“Can I get you to come with me please? The Officers would like to ask you some more questions”.
My heart sank. I knew what this meant. My time as a Londoner was officially done.
It was June 2019, my boyfriend and I were a month into our spontaneous Summer road trip around Europe. We had jumped in the car from London, boarded the ferry and set off on a journey through France, Liechtenstein, Germany, Italy, Slovenia, and finally Switzerland. We were camping and shimmying around on an adventure without a care in the world. After four weeks of travel, my boyfriend was holding some events in London and Liverpool the following week. We weighed up our options and eventually decided to drive rather than fly back to the UK for the week and then resume our Euro road trip once the two UK events were complete. I felt a lot of resistance to going back to London which made no sense to me at the time. But I put it down to just enjoying our holiday and not wanting it to be interrupted. In hindsight though, it all made sense.
We had a ferry home to catch in the evening, and were easily able to drive to Calais in one day. As we pulled up to the Border Control booth at Port around 4pm, it occurred to me for the first time that we were about to cross the UK border. Weeks of travelling through the EU had left me complacent – as you no longer need to stop and show any ID as you move through different countries in the Schengen zone.
The young British officer spent a great deal of time looking at my passport, scrolling through her computer, then flicking back through my passport again. I became increasingly nervous.
It was then that her supervisor asked me to step out of the car and follow them in so they could “ask me more questions”. I knew I was cooked. I wasn’t going to be allowed to enter the UK that day, and probably not for a long time after that. It would have been easier to handle if they had have just cut to the decision and let me go then and there. Instead I was handed some papers that I signed without reading… I saw the words “British Immigration Act” at the top of the first page and knew resistance would be futile. I was then escorted to a tiny square cell, where I would remain for the following 8 hours. During that time, very stern-looking officers would intermittently come in, ask me more questions, and then leave to “make further enquiries”. And in those 2-3 hour gaps that they were “making further enquiries” the walls closed in tighter each time the door clinked shut.
I had heard stories of people that have been imprisoned or detained temporarily, complaining about how distressing it is. I always thought to myself “Oh toughen up princess, it can’t be that bad. You’re safe, you’ve got food and water, and it’s only a short time”. My how the tables turned. It’s something that I had never experienced until that moment – that total feeling of deprivation of liberty. Complete and utter powerlessness combined with the shock and suddenness of what I was facing. I guess my guilty conscience ran wild too… “making further enquiries” … what does that even mean? Are they going to go through every record they can find about me and discover that in 2016 I might not have filed my taxes correctly, for example? It was my first brush with any sort of trouble like this – I don’t even remember getting detention in high school. The most I ever got in trouble was for the times I was laughing at other people’s naughtiness, not actually doing the naughty stuff!
Eventually a very scary and serious looking officer came back in at what I would guess to be around 10pm and conducted the final interview. Another, even more scary and serious looking officer sat behind him, and said nothing. He just watched and listened with his scary, authoritarian presence permeating the room. I assumed he was the big boss as he had three stars on his epaulets and looked like he might resort to old school torture methods if I didn’t tell him the truth. When the seated officer asked me questions, he wrote down every answer I gave, often getting frustrated and telling me to slow down because he had to write every single word verbatim. I had to bite my tongue from saying that Australian border patrol officers are much more courteous (an assumption I based purely on my extensive past experience of watching episodes of ‘Border Security: protecting Australia’s front line’), and given greater access to technology so their conversations are RECORDED instead of written down manually! Something told me this wasn’t the time for smart-ass comments though.
The final nail in my coffin was when he asked me “so… since your UK work visa ended in July 2017, what dates have you actually been in Australia?”
I was like “well you know I had a couple of weeks here and um… three weeks there and … yes well that’s about it.”
“So… you’ve basically been living in the UK for two years on tourist visas ever since?” Scary man at the back of the room spoke his first words, and they were very decisive. It was posed as a question but really it was more of a statement.
I could have said “Yes! Isn’t that great? I should get a medal for creativity and undetectability! I’d like to say a huge Thank you to the great officers at Stansted and Luton in particular for being so slack in letting me through each time without question, and an honourable mention to the introduction of e-Passport gates at Heathrow! That definitely bought me another few months of bonus time. And so many amazing things have happened to me in these two years. I’ve started my online business, wrote a book about London, hung out with my brother, I was able to be here for Faith’s final days and her passing, I’ve travelled backwards and forwards to Europe, USA & Africa, I’ve written, I’ve created, I’ve shared great times with friends, fell in love and had two of the best years of my life. I regret nothing.”
Instead I mumbled “ahh, yep”…
“Well since your work visa ended, you’ve been coming here consistently on a tourist visa, and you are no longer a genuine tourist, so for that reason we have grounds to deny you entry to the country today”… scary boss man said
I didn’t argue. I knew my time was up and I also knew that I had had a good run. Whilst I hadn’t been doing anything illegal, I had been cleverly operating in a legislative grey area, and using the 6 month tourist visas in a way that they aren’t really designed for. I didn’t know why I had been consistently drawn back to London, sometimes it even annoyed me. But looking back on the journey of the previous two years I could see that each time I was drawn back, something magical happened. My soul knew exactly what it was doing. And every time I did get back in, I vowed to make the most of it, because it “could be my last time”. I enjoyed and lived it to the max every moment I was there and never took a second for granted.
