Moving forward when life comes to a standstill
By last New Year’s Eve, 2020 looked like a quite promising year for me. After my first five months living in Halifax, I started to have a group of people I could call friends and as I survived the most difficult two months of my first winter in Atlantic Canada, prospective plans for the summer—longer days, trips to the beach and festivals, etc.—were exciting.
The coronavirus was present in other countries and it was starting to threaten Canada and elsewhere in the West, including our region and my birthplace of Barcelona, Spain. But the concept of social distancing was not yet in everybody’s vocabulary and it was, for the most part, business as usual. That changed quite suddenly.
Changes began to happen in Spain a little earlier than in Nova Scotia. On Friday, March 13, the Spanish government confirmed 6,251 cases and 193 deaths from the virus and immediately declared a state of emergency. That was also the last Friday night that I gathered with a small group of friends in Halifax. There were no hugs.
That weekend, I started my own voluntary self-isolation to limit my contact with other people. On Monday, my new daily routine looked something like this: Wake up, work from home, do a workout in the living room to stretch my muscles, take a short walk around the neighbourhood—practicing social distancing and following all the health indications—and after dinner, relax and watch something entertaining to avoid worrying about news that would not let me sleep well. Sleep. New day. Repeat.
In this new context, I started a diary on my Instagram account as a way to check in with myself about how I was coping with this new challenging and worrying reality. It was a daily check-in on my Instagram stories, sharing 15 seconds of my day (the view during my walk) with a few words about what I did on that day, how I was feeling, what was on my mind. I was looking for a moment of connection from a distance as the entire world was facing the same threat with very similar fears over our health and future.
Looking back at the diary, I can read how I was feeling on Day 1 (my first day working from home), Day 15 (struggling with my hypochondria and distress), Day 27 (overcoming the fear of cutting my own hair), Day 33 (celebrating #PrideAtHome), Day 58 (the challenge of social distancing when everybody is at the park), Day 46 (two-year anniversary of the first time I visited Halifax), Day 67 (the day I lost my job), etc.
On Day 67, I lost my job. As many others—the unemployment rate overpassed 13% in Canada during May 2020—I lost my job due to the economic struggles businesses were facing because of the pandemic. As a foreign temporary worker with a one-year open work permit, this put me in a particularly difficult situation with 10 months of work experience in Canada, a work permit expiring in 2 months, and a process of endorsement through the Atlantic Immigration Pilot that stopped when my employment was terminated.
If my diary was a script, Day 67 would be the unexpected plot twist that triggers how the movie ends: What should I do now? Do I want to stay in Nova Scotia? Do I look for a job elsewhere in Canada? Should I give up, pack my luggage and move back to Spain? The answers were easy to find: I came to Halifax knowing that my stay could be temporary, given the conditions of my temporary permit, but as soon as I arrived here, I wanted to find a way to make my stay permanent. The city of Halifax is not too big, not too small, all the key services are within a walkable distance to downtown or accessible by bus, it has many opportunities for growth (personal and professional) and a welcoming community. I didn’t know how, but I knew I would do everything I could to stay here.
The situation was already not easy, but I found the stubbornness to carry on. Thank you to friends and acquaintances who helped me get through this, sharing job offers or simply listening and giving me some advice.
In the days following Day 67, finding a new job took most of my time, leaving the diary as a side project I was continuing, but knowing its time was coming to an end. Restrictions were lifted, bubbles were burst and I could hug my closest friends again! It was clear that the ‘new normal’ was not going to have a clear end date, so I started to think about an end date for the diary. That date was Day 100 on June 22.
Putting The End to the diary was the best decision I could make. Sometimes you need to change something in order to find the change you are looking for.
Changes, voluntary or imposed, are scary. As immigrants, we know this well as we jump out of our comfort zone, change our routine, move to a new country, a new culture and adopt it as a new element of our ever-changing identity.
On Day 101, everything started to change for me as the opportunity to join My East Coast Experience as a media strategist appeared and with it the support I needed to secure my stay in Canada. Plus, I found the type of role in a media company that I had been seeking for a very long time.
Changes, voluntary or imposed, are scary. As immigrants, we know this well as we jump out of our comfort zone, change our routine, move to a new country, a new culture and adopt it as a new element of our ever-changing identity. But, talking from my own experience, these changes are mostly for the better. Fear is natural, especially in the context of a global pandemic, but this quote from the actress, writer, comedian, galactic princess, mental health advocate and badass icon, the late Carrie Fisher, has served me as a life guide for the past years: “Stay afraid, but do it anyway. What’s important is the action. You don’t have to wait to be confident. Just do it and eventually the confidence will follow.”
The images of Halifax published in this story were published on Oriol’s Instagram account during March-June 2020