one year of self-discovery
2017/11/13

one year of self-discovery

For months now I have been trying to start writing about this and even now, as I stare at my laptop screen, I’m still not sure how to start.

I figure the best way is from the beginning:

Long story short, exactly 2 years ago, me and my husband decided to leave our normal lives behind and change countries.
Not that we were unemployed or unhappy, but precisely because both of us were working long hours and had lots of work and still, couldn’t make ends meet at the end of the month. That, combined with the inner feeling we would never really grow anywhere special in our professions, led us to the decision to try our luck somewhere else.
The rest is history and you can read about it in previous posts.
Fast forward a couple of months, there we are, in a new [and freezing!] city, trying to make this plan a successful one.

Luckily enough, one month after landing in Amsterdam, my husband was offered his dream job: he started working in a competitive and exciting new environment, where his efforts were praised, his skills enhanced and his professional growth made possible. Oh wow! How pleasing it was to see him get up every morning, excited to go to work. What a change it was from the last couple of years.
Till this day, he comes home in the evening excited about his day at work, telling me all about his achievements, goals and new challenges.
But myself, on the other hand, wasn’t exactly feeling the same.
You see, back in Portugal, I was a teacher, and although I was not that respected by the majority of my employers nor did I feel it gave me a lot of future, I loved going to work every day. I felt useful and proud of my work. My intellect was put into action every day and there was, somehow, a purpose to it.

But being in a new country and not speaking its language, I was already quite lucky to have a job before I landed here, helped by a friend.
And one does what one has to do to get further so that’s what I did.
But after some time, being in a 2x5 basement for 8 hours a day dealing with a handbag store warehouse wasn’t exactly fulfilling nor mind-blowing and, after the reappearance of some past anxiety symptoms, together with my husband, I decided to quit my job and try to make it on my own with my small handmade business. It was time for me to go out on my own.

We talked a lot about this decision and I was well aware of its setbacks and challenges. After all, starting a new business always entails an investment phase before it kicks-off and I thought I was ready for it.
So I opened my Etsy shop, started promoting my pieces, worked on perfecting my skills, tried different things, talked to different people, enrolled in an online photography program, investigated, studied, worked on improving my website and slowly started selling my creations. I could not believe I had orders as far as the U.S. or even Australia!

Working from home definitely has its perks: I can do my own schedule, take any days off as I please, travel whenever I want, decide upon my work without an angry or an unappreciative boss around, and not deal with bad colleagues.
Picture-perfect, right?
The thing is, that also means you have to be very rigid with your schedule and always in charge of your tasks and time – because, believe me, it flies! -, you don’t earn that much in the beginning [being that you have to invest in materials] but, most of all, it can be quite lonesome.
So there you have it: my decision to be self-employed turned out much harder than expected and last year [I still count time in school-years: Sep ‘16 to Jun ‘17] was one of the hardest of my entire life.
Many factors determined it, though:

1. I was still mourning my ex-life. Longing for my country, my friends, my support system, my cultural identity was (still is!) a difficult process.
I love the Netherlands and the possibilities this country is giving us, but for a Southern European person the Autumn and Winter months can be quite difficult to bear and the culture a bit hard to understand sometimes.
Also, accepting your new role in your friends and family’s lives is not easy. Birthdays missed. Karate graduations not present. Children milestones not seen. Friends pains not assisted. People not hugged. Is it worth it to be this far?

2. Bigger or smaller, I’ve always had my own income to rely upon and I was never fully dependant on another person. Even though my husband is the greatest guy on earth and fully supports my decisions, it was hard to know I was not actively contributing financially to our household.
So, although I know that taking care of every other aspect of our lives is also contributing and that what I was doing for my business was, in fact, working, I felt bad every time I had to shop for more materials. And every vacation we did together. Every dinner at a restaurant we had. Every piece of clothing I bought. Every expense I made. Because although it was OUR money, it was not MY money.

3. During Wintertime days are shorter, but what I didn’t know is that in the Netherlands, they are A LOT shorter.
You see, my body is programmed to be productive during daylight and to rest during the night. And when daylight starts fading around 3 pm, it’s really hard to keep up the rhythm.
I am a sun-driven person. I need sunlight on my cheeks and big supplies of vitamin D on my veins to feel energized, powerful, creative even.
Here, there can be days on end without clear skies and that can make me feel a bit oppressed at times. I call it the low-ceiling-country-phenomenon.
And yes, I now take vitamin D supplements and do light-therapy at home with a specialized lamp. [oh, the joy of Nothern countries.]

4. I never perceived myself as the creative type before and, therefore, I never had to deal with creativity-related issues. Even when I was an actress I just had to perform other people’s vision of a character, never my own perception of it.
And I always wrote, that’s a fact, but I never pursued it in a serious manner.
For the first time in my life, I was able to explore my inspirations, my visions of the world around me, my feelings even, to create one-of-a-kind handmade pieces. That seems interesting! But it also made me feel a huge responsibility to please those around me and my small-but-precious audience.
Who am I artistically speaking? What do I like? What skills do I possess? How can I make others interested in my work?
It turns out that being creative for a living made me feel less creative than ever: suddenly it turned into an obligation: a way to make money, to sustain myself and my art.
[“Wow. This girl is full of drama.” – you say]

5. It is indeed super freeing to not have to deal with undeserving employers, angry managers and the ultimate unappreciative boss. But it is also super lonely to be an expat in a new city and working the entire day all by yourself at home. Soon enough, days started to feel like a succession of programmed events with no novelties whatsoever, week after week of the same. exact. routines.
Wake up – Gym - Grocery shopping – Work – Eat – Sleep - Repeat.
Have I mentioned the loneliness?

