos into my life which allows control over uncertainty, because I have chosen to place it there, and it is not something that is being done to me without my consent. If my world is going to be uncertain, I want to be the one to make it so. I want to find method in the madness and order in the chaos.

Unfortunately for me, and many people like me this isn’t always possible. Currently my external and internal being is uncertain, and I hate it.

I have a tri-factor of mental illnesses, which I attempt to subdue with a small yellow pill each night, but this doesn’t equate to the certainty that I’m not going to wake up screaming soaked in sweat because I had a flashback, because the chemicals of my subconscious decided to put on a private show of my nightmares and my memories … again.

These flashbacks of course stemming from the memories of uncertain things, which went against my individual autonomy and resulted in such a impactful mental blow it manifested as PTSD.

As someone whose internal being is so often against them, I often look to my external surroundings to find grounding in my life, but in this suspended moment that looks to be impossible.

My country is a shambles heading over a cliff’s edge into uncharted waters without a paddle or even a boat for that matter, and I find myself feeling hopeless and scrambling for something to hold onto in order to protect myself as my world descends further into madness. I don’t know what March 29th will bring, but I hope I can survive it.


If you’re experiencing similar mental health related 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/


Is it more acceptable to be blackout, than blue?

I’m pleased to say that my dry January of 2019 was a success, not a single drop of alcohol entered my system for the whole month, even when temptation reared its head. I haven’t stayed sober in 2019, having had a few social events where an open bar and want to let loose have taken over.

Having abstained and indulged in alcohol this year I’ve come to realise a few things about myself:

  • I drink when I’m anxious, I drink heavily when I’m anxious, as someone with severe anxiety I’m anxious a lot;
  • I drink so I have an excuse to act out of character and a bit wilder than usual, alcohol gives people an excuse to let their inhibitions free – say what they like and do what they like all under the guise of ‘sorry, I was drunk;’
  • I still have blue days when I’m sober;
  • Other people will have a bigger problem with you not drinking, than you have with not being able to drink;
  • My social life revolves around beer and wine;
  • My nationality influences my relationship with alcohol greatly, and people expectation of it.

Circling back to the top of that list, anxiety, particularly social anxiety is a big problem for me.

Crowds freak me out. People freak me out. Life freaks me out. Since I was a teenager social situations fill me with dread, not because I dislike them but because I am convinced that people don’t actually want me there. 

You could probably link this back to an early childhood memory of mine, where I distinctly remember my two closest friends at the time running away from me under the pretence of play, often leaving me in tears on the other side of the playground, feeling rejected and abandoned, having spent a few minutes running after them – my small stature and naturally non-athletic ability rendering me fairly easy to leave behind. This memory has stuck with me throughout my life, and resurfaces when I experience similar moments in my adult life almost two decades later. 

As an adult, I realise that social events are necessary if you want to avoid becoming a hermit. Particularly when you live almost 400 kilometres/200+ miles away from home, away from your closest friends and family, away from the comforts, and the routine you had spent years crafting and altering to suit your needs.

However, like most people I’m still marked by the memories of my past, I still fear rejection from my peers so often find myself appearing rather defensive or cold as a means of protecting myself. In order to counteract my anxiety in social situations, I drink – because drinking is a socially acceptable coping mechanism, staring at people awkwardly from the corner, wide eyed, like a deer in the headlights, is not.

Even when you drink until you drunk dial your exes and wake up with hangover that feels like a 4am hotel fire alarm, realising that the pharmacies are shut and wanting nothing more than to crawl up and die, this isn’t considered as odd; when compared to saying that your anxiety is kicking your arse, your fight or flight is having a domestic in your brain, and you’re finding it difficult to breathe.

The month I didn’t drink was hard. I didn’t have a social crutch, and it was noticeable. People noticed I wasn’t drinking, and people questioned it. Part of the reason I chose to do ‘dry January’ was because it was a pre-existing premise, so I thought it would removed at least some of the questioning, but it didn’t. I still found myself explaining that the reason for my choice to not drink was because I wanted to see how it affected my mental health, which made for a very awkward set of conversations, because mental health still carries a very negative stigma which often makes people feel uncomfortable.

