It’s been a whirlwind. A rollercoaster. All those handy cliches. I will also say though, that these past few months have been some of the hardest of my life. I’m hesitant to write about my personal struggles, because it seems so self-absorbed. Everybody is under severe stress this year. My feelings are nothing unique. Plus, it seems that when I see people lately, they always ask about me and I’m tired of talking about myself.
But writing is what I do. It’s how I process my world. So here’s what it’s been like planning this move to Europe from an emotional perspective, in the hope it can help some of you if you’re going to be doing the same.
Firstly, there’s the sense that you aren’t allowed to be stressed, anxious or sad, as YOU chose this. You made this decision and it comes from a level of privilege and so you shouldn’t have any negative feelings at all. Everyone keeps asking me if I’m excited and the truth is that my answer is ‘not yet’. I’m still wrapped up in the losses, and the lists of things to do. This isn’t backpacking in my 20s with a flexible itinerary. This is uprooting an entire family, household and businesses and moving them to a different continent. It’s not a holiday.
We made this decision at the end of July and we board our plane at midnight on 27 December. That’s five months. It’s too short a time period in general, and I wouldn’t recommend doing it like this. We gave ourselves unrealistic timelines and we achieved them, but I do think they have come at a cost. There is certainly a less panicked way of going about this.
Either way, we did it, but it took two highly organised people who have been packing, paperworking, queuing at Home Affairs, paying and paying some more (there are so many expenses you never thought about). Every day we check in with each other and run through all the tasks we have to do. “Did you do this, what happened there, how can we get this done, shall we try a different approach?”. It’s like a fulltime job. Only that both of us still have actual fulltime jobs.
Now that we’ve moved out the house, packed up our lives, sold half our belongings on Gumtree, put the rest into a container, and are living out of suitcases, the list of things to do is decidedly smaller. And I know now that what I MOST need to do, more than anything, is to try and relax and enjoy these final weeks with family and friends, in the sunshine. But my brain is still in adrenalin-fuelled mode: I’m still waking at 3am with heart racing, trying to recall what it is I HAVE to do tomorrow. Someone tell my brain to quieten down a minute.
I’m trying all the things. Yoga. Making time to rest. I’m taking supplements. I spoke to a wonderful therapist who provided excellent guidance. She also reads poetry so sometimes my sessions felt like a literature discussion, which is definitely the kind of therapy I’m a fan of. But even with these tools (which I’m very lucky to have), I’m just here to say that doing this thing is HARD. One of the hardest things I’ve done. And this only becomes apparent as you start to live through it. I was naive before.
Perhaps it’s my personality – I completely accept that the stress felt could be directly related to the chinks in my character. For someone who likes control and who likes order, moving countries during a pandemic has been injected with so many variables. One day you think you’ve got it all organised but then suddenly there will be 4 curveballs thrown at you, all of which are impossible to catch and one of which possibly hits you square in the face. No one likes balls in the face guys. Haha (essential to keep your sense of humour through this too;).
I’m also a feeler. ALL the feelings are here inside of me, like different colours on a canvas. I’m not just feeling the three primary colours, instead it’s all the shades that there are: gentle lilac and gunmetal grey and screaming crimson. And this is both a blessing and a curse. Because I can write about these feelings and help people feel less alone, but then I’ve also got to live them all and feel them all and that’s hellavu tiring.
“Cry a little bit every day” says my therapist so I’m taking her advice literally. Not like I’m very good at controlling the tears but I do try allow myself a bit of crying each day. The shower is a good place, but also while in an Uber – SORRY Uber drivers for all the sniffling. I don’t recommend crying while drinking tea or eating cake though, as you’re likely to choke or spit it all out.
“But why are you doing this if it’s making you sad?”, I can hear many of you asking. This is something I ask myself, often. I’m not leaving a life I dislike. I very much like this life we have built. But I do also like adventure. I do crave difference. I do know that the challenges we face and the lessons we learn and the worlds we see will leave us richer and more interesting and stronger than we were before. I’m not leaving because it’s easy. I’m leaving because it’s hard.
I was chatting to a friend the other day and she said “B, I wouldn’t mind going on an adventure but I just don’t know if I have the EMOTIONAL energy to do it. 2020 has taken it all out of me.” And I so understand this. I’m calling on emotional reserves that aren’t always there. So I’m trying to learn to lean on other people. Speak to friends who are in the process of making similar moves. Friends who’ve done it recently. These are the people you need, plus just the generally wise ones.
But mostly I’m doing this because my gut says it’s right. One morning in July we woke up and drank our coffee and chatted in bed, like we did every morning over lockdown. But on this particular day we suddenly turned and looked at each other and I said “should we go?” and he said “yes let’s go” and so we did.
So come January, I won’t be jogging through Newlands Forest anymore. I’ll be jogging through Haagse Bos among the wintery trees with leaves at my feet. It will be freezing cold and I’ll get home and eat hagelslag on buttered toast. Our lives may be better in some ways, worse in others, but most of all, they will be very different.
And writing it down this way, for the very first time, I can start to feel a little twinge of excitement. We’re really doing this. And I know, deep down, that it’s going to be good.