From Poland to England – the challenges faced by a young migrant with social anxiety

Photo manipulation created by Agata
‘It’s Happening’ by Anna. Copyright reserved – see below for full credits.

23 year-old, Anna, recently moved to the UK from Poland with her partner. Here she discusses her challenges with social anxiety, finding a secure job in a new country, maintaining her interests in graphic design and Japanese popular culture and her hopes for the future.

Before we finally decided to book plane tickets, we talked about it for quite some time. I was studying at that time, but my husband was working a very low-paid job and he was miserable. We agreed that we’ll move after I’ll get my degree, but I couldn’t stand seeing him like that. Working conditions in Poland are not great, to put it mildly. On the other hand, I was studying editorial studies at Polish department, so I realised that studying Polish literature won’t do me no good in UK.

When we made the decision, firstly we looked for work online. It would be impossible to get something without an interview, so we instead found a Polish company that is hiring in Poland and gives you a job at a farm with accommodations in UK. We were grateful that we would have a job from day one, but it was very different reality than what we expected.

The living conditions were outrageous. We were living at a campsite in a camper with four other immigrants from Romania that didn’t speak any English. We had a ridiculously small two “beds” in a very tiny room. We could not possibly communicate with Romanians, so we decided that we won’t use kitchen and we were sneaking around to go to the bathroom. And above all that, we were living a two hour walk from the nearest city, or a 20 min bus ride, but the bus stopped only few times a day. We lasted only three weeks in that place and we moved to Birmingham, when our proper life started.

The farm role was my first full-time job. Before I was fruit picker on vacations, so I knew more or less how it would work. But the problem is that we had a zero contract hours, so every evening a manager was going around the camp and telling everyone where or if they work. He would tell you where you should be and at what hour – and a car will come to pick your group and drive you to the work site. Work hours depended on what farm did you ended up, usually 8 or 9 hours with an hour break.

I was usually going to a flower farm and it would be an alright job, but glasshouses were always too hot and sometimes I had to go outside, because I couldn’t stand the heat anymore. My husband was usually going with me, but he was doing heavy lifting, so he was way more exhausted. Two times my husband had days without work and those two days they send me to a chicken farm. I had to separate newly hatched chickens and I had to pick healthy ones. The ones that had some defects were left behind. That was traumatising and after that I decided that we have to leave the farm.

For the first few weeks we were extremely scared what would happen to us, because we didn’t have any relatives in UK. If we would had a problem, there was no one to turn to or explain how anything works. There are a lot of cultural boundaries that we had no idea about. For example, we had a really hard time setting up an account in a bank, because we were waiting for our National Insurance Number (NINo) or a proper let agreement for a flat. I remember my first interview and I felt that I looked like a poor immigrant. Interviewer asked me for my NINo and I told her that I’m still waiting for it. She asked me for a bank account number, but I had to say that I can’t have a bank account without NINo. She was very shocked, but she was kind enough that she told me that I could provide that information later.

Fortunately, I got the job and it got easier when I started earning in pounds. We had savings, but difference in currency is huge. We thought we had plenty of money, but it was all gone after two payment for rent (plus a deposit, which is way higher than in Poland). One week, just before my first paycheck, we run out of money and we had to borrow it from a friend, which was very humiliating for us. I’m grateful that this chapter of my life is over and right now I have a stable job and a nice apartment and some savings for a rainy day.

Punisher tattoo designed by Agata
Punisher tattoo designed by Anna, inspired by the comic book character, Punisher Max.

I love to find new, engaging stories that could expand my view of the world.”

It was really scary to leave all of your life behind without knowing if I would have a job or a place to live in another country. Fortunately, I was with my husband that supported me at every step. I don’t think I would dare to move without him.

But overall, I’m happy that I moved here and I want to stay here for good. I never enjoyed my life in Poland and I was never close with my family. I don’t feel any bond to the Polish culture and I never felt like I fitted in there. I only miss my friends, because I lost touch with most of them. It’s very hard to make new friends, especially when someone like me doesn’t really go out anywhere. Because of that I spend most of my time in my flat with my husband, playing games or watching anime.

I’m spending my life absorbing different forms of entertainment and art. I love to find new, engaging stories that could expand my view of the world. I tried a lot of different types, but anime and video games are the ones that resonate with me the most. A lot of western stories are very similar and they usually focus on individuals. Japanese culture focuses on the needs of society. Besides, it’s really easy to find an original anime or Japanese video game that is trying something new or it’s telling a compelling story. That’s why I mostly engage in this types of entertainment, even though I’m not excluding any other types – from time to time I would stumble upon a great movie or a cartoon and I will really enjoy it.

