The Foundations of Home

IMG_3296I’ve spent my whole life wanting to get away and escaping home. I’d fly to a different country every three weeks to keep my spirit free but the freedom I found solace in was fleeting and incomplete. I’d come home feeling nothing but emptiness and pain. I didn’t belong and I was never really present. I didn’t want to be. All I wanted was to sleep on strangers’ couches and hike the tallest mountains. I didn’t want to stay still because it meant looking within myself and I didn’t feel strong enough to start searching for the truth then. I could only bury every bit of trauma and suffering inside and run. The universe was my home. Living life out of a backpack, I felt secure and fearless. I didn’t have all the answers but it didn’t matter. I only needed to feel alive and let my heart run free. It was the closest thing I had to a home then.

Coming back from Asia, I moved out of my mother’s house and went to live with Kevin and his family. I needed the quietness. It wasn’t home and Kevin and I had only been back together for a few months but they made me feel like I belonged. His mother would make me tea every night and we’d start to engage in deep conversations about life and how we all have the ability to rise again, even from the darkest of days. Her whole life had been shattered when Kevin’s father left them without a sound and she no longer trusted anyone, not even herself. It wasn’t too long after their family collapsed that Kevin fell into depression and broke my heart, too.

It’s quite amusing to have had such genuine trust in her, yet none towards my own future. I’d hold his mother in my arms in the morning when she felt like giving up and I would tell her ‘You can’t give up. You’re allowed to break but you need to remember you’re strong enough‘. And she was. She fought relentlessly to find herself through chaos and take care of her remaining sons. Kevin helped her through everything with such grace and empathy and I could only stand in awe of his becoming. I was still uncertain about us then but he sure scored a few points caring for his mother the way he did.

I’d try to help, too. His mother wouldn’t let me pay rent so I’d go grocery shopping for the four of us. I’d learn to cook, too but I was very well aware of how terrible my cooking skills were. I remember making zucchini noodles with tofu once, and astoundingly it looked as good as it tasted. I was so over the moon to have made something both beautiful and edible but Celine didn’t seem surprised. She simply said ‘Of course you succeeded‘.

I felt capable but mostly, I felt loved. I have never been a very confident person and nobody’s opinion seems to have ever changed to way I see myself. But ever since traveling to Asia and coming back to a quieter house, I started to invest more time in my own growth. By allowing myself to break, I began my healing. I became a little more in touch with myself each day, and it felt refreshingly beautiful. The more I learned about resilience, the saner I grew. Therefore, when Kevin suggested that we should get our own apartment, I finally felt ready. In a matter of weeks, we backpacked around Europe, moved in together and I wrote my thesis about mental health and suicide.

We’d have literally nothing in our flat so we’d sit on the bare floor, me writing as fast as I could on my computer while Kevin read a history book and gave me kisses of encouragement. I flew back to medical school on the opposite side of the country one last time to hand my thesis over and pass final exams. I was a bundle of stress, convinced I was not smart enough and the thesis I had written was way too personal. I never had anyone proofreading it because it meant too much to me to share it with anyone so surely I was petrified to have someone go through every word and even more assign a grade to it.

Mental health is something I’ve always been very passionate about. When I graduated from the Red Cross University, I immediately knew where my heart would head. I started working endless shifts in a mental health hospital and I never grew tired of my job. Advocating mental health, promoting self-love and authenticity. Making it okay to suffer. To break down. I have utter respect for every single patient I have ever cared for because no matter what they went through, they have decided to get help. They have made the decision that their lives matter and that they need to put themselves first, at last. The stigma associated with mental illness is pure madness – no pun intended -. I think it might be the reason why our pain feels so inadequate to us. From an early age, we were never allowed to feel pain so we can’t possibly fall apart now that we’ve become adults. We’re constantly putting on a mask, afraid we won’t fit in. We’re told we have to be pretty, successful and happy all the time. We think we have it all figured out or at least we pretend we do but our hearts are suffering. The more we fight what’s really going on, the more painful it gets. We deny ourselves the right to simply be.

I remember caring for teenagers a few years ago. Child and adolescent psychiatry has a tendency to drive me a little too overwhelmed. I become so dedicated towards the kids and helping them fight for their right to live freely, sanely, authentically but most of all, lovingly that I sometimes feel like I’m not doing things right. Then the universe selflessly pours out a bit of its love on my path and I open an email from a beautiful girl I used to care for years ago. She is thanking me for being her guardian angel back at the hospital and today too. She tells me how broken she had been feeling lately but she remembered me and my love for photography so she went outside and captured life until it came rushing back to her, making every fiber of her being shiver. I sit in awe, facing my computer, filled with gratitude, tears streaming down my face.

