One-way ticket to the UK and finding confidence in an IT role – an interview

Honey bee pollinating cornflowers (Centaurea Cyanus) – BeesWiki, Creative Commons

Matias (a pseudonym), a man in his 30s, shared his experiences of moving to the UK from a northern European country – with his then girlfriend – as a teenager, the sense of freedom and the challenges of overcoming trauma, dyslexia, anxiety and language difficulties in his efforts to pursue a career in IT and user experience.

Anxiety results out of psychological trauma. I used to go to psychologist and it was my daily practise with psychologist to record my sessions and I was always using mobile phone because it was quite useful to record them because then when you have one session with psychologist – lot of information get discussed and usually it’s quite hard to keep everything in your mind. Those records help me to remember all of them, so I can listen to records – come back to some stuff, make notes and sometimes I come back to one record, like, five times because all the times something new I can find. It’s quite interesting because brain basically not able to pick up everything at the same time – so, yeah, so recording will be nice.

Couple of years ago, is that thing (anxiety) became so serious and so strong that I wasn’t able to do anything – it was painful, basically. It was like strong pain, like, in this place where I’m sitting right now, I wasn’t able to sit – it’s my place where, you know, I’m working everyday. I’m working, like, remotely, but at that time I was working from office and it was lots of social – I will not call them ‘fight’ – but, you know, when people dislike some stuff, this is started to grow stronger and stronger and that’s what started to hit me a lot. And, it probably took me about a year to get into that panic attacks.

So, after panic attacks, I getting to my GP and they give me medication – it was Mirtazapine, and they said, you have to go to psychologist. Basically, I went to psychologist sessions and, didn’t give me any results, to be honest. But the thing is, I was always depressed, since my childhood. This was one of the problems that I wasn’t able to figure out why.

So, an anxiety – basically, I was in psychology a lot. I was try to fix it myself. Probably, I spent fifteen years, psychology, to figure out what’s wrong and what exactly making my depression. So depression kind of was a trigger to – and, anxiety too, was as well,….well, depression was a trigger to figure out what – to, to push me to start to investigate what the problem do I have – because I was afraid to go to psychologist. And, at that time, it cost money, you know, and it cost quite a lot and, I’m myself from [Northern European country]. The situation there quite difficult to UK – not the same as here. That time, I wasn’t able to get psychologist.

And, it was quite hard to find friends, actually. All the time I was try to find friends it was misunderstanding – all the time. So, I get the situation where nobody understand me, basically. I tried to express myself, tried to say something to people – I was all the time wrong.

So, then, I started to learn lots of psychology because I find out the problem inside me, basically. There some stuff – it’s not working well. And, interesting thing that that knowledge I was learn – I thought it will help me. So, and, it help me to solve some problems. My depression became a little bit lower because I figure out some stuff. But, then, there are some aspects that you are not able to go through on our own because our psyche.

So, basically, that knowledge didn’t help me that much because I wasn’t able to go through and figure out the trauma. So, after that, I tried lots of different methods. I tried to go into different psychology ways, hypnoses – everything. And then, I found one guy online I decided to try it. He start to help me with this but then, I was too positive about my treatment and all the time I thought, ‘yes, it’s all done’ and we disconnected with this guy. And he said, ‘it’s done? Then it’s done.’

And, then, I underestimate my abilities, basically, and, all of my knowledge I thought I know, actually didn’t bring me that much results. I start to go deeper and deeper into this anxiety, basically. I became very anxious – more and more. It was like – I don’t know how to describe this – it was like a swamp. You go at work and people doesn’t like you.

Basically, then later I figure out that this is my perception – I perceive that people doesn’t like. But then, you know, I lost – when panic attacks started, it’s interesting, because before, I used to like lots of things and panic attacks start to happen, I start to go into very deep thing that I devaluate my life. Suicidal thoughts start to happen. I was thinking, ‘well, there is no point to live, basically.’

But then, the knowledge I have from psychology help me to float and to go over this all difficult times – because I know, this is emotions, and emotions can be rapid and quick and sometimes hard but if you wait, they will go. It will be never for ever.

