Millions of perfect aesthetic photos are posted on Instagram every day. In gossip portals we can read about famous people, on the other hand in mass media there’s a lot of bad news and politics (sometimes they are the exact term). Does your life mean less than the life of Robert Lewandowski? Obviously no. But we rarely see ‘ordinary’ stories in mass media. Life is often dull, arduous and not infrequently with many, many obstacles on the way. I wanted to share the Voice of my peers, generation Y, born in the nineties in Poland. Divorce, emigration, ordinary life and challenges of raising a child – these are their stories.
“I lived day by day following traditional Polish patterns until I got married. The beginning was great, end not so much – couldn’t see any other solution than splitting our ways. Getting divorced as a 25-year-old resulted in many tremendous changes in my life” – said Magdalena. She is a 28-year-old tall and skinny brunette. With her appearance, she could be a model. You can spot calm and happiness in her eyes, but it wasn’t always like that. She got married right after high school. For her, it was some form of fear of missing out – if not now, then when? She loved him indeed.
Everyday reality hit painfully. Magda lived in a small town. She worked even on weekends in a position below her qualifications and minimum wage. She couldn’t stand it anymore. Her husband preferred to spend time lying on a couch and playing video games, like life and activities after work didn’t exist. He wanted to vegetate. She wanted more. Magda has always dreamed about going abroad, and at first, she thought they could do it as a marriage. “It is obvious that at the beginning, you are penniless, but it will change after some time. But then I noticed that my head was in the clouds, but in reality, nothing ever changed, and we were putting down our roots more and more.” They couldn’t even afford minor holidays because there always was a hole in their budget. Many young couples have to scrimp and save because they collect money to get a mortgage and build a home. That was one of the nightmares on her skyline. “I thought that it was the only way to live. I was wrong.” – she said. “There wasn’t a big “aha” moment that I didn’t want to live that way anymore. The Internet helped me a lot. Even on Instagram, I saw a completely different life; I know that there’s a difference between Instagram vs reality, but my life was far from that what is called ‘reality’ on Instagram.“
Magda took a leap of faith and, after the divorce, moved to London. Living in the UK showed her a different approach to everything. No one knew her past. It was refreshing after small-town gossiping. “Since my divorce, I haven’t worn make-up. In Poland, I heard comments all the time, even at work, that I look ill and I should put on some make-up. In the UK, no one cared at all. I could wear the same clothes every day, and no one told me – buy yourself new clothes.” She felt free from other people’s expectations. In Poland, everybody knows better what is good for you. Not having thousand unwanted counsellors was new for her. “It was a mental detox for me. Meeting new people, realising that there are other perspectives and that changes as scary as may they seem, they are needed to move forward.” She was a little stressed that her future relationship might look like her marriage, but all the signs on the road showed that it would be something completely different. And it is.
Living in the United Kingdom allowed her to travel around Europe more accessible and affordably. In the middle of the pandemic, she moved to Barbados, stayed there for eight months and headed towards her ultimate destination – Puerto Rico. “I’m happy here… Will I move again? Probably yes. Did I do it all by myself? No. There were people along my way, and they influenced my decisions, supported me and encouraged me to do what I want to do, not what’s expected from me.” Right now, she can consider herself a digital nomad. She works from whichever place in the world she’s currently able to call ‘home’. She’s financially independent and can organise her schedule however she fancy. “All the above makes me happy; allow me to enjoy my life. But let’s not sugar coat the lifestyle; it has its downsides. Even many obstacles wouldn’t make me trade my life for another one. What I’ve been through has shaped me into the human being I am right now, taught me many lessons. No matter how painful or hard they were. Panta Rhei. and I go with the flow.”
The life Magdalena didn’t want to live is Irena’s dailiness. She works as an accountant in one of the giant corporations in Warsaw. Big city life was tiring; hence, Irena moved out to a village near the capital city with her husband. She seems to be a strong, successful woman; she has her own dreamed-of home (and 30-years mortgage), remote job and husband and two dogs by her side. But deep inside, there is a void that needs to be filled. She wants to have a child.
Every day her dogs wake her up, she drinks a glass of water then she walks the dogs. After that, Irena is ready to open her home office. She turns on the computer and tries to work. “Sometimes I succeed, sometimes not really. There are days when I cannot focus on work; instead, I scroll Tik Tok a whole day.” After work, there is a time for little shopping and necessary medical appointments. Then Irena and her husband go for a long walk with dogs. “Sometimes I roll into the duvet and watch Netflix till night. Sometimes I read some book or do a little workout, but not often. Recently I have had a time that I don’t stimulate my brain. I am only doing things necessary to survive. Maybe it will change in the summer.” Then a shower, and she goes to bed. And it looks like that every day.
She hasn’t got time for being a child. “When I was younger, I hated my home, parents and their behaviour. I had to sleep in one room with a disabled grandma; she made noises every night, and I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t invite my friends because grandma was ill, then my sister was pregnant, and in a short time, she had cancer, all the time something was happening. I behaved like an adult and raised my nephew even though I was only eight years old. But it seemed to be natural – to take care of the family.” All her life, for as long as she can remember, she had to take care of others. Despite that, her parents constantly criticised her, which affected her self-esteem. “I think my parents were the best possible version of themselves. You finally understand how much effort they put into life when you are older. When I was a child, I hadn’t seen it, but they very rarely had time for themselves to relax. They had three children and grandparents who needed care. Even building a house cost them a lot physically and mentally. So right now, I think they manage to deal with everything, even they sometimes act up.”
