Moving Countries & Dealing With Chronic Illness

It’s been just over a year since we moved to London from Frankfurt, Germany, and I feel that I’m finally in the right headspace to give an update on my life, my experience of moving countries (again!), and what it’s like dealing with a chronic illness at the age of 28.

During this past year both my mental health and my physical health have taken a nose-dive, and I’ve been mostly housebound and in recovery. It has been an emotionally devastating, frustrating, and insightful experience from which I have not yet moved forward, but I am finally well enough to regain hope and to start rebuilding my life.

We left Germany primarily for my mental health recovery and to have a support system closer by. I had struggled to integrate into German life in my 3 years living there, due to my mental illnesses and inability to attend German language classes or socialize due to intense anxiety. Our nearest family was in Hamburg, which was several hours away, and daily life in Frankfurt was often strange and lonely for me.

England had been a possibility for a year or two before we actually decided to leave Germany, as we have friends and family there, and luckily last year my husband was able to transfer to his London office from Frankfurt. It took ages for my EEA visa to come through, but eventually eveything was ready and we could leave Germany. 

Getting from Frankfurt to London (with a pug in tow)

The move was incredibly stressful – we couldn’t just fly directly from Frankfurt to London, as we could only cross the UK border via land or sea (by ferry) with our dog. Our little pug, Mia, did really well on the long journey – she travelled by train, taxi, and ferry with us without too much fuss. She had her passport with her too!

We first travelled by train from Frankfurt to Brussels, where we unfortunately missed our next train and decided to spend the night. The next day we continued our journey to the Netherlands, and spent the night in Rotterdam. We then took a ferry from Hoek van Holland across to Dover in England, with Mia travelling in the kennels below deck. We could visit her and walk her on a deck allocated just for dogs! It was quite surreal.

Crossing at the border at Dover was scary as I was tired and anxious, my fingerprints took AGES to scan, and Mia was still in her travel crate and squealing loudly. We travelled to London via train and then took a big black London cab to our accommodation. We stayed for a whole month in an eccentric gentleman’s house as AirBnb guests – which was a whole other ordeal – while Marco started working at his new office and we went apartment hunting.

We found a pet-friendly apartment in Streatham, Lambeth, in Central London, and it has become our new home. It took a few months to settle in, as absolutely everything was new and different and we needed to learn how everything works here. 

Getting Diagnosed with a Chronic Illness

Over the winter last year, I got very ill with the flu. I had also been experiencing chronic fatigue and joint pain, but I assumed my extreme tiredness and lethargy was due to seasonal affective disorder (SAD) from the months of darkness and cold. In February I started seeing doctors, and a rheumatologist eventually diagnosed me with Joint Hypermobility Syndrome (JHS), which is a connective tissue disorder.

It is quite a complex condition, as it is an invisible chronic illness and it includes seemingly unrelated conditions, including joint hypermobility (extreme flexibility or “double-jointedness”), chronic pain, chronic fatigue, eye problems, irritable bowel syndrome, hyperhydrosis (excessive sweating), poor temperature regulation, and skin probems.

The doctor also found that I was extremely vitamin D deficient (which is common in JHS), so I was given a supplement. After 6 weeks of massive doses of vitamin D I finally felt a bit better, but during this whole time my mental health had been pretty bad too.  I was entirely unprepared for coping with both chronic physical illness and chronic mental illness, so my life has been very challenging for the past 8 months or so. 

Looking Ahead 

On good days we have explored London and spent time with friends and family, and those experiences have really kept me going. The NHS has been an incredible resource, and overall I feel that I am in recovery and on my way to managing my health. Of course, I have not been travelling very much at all, but as I regain my strength and my confidence I hope to be out and about with my camera and to get back into writing. 

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