~

So, I start my way, I found another person – well, I start to go to hypnotherapy. Because I found out source – the source is in childhood. I knew source down there and I need to find out what exactly. In cognitive psychology they don’t usually do this because in psychology they try to avoid childhood experience. They touch on it a little bit but then they don’t go deeper because when you go deeper, you’ll be sucked in to that experience – into trauma, basically, and you not able to do anything.

I found a guy who do cognitive psychology but opposite. He bring me into trauma. And we start to work with trauma basically and step by step I start to go out of that. It was hard basically, to go through all of them and I don’t think I fixed all of them but I still work at this at the minute. Today, I will say, I don’t have that much anxiety when I tak to people. For example, I have slight anxiety when I see you but I will not say it’s quite hard – I’m not stressed, basically. I can see you there and I can kind of feel you but it’s not damaging my self-esteem, I will say. I feel alright.

So, this is because, we have two parts – we have emotional part and we have rational part. And, they together – if you rationalise your emotions – emotions go. If you not rationalise your emotion – if there is no rational part, emotion will go up. And, this is the play that I do. If I found emotion, I have to understand it. If I understand it properly and step by step, there is lots of them, lots of triggers, I go layer by layer and put them into my mind. And then when I rationalise them, my anxiety go. So, I don’t have to maintain later my anxiety because it almost not exist.

I was born in a rough area. There is people in the street who can stab you or hurt you a lot. It’s quite scary. You see group of people. I used to have very anxious about this all the time – changing the roads, try to go around – all of this. Because I wasn’t able to protect myself. But now, when I see those people, I don’t have anxiety at all, when I see them. There is thoughts that they might hurt me, a bit, then I said – I let them do it – if they do it. Because I cannot control it – let it go, so I basically, let it go. If it will happen, it will happen.

It was quite hard to get to this point because – the reason why I get anxious in these situations is, I was try to stop myself – try to protect myself and say, no way will they gonna hurt me. I was so afraid that they gonna hurt me. And this make me very anxious because this is a kind of block I make myself. So, I start to go this way that, people do whatever they have in their mind. I’m not able to control. What I able to control is, if I see they try to go at me with a knife, I will try to protect myself but if they will do it from behind me, there is no chance that I can do it, so I let this happen. At the beginning, it’s quite scary but step by step, I release – because mind keep this, this shouldn’t happen and it keep on. And I say, no, no, let it go and I step by step, let it go.

Usually, when you see those people, like, there is some triggers but what trigger do is trigger you into some picture in your mind and this picture show you something nasty that you would like to avoid and this triggers next thing. Like you say, no way that it gonna happen. You try to go away and this makes anxious, more and more and more. Because this picture not just project of your mind, this picture is based on trauma you used to have. So, brain thinks it will happen, this moment, but you just suggesting that this will happen, because some elements to what it used to be triggers you back to this situation. But, if you let this fear go, your brain will get new experience and step by step, you start to go more and more experience where you not getting attack. Your brain start to recognise this and then that’s how anxiety go at this moment.

That’s probably what I used to do. Because, I used to go on street. I was preparing myself – my brain will tell me there is a danger. I go and say, ‘I will let this danger happen.’ And, it’s probably took me five attempts to do it and it rewires after that, all of the situation.

It (the reading) helps me at some extent. It helps me to build knowledge about myself, basically. The knowledge about psychology helped me to find the right person. Lots of psychological techniques don’t work, I will say. I’m not saying it doesn’t work for everyone – it doesn’t work for me. The most important in this is experience. If you don’t have experience, you not able to rewire yourself. As general knowledge, what happened to you, is quite useful – it’s quite good to read psychological things, theory and understand this. That will make you – sometimes it will help you to build foundations that you can stand on.

~~

Most of it is social anxiety. I used to have fear of animals – this is gone as well. I used to afraid dogs a lot because it was based on my childhood trauma. Now, somehow, it’s gone. I don’t afraid dogs any more. This is what I find out recently. I just go next to dogs, I don’t feel anxious, next to them.

Most of my anxiety was around people, that they can attack me, basically. The source of this is tI will be abandoned. This was the most painful thing for me. It’s still at some, I don’t know, maybe there is 40% of that, that people will – if people will be unhappy, I will feel rejected or abandoned. This is will bring me back to my trauma. But, now I can get out of this quite quickly. It’s took me a couple of hours, or maybe a day sometimes, depends how strong conflict it was.

