The first time I moved abroad I was 17. While I am in awe of my younger self when I say that, it didn’t feel like a big deal at the time. I knew I wanted to leave my hometown, the place our high school was, and the country I grew up in. I had little to lose and everything to gain, and I felt like life was just about to start.
The second time I moved abroad, I went to the other side of the world. I spent half a year in Australia when I was 19, and that semester still counts as the happiest time of my life. I knew it was temporary, and that I would return to Malta, so I had to make the absolute best of it - which I did.
My third time moving abroad is now, at 22. (Not considering that time I moved to France and left as soon as I could.)
This time it was different. Leaving Malta was hard. After four years on the rock, I had established myself there. I had my friends who knew me to the core, I lived a 10-minute walk from the sea, and I had Sir Godwin with me at all times.
Life was good, and though I have had my extreme ups and downs on the island, the past year or so has been exceptionally stable. I felt settled.
So while moving abroad may have not been a big deal, leaving my peaceful life in Malta was. I know the place, the people, and what to expect. I know where to find my friends, where to go for help if I’m not doing well, and where to get the best pastizzi.
Life was simple and pleasant that way.
Dragging myself out of that pleasant life felt like a massive step. I wasn’t looking forward to putting my dog on a plane, nor did I feel like cramming all my belongings into a few bags. While I used to feel excitement when leaving the country, this time I mostly felt dread. Because this time, I was leaving for good - or at least for long.
Leaving something behind is always hard, especially knowing that nothing will ever be that same way again. I will never be surrounded by the same exact people, in the same circumstances, in the same period of my life.
Essentially, I closed a chapter. Not only of my life and my early twenties, but also of the Belle I was in Malta. Of the person I became while I grew and explored and changed on the rock. Like a snake shedding its skin, I am leaving behind a version of me that will only exist in memories and photographs.
It was scary, but not because I won’t be able to come back - if anything, I’ll be on the next flight to Luqa if I miss the Mediterranean life too much. It was scary because I am leaving something behind that I will never be able to return to.
But I did leave. I left, because I know how much power lies in change. If anything, I know that living by the motto “never settle” makes for an extraordinary life. I know how hard it is to leave certain things behind, knowing that nothing will ever be that way again, but I know that the beauty of possibility will always overshadow the mundanity of staying the same.
I’ve spent the past few weeks in reflection, as the Netherlands went on lockdown and I was stuck in my remote hometown village. And while I was processing my departure from Malta, I also came to the realisation that even the Netherlands isn’t how it used to be.
The country has changed, the people have changed, and there is no trace of me and the person I am left except in the hearts and minds of the people who haven’t forgotten about me.
It’s been a lot, and as I struggled with closing the biggest chapter of my life, my mental health deteriorated to the point where my village’s GP referred me to the “crisis service” for psychiatric care. Christmas wasn’t so holly and jolly this year, and it was one of my most serious mental breakdowns in a long while.
But like a storm, dark clouds pass over. I spent a week in serious distress, and then I got out of it. I cried, I wrote, I tried to put my pain into words. I received help and care from my therapist, a psychiatrist, and psychiatric nurses. And one day, the rain simply stopped.
I spent a few days in calm but pleasant silence until I felt ready to back my bags and physically move on to the next chapter: Brussels.
So here I am. In Europe’s capital, in the midst of winter, by myself. About to embark on a new adventure.
And I’m ready. I have shed a layer of skin, and a fresh new chapter is beginning. I have made my room into a home, Sir Godwin is with me every step of the way, and new experiences are beckoning.
With my pen in my hand, I’m excited for the chapter I’m about to write - whatever it will be.
I’ll keep you posted.