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2021: Everything I’m afraid to say

Life tends to be quite different to what is portrayed on social media. In this blog, I am sharing all the hardships that I went through this year and how I grew from them.

Anais Urlichs
Anais Urlichs
10 min read
2021: Everything I’m afraid to say
Photo by Suzanne D. Williams on Unsplash

This is one of those posts that doesn't have a right beginning or end; one of those posts that have to be written and shared for the story to be complete. I asked on Twitter a while ago whether people would be interested in learning about my past year -- specifically, all the tough, unglamorous moments that are now a part of me but did not make the cut for the Twitter timeline.

Before you keep reading, I just wanted to share that this is going to be a difficult post, some of the things that I write might make you sad or even uncomfortable, please feel free to stop reading at any point in time.

The main purpose of this blog is to show that people might seem like “they have it all” while behind the scenes they are struggling to get out of bed or to master the challenges that present themselves to them.

Please don’t reach out

If you are reading this, you might have an urge to reach out to me, to tell me that everything is ok or to ask me whether you can help with anything. I highly appreciate all the kind messages that I got throughout the past year and while you should reach out to people who are struggling, need empathy or support, I want to kindly ask you not to do that for me.

By now I have built up a support network of amazing people who help me through difficult times, whom I can reach out to when things get tough. Thus, please respect my privacy and do not ask any follow-up questions, please do not reach out. If you don’t know my favourite dish and the places I went to high school, we are likely not close enough for you to ask me questions about my personal life.

Thus, please respect my privacy and do not ask any follow up questions, please do not reach out.

This is the beauty of having a personal life — I usually try to keep things in my private life as much away from social media as possible, which is my choice. Please respect that.

How my year might have seemed

I kept sharing on social media all the conferences I was speaking at, all the community events I got a chance to engage with and ultimately, the different awards I earned towards the end of the year. Those are some of the highlights of my professional life in 2021.

I try to be positive, to show how much joy I want to bring to the world and the community that I am in. However, sometimes, it feels fake. Sometimes in 2021, I could hardly keep myself from breaking apart. Sometimes, all I could do is get out of bed and do the bare minimum to feel like I am getting through things.

I am not big on sharing my life and generally, myself with all of my thoughts and emotions with others, even when they are close to me. When I do start to share, it might come across like a lot because, to be frank, I went through a lot — throughout my life but specifically this year.

The void on social media

Every time I don’t post on social media or I don’t share a weekly YouTube video, it is likely because I need my strength to focus on myself — the strength that I would love to have for my content creation, for the work that I love doing but which is in that moment required somewhere else.

This leaves gaps. Just empty weeks of “where are the content”? The content is in my head but my body and mind are so preoccupied getting through the day that I cannot get it out, that it is stuck between my mind and the words on my blog and my YouTube channel.

How do I know this is not a usual state?

Throughout the year I kept missing the woman I was in 2020, the woman I was before I had to go through the things I had to go through this year. It felt like, once I managed one thing, I had to deal with the next. Hardly caught my breath.

Some of those things I just happened to experience – unlucky me; and some of those things I went through by choice. We make decisions based on the prospect of a “better future scenario”; to find ourselves in a better situation if you will.

As cliché as this might sound, I wanted to find the old me, the person who was making the best out of everything, working her ass off for her values. In short, the person who is breathing her work as much as her personal goals. I know she is there and I know that she is different now but that I can slowly become her and be her again.

So what are the "things" that have happened

In this section, I will go over the things that I went through in the past year. I will not go into detail because, again, this is my personal & private life and I want it to stay that way.

“The hardest words are the first hello and the last goodbye”

I was in a long-term relationship for the past four years – and this year it came to an end.

Throughout us building our career and our life together, we would live in studio apartments to save money. This usually worked well since

  1. We lived an extremely minimalist lifestyle and thus, had very few belongings that would clutter up the space.
  2. We both were travelling a lot for work and gladly spent the time together in a small space when we were together.

Right before the pandemic started, we moved into our first one-bedroom apartment. (Imagine, an entire room, just for sleeping, how wild!!!)

I think, spending 1.5 years together in the same space, doing the same things, eventually broke us. Beginning to mid this year, we decided to go separate paths.

After 4 years of sharing everything together, I decided that it was time to rediscover the things that I want to build for and share with myself & by myself.

There were lots of tough times processing related emotions. Sometimes, the healthiest decisions to make are the hardest. I think we did the best we could at the moment to move forward.

Moving countries alone

Throughout my teenage years, I have taken lots of trips by myself and started living abroad by myself at a young age

  • When I was 15 I started to go to school in the UK while my family stayed in Germany.
  • When I was 18 I moved to Spain for University.
  • Since then, I lived in Paris, London, and Berlin.

As you can tell, I am used to moving around, to having to figure things out by myself. After my ex-partner and I separated, I decided to move to the UK.