I will not say it affect my work that much – especially now, last year, Covid situation started, we start to work online, from home. Stop communicating with people. It became easier – but, I will say, it’s not directly affecting career – it’s affect this way, I’m not able to take a lead in a team – this is, basically, how it’s affecting it. Because you afraid of people judgment and how people will react. Leading positions are always about responsibility and other people to make discussions, decisions and, you know, fights, sometimes with them, to prove something. This is all affected because I am not able to do that much but now it’s little bit better. I’m probably, step by step, going to that direction, where I can be more leading projects and all of this stuff.

Lot’s of different types of jobs I used to do. My dream job was about computer graphics and 3D animation. That didn’t go that well. I built websites with my mate and in my city, we built online radio. He was the main guy who was representing our radio for the audience – I was afraid to represent because I have this massive fear to represent this. But I was like to have this attention from people, that they – not negative attention – positive attention, that I’ve done something that people using.

I build myself interface, design it and build interface. Me and my friend connect to Winamp, when I was around 16/17 years old; it was MP3 music player but you able to stream music and make proper radio using this Winamp plug-in and this what we made that time online. After that, I start to get some connections from Russian music television and I was working for Russian music television building banners and this is where everything started. Before, I was interested in computers. I was build computers myself and then it was get into computer graphics, like Photoshop and all that – animation.

Then, I came to UK. My job was at factory BMW factory, building jobs – all of the random stuff. Engineering job that I’ve done for almost two years in London. I was installing exhausts and I was kind of on lead position but it was hard as well because – well, it was quite friendly environment because it was all my friends. I start to build company with my mate – he built company and I help him.

But, then, I work for seven years in IT – yeah, it was BMW, then building works, then IT. At the BMW, I start to get panic attacks. I almost lost my life but at that time, I didn’t know what was happening. It was sixteen years ago. I start to get antidepressants, changed job and, you know, all panic attacks gone. At that time, I didn’t get it exactly why. I think, I was alone, without people and that’s what makes me anxious. I was without family, I was here, without friends and just working, home, working, home. It was quite depressing.

I changed job – start to do things more that I more enjoy – computer graphics, again, I start to work for small company, marketing company. Then, I met the guy who start to build his company. I move to him. We start to build his company, then, we get fight, split and start to go and I tried to come back to IT again and I come back to Oxford. In Oxford, I get to massive IT company, I start to learn user experience – I was surprise how close it is to psychology.

Basically, psychology is my passion because all the time something new – I like it – I like to go deep into things. I like to go digging down and see how everything work; I like to see how other people react with stuff and, for example, user experience – UX design – it’s very close to this because you investigating how people using your product, basically. What they do? Where is the problems? All of this stuff, I start to learn in this new place in Oxford.

Then, they start to blame me, that I’m like ‘idiot’ and I all the time get depressed after a year, working with people at work because I start to think everyone hate me, basically. And, I start to be less productive. And, this is what destroyed my job, basically, at the end.

I was changing jobs all the time and then, I remember that, at that place, where I study user experience, I was kind of in bad situation in my relationship with my manager, team leader. They said you’re crap, you done so many mistakes – well, of course, I can do lots of mistakes in code, because, I got dyslexia, I’m not able to see some stuff. With code, it’s quite easier because you’re using programmes that helps you to fix this code quite quickly but I still do lots of spelling mistakes and people come back to me, ‘look, lots of spelling mistakes.’ My boss said, look you’ve done lots of spelling mistakes, our client was unhappy. But, the funny part, I fixed all of them, because it was testers who test everything and it wasn’t that bad but they use it to drop my salary.

