I started a new job in August and didn’t get paid until this week. That’s three months of waiting for money I use to pay for my rent and groceries. When I decided to stop working until I got paid for it, I was told that wasn't very "colleague-minded" of me.
Our house has been infested by mice and flies. You’d think that’s a great problem for a landlady to solve, but we have adjusted our expectations to the bare minimum and are genuinely joyful when she answers a WhatsApp message in a coherent and understandable way. I’ve bought mice-friendly traps, but neither cheese nor nuts have proven successful so far.
The heating doesn’t work, meaning my flatmate and I both have a tiny electric heater each. When they're on at the same time, the electricity cuts. That means we have to choose between light, wifi, or heat when we’re working from home, and if you’re cooking while the laundry is on, you can say goodbye to your perfect risotto, or hello to a flooded washing machine.
That’s the bottom two rows of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs - physiological and safety needs - remaining pretty unfulfilled.
In the meantime, my master’s is progressing into the part of the year when you’re bombarded by deadlines while you can sense your motivation dropping on a daily basis. I’m managing, and I’m particularly enjoying my thesis, but every additional assignment becomes something you have to do rather than something you want to do.
Brussels is still the gloomy, dreadful city it was when I moved here in January, and becoming more so now that winter is upon us again. It's dark, cold, and depressing, and I’m counting down the days till my graduation so I can leave.
But there are good things, too. Sticking to Maslow, the top three needs of his hierarchy are mostly being fulfilled: love and belonging, esteem, and self-actualisation.
Going back to university has been the greatest decision I’ve made all year. The first week on campus I noticed that this was where my kind of people in Brussels had been hiding all along - the ones with grand ideas, colourful clothing, radical opinions, and a desire to make our thoughts count. In my course, I met Rina, who has quickly become a best friend, a fellow Brussels-hater, and an amazing colleague.
She became my colleague at The European Correspondent, where I have the pleasure of fulfilling the need for esteem, working alongside 100 (!) brilliant journalists all over Europe. Since I met co-founder Julius in Amsterdam a month ago, I’ve been trusted with more responsibility than any sane adult would give me with my track record of leaving jobs and exposing employers. And that’s great, because it turns out I’m actually quite capable when I’m given the trust and freedom to do things the way I want.
We’re working on something I wholeheartedly believe in, and this is only the start. The people on board are all absolute gems, and I can't wait for all the unthinkable things we're going to make possible together.
Lastly, Maslow tells us we need a sense of self-actualisation: the desire to become the most that one can be. This is something that I cling on to for dear life, as my future plans always reach further than my dreams, and it’s what gets me through the days. While I don’t know what I’ll be doing after my master’s, it’s safe to say there is certainly no lack of plans and possibilities.
The basics of my living circumstances might be all over the place, but I tend to thrive in chaos. The important part is that I find meaning in my everyday life. In the people, in the work I do, and in the little things. It’s harder than it sounds, but I’ve started seeing a psychiatrist in Brussels who increased my mood stabiliser, and it's helping me a great deal.
My mood has been stable for a month, which is an achievement in itself. Finding a sense of stability, both in the things I do and inside my mind, is still the thing I work on the hardest - and I’m grateful to say I’m managing quite well at the moment.