It is the 9th of June 2020 at 7:00 PM and I had been looking for my newly rented apartment for a full 30 minutes, an apartment that I had rented over video call 2 weeks prior and I was honestly quite scared that I might have been scammed. I suppose you could say that was my first culture shock, realising that in Sweden doors don't have the apartment numbers on them. Three months of London lockdown later, were followed by the contrasting tumultuous but exhilarating three months in Stockholm. I made new friends, my parents came to visit, I discovered Sweden is unexpectedly hot during the summer, I had a makeshift graduation on a boat (BSc at KCL 2020), I kayaked in a fjord, drove 6+ hours to finally get my 15 moving boxes, visited London one last time and finally started my master’s at Karolinska Institutet - which was the point of this move in the first place.
Still drunk on the fact that I was alone in a new country, that I started a new degree (albeit online) and Sweden didn’t really have the feel of a global pandemic, I really told myself for a long time that I was having it easy and that I wasn't affected by this at all. Because of the opportunities I had been presented with, I felt it would be unfair to allow myself to feel anything less than privileged – after all I didn’t really struggle. Turns out I had been successfully lying to myself. Consumed with making the best out of my situation and pretending that everything's OK, I lost sight of the things that I hadn’t mourned along the way. My journey at Kings finished not with a ceremony, but with me hastily leaving the place I called home for 3 years; I never got to say goodbye to those that I'm not going to be seeing for years; I moved to a country I've never even visited before, nor speak the language of; I wasn’t able to be there for my closest friends when they needed me most; I spent my Christmas in Norway with my boyfriend’s family because I longed for the feeling of belonging somewhere; my Master’s has been and still is all online. I am mentally alone, isolated, and I had been running away from that fact. The novelty of it all gradually dissipated.
My wake up call was when I recently visited Romania as I had been booked in for my vaccine. I hadn't seen my parents and my cat in months, yet, a few days before my departure, my dad came into my room and told me “I’m proud of you for working hard, but you haven’t spent a full 30 minutes with us since you arrived”. And the truth is, he wasn’t wrong. I left short of two days before my birthday because I had work to attend to. In my solitude, I had been filling this hollowness with any desperate attempt I could find at finding stability and giving myself a purpose. I founded a ThinkTank, I am part of the medical union, I’m a consultant, event organizer for TEDx & ISPOR and full time master’s student.
All my friends here have routinely praised me and voiced their approval for my initiatives, yet to me these now sound like self-inflicted punishments more than accomplishments. I love what I do, but at the end of the day, toxic productivity at the detriment of wellbeing only leads to exhaustion, burnout and misery. Calls, meetings, online classes bring a much desired structure, however, while the loneliness in front of the computer screens brings us together, it also emphasizes how far apart we are. My concluding statement, as a reflection of this pandemic’s effect, is that there truly is never enough value attributed to being vulnerable. It’s okay to be fine one day and grieve the next, there’s no need for consistency in how you live your life. Uncertainty has taught me how this too can be a stepping stone for the serendipitous things to come - time moves on regardless, but introspection makes sure you’re not the one getting stuck.
Read the entire World Magazind Spring 2021 edition here
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