I was so angry with them. Because, you know, I was working for them very hard, I’ve done lots of projects for them and they all the time blame me and I figure out that they just using me. They figure out that if they blame me, I’ll work harder for them. And this how, basically, it is affecting the relationship of work. They blame me and I will do everything they will do to stop blame me. Quite common thing what people do at work, basically, they can put blame and they drop price that they pay you and you will work twice harder you used to work and you, you know, no energy, nothing,

Then, I left that job. I get new one. And, that new one, I start to work with another guy on psychological thing and I get into trauma, basically. I wasn’t able to get out of that and anxiety start to get more and more and more and I start to get into panic attacks and that’s basically how it was.

~~~

I got this moment the fear of that I will be on the street is stronger. This all the time pushing me to job and for that time, I forgot about any fear. I start to hope that new place will be better than previous one. This is what pushing me into new position and, usually, when I met people, they all friendly at the first day and, then, I will not say that I’m – I used to think that I am crap – doing stuff, my job doesn’t cost anything but, previous job, I learnt that I’m not that crap, actually. You know, tiny bit. This has helped me to get into new job, where I am at the minute and it’s much better job than I used to have. I was able to use all my knowledge. I found out that people need my knowledge in this place. That’s how I get there.

But, I don’t think my job now is bad. I feel that my trauma is kicking in in some places and people – some people – triggering this. And now, it’s not happening this way as used to happen, so I able to protect myself. If somebody attacking me, I can protect myself, basically. This is one of the main things and achievement that I wasn’t able to do before. I got feeling that if I will lost this job now, probably, I will able to find new one or, I will start to try to build my business. It’s quite hard to find job that will give me work that I usually like and probably, it’s not easier, but it’s better to provide product that I’m able to produce. It will just be time to find clients who need it. And, if I will find the right clients who need it, then, it will be great. I will all the time employed.

It used to be my dream to have a business. But, then, I ruin it, because, I find out, this is, more about the money, only. I’m looking now for something more enjoyable. That, maybe, it will not bring me much money but it will be able to use my skills I have and people will pay me for that skills. I don’t know how much but, maybe, it will be alright, enough to survive on this money, maybe, it will not be enough, I don’t know. Yeah, we can call it business, but this is probably my dream – I can use everything I know and knowledge and share with other people who need it.

In my back place (in [Northern European country]), I wasn’t happy with my life, at all. The pressure was from everywhere. I didn’t know where to hide. I was thinking to go and study at university – IT university. I wasn’t able to study at IT university because I have to make money – to pay money – a lot of money, for this university. I cost a lot.

I learn English for a year and it was a couple of friends who I said, ‘would you like to go to UK?’ Because, it was European Union, they just open borders. And, it was opportunity to make a little bit of cash. I thought it would be enough cash to come back to my country to pay for one year of university. And I thought, ‘ok, I will go.’ I said to all my friends, ‘let’s go to UK, let’s go together’ because I afraid to go to UK. I like the idea to go work for summer and come back.

Then, I bought ticket – I wasn’t alone, I was with my girlfriend, at that time. And, I said ‘let’s go – this is idea – let’s do it, let’s try and study English-’ I wasn’t planning to stay, to be honest, in UK. It was just a plan for three months, came here, learn English and make money.

When I came here – well, all my friends say our parents didn’t let us go – I was nineteen at that time. My girlfriend was seventeen – or eighteen – I can’t remember – we was eighteen. I bought ticket one-way. Because, I know I will get scared. It was challenging for me to go, that far, because, in [Northern European country], I was scared to even to city centre from my neighbourhood. I always need to go with someone.

I bought ticket for myself and for my girlfriend. I said, ‘let’s go one way.’ Oh, for her, it was two ways because she have to come back and finish her school. It was challenging. All my friends say no. And we – just me and her – stay together. I was so shy, I wasn’t able to speak to anyone. But, you see, my idea was driving me forward. I wasn’t able to say stop to myself. I was so curious about stuff.

We came to the UK and I didn’t recognise anyone – whatever people were able to tell me, I wasn’t able to understand. My girlfriend was little able to understand. We came to Oxford, basically, because, one of my friend, he work here for six months, and he said, ‘go to Oxford – it’s nice city,’ and I learn about the UK that in some places, it’s better not to show up because, it can be quite dangerous. Someone can kill you, basically. Someone can attack you because, well, because you foreign. I heard lots of stories from other people who already visit this place.

And, then, I think, Oxford – lots of students, maybe it will be nice and I can stay for three, four months and we’ll find a job. And, I kind of plan a year what I will do. I save some money – it was £700 – I save for a year. And, it was, for me and for my girlfriend, we came to Oxford, I thought I will find a job in two weeks time. I wasn’t able to find a job in two weeks time. I go to agencies and agencies say, ‘go back, learn English, come back again.’

I was surviving on this money but I met a guy who help me. My friend, from [Northern European country], called to this guy and said, ‘can you help my friend?’ And this guy said, ‘sure.’ And,.we, somehow, managed to communicate between each other. I can’t remember how. He help me – he show me – I met his friends and his friends give me some room where I was able to stay.

For three months, it was hard but it wasn’t that bad, actually. I don’t know why – I was felt freedom, to be honest. It was lots of release from the family that I used to be with. And, then, later on, I find out where is the problem from of all this. It was actually from relationship with me and my parents. That is where anxiety start to grow. It’s based on trauma, you usually get before puberty age. That’s what making anxiety, depression or anything else and that we have in our future life. Because, it’s just the results of that. But at that time, I didn’t know this. None of the psychology was explaining this. Just after many, many years, I find out.

So, it was hard and fun as well, at the same time. I was young, as well, and, stupid, maybe, at the same time. I didn’t feel – I didn’t think that many – I didn’t have that many thoughts about that I will fail or something. I was believe that I will try to do something and that was why I bought ticket one way. And, I start to learn English, basically, step by step. At some point, I start to speak a little bit.

