It's been 12 months since I boarded that plane out of Amsterdam. Two suitcases, a temporary transit visa, a hangover, and anxiety so strong I couldn't see straight.
I left Europe and flew the long journey back into my parents' open arms, in a tiny little town on the east coast of New Zealand. I hadn't spoken to anyone, apart from flight attendants and cranky airport employees, for over 24 hours. As the car hit the twists and turns I memorised from our weekend trips - I talked. And talked. My mind was full of so many ideas and plans for this part of the adventure.
My plans stretched far and wide, new ideas stemming off existing ones, like an old tree you find in a park. I wanted to live in New Zealand. No, Australia. I wanted to get back to Europe in Summer. I needed to see Asia. My friends are here, there and everywhere, I should plan a visit.
My mind reeled whilst my body was brought back to the present. Accents were easy to understand again. Things moved a lot slower. Your drivers license is your ticket to freedom. Your parents are getting older.
A Pizza Shop in a New Zealand Summer
My laptop moved as slow as the town around me. I woke up, most days, to rain, and applied for work. I began helping out locally in the town - with people who knew me from before and people who have met only this side of me.
I made just enough cash to get overpriced groceries at the supermarket, plus a few treats if we ever made it over to Thames - the connection to Auckland. As I reeled from the difference and fell into the comfort of my birth country, I watched my connections from overseas fade into the busy season.
I had one major breakdown, and a few others scattered between long showers and night visits to the beach. It felt so... over. And even though I'd had four years of country changes, life lessons and exotic adventures - it didn't feel long enough.
I enjoyed a Christmas with my family - new additions and all, dinners in the fluorescent pub and my toes in the sand having a wine with my parents. Yet, amidst the excitement, tears welled up when my brother paid us a visit, a subtle reminder that as the years pass, it's just us, the core family, growing closer. Although I understood I hadn't missed out on much, there was an undeniable sense of longing for the moments that slipped by.
I started work at the Pizza Shop a little while after. My job application rejections reached an all-time high, and no one wanted to hire a freelance marketer in the worst summer New Zealand had on record. The money trickled in and my arms became stronger with the fire-building, pizza-makin, dust-clearing days I had.
I toyed with the idea of buying a space there and making it my own. Another one of the branches, I suppose.
There's a faint line between community feel and bored locals. I felt the walls close in. Disconnected from modern life - like take-out and late-nights, a big personality stuck in a small-town, like a freckle on your foot you forget about.
A QuickCall and a 3-Hour Flight Later
The timezone was a lot smaller now, and even though I was in New Zealand, I could connect with my Australian life a lot easier. One afternoon, another rejection email sitting in my inbox and a radio hosting dream cut short, I dialled a number I've had in my phone since 2007.
Our greeting hadn't changed in 15 years, and much like the odd calls we'd managed over the past few years, we fell into a comfortable conversation that spanned a few hours.
I'd gone to high school with Lauren, we'd been through everything together, seen relationships come and go and even travelled the US for a few weeks.
Words poured out of me, tears followed suit. I had maintained a façade online, trying to hold it together after an Instagram story triggered outrage among my friends in the Northern Hemisphere. Despite my attempts to express the challenges and transformations I faced, it was no longer a safe space. As I closed the chapter on my globetrotting days, put a halt to a growing business, and watched my friendships fade, I confessed to her my belief that I had made a grave mistake.
She'd seen and been there through a lot of my Mental Health struggles, and as I shared the feeling of the walls closing in, the triggers now at every turn, the lack of distraction, she stretched out an olive branch I needed so badly.
"Come live with me"
I'd booked a flight for a month later, right after my mothers' birthday, and said goodbye to New Zealand, again.
Dog Walking and Dee Why
I was back in Dee Why, the first place I lived after moving out and one of the less-desirable suburbs in the Northern Beaches of Sydney, Australia.
But I was with Lauren. I was safe.
After weeks of reconnecting, wine, and meeting friends old and new, reality hit. Life, never free for long, meant $200 a week for a snug room in Lauren's apartment, covering space and bills. No stress yet—I'd worked through the holidays, a welcome distraction. Not rich, but enough to tide me over while seeking work in Australia. And even though I'd said yes to an agency for the first few weeks, I knew my boundaries and what I wanted. I left the job to find something better.
There was so many things I needed to renew, resign up for, settle from the years of travelling. My license expired. Medicare too. I had to get an RSA to work in a pub. RCG if I wanted to work in one with pokie machines. I needed a WWCC to get promo work. I needed to revalidate my address with my bank, renew my credit card, get some health insurance. The list went on and on. I had a note in my phone. Everyday, things were added more than they were marked complete.