I’ve always wanted to work for a publishing house. I was doing editorial studies and at the same time I was working for a publishing house that translates Japanese manga to Polish. I was working as a graphic designer, basically getting a book ready from start to finish. It was so satisfying to see my books on shelves… But I was paid almost nothing, so I had to give it up.

The biggest issue is that we receive schedule for the next week on Thursday, so it’s almost impossible to book an appointment with GP beforehand or have some loose plans.”

I’m a team trainer at a fast food chain outlet. It’s shitty, but at least I’m earning more than minimum wage, so that’s good enough for me. I didn’t finish my degree, so as an immigrant I can’t count on anything better.

It is a very stressful environment, when managers are telling you to speed up every time and be as quick as possible. But I’m not letting it to get to me, because I have to think how to survive my whole 8 hours shift, not to finish one burger 5 seconds faster. Since I became a team trainer, it’s a little better for me, because managers know that they can count on me and give me more responsible jobs (like checking quality of food or managing stocks). And it’s been a few months since I started working only evening and nights shifts and it’s why better. On overnights we have less customers, we don’t really have to focus on the speed, and we basically clean the store and all equipment.

I’m usually working in kitchen, so I don’t have to speak with customers too often. Our boss always wants results, but we are usually understaffed, so it’s a shit show. Right now I’m only working late evening and overnights, so I don’t care about anything and just clean equipment, prepare for morning and staff like that. I’m a trainer, so it means I’m being payed a little bit more (but it’s almost nothing) and I should tell people what to do and correct them if they don’t follow procedures. Do I do that? Mostly no, only with a handful of colleagues that I know better and feel comfortable around. Does anyone care? Not really. Only my boss, but again, I work overnights, so I don’t see him often.

Sometime on a shift I’m “running kitchen”, which means I’m a manager for anyone in kitchen and I can tell them where they work, and if anything goes wrong, I have to fix it. At first it was scary, but I am good at analysing situation and I worked there for long enough that I know that in situation A, you have to do B and it’s pretty simple.

I hate my job, but when I have a day off I don’t know what to do with myself. So when I’m at work, I feel relived, because I don’t have to think and time passes. It’s just so hard to find something to feel passionate about and the search itself is discouraging.

I supported the strike (in November 2019, some UK McDonald’s workers joined an international strike, calling for £15 an hour pay and better working conditions, an end to youth rates, the choice of guaranteed hours of up to 40 hours a week, notice of shifts four weeks in advance, and recognition of the Bakers Food and Allied Workers’ Union (BFAWU) – ed.) because they brought up a lot of issues that I see every day. For example, when I started working I was few months short from my 21 birthday, so I was getting a lower wage (it was around £6.40). I was shocked, because in Poland there is no such thing as different pay for different age groups. And I worked in two different outlets and there are lot of distinctions between them. Because there were led by franchisees, they had way different pays.

I am on guaranteed hours contract, but you could only get 36 hours maximum. I’m usually getting more hours that what I have guaranteed, but I’m working full-time and we only have a handful of full-time workers. I have 28 days per year as holiday entitlement and I am entitled to Statutory Sick Pay.

The biggest issue is that we receive schedule for the next week on Thursday, so it’s almost impossible to book an appointment with GP beforehand or have some loose plans. And usually schedule is very different from one week to another, so you don’t know which days you’ll be working. My boss promised a year ago that’ll have at least two weeks schedule in advance, but as of now, it’s not kept.

There are not many upsides to this job, but there are some that keep me there. Most important of all, pay is alright and everyone gets a raise once a year. Secondly, I work together with my husband and we are scheduled the same shifts, so I can always rely on him. I don’t care what customers may say to me or thing of me, so overall this job it’s not that bad – I had worse.

I have very specific plans. I hate work and I don’t want to spend my whole life working, so me and my husband started learning about investing. For a few years now we are investing in a stock market and collecting data on how do we fare. And above all, we are saving whatever we can, so we can invest our savings. Our ambitious plan is to retire from workforce before our 30s and live off investments. I know, it’s sounds ridiculous, but I checked the maths lots of times and everything checks out.

cat_with_art_by_agata
Cat with Art – Anna

When I went to college, I still thought that I’m just a shy person”

When I was a kid, I lived with my parents that were always at work and with a much older brother that had no interest in playing with me. I had no kids around my age in my suburban neighborhood of a small city. So I usually ended up playing alone in my room with my imaginary friends. When I started school, I had no idea how to behave around others, so I was seen as weird and I was laughed at. I made one really good friend in elementary school. I don’t remember that, but she told me that I started stalking her, just walking around with her and asking her to become my friend. I was so annoying that she finally agreed and we are still friends. Thanks to her my life became bearable and we share a lot of hobbies.

