How Moving to Another Country Helped Me Heal
I was raised in a very traditional way, a modest female with pre-supposed expectations and a list of life events to tick off as I grew up. I grew up on the beautiful coastal side of South Africa, in Cape Town. The list of life events were:
get a tertiary education
get a job
buy a house and a car
take the same weekend break to the nearby hot springs resort every year
get old and die.
I knew exactly what my life would look like at every quarter milestone and I hated that. There was no room for spontaneity. Even though ticking things off a list made me feel somewhat successful, I was still wasn’t really happy with my life. Not in a way that mattered anyway.
I was halfway through ticking things off that list when I hit a major low point in my life. I watched my dad die in a public hospital ward. I only started to get to know him a year before I got married and I always thought I’d have more time with him. Unfortunately, nothing in life is guaranteed.
I went spiraling into a world of anxiety and depression, which I hid from my family and friends for months – I became really good at pretending to be the person they expected me to be. But I knew if I wanted to continue living, I needed my life to change dramatically, but I didn’t quite know how.
I worked for a digital marketing agency with global offices and who encouraged staff to pursue opportunities in any of their 60+ locations in the world. I matched the criterion necessary to be considered for liquid talent, so with nothing to lose, I decided to make the application on a whim. At the time there was no open role I applied to, it was purely speculative. I had randomly put myself out in the universe with one click, and had no idea how significantly my life would change after that.
I forgot about the application abroad, and continued to exist in the background. But within a few short weeks I found myself on a Skype call with my new team in my agency’s London office. The next few weeks consisted of visa applications, chest x-rays and international house hunting; everything happened so fast and every detail of it excited me. It was the biggest plot twist of my life, and the first time in a long time that I felt excited to be alive again.
I remember standing in the hallway of Heathrow Airport with my entire life packed into 1 suitcase. I had never visited London before, so I had no idea what to expect.
That first week in London was a whirlwind of new experiences that I welcomed with open arms. For the first time in a long time I felt what it felt like to be alive, which was the penny drop moment for me; I found the secret to pure unadulterated happiness: for me that meant venturing into the unknown. I was the happiest I’d been in years. It felt like I had a blank canvas in front of me with a chance to rewrite the life I wanted to live without any preconceived notions of what I’m supposed to be and for that I was infinitely and spiritually grateful.
It’s been three years since my first flight to London and I know that I am not the same girl who stepped onto that airplane. I’ve discovered things about myself that I never knew before; I’ve grown both personally and professionally and I try not to plan my life too much.
I now live with my husband and dog in a leafy London suburb, spending my weekends with other dog lovers in the park and exploring the latest pop-up in the city. I am lucky enough to travel often and have a great work/life balance. I am exposed to so many different experiences, feelings, languages and cultures. Traveling humbles you; it puts your problems into perspective and it definitely changes you. I still wonder if my dad would’ve been proud of me if he knew me right now.
My advice to anyone who’s reading this would be: don’t wait until you have nothing to lose to take a risk in life. Do it now. You’re always one decision away from a completely different life.