First adult job and people she had luck to meet there changed her. She learned what friendship is and that she can trust men. That was the first crazy party period in her life, ironically not at university as it often happens. After a few years of corporate work, she rented her first studio flat. “That was a period of searching for a life partner. I had a few regular lovers simultaneously, which boosted my confidence, but on the other hand, it was the loneliest time of my life. I realised how easy it is to find a one-night stand lover but finding a person who would like to spend with you the rest of your life is not easy at all.” After hundreds of unfortunate Internet dates, she met her husband.
The story came full circle in 2019 in Olsztyn. “Three years past, but it seems like it was yesterday. The mother of my husband was diagnosed with a terminal illness. There are few hospitals, then no hope, palliative treatment and epileptic seizures because of metastasis. What we experienced there was a nightmare, but on the other hand, I am glad that we were there. We had the opportunity to be with her till the end. Regardless I like Olsztyn surroundings – lakes and forests. Maybe my brain wants to replace bad memories with the positive ones.” There still are days when she starts to cry without reason, but right now, it’s rare. She claims that her problems are connected with her husband’s mental state because it significantly impacts her. “I had an attempt to go to a psychologist, but I felt like a moron. Maybe I was treated inappropriately, and I didn’t want to try anymore. I got the impression that I was making up all my problems. That is why I didn’t show up at the next appointment. I recently didn’t have a good period, but it was caused by meds I have to take to treat infertility. They cause a lot of side effects.”
She always wanted to have a big family. Because of her health problems, it is not an easy task. “Our house is empty without a child like it was a thing missing there. We feel it both. We notice how we change when our nephews are coming to visit. And we miss this feeling. That is the only reason, maternal instinct or so. It’s something completely irrational, we both know that our life will change with a child, we won’t have so much free time to waste on our needs. But we will make different things, and that is okay, perhaps.” All of the above is why she started the long and challenging treatment. But there are hundreds of unanswered what-ifs. What if, after the treatment, she will finally get pregnant? What if the foetus has lethal defects (in Poland, pregnancy termination is forbidden in that case)? Will she survive this physically and mentally? What if the economic and political situation in Poland gets even worse? Where to go? She said that, in fact, with her husband, they are thinking about leaving Poland in a few years.
“I live in the village, so my life here is not exciting at all. New day same story,” – says Kasia, 28-year-old wife and mother of Amelia. “The thing that irritates me the most about living in Poland are people who are more interested in other people’s lives than themself. When you made something unusual – you are judged because, in this close-knit village society, you cannot hide anything.” She is unemployed right now because she is raising her 2-year-old daughter. Thus she is worried about her financial safety. Her husband always says they will manage financially; she realises what is happening due to the economic crisis and government decisions. “I am worried that after that long break, I will not find any job. Life here is getting worse and worse, and sometimes in-jokes we are looking for a place to move abroad.”
“I thought that I would manage because as a kindergarten teacher, I came in contact with children every day. I was good at my job, very patient, and understood kids in general. But with my child, it looks completely different – my pedagogical knowledge evaporated.” Kasia wanted to have a child, but with no unnecessary pressure. She also tried to escape from a toxic job where she was mobbed. “I lasted there far too long, only to have financial support on maternal leave.” She got pregnant very quickly after the wedding. It was kind of surprising for her. The pregnancy period and birth itself went without complications. She was overjoyed, and even the postnatal period didn’t affect her that much. “Then suddenly in my head started coming up disturbing thoughts, mainly when I was left alone with my child for a longer time and I was exhausted. I was down in the dumps. When Amelia was crying for a long time, I wanted her to stop; I was shouting at her, even once or twice I shook her, fortunately softly. When something like that happened, I put Amelia down and left the room to cut myself from it because something worse could happen.” Kasia started thinking that she didn’t want that child and stared at her daughter without emotions.
She knew that something terrible was happening with her and blamed herself for not coping. “The worst part took place when my husband was at home; I continued down the independent strongwomen way, I was forcing myself to show him that I muddle through. I didn’t want to ask for help from anyone. My husband saw that something was not right, but I didn’t want his help either. I didn’t allow myself to accept that something like this happened to me.” As she describes, the worst period lasted two or three months. “I took a while before I understood that I love my child. And I have shown her my love since then because I hadn’t had that as a kid, and I know how important it is to a healthy life.” Kasia is very self-aware, so recently, she found the courage to ask for help from a psychotherapist. “My mental health is like a sine wave. Sometimes it is good to be bad at the moment. When I am on a downer, I don’t want to do anything, and I force myself to do what I have to do. I take it out on my husband. My sex life is a disaster – even if something happens – it is sporadic, once or twice a month.” Even now, she still has disturbing thoughts: “Sometimes I think it would be better without me, but I know these are just thoughts; I will not do anything with that.”
“I don’t have any dreams. I live from day to day. Nothing changes, and it’s depressing. Raising a child is heavy. You have to turn your world upside down.” Her days look the same – from preparing meals, doing Amelia up and playing with her, to taking walks in the village. After bathing and lulling her child to sleep, she finally has time for herself. “Usually, I scroll Internet on my phone or watch TV. I go to sleep around midnight. That is how my day looks like when my husband isn’t home. When he’s home, the only difference is that we try to do something together in the afternoons – show our daughter animals, go to the swimming pool or even stupid shopping is entertainment for me. My stepping stone is going out with my friends, but it’s quite rare.”
“Most of the time, I look dreadful, wearing sweats, humble speaking – fine by me. I wash my hair once a week because I am too tired to do so. No make-up is the new black in my case. Sometimes I think this kind of life: home and family is not for me. I wish I waited longer with starting a family.” When she scrolls through Instagram and sees pictures from perfect parenting profiles, all she says is: “Instagram and reality are completely different worlds.”
Names have been altered to protect anonymity.