Until end of high school, I spend most of my life in my room and I was happy. I enjoyed reading books, drawing, writing stories and watching anime. But I started growing up and I still was scared to go to a store without my parents. My mom was supportive and when I was telling her that I’m too scared to talk with someone, she would do it for me. My dad thought that there was something wrong with me and I should be different. But both of them didn’t do anything about it and just dismiss it as me being shy.

I think that if they send me to a psychologist, I could have a more normal childhood and better deal with my issues. When I went to collage, I still thought that I’m just a shy person, until I met my now husband that knew more about mental health issues and made me realise that I have social anxiety. By that time, I already work through my issues on my own and I was able to start my student life in a big city half a country away from my parents and any relatives.

When I moved to study, I was already self-centered and I had courage to do things that would benefit me. Still, at first I felt very isolated in an unknown city full of strangers. Fortunately, I was studying with people with similar hobbies, so I made a few friends that helped me assimilate.

Right now I am putting my wishes before anyone else, it made me more narcissistic and self-indulging.”

Because I didn’t have anyone that understood my social issues, I had to deal with it on my own. I never tried to seek for medical help in Poland, there is a lot of stigma around mental health. I didn’t want to go a doctor, because I usually dealt with my issues on my own. Eventually my husband made me to finally go to a GP and now I am taking antidepressants. I only took them for a little while, so I don’t know if they will have any effect, but I’ll have to wait and see.

I don’t recommend anyone my methods, because even though it worked for me, I’m not a psychologist and I don’t know if it would work for other people. With that out of the way, I mostly did mental exercises to help me change my way of thinking. My biggest problem was that I was afraid of others and I felt like I don’t deserve to interact with them. I started convincing myself that I have value and I am just like everyone else. It helped me that at that time I met some people with similar interests on the internet and we had a group chat that was full of life. That gave me more confidence to talk with people in real life, but I never started a conversation myself, I only answered question. My second problem was that I had to get over being bullied. To try and fight that, I convinced myself that I don’t care what other people think or say about me.

It took me years to convince myself to this things, but it worked. Right now I am putting my wishes before anyone else, it made me more narcissistic and self-indulging. It’s very hard for me to create and keep any meaningful relationships, because I always think if this person is useful to me.

It’s very hard for me to go to an unknown place by myself, because I don’t know what rules they might have. It’s easy for me to come into a store, because most of them are the same, but I won’t use a marketplace or enter a building when I don’t know what’s inside. I’ve never been to a public gym on my own (though we had a gym in high school and sometimes we were using in on P.E.). Beside that, I wouldn’t feel comfortable exercising when someone might be watching and judging me. I even have problems exercising, when my husband is in the same room.

When I have to talk with strangers, it’s still very difficult for me, because I don’t know how to do small talk and I’m not able to keep the conversation going. But when I know someone a little, like my colleagues at work, I am usually able to ask a question or two and engage more with that person. When I’m talking with friends, I am more open with them and don’t hold myself back on expressing my opinions. But the only time I’m truly comfortable and myself is when I’m with my husband. I can even make a joke or sing around my husband, which I would never do with someone else.

My husband and I have very similar hobbies and interests, so we are best friends beside being partners. This relationship works, because we talk openly about everything. We are together for almost four years now and we never fought, which baffles most of people. But it’s pretty simple. When we see an issue, we don’t wait until it escalates into a fight – we resolve it before, which I think is way more healthy way than fighting.

“It helped me open up and I even met some of them in real life.”

Online world for most of mine childhood was the only world that I could truly live in. I was always alone in my room and I never experience a lot of things that normal kids do – like going to restaurants or parties. But internet give me a chance to meet people, that I would otherwise never met, and it helped me to grow personally.  I met my husband online, when in real life I wouldn’t have courage to find a partner. Above all, I don’t think I would be able to overcome most of my anxieties if I didn’t have access to internet.

An online graphic designer community was the most important one for me when growing up and thanks to them I started working on myself and now I can fairly easy talk with people. We created some art together and shared same hobbies. It helped me open up and I even met some of them in real life.  Right now I only keep in touch with a few people from that group. There was a second group that I joined around the same time, which is a fan-made ‘scanlation’ group that translates manga into Polish. I still work with that group and we are talking a lot in a group chat.

I’ve met with both of these groups in real life and I had great time with them. I would like to find a similar community in UK, but so far I had no luck.

Anna shared her experiences during an online conversation over a number of days in December 2019. 

darkness_agata.png
Darkness by Anna – copyright reserved – see below for full credits

Header image full credits
Designed by Anna
Model – SilvieTStock
Stock photos – Germannotgaga

Footer image full credits
Designed by Anna
Model – Vendredi13
Stock photos – KrypteriaHG

Author: Workers' Archive

Covering sensitivity at work and beyond on my website: https://samuelaliblog.wordpress.com/

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