~~~~

They (my family) don’t know about all of this stuff. This all stuff – it not exist for them. Because when I was, probably sixteen, or fifteen, I get into panic attacks and I ask my father to be next to me as I was afraid to be alone. I lost sleep for seven days – I didn’t know what’s happening to me. Out of nowhere, this serious fear hit me. And my father was next to me and he didn’t know what to do – nobody knows what to do. He stay and he just said, ‘I not able to help,’ and he just left. He thought I have to figure out myself but, not me, not him, didn’t know what is this. I was thinking I’m dying, basically, I don’t know what’s happening, something broken inside me.

To be honest, they never accept me and doesn’t matter what ever I will say, they will put me into – they will ignore that and they will start to push something, whatever they have in their mind and, it will be quite random. So, it’s one of the reasons why that easy it was to left my family, basically, because I never get any support from them, basically. I never felt secure in my family, so it’s quite normal for me to feel unsecure.

My father, he got similar fears, of abandoned, to be alone, basically, but he never show those fears but I – when I analyse him, I know he has those fears. None of them show those fears. There is different situation with my mother, she get anxious but this is not the same way as I do, it’s completely different anxiety – it’s different one. She get anxious about everything but she will always put this anxiety on me or anyone or any members of the family. If, for example, it used to be like that in childhood, that, my father late for, I don’t know, ten minutes, from work, she already anxious – it’s something happened. It’s like, what can be happened – ten minutes?

Step by step – this is experience I get, of anxiety from her but it’s not those moments she gets anxious , it’s more moments she was pushing me other stuff. It was much harder, it’s – she break, basically, couple of things – I don’t know how to explain that – it was moments I get broken, basically, by relationship between her and me. This is where anxiety start to grow, step by step.

I will say, I have a brother, younger brother – he always get fight. It’s not get any support, it was more fighting between each other. I will not say I was try to be bad to him but he was try to provoke, you know, to get out of this situation something, whatever he needs. I was all the time bad person, in front of him and in front of my parents

I broke up with my ex-girlfriend and it was not easy time. I just remember, it was sixteen years ago, we break up with my girlfriend – I decide to stay here in UK – I was alone at this time and it was lots of fears, what I’m going to do next. It was, work at the BMW, night shifts, all the time, twelve hours, six days a week. I get so tired and that’s how I get into anxiety. I start to become alone and all of this stuff, go deeper and deeper. But then, I met, different girlfriend and we stay together for many years now.

‘Changing the habitat…’ – The Anxiety & Guilt of Being a Migrant of Colour

Dance with the devil_AnnVanes
Dance With The Devil by Anna Vanes (c)

Migrants, particularly from the global south, face increased threats as a result of the worldwide rise in far-right nationalism and racism represented in such governments as that of Brazil, India, Hungary and, even, the UK, whose ongoing ‘hostile environment’ policy resulted in the deportations of Black Caribbean British citizens. Anxiety in vulnerable migrants causes them to give up aspects of their identity to placate anger and reduce their exposure. Whilst not necessarily medically categorised as social anxiety, such fears replicate the pattern of vulnerability, fear and maladaptation which characterises social anxiety symptoms.

