The opposite of happiness is not to be unhappy, I have learned that instead it is too be lonely. Alone and lonely.

It is an interesting thing to learn that something you thought to be true your whole life actually turned out to be a load of rubbish. In my case, I believed that I disliked people so much that the only thing I ever wanted to be was on my own. I spent a lifetime trying to get some ‘me’ time, cherishing the rare moments I had alone on the way to work or in the bath. A few months after arriving in the UK, I was alone. I had my own place and the thought of finally living on my own was an exciting one – Not to say I was not deeply disturbed by being separated from my family but the luxury of my own space is one I have never been easily afforded.

The thing is… after a few months of being alone, it grew lonely. I left my closest friends and family in South Africa and I have not found it easy to make new ones, not because I am an ogre to get along with but because financial constraints mean I don’t get to go out or leave the house with an audience very often. I don’t get along well with everyone and in fact most people just do not appeal to me… I am happy with the few close friends I have made and have, I am not really interested in adding to the friends list for the sake of it so I will continue to be fussy in the social aspect of things.

After a little while of being lonely I decided to get Bella – It took me months to find her, hours to bond with her and mere weeks for me to lose her again. She was the one piece of happiness I have had in a long time and today that was taken away from me (through my own fault) along with the chance of seeing my children any time soon.

So am I unhappy? No. I am absolutely, unequivocally lonely. I have never felt more alone in my entire life and the mere thought of spending time stuck at home by myself brings random and infinite tears to my eyes. I feel like I am being suffocated, like every breath I take clutches my insides on the way down and it hurts. I feel like I am drowning, that when I open my eyes all I can see is the eerie black of nothingness. As someone who used to get a full 8 hours or more of sleep a night, I now get only 4 or 5. I hate the thought of going to bed, not because I do not want to enter the lonely dream state I have come to accept but because sleep means the dawning of another day of being alone. Another day on my own. Another day to fake a smile to the world and pretend everything will be ok. Another day to feign strength, to try not to be clingy or needy, to not admit that I am human and every day that passes is another scratch into my bleeding soul.  Waves and waves of grey hit me every minute of every day. I am lost and I am no longer running.

I have spent 8 months and 8 days feeling this way.

A lifetime of needing alone time has culminated in me never wanting to be alone again.

I am not afraid to openly admit that I have failed myself. That I am weak, that I need people. That I cannot sustain this hermit life much longer and that being glued to my phone is not the answer.

How I long for a soul that will not leave me… like my Bella did and like souls before her.

I ache for the day I come home to noise. To voices.

I yearn to come home and take just 5 minutes longer in the bathroom because that is the only alone time that I have.

I crave human interaction that exists outside of virtuality where words are said because they are meant and not because they are obligatory.

One day… people will look at me without pity, without sympathy and without wonder at what I am doing and have done.

One day.

Cacophony of silence

I berate thee

You placate me

Not forever you say

But here in darkness

To breathe

To stay

I tire of the company

Living only for one

I watch

The world goes by

Without me

Not a second thought

No one dare try

Smiles, laughs

Only shadows care

And in my solitude

I ponder, I wait

Change comes not

Loneliness, my fate

Time passes

I stand still

Non-changing

Faux resolve

You think me strong

My head, weak

Heart unfeeling

Do I dare speak?

To say what comes

To mind, my dear

Will only do harm

And so the noisy

Silence persists

I plug my ears

I block the sound

Arms enveloping me

Soul shielded from

The storm

Darkness here

My only friend

I long for her

To bring me home

In a time before women were allowed to vote and men had mani pedi’s, our breast wielding predecessors were happy to restrict their movements by way of a corset and stay home to tend the home and children. Those days are long gone, instead we wear corsetry for sexual prowess and only marry a man willing to tend the home and children so we do not have to. Who are we? The modern, 21st century woman with independence and a career – We are a single man’s worst nightmare.

Making a statement meant wearing a pair of pants and non-conformity was met with oppression

Women before me spent hundreds, no thousands of years fighting their way to the top of any ladder they could – Political, financial, emotional to name but a few. They donned their bonnets and walked the streets, picketed their views for all to see. Making a statement meant wearing a pair of pants and non-conformity was met with oppression. It has always been an underlying fuel to any gender driven fire – A woman, refusing to be held down by societal norms, wanting only to be found as equal.