They were satisfied that I was NOT a genuine tourist (which I obviously wasn’t, lol), but they were also satisfied that I had been honest in all my answers and everything that I had told them. All their “further enquiries” obviously lined up with what I said. Despite spending extensive periods in the UK, they could clearly see that I had never worked illegally, had never overstayed any of the tourist visas, and also that I had filed my taxes correctly back in 2016. Well they didn’t say that last bit, I’m just throwing that in so you don’t think I’m a total badass! In hindsight, my tax history wasn’t really their priority. I was denied entry that day, but wasn’t banned from future entry or handed any exclusion period – which was lucky. I was told basically to go home and if I wanted to return then I must apply for the appropriate spouse or work visa. I had no intention of doing that – I know a sign when I see one, and this felt like the sudden, but natural, ending to my UK chapter. I had friends visiting from USA that I had been looking forward to seeing that weekend, I had my room and all my belongings set up still in London, it had been my home for 4 years. I should have been devastated, but in many ways, I wasn’t.
So apart from indulging me in storytime, you may well be wondering how this is relevant to COVID and the lockdown we are all currently in or emerging from today?
It relates to the degree of peace and trust I felt during that time in the cell, and the days following.
If the previous four years – from the day I made the decision to move to London in the first place – had taught me anything, it’s that life happens FOR you, not TO you.
You know how you might go for a job that you think you really want? Then you don’t get it, but a few weeks later an even better job or opportunity pops up? That’s what I’m referring to here – just on a bigger scale. I believe the Universe always knows what it’s doing – and the more that you can listen to and follow your intuition and guidance, and begin to flow WITH what it presents to you, rather than resisting against it, the more the magic happens.
I was fortunate because in the few years prior to this turning point, I had been (semi-forced!) into trusting and surrendering in this way. At first it was hard to let go of control. I had been used to micro-managing, planning out details and being so structured and organised. A sense of knowing what was coming made me feel safe. But it wasn’t until I began listening to my intuition more, allowing myself to follow the whispers of my soul (if it felt inspiring or expansive), that life really began.
By June 2019, I had come to a place of trust – in myself, and in life.
But no one can be expected to blindly trust or believe anything – unless you have experienced it for yourself firsthand. I trusted because I had tested it time and time again. Despite my resistance or fears, each time I took a leap of faith, or followed my gut; it led me to something amazing.
As a result, apart from the shock of being suddenly detained (and denied the chance for saying my goodbyes and packing up my stuff in London!), I quickly felt at peace that despite my love for London, life was obviously moving me on for even better opportunities now. Even though it wasn’t consciously what I wanted at that time, I felt strongly that this was a gift from the universe – not a curse. I didn’t have to try to convince myself of this, it just felt natural. So much so, that at one point the walls started to close in on me and I had a little cry. As the emotion swept through me, I could feel my mind searching to make sense of it all.
“I wonder what the gift of this is?”
“Obviously I have gotten all I need from London, and new opportunities await now”
“Yeah and this will make a great story one day!”
Even in that moment, despite my human emotions, I had a deep knowingness that all was unfolding in perfect divine order.
It wasn’t HOPE that I had, it was TRUST.
Following my time in detention, I went back to my beloved Croatia (pictured!), then on to adventures in California, Bali and India before coincidentally returning to Australia just prior to the pandemic. I still miss London all the time, but I know that I will go back and visit one day, and that it will always feel like ‘home’.
What this, and other (much bigger) challenges I’ve faced, have shown me is that:
When you face adversity, when you face your fears, when you are forced to confront whatever it is that lingers and keeps you awake in the night, once you’ve been there? Not only does that fear dissipate, but you build resilience, strength and most of all confidence. Each time you go through something shit, and then bounce back, you become less fearful in general because you have been taken to the depths of your fears and therefore been able to access the depths of your own strength and resilience.
Some of the most challenging times in my life have been when I’ve accessed my greatest amounts of strength, courage and spirit.
Once you find out what you are made of? You never forget.
Many people around the world now, are being faced with their biggest fears and challenges…If that is you? Don’t be disheartened – you might look back on this time in the future and realise it was when you discovered new layers of courage and resilience that you never knew existed. This can help you rebuild with stronger foundations than you ever had pre-COVID. You will also realise your innate ability to ADAPT. This skill is often underrated. Think about how different your life is today than it was 12-15 months ago? Give yourself some credit for how you’ve adapted to this new normal. So many aspects of your daily life are drastically different. And yet you’ve found a way to get up every morning and crack on and you will continue to adapt as life evolves again. Once you’ve “rolled with the punches” enough times? You don’t fear future “punches” in quite the same way, because you’ve become better at rolling with them.
For us in Melbourne now, we are fortunate to be enjoying a relatively normal life, but the memories of a strict extended lockdown last year, are never far from our minds. I was chatting to a lovely couple at a wedding on the weekend and they were sharing how tough last year was for their family. Juggling both careers and two young children at home. She said something that really summed it all up: “compared to last year, everything is a breeze now and we just feel so grateful every day.”
And I want to leave you with this invitation now… to fast forward in your mind a few months/years to when you have come out the other side of this, to when you can do all the things you love again, when you are in a job you love, whatever it might be. Because life doesn’t happen to us. We are not the victims. We are the creative directors… Yes the universe plays a part and dishes up certain things – but the more you can look at what is happening and appreciate the gifts, the blessings, the lessons and the SIGNS of divine guidance, the less you will feel powerless and fearful. One of my all time favourite affirmations is “The Universe is constantly conspiring to support me”… pretty good way to switch your mindset, don’t ya think?
And don’t forget, that adversity is the most powerful breeding ground for opportunity & growth. So let’s get growing and creating!