Another thing I realised in my month of sobriety was that the blue days didn’t disappear, as I was hoping they would. I hoped that not drinking would be the cure all to my depression, an easy fix if you will. Unfortunately, there is no easy fix to depression. It doesn’t go away overnight, and is something that many people struggle with throughout their lives.

I did however realise that drinking when I was blue exasperated my negative thoughts and feelings, turning pale false spring skies into the depths of an inky ocean, the monster within it spiralling in my mind and tormenting me until my emotions leaked out of me like waves crashing against the shore line in the midst of a tempest, toppling unsuspecting (relation)ships and swallowing them whole, with no remnants left behind.

I’ve suspected this correlation for a while but never really addressed it, the fear of being ostracised from the social circles which I’m desperately trying to infiltrate due to my loneliness has blinded me somewhat from this reality. However, following an unexpected visit from a friend last week, a spontaneous trip to Amsterdam, and a string of sunshine days following I have been able to see more clearly, and I hope this clarity will allow me to tackle life’s obstacles head on, from the root. Disregarding the opinion of others, and the societal expectation which I am supposedly meant to adhere to. I live for me and only me, I care for the people around me and who are in my life, but ultimately I take centre stage in my reality. 


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/ 


 

Blue

If you have known me for more than a month, it is likely you’ve seen me on a ‘blue day’ – a period of time (sometimes a day, sometimes longer) where my depression and anxiety are royally kicking my arse, and I find it near impossible to cope.

During this time my insecurities manifest to point where I am convinced that I am sub-human, everyone secretly hates me, and I’d be better off if I just removed myself from the equation of life.

I also become insecure about the fact that I’m feeling depressed and anxious again, and am probably irritating my nearest and dearest with my apparent inability to be a happy person, instead I’m stuck in a seemingly endless loop of sadness, despite my best efforts.

My blue days are not always obvious, in fact I hide them quite well. Over the past few years I have created a facade of being a happy, smiley, confident person, which makes them almost undetectable.

Most people know about my blue days because I talk about my blue days. This is a recent revelation, which came about due to my hope, that by admitting my vulnerabilities, insecurities and flaws they could not be used against me, as well as being tired of pretending to be okay.

My platonic loved ones often tell me how much I mean to them; I am told I am brave, strong, beautiful, funny, admirable, smart, loyal, kind, as well as many other positive attributes either based on my personality or my appearance, unfortunately if I’m having a blue day I do not see this.

On a blue day I am in fact incapable of seeing this. On a blue day my internal vision is clouded by every negative thought, feeling, and experience I have gone through, I try to filter it out but the filter usually breaks, and the blue hue rushes over me, leaving me stained and bruised.

It’s a constant battle between myself and my own brain and it’s exhausting – a bit like playing Street Fighter when you and your mate want to both play as Ryu, so you end up playing Ryu v Ryu, and inevitably end up yelling at the screen because you can’t differentiate which Ryu is your Ryu, and you know it would have been far easier if you just played as Ken v Ryu, or Sagat v Zangief, or something, but instead it’s you v you, so you’re stuck in a paradox, scrambling for a way out.

Unfortunately, I have also found that my blue days are a breaking point for a number of people, and has laid waste to numerous relationships in my life, mostly romantic.

I have struggled with romantic relationships since my adolescence, having been bullied for my appearance in both my teenage and adult life, and having been in a series of emotional and physically abusive relationships, it’s often difficult for me to view myself as desirable. Adding to this the times where I have been desired romantically have been marred with ignorance, racism, and fetishism, which has made me sceptical that I will every truly find someone who loves me for me.

I often hear that in order to find love, you must first love yourself – that you have to be more confident, more positive, more … just more, but why do we always need to be more than who we are? Why can’t we be insecure, why can’t we be vulnerable, why can’t we be flawed? Why can’t we openly be shaped by our past?

People are not perfect, far from it in fact, so why are we so hellbent on pretending that we are?


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/ 


 

Eternal clouds of the anxious mind

Three weeks ago I moved to Brussels.

In the process of doing so I left behind my friends, my family, my hometown, and my sense of security and comfort.

I have moved cities once before, when I was 14. It was a move I did not want to make, but as a child at the time I did not have a choice in the matter.

Once I regained autonomy of my life and its decisions, I moved back to my hometown, after being accepted to study at the University of the Arts. I was the first person in my family to attend university, so for me this was a big deal.