Well here we are, 21st century women in arms living the spoils of the gender equality war. And are we happy? I don’t think we are not happy, I think we are too proud to admit that women before us fought so hard for something we are not even sure we wanted or still want – To be independent, to be emotionally self-supporting and to be reliant on only ourselves for anything we could or would want. A man, a relationship, sex, love – It is on our terms, we call the shots and if it exists it is only because we allow it to.  Or so we think…

SO what happened? When did we skip the grey area between the two extremes? On the one hand we chose not to be oppressed but on the other we choose to need nothing but what we can give ourselves. What happened to being dependent with an opinion and why do women come under such scrutiny for wanting to be a stay at home mother, reliant on her husband but still having a voice and actually wanting to support and give her husband what he needs to make her happy. Surely we should be acceptable of the middle ground when we advocate for the extreme.

General perception said that a woman’s place was behind her man and in the home, his place was to bring home the bacon

We have forgotten that in those times of ‘oppression’, many (if not most at the time) revered the role of doting housewife. General perception said that a woman’s place was behind her man and in the home, his place was to bring home the bacon. So now, the modern woman has the opposite – She can go out, make and have a career, bring home the bacon and refuses to stand behind anyone. But what makes standing behind your husband any less admirable than what you do by being self-sufficient.

As a gender, women are the nastiest kind. We judge the women that choose the dependent lifestyle and rebuff the 21st century norms that say a woman need not have a man to be happy. And what of the men? The confused souls that have to endure this ever-changing mind-set and never know where they stand… We tell them we want independence and do not need them but when they do not provide what we expect them to, we emasculate them and make them feel worthless. We tell them that they can be whoever they want to be but when they take metro sexual strides, we mock their sexuality. We say that we don’t need them to play the role of the man, the provider, the bread-winner and yet work them so hard they are filled with resentment.

With much love I say that the modern woman wants to have her cake and eat too and she needs to take a step back and evaluate what she wants before calling any more of the shots. I have said ‘we’ all this time because as a gender we have always wanted one thing, equality, but in some way we have managed to abuse that and use it to our advantage – No longer do we feel we are equal but we now act as if we are superior. Who are the oppressed one’s now?

The societal pressure is still there, to be the career woman. The perfect mother. The perfect wife. A lady in the streets but a freak in the bed. To have and keep it together, always. I am just saying that it is OK not to slander the women who choose the lifestyles they do, in fact that makes them more modern than any of those fighting for independence. If a mother chooses not to work, if a wife chooses to cook and clean, if a woman chooses not to have children or if a lady chooses she only ever wants to be single it is because of choice. Who are the rest of us to decide that their choice is any better than our own?

So who is the modern woman?

She is the woman with choice.

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The last page of another book and I feel my heart break a little more.

The word bound artistry leaves my soul longing, aching, needing from the core.

It hurts to end the story here, for it to end so soon

For over another protagonist to think, to dwell, to swoon

I watched them as they grew, as they were moulded from page to page

To watch them make their own mistakes, adventures to engage

Now I must put them all to bed, forget who they’d become

Even after all the time in my imagination they have swum

Truth to be told, they’re all I’ve known and these characters I adore

They kept me coming back, the author knowing I’d need more

Who knew in this literature that I would ever find such friends

To shut the world out, bedside lamp on, soon became the trend

I was enthralled and threw myself into their stories and lives

Reading of monsters, of dragons, of vampires, of friends and adulterous wives

No matter who the story was about, the subject of this art

Almost every character crept in, made space, got comfortable in my heart

But now this book is over, the characters gone their separate ways

Left to find a new book on which to spend my days

Farewell my friends, our time together has been sweet

Until I read of you again my friend, until once again we meet.

It has been a couple of months since my last blog about my husband’s settlement visa application for the UK – The last post I did was in February called Taking over Me in which I was asking for you to all bare with me only a little while longer for J-P’s visa to be issued and for life to return to some sort of normality. Those who know me or have me as a friend on Facebook (or even follow me on Twitter) know that things did not turn out the way we had planned – Instead J-P’s visa was declined and we were forced to start the process all over again.