I got a job at a bar. Manly Beach is an iconic part of the Sydney landscape, but for me, it was just a place where I first got drunk, first went out, first kiss, first used a fake ID, first got my fake ID confiscated, first Police Station visit, first black-out.
Walking beachside I remembered where everything was so easily, like a map on the back of my hand. Some stores had changed, but the energy of the place was eerily similar. I'd stomp along the sidewalk, watching people in activewear, tourists and surfers enjoy the slice of paradise. No matter how bad my shift was, how tired I'd wake before even heading in, I knew my soul smiled here.
I'd make just enough over the weekend to cover my rent, if I got scheduled. My manager, a woman I may have been friends with in another universe, didn't like me too much. I needed something else, and I needed it fast. Manly was where I started, and all the growth I made felt useless if I settled back here.
A chance Facebook post led me to Harry, a Mancunian running a dog-walking gig. Casual, freeing, perfect. Soon, I was up at 5am, walking dogs, driving an old Toyota, juggling bartending and dog-walking seven days a week for three months straight.
On the odd occasion I wasn't scheduled on a weekend, I'd find promo work to take on. I distracted myself entirely with work. I've learnt over the years - money doesn't equal happiness, but it does give you freedom. Never again do I want to be stuck.
I continued to apply for everything suitable I could find. I had a short stint at an agency when I arrived which didn't suit - I left after 3 weeks. I wanted to find something as perfect as possible. Creative. Events-based. Good people. Hybrid offerings.
I was at the pub one night with an old friend I've since disconnected with. And I got a call.
I said yes, downed tequila, and knew life was about to shift gears, again.
Becoming a Usual Suspect, and an Inner-Westian
I stepped into the role of Marketing Manager at 'usual suspects creative,' an experiential award-winning marketing agency boasting household name clients and events.
Work hit me hard and fast. Among the chaos, I dealt with crises left and right, following in the footsteps of many juniors. Adjusting to an office environment again, I balance my open self with the professional facade I hadn't worn in years.
The pace is non-stop, and I try to keep up. There was the invitation to Business Chicks led me to witness Jacinda Arden's empowering talk on female leadership. Byron Bay beckoned for a five-day trip. I tour prestigious Sydney spots and sip cocktails in places I'd never dreamed of entering, all with the team.
Alongside a out-of-world agency, there are some pretty spectacular people entering my life again. You know - the ones just starting their lives, working mums, the ones doing it all, the people who seem to have endless knowledge come to them with ease. There's fantastic, riveting conversations and talks of where you're going and what you like to read.
In my pursuit of a new direction, I realised I needed to re-explore Sydney. Having grown up in the serene embrace of the Northern Beaches—undeniably stunning amidst the city's chaos—I found myself outgrowing it. The peninsula felt confining, a beautiful bubble that stifled rather than liberated. I felt out of touch - like hitting the beat, slightly off time. I wanted to see shows and try restaurants and meet more people on paths I never even knew existed.
So I moved. Right on over the bridge.
Coffee doesn't work anymore
As I reach the tail end of the year, with December just around the corner, I reflect on how this blog entry has evolved, I realise how much I've actually done in 2023. I could expand the sections - like the reunions I had in the Northern Beaches, the creative struggles I've faced, or how my love life has shaped and moved - but I'm learning the beauty in narratives untold.
I am no longer anonymous, the foreign person in a new city. I'm back to closer time differences where weekly meet-ups replace annual encounters.. I have conversations that begin with tales of what they've seen online - whilst I frantically hit rewind, trying to remember what I've done and if I accidentally shared something I shouldn't have.
I wake with feelings of exhaustion. My body flings back and forth in the bed as I replay, play again, and consider all the future possibilities. I find joy in finding hobbies that get me out of my head - and get frustrated at how I'll be able to afford it all. The joy of new found escapism clashes with the practicality of affordability, leaving me conflicted and consistently bitching about the cost of living.
I have worked and stressed since landing back down under on the 6th of December. My official work commitments commenced on December 27th, leaving me with barely a weekend, sometimes less, to call my own in the span of 12 months. I look forward to days stretching out into one another, with no alarms and my feet in the pool, watching the planes fly over. I have books piled up and creative supplies ready for the recharging well overdue.
November feels like the Thursday of the year, signalling the approach of a long-awaited break. Just a few more sleeps, and the weekend will be here at last.