There’s a lot about expat life I never thought would happen to me. I’m not exactly married to my “home” culture: though I’ve tried to do better in recent years, I’ve always — both internally and deliberately — disassociated myself from my nationality. Sort of like my legal name, my being Spanish is just that — letters on paper. It determines my legal status, and mostly makes things easier for me than they would be from someone coming to the UK from outside the European Union. I also have it easy because I’m white and don’t even look particularly ‘foreign.’ When deciding to move here, I didn’t have to take my race or religion into consideration, and I didn’t have to go through any bureaucratic bullshit. I just bought a flight ticket, renewed my (Spanish) ID, and set off for greener pastures.
(I’m leaving the cliché because one of the things I’ve always liked about England is how green it is. You get on a train and the countryside is all pretty, as opposed to miles and miles of ugly dry yellowish land.)
Obviously I knew it wouldn’t end there. I knew if I was going to really stay here permanently I’d have to deal with paperwork, find a GP, register as self-employed, eventually apply for dual citizenship, all that fun stuff. But I wasn’t going to be the victim of any hate crimes and I wasn’t going to get deported. All that holds true.
It also holds true that I adapted quickly to the schedule here, the earlier closing times, places being open on Sunday, light lunches in the early afternoon and no heavy meals until evening drew close. The past few days notwithstanding, I also really like that people go to bed early and rise early. In Spain, unless you’re elderly or have an early morning, or you’re five, it’s pretty weird to go to sleep before midnight, and I’ve found out over the past couple of years that my sleep schedule is all or nothing. Either I go to bed three hours earlier than usual or I’m fucked. “A little” doesn’t cut it.
I don’t miss the food, either. I’ve always been very simple in my eating habits. I like how easy it is to find orange juice with pulp (er, “juicy bits” — maybe the whole ‘being five’ thing is applicable here also…) and all the variants on seeded sliced bread and baked goods are pretty great, at least when I’m not fighting off nausea. Let’s quickly move on from this paragraph.
My point is, I never expected any kind of proper culture shock and I haven’t had any. I’ll try to post here and there about the little things I encounter that are weird to me, because apparently people like to read that stuff and I’m not one to turn down a chance to make a list, but mostly it’s just, you know, more diverse, the weather is bananas and London is massive… and hugely expensive to live in.
That’s when it starts to get to me that I’m an expat. I didn’t have any sort of separation anxiety when I moved to Madrid for college. It was awful, but it was awful because I was in a dorm and I had social anxiety. One of the main reasons for me moving country was to get away from my family. I love my mom and my sister, but they can both be really difficult to live with. My father is basically impossible. I still get glimpses of all this via Skype. I was never close with my extended family, and I didn’t have any friends at home. All the people I consider friends have always lived in a different country. I didn’t think living in the UK would be all that different.
Turns out it really, really is.
I want to start off by saying that I’m sick today, this weekend, this week — I decided to go off my antidepressants (paroxetine), and see how I fared without them before I decided if I wanted to stay off or try something new (mirtazapine). My GP quite visibly disagrees with this, and seeing how the last week has gone, I’m tempted to agree with her. But it was always supposed to be a ‘what if,’ not a ‘this is totally going to work out for me.’ I just wanted to see.
What I’ve seen is a whole lot of crying and fear and stress and anxiety and tears. I’ve been a walking meltdown for the past few days — god, it feels like weeks — and at this point I’ve probably broken into tears in every five-feet portion of the route between my bedroom and the Starbucks on South End Rd. Also, obviously, in my bedroom and at the Starbucks on South End Rd. Hopefully no one who’s seen that will judge my application whenever I get around to filling it out and giving it in. I need to reprint it. I need to reschedule my NIN appointment — again. I start out feeling like it’s a great idea and I’m going to get it and get all the help I need, and then the appointment draws near and I somehow sleep through it, and start thinking it’s completely useless.
Then again, I feel like everything is useless this week. I’m not going to get anywhere. The people who want to help me can’t, and the people who can help me don’t want to. I feel more and more like I’m pushing myself on people just because I want to know that if I end up not having a place one day, I’ll have a couch I’m welcome to sleep in. I can’t get a flat without a steady job and I can’t get a steady job without money for transport and the mental stability to start giving out my resume. Also, without a resume written up. I can’t get money without working, and I can’t work when I’m crying all the time.
And I’m alone. I feel so utterly, helplessly alone. I’m dreading my landlady coming back from her vacation because I’ll have to pay her and move back to the tiny room with all the noise, but I couldn’t find another place, I couldn’t bring myself to do it, I tried for two days and it killed me, and I’m really grateful that she’s letting me stay another month. But that’s the most she can do. I think it is, anyway. We’ve had some communication issues before.
I want to trust people, but I’m not given anything to trust. More and more I feel like I have to hide things about myself to get anywhere (because I’m lucky I can hide them, if I make a concerted effort, if I convince myself to do it) and there’s no certainty that it will work anyway.
I’m tired and I just want a place to hide for a few weeks. I’m so depressed I’m even considering going home, home where the cat is, home where I’d have to drag my luggage and lose whatever I’ve built for my blog and my photography career by not being where I’m supposed to be. And anyway I can’t register as self-employed at home because their monthly healthcare fee is basically what I’m spending on rent here. And there are no jobs there for me.
Maybe there aren’t any here for me, either, but at least there are ads I can apply to. And that chokes me again, because it means I have to stay here, because I’d have to find a place here, because how do I find a place here? Because I still want to hide somewhere for weeks, if someone will lend me their spare room. Because I feel weak and I want someone who’ll welcome a cry for help from me, who will offer so I don’t have to push or will readily help if I do, who will give me that hiding place I’m craving just to help me.
Basically, family, right? And I just don’t have any here, or the energy to pretend I don’t need help for long enough to fool someone into befriending me. I don’t work that way, anyway.
I just feel alone as hell.