Our first settlement visa application was on the basis that I had not yet been here 6 months – This meant that the financial requirement is considered for the 12 months prior to application only. Having earned in South African rands with the awful exchange rate and also changing jobs (and having a drastic pay cut) meant that we were already very close to the line in terms of actually achieving this requirement of GBP18 600 per year (In the last 12 months). We had been advised that maintenance payments could be included in this calculation and so we used this to push us over the edge and apply with the hopes the visa would be approved. Sadly, it was not and due to South Africa’s maintenance orders not being recognised in the eyes of UK visas and immigration, J-P’s visa was denied on the basis that we did not make the financial requirement.

I remember that day that I got the call, I had already gone onto planned leave and J-P and the kids were due to arrive any day, I had gone to watch a movie to kill time while I waited for J-P to go and collect his visa and then book his air ticket – When he called me I was sitting on the bridge over looking the River Kennett, the sun was out and it seemed like it was going to be a beautiful day – I was not prepared for my husband to tell me that his visa had been denied. That we had just spent GBP885 for nothing. It was all I could do to immediately book a ticket back to my family and I flew the next day, uncertain of our future and unsure of being able to continue with this pursuit of a settlement visa so that we could continue our lives in the UK.

When it happened, I looked at this like it was the worst thing in the world but when I think about it now, it was merely a hiccup. Had I known before I left that the visa would be declined, I never would have left South Africa. I said from the start that there was no way I would be here for 6 months (The second way of application) without my family before a visa could be applied for and I was not prepared to stick it out without them for that long… Well, here we are, I have been here 6 months and we are about to apply again.

On the 20th of April 2015 I will have been working for Portman Travel for 6 months and have successfully been earning enough to make the financial requirement – At the end of April (beginning of May depending on how long it takes for the documents to arrive) the second visa application will go in on the new basis that I have lived and worked in the UK for 6 months earning a salary that would in the financial year (6 months before and after application) meet the financial requirement for sponsorship of my husband’s settlement visa. When I went back to SA in February I had every intention of giving up, of canning the whole idea. I was prepared to give up the new life I had built here just to be back to my family knowing how difficult it had been without them in the 4 months preceding the visa rejection. I was convinced otherwise by my husband and our visa consultant and so, came back to the UK with a heavy heart but a renewed determination to do everything we needed to to make this visa happen, despite the challenges, despite the cost. H was re enrolled in school and went back to Grade 4 slightly later than everyone else as by now she had missed the first few weeks of classes and thankfully J-P works for an amazing company who allowed him to stay on a little longer until the visa could be re applied for. I got a new tattoo and came back alone, hoping it would be the motivation I needed to get through the next 3-4 months it would take to resolve this.

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A second visa application means more money – Sadly since the first application, the cost has increased – Our timing has been fairly awful to say the least. Where it was just under GBP900, it is now closer to GBP1000. A new NHS surcharge has also been implemented (As of the 6th of April 2015) where all long term visa applicants are also required to prepay a charge to make use of the NHS for their intended period of stay – J-P’s additional NHS surcharge is another GBP600 on top of his application. Unfortunately documents that were valid for the first application are no longer valid so off my husband went for a second TB test (Another R1000) and a new police clearance certificate, tax clearance certificate and certifications of documents. All new payslips, employment letters, bank statements etc had to be obtained and I will have to send off another envelope filled with original documents from this side before he can even submit the online application again. What was supposed to be over already has turned into an extremely long, harrowing, expensive experience – BUT I KNOW that once they are here, it will be well worth all the sacrifice.

As soon as my documents arrive in South Africa, J-P will then process his online application once more, go in for his interview and re submit all his documentation. In February 2015, nearly all visa applications were being processed in 15 working days but sadly that number has gone up to 30 days for March 2015 – Many being rushed in before the NHS charge implementation date I am sure. I am hoping that the number is reduced again for April / May thanks to these new charges that may put people off from applying – The sooner J-P’s visa comes out, the better.

