Lifestyle / Making Lemonade

Making Lemonade #8: Finding the lemonade in our every day

Taking stock of what we already have

Cross-posted from SubstackView original post

Hey friends,

As I write this, it’s raining. I can’t stop looking out the window at the grey clouds and watching them as they move across the sky. It’s such a wonderful and welcome change from the oppressive heat we had last week, which drained my energy and zest for life in equal measure. 

If you’re in the northern hemisphere and feeling a little envious, please know I’d swap with you in a heartbeat. Summers here are not my jam.

I think I’m one of the few immigrants here who didn’t move to Australia for the weather. In fact, I find it quite funny how wide open blue skies actually make me feel really claustrophobic, especially compared to dense cloudy ones, but I think I’m just a person who really likes novelty and so seeing the same thing every day feels a little boring and monotonous. Groundhog skies.

Moody skies will always be my favourite

The other day, I was talking to someone who was telling me about all the hoops they had to jump through to move to Australia and all the years they spent working towards it. They said it was all worth it – and they loved life here even more than they could’ve imagined. But then they asked me if I was the same and if I loved life here too, and I found myself stuck for words.

Yes, but…

My reality isn’t quite that simple. I often find myself questioning why I did move here. Why I call it a crash landing. Why I feel like I didn’t actually move here, I just woke up one day and here I was, in this new life.

It still feels a bit like an ill-fitting sweater. Like one you got for Christmas one year from your grandparents, but you couldn’t bear to throw it away so it only comes out on laundry days. 

If I’m honest, I never actually wanted to move to Australia. My trip here was only ever meant to be temporary – a chance to catch up with some friends, head out into the outback, catch my breath and my bearings, maybe make some money, and then get back on the road again.

But around the time I started getting itchy feet and was ready to leave, I met my now-partner and he asked me to move in with him. I figured it was worth a shot. Yes, the world was calling, but I figured it would still be there when I was ready. And we had fun together. Went on some road trips, laughed a lot. Then, before we knew it, COVID hit.

Always happiest when on the road

Borders were closing around the world and my year-long visa was up. I had to make a decision. In the end, I did a super quick visa run and made it back in with the skin of my teeth. A few months later, feeling out of options, I reluctantly spent the last of my savings applying for permanent residency – a somewhat torturous process I’m still in the midst of.

That’s why I call it a crash landing. 

For seven years I let the wind blow me wherever I wanted to go, and in the end, that same wind stopped me in my tracks. Perhaps it was the way it was always meant to be.

But I’ll have been here five years come March, and it still doesn’t feel like it fits right. Still feels off. Like I’m wearing this life on laundry day while all my other dreams are in the wash.

The reality is, though, that five years in, this is my life. It may just be a chapter of it, but I’m trying to appreciate it more than ever. I’m trying to wear it in, to give it a chance to fit me better. Because the truth is, these last five years I’ve changed too, and the old life I loved so much probably wouldn’t fit me now either.

It’s funny how much time we spend chasing what we think we want, instead of actually taking stock and appreciating what we have. We always notice the lemons, the jarring bitter taste crying out on our tongues, but unless we’re paying special attention, we skip over the sweetness.

If we’re speaking honestly, I love where I live.

I love my little house – even if the lawn is terrible

I love the red brick house with its shiny tin roof that sits between the rolling vineyards of the Swan Valley and the rugged Darling Escarpment. I love that I have a front and back veranda to listen to the trees and the birds. I love that I’m barely 15 minutes from metro Perth, and yet still live in a place where everyone waves to each other as they pass by.

I love my cat, I love my partner. I love going on road trips around Western Australia and I love that we can go off on adventures with the cat (he makes it a little trickier than I’d like to leave him behind, these days).

I love my second-hand writing desk in front of the window. I love the sunsets and the winter waterfall behind my house. I love my garden, even if it is also the bain of my life each summer.

I used to dream of what my life would be like when I stopped travelling. Dream of where I’d end up living. I remember when me and my ex were living in our car road-tripping across the US and Canada, and even though I loved every second, I still dreamed of finding myself a little cabin in the countryside somewhere and holing up for a while.

If I think about it literally, what I’ve ended up with isn’t actually that far off from that dream – even if it is on the other side of the world to the majority of my friends and family and gets scorched by the sun and boring blue skies for six months of the year.

It’s hard not to love having this as your (almost) backyard

The problem, though, is that I got so used to chasing the high of travelling that I forgot how it felt to live a normal life. Although, realistically, the 23-year-old version of myself who left the UK also hadn’t had that much experience of a settled life, either.

I lived in seven houses in six years after I moved out of my parents’ place. I’d had a gazillion jobs, multiple partners, many different adventures. Every time the ennui would kick in I’d turn my whole life upside down to avoid it.

And then I arrived here. And we went into lockdown. And my mum was diagnosed with young-onset Alzheimer’s. And my grandma, who was a complex character but who I loved deeply, decided that she was going to dedicate her last years on this planet to utterly tearing my family apart, and, even though I’d spend hours on the phone trying to stitch it all back together, and even though she eventually passed away, everything has been a bit broken ever since.

