As I type this, I am fighting off the end of a migraine. I’ve slept for over eighteen hours, thrown as many tablets down myself as is medically advisable and not seen daylight in over twenty four hours. My sleep mask and I are very much AT ONE today.
This was entirely to be expected. This month has been horrendous. Personally and globally. A few days ago the UK voted to leave the EU. Before that Jo Cox MP was murdered. Before that the tragedy in Orlando. My dad’s commemorative bench was stolen from his golf club. My family had the anniversary of my uncle who was killed and my dad who died of cancer. These are just the fist things that spring to mind. There are many many more.
The last four days I have been ON. I’ve had a lot on at work and a lot on socially. I try not to plan too many things in a week, because exhaustion tends to take a toll on my health, but this week was non-optional. People were in town and it would have been unfortunate and rude to have opted out of seeing them, just because my weekly quota was full. Friday, when the results of the referendum were announced, broke me but I had to carry on.
The UK voted to leave the EU. Or rather, England and Wales opted to leave the EU and Scotland, Northern Ireland and London are being dragged along for the ride.
In a hundred years, I did not expect this. Until I had my ballot papers in my hand, I didn’t appreciate how much this political debate meant to me. I’m from Northern Ireland. I have both a UK and an Irish passport. I live in London. I have lived in Northern Ireland, England and Germany. I work for a German company. I have friends and colleagues across Europe. I identify as Irish, British, Northern Irish and European equally. I voted remain because I had a good understanding of what a leave result would have on our trading future. I voted remain because I understood how EU funding affects our health service, our arts industry, the Northern Ireland peace process, our scientific community and our culture. I voted remain because I felt that to be European was more than just holidays and cheese. I voted remain because I’m a woman and the leave campaign didn’t appear to value women but the remain campaign would keep us protected. I voted Remain because I strongly believe that we have a duty to help those who are less fortunate than us and the leave campaign didn’t give that impression at all. The Leave campaign felt like it was “Us, not those people” and the Remain campaign felt like it was “Us and those people also.”
The Leave and Remain campaigns were tough. Figures, facts and fiction were tossed around by both sides. It felt very much as though it boiled down to Them versus Us. It still does. It felt like the Leave campaign wanted to bring back The Empire and rid themselves of people who weren’t white, middle class and middle aged. Obviously there was a lot more to it than that, but after a cursory look at Facebook or the headlines and that’s what you felt. The Remain campaign tried not to scaremonger but their message felt like we would be doomed if we left the EU.
Even now, three days later, as I type this, I am choked up. We chose to leave Europe and to waltz into the unknown. Travelling through London on Friday felt eerie. No one made a sound on the tube. But not the normal London respect-the-personal-space silence, but the silence you have when someone dies. Shock. Grief. As I walked across Vauxhall Bridge with Westminster on one side of me and Battersea Power Station on the other, David Cameron announced his resignation. Passing through Westminster and the lack of noise was palpable. TV crews were quietly interviewing MPs against the backdrop of the Houses of Parliament.
I’d gone into work early that day because I had press releases to put up and our website to organise with our statements. We’d prepared two and laughed about it at the time. Before I had even taken off my coat, I’d written a sign, in red block capitals and stuck it to my door, so that my colleagues, all from Europe, would read it as they signed in that morning.
I’m sorry about the result today. We’re not all mad racists.
And then I burst into tears again for the third or fourth time that day. My Italian receptionist came in to me and cried that I was crying. There are only three of us who are British in my company. We were stunned. All day people came to check on us, to see how we were and to reassure us that it would be alright. These people who my country had chosen to end a decades long political friendship with. They’d lived through the Leave Campaign declaring British Jobs for British People and that immigrants were unwelcome and still had the grace to care for the people who hadn’t managed to protect the result.
On the tube on the way in to work I had a moment of clarity. The vote was in. It was horrific, but it was in and it wasn’t just about us feeling shocked. I, like most of the people I knew, am white, middle class, well-educated and I’ll be fine. I’m not an immigrant. I don’t need to worry about a visa to stay here. I don’t have the skin colour of someone who may be a target for rhetoric. I don’t have to worry about my job or my family. These are the people we need to protect. So I wrote something on Facebook about how we can do something tangible and practical today to make these people feel less worried and alone today. It made me feel better for about ten minutes. It’s what I fell back on when I became overwhelmed.
All day I wept. I didn’t care who saw or who knew. I couldn’t make a joke. I couldn’t be light-hearted. That’s who I am at work. The one to lighten the mood and be practical. I didn’t have it in me. That’ll take a while for me to get back. I’m devastated (and constantly reminded that I always spell devastated with too many Es).
That evening I met with the boyfriend of a former colleague and his nephew. We went out for a (British) curry and I tried to be as chipper as I could. It was an effort. On Saturday I met with a school friend, who is also a European languages teacher, and we despaired and laughed over fancy French sandwiches and cakes.
Then I went to babysit some delightful ten year old German children who asked me what I thought of the referendum (I would not have known that word as a ten year old, never mind in a foreign language!) and we wondered if Voldemort and Nigel Farage were similar. We concluded yes, there was a certain something both in attitude and around the eyes.
Yesterday I met with a former colleague from Germany and her nephew and watched some football over (British) fish & chips.
And that was it. That was all I could do. I’d been crying and apologising and panicked and afraid and horrified and chatting and friendly and upbeat for as long as I could muster. I couldn’t text any more Brits abroad or former colleagues or family members about what happened, how it happened, how we could fix it, how we could move forward, how A GrownUp (possibly the Queen?) could step in and sort out this mess. I hit the wall and my brain caved in. Migraine wise.