This time, we have no reason to believe it will be rejected – I meet the financial requirement, we meet all other requirements, we have everything we need for me to be an adequate sponsor of my husband’s visa, all we need is the UK visa’s stamp of approval and we can get along with the rest of our lives and we are nearly there – Hopefully no more than 6-8 weeks away now. It does mean that the children will not go to school until September but that actually works out quite nicely, D will go into reception year (Grade R) as this is the school year that she turns 5. Based on Hayley’s age, she will then be pushed into fifth year and will not be held back yet – That we will look at based on how well she is coping. Hubby has already been in touch with recruiters and has had some positive interest on his CV pending his visa issuance, this is great news as we will be able to get back into the financial swing of things fairly soon. I will also take some more leave but this time, I am waiting to actually have a flight date before I go off for ten working days to spend some much needed time with my beautiful family who I am missing considerably!

Thinking about this visa all the time has led me to discover a few interesting things that may be of use if you are planning on moving over to the UK – I feel that there is a lot of information dotted all over the place and it can get very confusing when you have a complex application / situation as I do.

*** RETAINING SA CITIZENSHIP ***

I am not an SA citizen so I did not give a second thought to this until now but it is important to note that if you manage to successfully obtain citizenship of another country without first having applied to retain your SA citizenship, you will lose your SA citizenship and you will then only be granted permanent residence to SA – It is an administrative and logistical nightmare. As J-P is coming over on a settlement visa (When and not if it is granted), it will be valid for 33 months after which he will apply for an extension for a further 33 months. After that time, he would have been in the UK for 5 years and will be required to apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) by doing the Life in the UK test, doing a new English test and proving the financial requirement again in order to gain permanent residence in the UK – It is at this time, once ILR is granted that if he wants to apply for citizenship (Which he does) he will need to apply to retain his SA citizenship before obtaining his British citizenship.

*** CHILDREN HOLDING DUAL CITIZENSHIP ***

Luckily my girls have British passports as well as having their SA passports, this is because I was born in the UK. Under the age of 18, they cannot lose their citizenship in SA as minors but it is important to note that they need to apply to retain their citizenship after they have turned 18 – I still have to get clarity on how to do this because to me the ruling says they would not have lost their SA citizenship as minors but you cannot apply to retain your citizenship if you already have dual citizenship. I will look into this much closer to the time because by then, I am sure the ruling would have changed another ten times.

*** PERMANENT RESIDENCE EXPIRY ***

In the worst case scenario, J-P is not granted extension visa’s or ILR and this could mean that there is a possibility we would need to return to SA. If this is the case, I only hold a permanent residence certificate. Thankfully, those do not expire as long as you apply to the specific rules given on the certificate (if any) or you return to SA at least once very 3 years. Guess what family, you will be seeing me for holidays and visits – Not only because I want to see you but because I also need to make sure that if I need to return to SA permanently, I can :).

It has not been an easy road but I think back to me making the decision to come over and I know it was the right thing to do – I never intended to be away from the girls and J-P so long and as I said earlier, had I known I would never have left but then we would never have had the opportunity to know if this could work or not. It has been extremely expensive but thankfully money can be replaced, credit cards can be repaid – As soon as J-P is here and working again, we will be able to make that up fairly quickly. Money will be the last of our worries as long as my family is back together with a bright, hopeful future.

Now all we ask is that you hold thumbs for us, that this time, our second try, the visa is approved and issued fairly quickly (Hopefully 3-4 weeks instead of 6-7 but if it is approved I will take what I can get) and that I have my family here with me sometime between early and mid June. Unfortunately, the delayed visa issuance means that we will not be able to return to SA this year for a holiday because financially and practically we would just not be able to, but that will mean that next year’s visit will be all the more special – Especially because I will get to meet my nephew who is making his entry into the world in July this year :)

I remain hopeful that the next post I share that has anything to do with the visa is to tell you it has been issued.

Thanks for all your well wishes and positivity in the meantime! I have been here 184 days today… and counting.

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Recently, a video has gone viral worldwide of a South African police officer driving recklessly in what is believed to be an inebriated state with his gun on his lap. Shocked? You should be, these are the men and women that are responsible for keeping you safe. They are responsible for protecting you and those you love and they are there to enforce the laws of the land put in place to enable you to live the safest possible life. For many South Africans, the sad reality is that these men and women appointed as the law enforcers of the country are merely criminals in uniform who they would be safer without. Most of them are criminal or could not be bothered, as seen in this video showing a mob beating where the police decided it was easier to stand by and watch instead.

