For me, 2013 was all about new beginnings
After having suffered a personal tragedy about seven years ago, I hadn’t been able to move on from it, which meant that my life had become very much stuck in a rut.
While I realised at some level that this was the case, I was unsure of what to do about it. Despite being impulsive by nature, I had become fearful and scared of taking risks and, even though I was unhappy with the status quo, I had no idea of how to go about effecting positive change.
I had created a stressful, over-busy life for myself to block out the pain and, deep down, I was afraid of what I would be left with if that comfort blanket was taken away. Better the devil you know and all that. But following a tremendous amount of self-development work, which included a lot of meditation, self-reflection and long chats with my best friend, things finally started to shift.
Until, out of the blue in 2012, my husband was asked by his employer to relocate to South Africa for a couple of years in order to sort out operations there. At first it was a definitive ‘no’ from me. What about my ageing parents? What about my career? What about me?
Having spent a lifetime being overly-independent, how would I cope with having no job as I wouldn’t be eligible for a work visa, no income for the first time since leaving home and no personal status other than being someone else’s wife? It was just too much. But as time went on, the thought kept on gnawing at me that, rather than look at the negatives, which were all based on fear, maybe I should try to focus on the positives. After all, it was a wonderful opportunity to participate in a different culture and new way of life. I’d previously lived in Germany for a year and California for two and benefited greatly from both experiences – although given, they’d been on my terms and not on someone else’s.
And then there were all of the things that I was keen to do, or do more of, and never seemed to have the time – to finish that novel I’d started years ago but got stuck on, for starters. To do more charity work and, hopefully in the process, meet new people and acquire new skills; and to lose the weight that I’d gained when I quit smoking by going to the gym more often and introducing a healthy eating regime.
So in the end, I talked myself round. While the proposition had first been mooted in spring, by autumn, I was emotionally ready to go and so we started on what amounted to a tortuous and ridiculously elongated South African visa process. And so it was that we landed on our new home shores at the end of January last year – without accommodation and with very little support from the mother ship.
Nonetheless, we found ourselves a hotel for a week in lovely, leafy Stellenbosch in the Cape Winelands, followed by a month’s worth of living out of a suitcase in a local B&B, which acted as a base to go house-hunting. And you know what – it was fine. I was amazed at how quickly I was able to adapt to the uncertainty and remember how it was to take things as they came rather organise things to the letter.
I was also amazed by how little I missed work and how unimportant financial independence and the like now felt. People here seemed to accept me for who I was and that helped me accept it too.
And gradually and most importantly, over the course of months, I found that I was becoming less afraid. Less afraid of new encounters, less afraid of taking risks, less afraid, even, of my old phobia, driving, following a bad accident in California.
Because as my life opened up, so too did I open up, becoming happier and less anxious in the process. The secret, of course, will be remembering how to maintain this state of honeyed calm once I re-enter the workforce. Nevertheless, it’s taken some effort to get here.
It’s not surprising really, but once your life slows down drastically and the potential-filled days stretch ahead to do with as you will, all that you’re really left with is yourself and the still, quiet voice within.
And so it is that you hear it, perhaps for the first time. But it doesn’t always make for easy listening. In my case, it was all about self-criticism and duty, all the ‘I should/I ought/I really must do this and that’ – an internal dialogue that had presumably been going on for years. But I found it was making me miserable and so I stopped it. As simple as that. I just refused to listen and focused instead on doing something that I had a yen to do at that moment. So rather than beat myself up because I wasn’t working on that novel, I wrote a children’s book instead. Rather than worry in case I wasn’t doing enough journalism to keep my hand in, I developed an editorial strategy and became content editor for Vision AfriKa, an educational charity for which I do voluntary work.
Which leads me to another salient point. If ever you find yourself moving to a foreign country minus a work visa – or retiring temporarily or permanently, which amounts to the same thing – it’s definitely worth at least having some idea of how you might like spend your time. The danger is that life can start feeling pretty pointless pretty quickly if you have no routine and drift around without any positive idea of how to fill your days.
In my case though, I’m happy to say that, nearly a year on and bar finishing that novel, I’ve pretty much managed to do everything that I wanted to do. And, given that we’ve just moved to Johannesburg and still have a year to go, I can’t wait to see what our latest new beginning brings……
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