Blogger, Saurav, reflects on his own anxiety as a Nepalese migrant of four years in Finland. He recognises the benefits he has reaped in his new country in education, music and culture but has witnessed racism in Finland, whether firsthand or otherwise, including, he says, Neo-Nazism: “I never go to bars in the night just to hangout. I used to do that a lot back in Nepal. I just don’t go. Partly, because I don’t drink. But the underlying reason is, people are drunk, they feel medieval when they are drunk and starts treating you in a certain way just because of your skin color. I’ve experienced it so many times and it’s dark.”

He contrasts the positive changes he has made in his new life, including, leading a healthier lifestyle, with the perception of disapproval and, even, threat, in Finland, posed against his ethnicity and migrant status, which has made him alter his behaviour: “I started growing this feeling of immense amount of responsibilities on this new society that I started putting people’s opinions or views higher than mine in each and every thing that I did. The society’s opinions started canceling mine. I would always think on the other person’s point of view and cancel my own point of views on things. I was trying to be polite all the time even though at times, it was not me.”

He had internalised the racism and anti-migrant feeling he has experienced in Finland, he says, more frequent amongst older people. He was going beyond being polite in his new country to distorting his own sense of self and well-being to erase his own identity. He was, he realised, feeling guilty about his own existence.

Another blogger, Annie, from Australia, writes in a recent blog-post of her childhood experiences of being undermined by others, sometimes, she suggests, out of racist feeling: “At my high school, there were white students who didn’t want me to succeed and be better than them at English, the subject. For some reason, they resented some girl, perhaps even an Asian girl, topping them in class.”

At the time, she experienced social anxiety symptoms: “My teenage life was a misery. I should have stood up for myself. I should have voiced my opinions, my thoughts. Instead, conditioned by my father that to stay silent is the best way to protect yourself, I did not. I smiled, agreed, simpered, succumbed and capitulated. I was my own traitor.”

Annie writes that she has restored her self-esteem and is able to assert herself. Saurav, a new migrant in Finland, seems to still be on that journey. He writes: “But the strong ones rode & sailed around the world and set the rules about how much of this world is accessible for certain group of people. Created borders. Created races. Created nationality. Created currency value. Created walls in our life that how much we want and are willing to, it’s super difficult to connect with people from different culture. Its important to know we can exist in any part of the world without feeling guilty of being here.”

In the face of organised and threatening racist policies from governments and intimidation from groups or gangs, overcoming fear to assert one’s own identity cannot be easy. It is likely, with such feeling on the rise globally, migrants will have to continue to balance fear and self-protection against a need to express their true selves. As ever, the best protection from fear will be organisation, education and solidarity.

Image designed by Anna Vanes.

To read the full blog-post by Sauvar Tamrakar, “Changing the habitat, belongingness, responsibilities, politeness & self-sabotage” click below:

My Dark Cave

As we move to new places in this world, we start developing a feeling of immense amount of responsibility to adapt/integrate towards the new society in such a way that we cancel so many things about ourselves.

Finland
I moved to Finland back in 2016, it has been 4 years. I’ve learned many great things in my life in this period of time and have also learned many things that disgusts me. I am here to tell you my story transparently and I suggest anyone reading this should read it as a human-being rather than reading it as the given identity of yours, whoever you might be.
Territorial things are anchored in our brains from the history of our ancestors. We feel comfortable in certain territory, feel the belongingness and struggle to find the same feelings in new places. Whoever opposes to this should try moving to new culture/places for at…

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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

Postcards from Berlin – Public Art for our Age of Anxiety

A public art project collaboration turned book – Postcards from Berlin, from Timelapse

In our age of anxiety and with the rise of extreme nationalism and xenophobia globally, Turkish academic and writer, Elif Shafak has urged a need for greater “emotional intelligence:” “(w)e need to talk about anxiety, fears, expectations, hopes, frustrations. It’s okay to have all of these feelings, and together we can find a better way forward than the way suggested to us by all of these populist demagogues.”

Today, the UK has the legacy of the so-called “hostile environment” policy which turned banks, employers and landlords into immigration officers, resulting in treating, “every immigrant as an illegal unless they could prove otherwise — and then often rejected their proof even when it was overwhelming.” Particularly targeted, in what became known as the ‘Windrush Scandal’ were immigrants born in former British colonies, especially, from the Caribbean, who were legally in the country as citizens under the British Nationality Act 1948. As well as cases of being threatened with removal, detained, denied medical care, at least eighty-three were wrongfully deported.