This evening my husband went to fetch my daughter from the One Direction concert. He was there a little earlier than intended and of course was being given seven kinds of hell for wanting to park where he was not supposed to because he was there early. Eventually he found a darkened spot under a lamp post where he thought it safest to hide and wait, out of the sight of the security guards but sitting targets for the wonderful police force. The officer walked up to my husband’s window and without beating around the bush asked straight out ‘How much is this parking worth to you?’. Not wanting to go through the hassle of driving around any further, he counted out his R13 in change and told the policeman that was all he had, the officer took the change and walked onto the next row of 10 or so cars where the same scenario ensued window to window. My husband was an enabler, but the truth is that he is not alone – The country has become a nation of enablers. The sad reality is that not metres from my husband’s vehicle were a group of girls, someone’s daughter’s, swigging from a brown bag and spread eagle curb side looking no older than 10 or 12 and the policeman was more concerned about making his nightly bribe than assisting these girls.

Living in South Africa, everyone knows someone that has been the victim of police intimidation. I am not saying that all police men or women are bad but to be honest, for every 1 legitimate police officer there are 20 criminals in government paid for vehicles with disco lights. The stories are shocking, from something small (what we would consider small anyway) like being pulled over and being breathalized by force even though you haven’t had a drink – this has happened to my husband – and then being asked for a bribe to make it ‘go away’ to being thrown in the back of a police vehicle and taken on a joyride around the country being left road side battered and bruised. We teach our children in schools that men and women in uniform are to be trusted, they are there to help you and 10111 is the number to dial when you are in trouble but then the next day we read an article in the paper about a car of policemen raping a lone women in her own driveway after a night out.

I get asked fairly often about South Africa and if the horror stories they hear overseas are true – While I do not want to dog the country, I also cannot lie or I would still be there wouldn’t I? The statistics are real and the truth sucks  – in 2013 a study revealed that 83% of South African police officers were corrupt with South Africa coming in within the top 36 countries for the most corrupt law enforcement. Households are choosing armed response security companies over the South African police force for home protection – There is something wrong with that picture! I have travelled all over the world and in no other country I have been to, do the police walk around so entitled, demanding respect and bribe money instead of being in the field for the love of protection. Ask many kids in SA what they would want to be when they grow up, innocently many will turn around and say police officer – Truth is, they have the right idea. They get paid to do nothing, get fancy paid-for cars and earn money on the side for bribery. The true heroes are the police reservists who do that job voluntarily, for the love of justice, not because they are expecting a pay day. Social media has made it difficult to trust the SAPS when videos and stories are being thrown out there of abuse, corruption, intimidation and bribery and the sad truth is that this 84% are making the good cops look bad.

It is not a subject that should be pussy footed around, as a nation it is imperative that this corruption is no longer enabled – Paying a bribe to a metro cop who pulls you over for speeding means you are evading the law and making it easy for them to be criminal. Paying R13 for a parking space is bad form (Sorry babe). Letting police officers standby while criminal activity is underway is just not acceptable. After all, these are the men and women you are raising the younger generation to look up to… To the men and women who do the job of police officer for true and honest reasons, I salute you and I am sorry that your name is soiled because of those around you. Continue to do what you do so that the boys and girls who look up to law enforcement turn out to be like you rather than the police in these above mentioned videos.

Close your eyes, open wide and take a bite. Now listen. That sound that you hear, crunching in your ear? That’s the sound that drives me to a madness I am certain I need a diagnosis for and its only one of many annoyances that push me to the brink of insanity day in and day out.

I am no psychiatrist but I am certain that I need to see one, you see I am pretty sure that I suffer from a condition called ‘Misophonia’. No, I don’t hate all sounds… only most of them. I don’t complain about your noises because I want to irritate you, I complain about them because they genuinely are the reason that people like me want to injure other people. It is an almost uncontrollable rage that creeps over me and all that I can do is plug my ears and hope it will end soon, before I do or say something I regret.