6. Well, it turns out that I need social interactions on a regular basis. I need meeting new people.
And yes, I go to the gym and I have a weekly dance class with other people. But that isn’t enough. After all, all the deep and meaningful acquaintances I had in my previous life took years to develop. And I do have good friends living here but seeing them once or twice a month doesn’t do the trick.

7. For the first time, I started doing therapy and it turns out that dealing with a lot ‘unfinished business’, sort of speak, also took its toll on me. Dealing with your own mind can be a challenge – but totally worth it, in the end, I can assure you – and I discovered a whole lot of things about me, my upbringing and my experiences I was not aware before.
Damn, the art of letting it go.


So, there I am alone. I have all the time in the world to think. And reflect. And question. And doubt.
[And oh-how-dangerous-that-can-be-for-a-mind-like-mine.]
I started feeling the pressure of having to succeed, having to show results, having to sell enough, be creative enough, earn enough.
I also started feeling the pressure to compensate my non-financial contribution with all the household chores.
It didn’t take long for my long-gone panic attacks to come back. My insecurities to assault me. And my anxiety to strike harder than ever.
What was the purpose of my work, really? Make people’s walls prettier?

I began feeling physically ill and going to the doctor more often, terrified I had a serious condition (are you familiar with hypochondria?).
And I started being depressed: no will to get out of bed really, no strength to deal with my issues.
My head and my thoughts worked against me and it was like I was the one sabotaging myself: the more I didn’t achieve each day, the more frustrated I felt. The more frustrated I felt, the more I didn’t achieve each day. [See the neverending loop here?]
It was a no-end street, really, with me screaming inside “Let me out, for dear life!”

Deep inside, I already knew that doing just one thing is not for me.
You see, I am a multipontencialite at heart [search: Emilie Wapnick] and I need to focus on several things at the same time. If I concentrate on just one thing at a time I rapidly lose interest in it. So, in order to be creative and productive, I need to feed all aspects of my soul. Thus, I am a dancer, a yarn maker and, most recently, a part-time translator for a new and exciting Dutch startup – more on that later.
I have worked in bookstores, been a teacher, worked at the airport, worked with almost all aspects of the theatre world, you name it, and still, to this day, I’m unable to answer the “What do you want to be when you grow up?” question. 
What fulfils my heart is the combination of all the things I like to do and not just one in particular.

So, eventually Summer arrived [at least to other countries in Europe] and my sweet, patient husband helped me realize that what I really needed was a kind of sunlight-cure. And even though we had booked flights for the end of that same month to go there, he booked me an S.O.S. flight to Portugal for a full week of beach, high temperatures and naps under the warm sun.
I didn’t tell anyone about this trip [other than my parents and two friends] and spent an entire week reading books and diving in the healing waters of the ocean.
Suddenly, my body didn’t feel sick anymore and I realized all of what I was feeling in the last months was solely the product of my own mind.
This was, finally, my much-needed break.
I could rest again, sleep again, breathe again. My heart didn’t want to skip a beat every minute nor my chest felt like being under a heavy rock.
Slowly, I was coming back to life. I was not afraid of dying at every second of the day. Nor did I feel undeserving of this great life we are building here in this land of opportunities.

So, after some vacations in the sun and starting regular guided meditation, with a much more clear head, I finally made the decision I needed to get back to work outside my house. I needed something that stimulated my intellect, made me feel useful and, at the same time, allowed me to meet new people.
I started applying for jobs and luckily, after some weeks, I finally had my opportunity: I was hired as a Portuguese translator at a young cool Dutch company and, exactly one year after I came home post quitting my first job here in the Netherlands, I started working part-time [which here means a couple of days a week and not a couple of hours every day, like in Portugal], allowing me to continue to pursue my handmade dreams and doing other important things for me – like spending an entire day writing this article, for instance.
I feel much more useful, my professional skills are appreciated at my new workplace, my head works, my intellect is alive again and my creativity is slowly coming back.
I am under no pressure at all to succeed because I already feel I am succeeding.

It was a hard year, there’s no doubt about that.
But I came out of it alive and renewed. I have learned a whole lot about myself and I see a different person in the mirror: not better, not worse. More complete. More present in this neverending process of self-growth and discovery. More accepting of my new life, its limitations and its possibilities. Much more aware of my needs and my wishes, my likes and my dislikes.

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It wouldn’t be fair to end this sharing without some words of praise to my ever amazing, ever surprising husband. The most loving, tolerant, generous Human Being I have ever met and I somehow seem to deserve.
All the strength to deal with is, I got it from his embrace every.single.day, his words of wisdom and understanding, his patient waiting, his comprehension of my feelings and my needs, his encouragement and his utmost support.
If he only knew how profound my admiration for him is. If he only knew how much I learn from him since the first day I laid my eyes on him.
We really do walk this road together.

Also, I would like to remind everyone that this is only a sharing of a part of my experiences throughout the last year.
I praise each and every one of you out there fighting on the self-employment journey and thriving every day. I admire you. This is my story and a humble attempt at living my own truth whilst encouraging all of you to do the same.

Mental health shouldn’t be a taboo.