However, this time, it was a slightly different experience. First of all, even though I lived three years in the UK during High School, I now needed a Visa to stay in the UK. This created additional stress. At the same time, it is quite different to move countries for school or University in which cases, the organisations are incentivised to make sure you are well. This time, it was just me. This becomes even more apparent when you get sick and you don’t have anyone to bring you food, or even ask if you are ok but more on this in the next section.

So now, 6 months later, I think that I have settled into my new life quite well. Overall, I am glad that I made the move. I was not happy anymore in Berlin and moving to the UK allowed me to be back in the country that I stayed in the longest throughout the past decade, and to redefine how I want my life to look like.

Being sick with no one around

In September 2021 I got a kidney infection because of which I stayed in bed for two weeks. After the first weekend, I even had to go to the hospital since I have not been eaten for several days and was completely dehydrated. You have no idea how thankful I am for the NHS staff that they took care of me so quickly.

Fun fact: We had to record our KubeCon talk right after I could stand upright again.

I had a friend bring me food and check on me. However, living alone and not having your loved ones close is tough; especially, when you are hanging half dead over the toilet, hoping to keep the water you just drank in your stomach.

I was in a similar situation just a few weeks ago at the beginning of December. It’s really nothing that I want to have to repeat any time soon...

Changing jobs and feeling lost

I used to work as a contractor for several years, usually with one company for longer periods of time. Earlier this year, I was looking for a new challenge and interviewed with several companies. I then joined Civo, which gave me the option to develop my SRE skills while still doing my Developer Advocacy work. Working at a startup can be really tough but also rewarding.

However, changing jobs always require some adjustments. You have to get used to the new workplace, new goals, new teammates, new everything. This is really exciting but can also be exhausting. While this experience had nothing negative to it, it added pressure to my day-to-day.

Emotional abuse

This leads me to the last thing that I want to talk about. I don’t want to talk much about this right now since I will likely write another, comprehensive blog post just about this.

It is something that happened at the beginning of the year, something that left a traumatic experience that I am now working on and through with a therapist.

Being a woman in tech is tough, for the most part, because you are consistently having to deal with sexist comments and gatekeeping. However, something that I was not aware of before this year is how many men are sexual predators. What are sexual predators?

Here is the definition I got from Wikipedia – you can read up upon it yourself but it is not the most joyful topic:

A sexual predator is a person seen as obtaining or trying to obtain sexual contact with another person in a metaphorically "predatory" or abusive manner. Source

Earlier this year, I became the victim of a sexual predator.

What do you do if the person everyone tells you to trust becomes your greatest nightmare? And gosh, I had so many nightmares about it...

At the time, you lose your voice, you lose any confidence in yourself and the psychological chains on you are so strong that you cannot speak up for yourself or even ask for help. He was not anyone I ever worked with so it was even more difficult to understand what I could do or who could help me.

I don’t want to go into the details of what has happened. Ultimately, what that person tried to do to me can be referred to as sexual grooming. I did not know about the term until I sought support and professionals told me about it.

I really encourage every woman and person who finds themself in a similar situation to find anyone who would listen or might even be able to help because I stayed quiet about the situation I was in for far too long.

There is always going to be someone who can help even if it does not appear that way right away.

I am now dealing with the situation that I was in. I found people who would listen and who helped me to find my voice. However, it brought up lots of unwanted memories that I had tried to avoid thinking about for the past year.

We have to talk about sexual predators as much as we are talking about diversity and inclusion. Those are all real problems.

I never knew this would affect me until it did.

Breath in and breath out...

One breath at a time.

The past year was not all bad in my personal life. Beyond the content that I shared on social media and the recognition and support, I got for my community work, there were also several good things that happened.

  • I met someone who has become very special to me and I really hope that this person will stay in my life <3
  • I reconnected with my siblings after not talking much due to the pandemic
  • My physical health was at times the best that it has ever been
  • I made it home for Christmas — the first time in 2 years
  • I ate the best vegan food in the UK (JUST LOOK AT THOSE PICTURES)

Things are moving forward and upwards. While you might feel upset for me (or similar) after reading this blog post, I am actually doing good. Sharing these events helps me to find closure and as time passes, I make my peace with them. Without any of the hardship throughout the past year, I would not be where I am right now. I would not have experienced the same growth. We live and we learn, our experiences make us who we are but they don't define us.

I met some amazing people throughout the past year and I am so so thankful for them and all that I got to experience. In a way, this year gave me the opportunity to change my life around – a little bit like the Caterpillar turning into a Butterfly 🦋

From The Comfort Book By Matt Haig

Concluding Thoughts

This post is merely a reminder that social media does not tell the whole story, that you never know what someone is going through until you win their trust and they open up to you about their struggles.

I know that the things I shared might seem tough, I am still working through them and the more I share, the easier it gets. I slowly feel like myself again, like I am regaining the energy in my personal life that was taken away from me throughout the past year.

I just want to say again that I highly appreciate all the support and patience that people had with me throughout the tough times this year.

Again, please respect my privacy and don't ask any questions about the things I shared in this post.

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Heya, I'm Anais, a Developer Advocate writing about tech, in particular about DevOps and how to get started in the space. Additional topics include studies, career, and lifestyle.