I’m inspired to make it a lesson to myself. I have helped people heal – and I have never done so to get something in return, I guess I’m just madly in love with humankind and I have divine trust in the universe – but I do deserve to heal, too. I deserve to plant seeds of acceptance and peace in my heart. I aim to live kindly and compassionately. I want to truly love myself, and the only way to do so is to build a home within myself.

I stop traveling for a while, and I focus on what I have, right here. We have a couch, now. It’s yellow and we’re both obsessed with how perfect it looks in our living room. I get carried away with plants and candles, too. We work on ourselves and building a healthy relationship. He was never afraid to reach that turning point with me, but I was. I’m the kind of person who overthinks everything and worries too often about the future. Because I grew up in a dysfunctional family and have spent decades watching my parents rip each other to shreds, I’ve made myself the promise to build a happy life for myself but I ended up shaping unrealistic expectations. It might be the reason why I feel so strongly about optimism and happiness but I kind of lost myself along the way. I forgot to embrace my emotions and instead ran away.

My urge to see the world was authentic and it’s taught me valuable lessons but it was also my way of escaping the reality I didn’t know I could face. I had built up such unachievable expectations about myself, the world and the people who were in my life that every single day, I felt like a failure. Some people may say they find themselves when they travel to the opposite side of the world but for me, it was when I stopped running that I finally found myself. I find myself daily, now. I find myself when I wake up and I cook myself a smoothie bowl. I find myself when I meditate every morning before work. I find myself when I care for patients. I find myself when I come home to my love and he’s made me my favorite soup. I find myself when I listen to my inner child. I find myself when I make peace with my past. I find myself when I do nothing except being.

Every single day is a miracle, whether I’m somewhere far away on the road or just here, at home. And, to be quite honest, our home has become so beautifully serene and loving it’s hard to even leave now. It also makes my travels so much more meaningful than they ever were because I’m not running anymore. I’m engaging with strangers, I’m kissing the Earth with my feet, I’m hiking mountains and thanking my body for everything it allows me to do. Then before I know it, I’m home again and my love is picking me up from the airport with a typically French baguette and some tahini he mistook for holy hummus. And we’re kissing on the parking lot and my heart is dancing because it is right where it should be.

A few weeks after, we’re on the road again. Together. We’re exploring Europe and catching waves everyday and it all feels like a dream. As he wakes me up to heavenly chocolate banana toasts and forehead kisses in the morning, I feel the urge to pinch myself because I can’t quite believe this is the life we built together. Through joys and pains, here we are. Growing kinder and more loving towards ourselves while embracing utter truth, whatever that might be. We play old-fashioned board games in the sunset and race until either of us sprains its ankle. We daydream about our future children and all the flower names we’ll give them. We get into passionate discussions over education which last for hours. We tell each other secrets we kept as children. We share our deepest dreams with each other until sunrise and go for more surfing sessions.

Coming back home, we go grocery shopping. We still run like wild kids in the supermarket aisles while I pick up too many avocados and he asks for an unreasonable amount of white chocolate biscuits. He sweeps the floor each day and he does the laundry, too and I try to find some chores I wouldn’t mind doing but he beats me to it every time so I do what I do best. I head to the local market and buy more organic plant-based food. Some days, he works late shifts at the hospital so I go grocery shopping by myself and text him ‘Is there anything you need?‘ and he messages me back ‘More quinoa and falafels, please‘ and the vegan guru I’ve become grins mischievously.

We go on more adventures close to home. We head to the sea more times than we should because he knows how happy my heart gets there. He climbs trees while I write in my journal. We host sunset picnics on the beach and I watch him interact with my friends, telling historical tales and other unusual stories only he knows. I love how open-minded he’s become, now. My best friend Ingvild tells me she can’t believe how much he’s changed and that we look so happy. We are. I’m so glad she can see it, too. She holds me and Kevin in her arms before she flies back to the Netherlands. We laugh over the fact I’m so in love I won’t even notice she’s left the country. I count down the days before I get to see her again on Christmas. I connect with my friends again. I feel like I’m glowing and I’m taking it all in. I’m no longer afraid.

I don’t know where this life is taking us, but I don’t want to know anymore. The journey is too magnificent to even worry about where we might be heading someday. Someday means nothing, for all we ever have is the present moment. And I’m blessed. I’m beyond grateful to be alive, to connect with kind-hearted souls, to promote mental health and to fall deeper in love with every passing day. The truest love I’ve found so far is the one inside my own heart, and it’s something I think I will hold onto for quite some time. For it’s magic from within.

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{All pictures, digital and film, are from home}