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.

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/