Real life vs #vanlife
Updated: Feb 20
Whilst writing this in my head today I decided that the most sensible way to convey any structure or order would be to set headers and write for each one.
There’s a lot in my head at the moment, and I don’t think I can move forward unless I try to make sense of it.
I live in a van. I love my van, and I show the world through social media how much I love my van.
2 year ago I was a student living in my own flat. I needed to have that space for my own sanity, sharing just does not work for me. The two years I spent in that flat was glorious - I loved having the opportunity to find myself in my own space, particularly after having a near death experience of brain surgery for an aneurysm months before. The reason I chose to live on my own after this was due to my house mate and so called friend stealing my half of the money for bills whilst I was in hospital, resulting in me being hounded for council tax. My trust in people deteriorated after that.
Whilst living in my flat I worked 2 jobs at all times. Months after brain surgery I continued with my Masters Degree and worked 25 hours a week as an LSA and 20 as a barmaid. Without time to process any of the events of the year I decided that I would jump straight into teacher training. The advisory of my brain surgeon was to take it easy and not to try and keep up with my previous lifestyle, however with bills to pay and adulthood to deal with I decided that I could deal with it. Despite exhaustion and sickness I still decided to work 50 hours a week and study. I can safely say now, I WAS AN IDIOT. I well and truly shot myself in the long term foot. Despite appearances of existential euphoria and energy I actually was not okay, and in this desperation to keep up with a normal lifestyle I developed an exacerbating condition of anxiety and ptsd.
With the end of my student life in sight I realised that without my student council tax exemption I would not be able to afford to pay rent anymore, despite working full time hours, with a future teaching job uncertain and minimum wage not quite cutting it. What to do. I couldn’t drive, but I wanted the opportunity to travel. I knew that I couldn’t sustain the working hours I was doing. What to do.
It occurred to me that to be able to save money, I could sleep in a friends’ van for a few months. He said no. I then played with the idea of maybe living in a vehicle that I could buy but not drive… Also not ideal. I then discovered the Instagram dream of #vanlife. Oh, #vanlife with confidence and no anxiety I am sure you are a dream to live.
My solution of not being able to afford to live anywhere, was to live in a van.
Needless to say I borrowed the money and bought a van. I spent my first few months as a teacher sofa surfing and learning to drive. All exhausting by the way.
Forward wind to today. Almost two years on - a combination of sofa surfing through my driving test and also winter weather conditions to wonderful sunny months living in this vehicle, I am still in this metal box.
I miss having my own bathroom, I feel as though I am taking advantage everytime I use someones shower, toilet or washing machine. I miss being able to stand up to cook.
For my own sanity I need people that I know to realise that as wonderful as living in my van is, it is not just in vain. After my brain surgery I should have followed my way through the system to get some kind of help with housing and some kind of benefit. I am not fit to work full time, and this problem is getting worse - I have had to leave 3 jobs in the past 4 years due to migraines and panic attacks, the impact of working “normal” hours. I used to have one panic attack a year if that, I’ve had 4 or 5 this year so far. I am tired of living hand to mouth and relying on people. I don’t want to impose on anyone and I don’t want to be in the way. But I can’t deny that I am struggling to do it alone.
Until the end of my teacher training, I had never made the connection between how I have always felt and the term that people around me used to describe how they were feeling.
Other than acknowledge the connection (internally, I didn’t tell anyone) I carried on and started teaching (after having a panic attack in a job interview and scraping through another because they felt sorry for me and were desperate). I was teaching Foundation Learning at FE level and the types of subjects that I had to cover really bothered me - I had to buy into this idea that if they worked hard the world would look after them and it would be okay to learn the way it worked best for them as individuals - the college preached mental health suport and ironically I, as a new teacher was drowning in newly discovered anxiety. I would have to run to the loo from my lessons to hide and hyperventliate before going back in with a smile. I couldn’t breathe, and I tried so hard to keep up with the demands and expectations of the role. I gave it my absolute all. Yet, when I approached my GP (my absolute last resort other that running away) and got signed off with Stress and Anxiety, I was suddenly a number on a system dragging their statistics down and had to get back to work immediately. It’s safe to say that they harassed and hounded me, 5 phone calls a day, several emails a day and a couple of letters to my postal address (don’t forget - still sofa surfing at this point).
Not understanding the way my mind and body responded to anxiety I felt as though I wanted to die. I really am not exaggerating. I could not deal with it. So I quit. This feeling of absolute complete failure made me more anxious. So I messed up my bar job a few months later, now living in my van out of necessity. Something that I don’t often mention to people unless asked is the side effect from my brain surgery of hypersensitivity. It affects my sight and hearing - I am never without sunglasses or earplugs. The pub I worked in was VERY loud when busy, and one night I had a ‘migraine’ (another brain surgery side effect) so wore ear plugs. The noise was enough to make me nauseous, but with the ear plugs in my tinnitus was deafening, reverberating between my ear drums and ear plugs. The nausea was overwhelming and I couldn’t breathe. I had to get out. I laid on the ground in the carpark feeling as though my throat would close up and the dizziness conflicted with the migraine and tinnitus nausea. I don’t remember another time that I have ever felt so ill. My boss wanted me to go back and talk or work or something. All I could think about was trying to breathe. So that’s what I did and I didn’t have a job in the morning.
Forward wind again past the next job to now. I have acknowledged that working many hours makes me ill on more than one level. In regards to TBI (traumatic brain injury - there are metal coils in my brain) and anxiety. I know my limits. 2 to 3 days a week and if I do more I suffer. This is why I live in a van. On 3 days a week minimum wage I cannot humour the thought of rent. Of course it is my choice to not live with another person. But this is another limit that I have accepted for my sanity.
I adopted a dog 3 months ago. For the best part he keeps me grounded and makes me happy. I worry about being able to afford to look after him and having to rely on other people to help so I can work. It’s not fair to leave him in my van while I’m at work. This is another anxiety.
He is beautiful and I love our long walks.
I don’t think I’ve had SAD in the summer before until now. Always in the winter. I don’t have the energy to write anymore so I will continue another day.
Death without dying