To say 2020 has been a mind-fuck would be an understatement.
It would be difficult, I know, to find someone whose life hasn’t been affected by the global situation this year. But for us, 2020 heralded a complete change in direction, even prior to the pandemic.
In February, I was finishing up work, after an incredible 18 months in Melbourne, ready for 6 months of travel and a relocation back to the UK in August to finish my training. We got engaged (yay), and were planning a wedding in the new year. Fast-forward a few weeks of rejected visa applications, reapplication for a job I had left only days previously, and an epiphany on my part of what is important in life, and we were looking at the next half-decade in a place which, only weeks prior, I had been happy to be leaving.
It is baffling and beautiful how much change can be affected by one unforeseen circumstance. The rejection of Emma’s visa for the UK initiated a cascade of emotions that I didn’t realise I had in me. My overriding reaction was one of relief. I had an out. I could choose this comfortable, well paid, easy life. I wasn’t choosing Melbourne over home. It was out of my hands. Comfortably and conveniently ignoring the fact that I was choosing to not appeal, to not reapply. I was choosing to stay.
I am fully committed to this life now, and it simultaneously feels voluntary and inevitable. I’m not a great believer in fate, but am convinced that sometimes The UniverseTM decides things for you. The Universe really fucked with my plans for 2020, and somehow I am very grateful that it did.
It is a weird feeling to acknowledge that somewhere is a better fit for you than the place you call home. Don’t get me wrong, I miss London and the UK in an extreme, visceral sense. On a daily basis I yearn for the familiar culture, time with the best of friends, the simple feeling of being at home. However, Melbourne has afforded me the luxuries of spare time, disposable income, and the feeling of being part of a family again.
Emma and I have known for a long time that our lives will be inevitably split between two countries. Living in this one gives us the ability to spend time in the other. I want my time in the UK to be full of friends, and fun, and holidays. I don’t want to return to the shell of a human being I was when working in understaffed, under-resourced Emergency Departments, coming home and collapsing without a word to say to my partner. Feeling guilty for calling in when genuinely sick. Selling my soul to attend best friends’ weddings. Giving so much of myself for so little return. Being 5 years post graduate in one of the most desirable professions and still living paycheck to paycheck.
I was at peace with my decision. You cannot have everything you want in life, and this seemed to provide the best of compromises. Living in a place that wouldn’t be my first pick, in order to have a sustainable, enjoyable existence, to allow me to spend time at home each year, and actually have meaningful interactions with the people I value in my life.
And then the travel ban hit.
It is a very different feeling to be choosing to stay in a country when you have the luxury of being able to leave. The last few months have been hard. Of course, it has been difficult being in lockdown in Melbourne. It has been devastating to read of the Covid toll around the world. It has been horrendous to see people in the UK suffering, to see how hard the NHS is working and to not be part of it. Resentment has definitely crept in about the lockdown in Melbourne, which, no matter your views on realism or effectiveness, is really fucking hard to live through.
Uncertainty over the opening of international borders is wearing me down. I don’t really care if I can travel more than 5km from my house, I couldn’t care less about going to a restaurant. I want to know when I can go home. And that is an impossible question to answer. I understand social distancing, I understand mask wearing despite the lack of evidence, but even the end of the road map to “covid-normal” mentions nothing about international borders.
I have been trying to fill my time with productive things; applying for training here, applying for a Partner Visa to give us that much sought-after feeling of stability. I feel a little like I am consistently giving away parts of myself though. Applying for recognition of prior training is a lengthy process bound to end in disappointment when the Australian college inevitably decides my 5 years in the NHS aren’t worth crediting. The Partner visa processing time of 25 months is, frankly, laughable. Their assumption that I would be pretending to be in a relationship in order to remain in this country is infuriating.
Things could be much worse. Things can always be worse. I have a stable job, a wonderful fiancée, a place to live. Big decisions have been made this year, cementing our love for each other, our ability to reason through difficult choices, and to tolerate each other at our snappiest and least appealing. At baseline we have discovered that we still enjoy spending time together, even when that time is in the same four walls for months on end, with no one else to buffer us. I call that a win.
I know I am lucky. Lucky to be in a place where I can live comfortably, love freely, feel part of a family. One day borders will open again, and I will be able to spend time with the people I am missing so terribly now. And yes, I am missing them. But given the choice between my life there, and my life here, I choose here.