Immigration enforcement raids have been conducted with disproportionate severity and/or force. Under the amended Licensing Act 2003, s.179, immigration enforcement officials claim the right to forcibly raid any restaurant, hotel or other licensed premises to investigate suspected immigration law breaches. No cause, evidence, warrant or named senior authorising person need be provided. Two-thirds (63%) of those arrested for illegal working are Bangladeshi, Indian, Pakistani or Chinese with, “the inference for other nationals working illegally, especially if they were not employed in restaurants and takeaways, was that the likelihood of being arrested for working illegally was low and the likelihood of removal was negligible,” according to a review by the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration.

The UK participates, too, in a European “hostile environment” policy whereby the rescuing of migrants in the Mediterranean is not only neglected but opposed and, also, criminalised. Pia Klemp, a captain of a rescue ship from Sea-Watch, responsible for helping to save hundreds of migrant lives, has been charged with aiding and abetting illegal immigration in Italy after arrest in 2017 and faces up to 20 years in jail if found guilty. Carola Rackete, another rescue ship captain, was arrested in June, this year, after bringing 40 migrants into port in Italy but was released. Rescue NGOs risk fines of up to £50,000 if they enter Italian waters. In 2014, the British government revealed that it will not fund any planned EU search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean, arguing that saving lives incentivises illegal migration and increases deaths. The EU has suspended naval patrols after disagreements over how to share responsibility for those rescued at sea.

The UN estimates that 2,275 migrants drowned or went missing in the Mediterranean in 2018, at an average rate of six people a day. This was down from the over 3,000 who died in 2017. Approximately, 700 have died so far this year, with up to 150 people dying, including children, in an incident in July when two boats capsized off the coast of Libya. The UN commissioner for refugees, Filippo Grandi called for European nations to resume search and rescue missions and for an end to migrant detentions in conflict-ridden Libya.

The situation has been described as a “moral crisis” for Europe and one that has deep historical roots. 100 years ago, in 1919, racialised violence erupted in port cities in the UK, fuelled by high post-war unemployment, Mobs targeted, in particular, black communities, including seaman who had served on British ships during the war. The government were under pressure from wider social unrest, as police, soldiers and workers went on strike. A voluntary repatriation scheme aimed particularly at black and mixed race men was introduced. The Home Office informed authorities in Liverpool, “while it is not possible to deport compulsorily any coloured men who are British subjects it is considered desirable that so far as possible all unemployed coloured men should be induced to return to their own countries as quickly as possible”.

Postcards from Berlin brings together the artwork of four very different ‘migrants’ to Berlin as part of a project lead by Brits, Tim Free and Brian Neish, a writer and artist team who collaborate under the name, Timelapse. They reached out to photographer/filmmaker, Abdulsalam Ajaj who is amongst the 6.7 million Syrians to have fled the civil war in Syria, which has entered its eighth year since the pro-democracy uprising of 2011. Ajaj arrived in Germany from Damascus as a self-taught photographer and digital artist in 2015. Also joining the project was Slovenian-born, Veronika Ban who settled in Berlin, in 2009, having studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Venice.

Whether resident or visitor, refugee or migrant, it is clear that all the artists, who largely worked independently before bringing their work together, experience and are concerned with a sense of alienation. How the alienation manifests is, however, very different for each artist and provides suggestions about personal histories, as well as commentary on modern urban life.

The distorted and blurred light of Ajaj’s work appears to go beyond social alienation to the temporal – as the city escapes beyond sight and humans and other features are barely identifiable. Veronika Ban’s colourful collage work of shadowy figures and signs suggest a world of exclusion, secrecy and memory. Brian Neish’s works juxtapose vivid close-ups of walls with images of built structures. There is beauty and comfort in the “noble decay” of the walls – a pause from troubling existentialism, offered by stillness and attention.