Looking back at this moment, I harbour some regret.

I often feel that I should have moved further afield for university, like many of my friends did, although I have come to accept that at the time this was the right decision for me.

Eight months prior to starting university, I experienced the most traumatic experience of my life. An experience which altered my life permanently, and almost cost it entirely.

The fallout of this trauma includes; a criminal proceeding, countless therapy sessions, numerous suicide attempts, five years (and counting) of anti-depressants, flashbacks, panic attacks, breakdowns, homelessness, and a medical diagnosis for PTSD, major depression, and severe anxiety.

A difficult and trying adolescence/early twenties, with few constants, meant that my hometown, of London, became my safety blanket. The decision to leave it behind was an arduous one to say the least.

Although, over the past couple of years, I have felt like I have lost touch with my hometown. I used to know London like the back of my hand, and it made me feel safe.

However, following the Brexit Referendum and subsequent occurrences since, I began to feel like home was no longer my home. The negative aspects of my life seemed to become more prevalent, and so did my desire to escape my life there.

I applied for my traineeship in March, and was officially accepted in August. After securing a career break, I packed my worldly possessions into a storage unit (filtering out two suitcases of ‘essentials’), said goodbye to my friends, my family, and my home, and set off for Brussels, the new city which would act as my surrogate home.

Unfortunately since arriving I have started to experience increased feelings of fear, sickness, and hopelessness.

I felt fear when I first arrived, not knowing a single soul and not speaking either of the primary languages, served as a stark reminder that I was no longer surrounded by the familiarity of home, and that I was alone.

I felt sickness a week prior to moving, I began showing physical symptoms of ill health, centering around stomach pain and seemingly random bruising, which I attributed to stress. However, once I arrived the symptoms continued, and although they could be due to the stress of moving, I am concerned that they may be a sign of something far more sinister.

The hopelessness came following the sickness and the fear, as my anxiety and depression have worsened. I spent the last two days confined to the walls of my Airbnb, mainly sleeping and binge watching Netflix series. I’m at a loss of thought, I’m honestly not sure if I’ll survive this chapter in my life.

Looking over the trajectory of my life, through my adolescence and my adulthood, do things really get better with time?


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/ 


 

It’s been a while

I haven’t written in a while. I could excuse this with the reasoning of a distracted mind or a busy schedule, but in all honesty the carnival has been in full force. My mind has been riding through a rollercoaster of emotions, that I’ve been trying my best to process.

I try my best not to react to negative happenings in my life, with the full blown consequences of my catastrophic thinking, but this is a rather difficult try.

Perhaps it’s the fear of being hurt further, or my attachment anxiety running on high, but as soon as something negative happens in my life, or something unexpected, I have the tendency to run and hide, trying my best to ignore it and to shut it out. Often pretending that everything is okay.

Whilst running away from this I usually anger someone, and recoil further because I feel like I’ve let that person down. I spiral. I often spiral, and push back against the negativity with my own negativity which just pushes me into a state of irrational being, and pushes those close to me further away. This isn’t always noticeably visible, but it’s there.

I often find myself in states of feeling like I’ve let someone down, which often feels, in that moment, like the worse thing in the universe.

In retrospect, it isn’t the worse thing in the universe, but try explaining that to anxious overthinking me …

I overthink everything.

I relay my life bloopers during the day and during the night. I have trouble sleeping, often due to the omnibus of shitty or embarrassing incidents of my life playing on a loop. It’s not a good thing, and I’m working at getting better at coping with these. To control it and cope in a healthier way.

During my attempt to do this, I’ve realised a few things:

  • I will push some people away, but the worthy ones will stay.
  • It will take time, but the prolonging of time is why we have patience.
  • The process won’t always make sense in the moment, but that’s why we have retrospect.
  • It’s okay to not have clue what you’re meant to be doing, most people don’t.

One day I will have a method to compliment my madness, until then I think I’ll be okay just trying to make sense of it all as best I can.

Some days I’ll find the words to write about it and on others I won’t. I’ll go off on nonsensical tangents (see this entire blog post), and on other days I’ll construct more thought out pieces of expressive emotion. Each one will be an expression of myself, and will hopefully make one less person feel less alone in this unpredictable world.

We’re all just trying to make sense of our surrounding, and find our place in it.

It will take time, but we will get there.