“Malta, I love you, but it’s time to go. And as much as I don’t want this to be a sentimental farewell, I’m really sad to go,” my diary reads.
For the past four years, I got to know Malta inside out - and Malta got to know me. From university libraries to psych wards and from Malta sajf to the Covid pandemic, it's been a really wild ride.
Leaving the country that made me who I am today, from my strengths to my flaws, is almost like leaving a long-term relationship. Malta has become a part of me that I’m not ready to leave behind.
I moved to Malta when I was 17, and even more so than my early teen years, my time there has shaped me.
I became an adult, which is still one of the scariest-sounding things to me. Not only did I turn 18 surrounded by lots of new international friends and did I move out of my hometown onto a strange new island; I also had to deal with very grown-up problems.
Studying here has allowed me to grow so much more than just academically. I grew up getting to know people from all over the globe, speaking in more than one language, and understanding how varied the human experience is.
I learnt to love and let go, multiple times, and it is safe to say that I am still far from being an expert on that. After four years of love, I broke up with my first boyfriend, who I still get to call one of my best friends.
I was 19 and decided that if we didn’t break up now, we never would. And we weren’t the kind of people that would want to miss out on life experiences and individual growth for something that we knew would be if it was meant to be. Que sera, sera.
Not much later, I found myself on a plane to Australia. That had always been the dream. My mum took me to Perth when I was just three years old, and I spent some months going to school there as she tried to move our lives there.
While that didn’t work out, I had always kept the dream of moving back to the other side of the world. Thanks to Malta, I could. The University of Malta offered the international exchange programme, and after a lengthy selection process, I got the confirmation: I was going to the University of Melbourne.
Up until the day of today, three years later, my time in Melbourne is incomparable to anything I’ve ever done. My exchange was a months-long highlight, from making incredible friends I am still in touch with today to exploring a city made of dreams.
I got to spend months in the Philippines and Malaysia working towards my Divemaster certification, and I can now officially work as a scuba diver. I spent time in China continuing my Mandarin studies, and learning way more than just the language.
When I came back from that adventure, I got to spend a few months in Lyon, France, for my Erasmus+ exchange. And though I knew it would be another great experience, and I had made amazing friends that I miss till the day of today, I couldn’t find my peace of mind.
That was probably the first time my mental health affected me to such an extent that I couldn’t keep up with life anymore.
I had been through bad phases before and experienced mild but long-term depression in my teens, but in France, I was crying on a 24/7 basis and suicidal thoughts I hadn’t had in ages made their way back into my mind.
Having to quit something that was supposed to be the experience of a lifetime wasn’t easy. Quitting isn’t something you are taught, or even encouraged to do, so it was a big step. But it was the first time I put my mental health over a lifelong dream, and I haven’t regretted it for a second.
So I came back to Malta after spending months abroad, and it was truly like coming home. Even the palm trees waved at me welcomingly as I walked out of Luqa Airport.
It was then that I knew Malta would always be my home. More so than the Netherlands, where I was born and grew up, this was a home that I chose myself. And I chose to love it.
So apart from the never-ending construction and corruption, I embraced every single part of it.
Growing from a teenager into an adult on this island has had its ups and downs. From having a hard time integrating and getting to know locals to becoming part of the country’s community and learning everyone knows everyone’s business, it can be a struggle to grow and transform in Malta.
But if there is one step in life I took that I am beyond grateful for, it is the bold one of moving abroad at the age of 17.
It hasn’t always been pretty, of course. A few months after my return to the rock, I started experiencing severe paranoia. And after weeks of heavy mood swings, no sleep, disorientation and delusions, I ended up in Mount Carmel Hospital.
The psychiatric hospital is known for its horror-like scenes and spooky stories, and reality isn’t too far from it. Though I am grateful for the care I received and the staff that cared for me, the hospital itself is the opposite of an ideal place to heal.
So while my first two years at university were turbulent and vibrant, my final year became a year of recovery.
My psychotic episode lasted around two weeks, but the recovery process took way longer. I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, of which psychosis can be a symptom, and had to learn to live with this new reality.
It was tough, perhaps the toughest thing I’ve ever been through, but I learnt a lot. Therapy got me through it all, and I learnt how to put my mental health over everything else. Once you lose your mind, there’s little left to lose.
And then Covid hit. The pandemic changed all of our lives more intensely and for much longer than any of us could have imagined. Two years on, and we still aren’t back to what used to be “normal”.
I graduated during Covid, meaning my graduation was picking up the glorified piece of paper from an administration office. I felt little sense of pride or celebration.
Life moved on, and I needed to find work or move back home, so I started calling myself a writer and managed to make a living by freelancing.
A while after my graduation, I wrote about my experience in Mount Carmel, which somehow sparked discussion on a national level.
After that, I didn’t stop writing. I also didn’t stop having life-changing experiences, as I had an abortion that same year. I spent some time working as a journalist at Lovin Malta, and embraced the fact that my personal experiences could have an impact on issues of national importance.
As I leave, I like to think my pro-choice and mental health activism have left at least a small impact on this island. I like to believe it helped spark a discussion on things that are still very much considered taboo, and that it may have helped change or open people's minds.
I didn't come to Malta with the goal to change even a single thing about the island, but I left knowing that we can, and must, do better.
And if anything, that's what this long-term relationship with my favourite island has taught me: taking life into my own hands. I learnt that you can't control what happens to you, but you can control what you do with those experiences.
The cards of the game are given to you at random, but you are the one who plays them. You are responsible for the life you live.
So I left Malta in search of new adventures. I left Malta because I want to grow further, aim higher, and do more than the little island can offer. I've learnt a lot - now it's time for a bigger, scarier pond with more space for swimming.
But that doesn’t mean I won’t be back. Malta hasn’t heard the last of me yet. I love the island, and I will always carry it with me in the ways that it has helped me become the person I am today.
So Malta: thank you for everything. I’ll see you when I see you.