Which meant my love for my little house didn’t feel quite enough to make up for all the things that felt missing from my life. All the things that felt like they’d gone wrong. All the things I felt like I’d left behind long ago – like my friend’s death and a bunch of shit from my childhood – that kept coming out of the woodwork.

All the stress of the visa situation and not being able to work for years and then trying to rebuild my freelance career from scratch with a broken heart and a sad head.

If I’m honest, these last few years have been tough. For much of my five years here, I haven’t felt happy. I haven’t felt filled with joy. I haven’t felt like doing much but daydreaming about the past or jetting off into the sunset and leaving all this shit behind. 

But, as I found out the hard way, you can’t run forever. Life has a way of catching up with you in the end.

For years, I dreamed of bouncing off into the sunset instead of just appreciating how beautiful the sunsets are here

About 18 months ago, when things got really bad, I figured I had two options: sink or swim. Of course, sinking wasn’t really an option, so I knew I had to start finding ways to keep my head above water. One way I found was to dedicate myself to a practice of joy as a way to kintsugi the shattered fragments of my life back together again.

I’ve spoken about kintsugi on here before, along with other Japanese philosophies and the joy of little things, but using it in this way seemed a little radical, even to me. But in lieu of much else, I figured it was worth a shot. And so, I started a daily practise of trying to appreciate what I did have – as opposed to lamenting over what I didn’t – as a way to bind all the other fragments of my life together.

To put it simply, I may not have had control over many of the things happening to me, from my mum’s Alzheimer’s to my right to stay here in Australia, but I did have control over how I reacted to them.

Instead of spending my days sitting in front of the computer lamenting everything and missing my old life, I started taking myself for daily bike rides and spent more time sitting in the garden, watching the birds flit around and the trees sway in the wind.

Instead of spending time scrolling the internet reminding myself how much I miss all my friends, I started reading again and found solace in all the myths and folktales that have been passed down by different cultures over the years as a way of making sense of the world.

Bit by bit, I found little ways to remind myself that this Earth is full of little miracles, even when it frigging sucks, and that, deep down, we’re all just lucky to be here.

Willy wagtail on a goat

It’s funny how when we’re in a dark place, we easily forget that every second we get to spend here on this planet, in this body and in this life is a gift. It’s easy to forget how much of our lives are actually out of our control – but our lives aren’t lessened by this knowledge. If anything, they’re enhanced. Or at least, they can be, if we can accept that impermanence is as much a miracle as everything else is, instead of trying to hold tight to the rigidity of control.

Studies have shown that we’re so primed to notice the negative things that we often overlook the positive – like the same way we notice the bitter taste of lemon more than the sweetness of lemonade.

For hundreds of thousands of years, this was a successful survival tactic. It kept us alive. But now, that same survival tactic often keeps us in survival mode, which means we can’t help but constantly feel like we’re under threat, and we can’t appreciate the good things that are around us as much.

Which is exactly where I found myself.

Those same studies say that in order for a positive thought to have as much impact as a negative one, we have to hold it in our minds for 12 seconds.

And so, 12-second thought by 12-second thought, I started to rewire my brain to notice – and appreciate – the good things in my life. To see the way the light shines through the curtains at just the right angle, or how cute the cat looks when he tucks his tail between his front paws.

Forever noticing the good light (and the cat’s silly antics)

Over time, I started to enjoy my daily bike rides instead of just using them as an excuse to get out the house. I rearranged my office to make it prettier so I was happier spending time there, and dedicated time to making instrumental playlists I could listen to when I was writing, instead of just sitting in silence and spending half my time staring out the window.

I started to let myself seek out little pockets of joy, instead of feeling like everything was a waste of time because the rug might get pulled out from under me at any second, again, and then everything I’d built would come tumbling down, again.

I told myself I had to enjoy it more because it could come tumbling down, and then I’d find myself navigating a new adventure, which was what I’d been craving for a long time. And so, really, there was nothing to lose – other than all the joy I’d be missing out on by feeling like pursuing that joy was a waste of time (or that I didn’t deserve it, which is a whole other basket of lemons we’ll save for another day).

This simple reframe, combined with the joy kintsugi, helped me reinstate myself as the main character in my story and made me feel like I was back in the driver’s seat. It’s funny how appreciating all the things that were out of my control helped me feel like I was more in control. It seems silly, but hey, if it works it works.

And, it worked. Honestly, I feel like a much happier, more well-rounded person for it – and maybe like I am finally growing to like that old sweater. Just perhaps not quite so much in the summer.

Love always,


PS – Thanks for being here. I appreciate you and I hope that you can find little threads of wisdom within these words. I know this was a little longer than usual (I promise I won’t make a regular thing of it), but I really felt drawn to share this with you today – or maybe I just needed to write about it for me. Either way, it feels good to share, so thanks for reading.

And, if you did enjoy reading this or any of my other Substack essays, please feel free to share it with your friends and/or drop me a note, I absolutely love to hear from you.

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