Over time, I have learnt to block out some of the sounds but it is impossible to block them all out. I am human after all and my hearing is one of my senses that is still near perfect, to my own detriment. Add my unexplained hatred for noise to my obsessive compulsive disorder and we have a healthy combination of crazy in a crusty bucket.

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Snoring

Ask anyone that I have ever shared a bed or a room with just how much I can handle a snorer. Simply put, I can’t. I grew up sharing a room with my sister, most of that time in a bunk bed, many a night spent kicking her in the back through the chipboard to wake her up so I could sleep. It was not uncommon for her to wake up with her nose inches from a pillow that I was contemplating suffocating her with (I am not actually going to admit to trying to suffocate her here). Ask my husband about our nightly ritual and it will always involve me going to bed and falling into a deep sleep before he is even permitted to lay down – Heaven help him if we watch a movie or something on the laptop in bed and he dozes off. I have been known to pinch his nose closed, throw water on him and sometimes get out the threatening pillow. (Again, not going to admit to any suffocation).

Breathing

I really wish people did not have to breathe. (No, that is not the reason for my pillow suffocation antics – not that I have ever suffocated anyone). I have tried to explain to too many people that we have noses through which to breathe in and mouths with which to breathe out – Alas, some people have never mastered that co-ordination and breathe in and out of their mouths alone thus allowing for an awfully loud huffing sound with every breath bound to try drive me nuts. I don’t think I would have a problem with mouth breathing if it could be done quietly but every oral inhalation is generally accompanied by a raspy throaty noise that cannot be explained as anything other than gross. I get that you need your mouth to breathe when your nose is blocked but there is no need to do it in my ear, on top of me, in my face where I can neither run nor hide.

Sniffing

And if you are going to breathe through your mouth because your nose is blocked and you are ill, I suggest you avoid sniffing and sputtering at the same time. The thing about Misophones is that we see sound, which probably explains why we hate it so much. The sound of your sniff gives me visions or mucus travelling its path from your nose to your stomach – If that sentence did not just make you want to be ill, I don’t know what will. Don’t sniff. Just don’t. It is unattractive, unhealthy and unintelligent anywhere near me and a pillow.

Swallowing

If you are not swallowing your snot, I commend you. That, however, is not license to turn your oesophagus into a drain. It is possible to drink or sip quietly and swallow sweetly without pain and injury. Walking around listening to people swig liquids like they’re auditioning to be a roto rooter drain cleaner is hardly my idea of a good time.

Nail biting

The sound of silence is beautiful, silence or some really good music through my earphones. Seeing you munching on your talons is a sure way to kill my sound of serenity. I don’t even have to physically hear you chewing or biting your nails to get annoyed because if I see you doing it I am already imagining the sounds… the sounds of the teeth on nail, grinding and gnawing away. Not only am I now hearing that unnatural crunch, I am imagining you swallowing those talons and feel sick all over again.

Hand rubbing

I appreciate it if you are not biting your nails in my presence but that doesn’t mean that you should be rubbing your hands together instead. Why do people even do this? The only time a hand rubbing is effective is when Gargomel in The Smurfs does it and that is because he is EVIL and wants to kill Smurfs. Are you evil? Do you want to kill Smurfs? No? Then WHY are you rubbing your hands together. If you are rubbing your hands furiously like you are trying to start a fire, perhaps you should consider moisturiser. Only dry hands sound like scratching sandpaper.

And of course, chewing.

There is no sound worse than the sound of someone eating. Other people, myself, pets, babies. You name it, I cannot hear it. Every meal of the day is eaten while trying to block out the sounds of gnawing and squishing and squelching and crunching. At one point, this irritation was so bad that I had to eat a meal in a different room from my husband and children altogether because the sound of them eating would cause me to snap. Most of the time I have learned to deal with this irritation but after a long stressful day, even the softest sound can set me off and eating is bound to be one of those sounds. I have been at such a point of desperation that I have used a pillow on myself to try and drown out the sound of the chewing but alas, this is near impossible.

Now that I have successfully worked myself up by replaying all the sounds that annoy me most in my mind, it is time for dinner – Wish me luck.

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