Tim Free’s stream-of-consciousness text responds to each image, meanwhile, and suggests a traveler searching for something evanescent: “…An invisible presence in a free city. The compulsion to reinvent, if only for aesthetic pleasure or to invoke a tsunami of likes?” He ponders on the relation between past and present as he ‘walks’ the streets in the images and of his own experience of Berlin, observing: “…the healing of wounds and a new pragmatic generation, ready for their time in the sun…”

Postcards for Berlin is not the end of the story, of course. Migrants lay down roots and, as artists, strive for new expression. Notably, Ajaj has moved from abstracted images of light to telling stories of fellow refugees in Germany and recently has been capturing ‘naked interventions’ by volunteers that present the naked body in public places. Participants and artists have spoken about experiencing a new connection with their city and their bodies through such actions and activism.

There is an important anxiety not visible in these artworks, naturally, and that is the “intellectual insecurity of Alternative Right Nationalism,” referenced in the preface to the book version of the art project. As much as the insecurity of recent migrants, we need to engage with the fears of ‘natives’ too, if our age of anxiety is not to disintegrate our society. Postcards from Berlin is a valuable project and shows us how our fear of certain conversations might be overcome.

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A public exhibition of Postcards from Berlin is planned for 2020.  To find out more about the project and other Timelapse works, visit: http://www.timelapse95.com or @timelapse95

The artists

Abdulsalam Ajaj

Abdulsalam Ajaj is a Berlin-Neukölln-based artist who works with film and photography. He settled in Berlin in 2016 having left his native Damascus, Syria, during the ongoing civil war which arose from pro-democracy uprisings in 2011 and has descended into a fragmented conflict involving various fundamentalist militant groups and international powers.

Ajaj was educated at Jawdat Alhashimie High (scientific branch) and studied Archaeology and Museums, University of Damascus, Syria. He is a self-taught photographer, retoucher and graphic designer with further education in Germany from Weißensee Kunsthochschule, Berlin and UDK Art performance workshop for Professional Berlin.

He and his collaborator, Mischa Badasyan, have received international attention for their naked public tableau works, including the photography collection, Weil Ich Dich Liebe (Because I Love You) – a series of images of volunteers posing nude in Berlin’s metro stations. Having unsuccessfully sought permission for the shoots for several years, the artist/activists went ahead with the project without permission. Badasyan has suggested that the experience helped participants reconnect with the city and their own bodies.

Veronika Ban

Veronika Ban was born in Slovenia in 1985 and is of Slovenian-Italian heritage. She has a background in dance and theatre and wrote poetry before focusing on visual arts. She has worked with collage, murals, painting, sculpture, film and performance. She spent time in Barcelona working and performing in a “squatting socio-cultural centre” before formal study from 2004 to 2009 in Venice at the Academy of Fine Arts. She has lived in Berlin since 2009, where her daughter Teodara was born.

Ban’s is concerned that: “Art should be a mirror and should give an option of perception to reach the truth about life, however it is colored, personally or politically, whether it speaks about emotions of an individual or about the society we live in…”

Ban says of her approach, “(t)he main symbol I’ve always used for describing the society are bricks. Bricks are like particles, together creating something bigger. As in life, moments create time, experiences compose life stories, and individuals make society… For example, in music we have melody which is composed of musical notes. However, in my artworks you can find many different symbols speaking about secretes of life.”

Brian Neish

Brian is a full-time artist based in his home county of Derbyshire who, alongside Tim Free, is creator of the Timelapse public art projects. He is fascinated by painted surfaces and the exploration of time and experience – “noble decay” – through the layering of paint, colour and texture. It was in 2010 that Brian became a full-time artist. Prior to this he worked as a Senior Lecturer in Art Education at LSU College of Higher Education and the University of Chichester. This followed his time in Primary Education specialising in Art & Design. He originally studied at King Alfred’s College, Winchester where he graduated in 1985 with a First Class Honours Degree in Art & Education. He also completed a post-graduate year of study in 1990 at Dartington College of Arts in Devon.

Tim Free

Tim Free is a London-based writer and actor with a background in theatre, music and performance. As a writer, he is strongly influenced by social history and the Mass Observation Movement, a social research organisation started in 1937 with the objective of capturing everyday life through volunteers and, in some cases, paid investigators. As well as exploring ideas and history, Free seeks to “try and capture the essence of the event, thereby giving the material a vitality that might lend itself to later reading and interpretation.”