Sunél’s Blog | What I learnt about change through moving

Sunél Veldtman, | 24 April 2020

Note: I wrote this blog some time ago and then Coronvirus happened and it seemed more appropriate to talk about that. I guess by now, you’re also weary and perhaps heartsore from all the Corona stories, so I’m sharing the story of our move to Cape Town with you.  Because despite what we are living now, life will go on in a new normal, and moving cities speaks to that: finding a new normal.

Moving cities is hard. It’s one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. It was made worse by the fact that we lived in the same house for nearly two decades; a period during which we gained three children, three dogs, two cats and too many possessions for our own good.

Change is always difficult. I knew that this transition would be too, even before we embarked on this adventure. Theoretically, I knew about the stages of change – the apprehension, excitement, looming doom, chaos, resistance, regret and the eventual return to a new normal. I also knew that I don’t like change. My personality prefers, perhaps requires, the stability of the known. 

Theory never prepares you for how hard change hits you. It pierces your carefully protected veneer and penetrates your core. It unsettles your inner being in places where you thought you were rock solid. It unsettles your body rhythms and your spatial consciousness. It messes with your mind.

Moving cities means moving everything! How the light shines when you wake up in the morning. What time the sun sets. Where you reach for a glass of water. Where your steps lead to from your bedroom. Where your kids do their homework. Which dogs bark at night.  Who your neighbour, dentist, and hairdresser are. Where you find bagels for your Sunday breakfast. Where you go to when you’re down. And you will need a doctor soon. Your body packs up because you lifted a heavy box or stress affects your children’s immune systems.

A friend who moved at the same time, sent me a message asking, “Do you also feel like you’re not on stable ground?”. Yes! Everything feels slower, like moving through quicksand. It feels more unstable. More unpredictable.

There have been delightful moments, like when you discover the resident hawk, popping down to the beach for sunset or a surprise visit by your dad bearing flowers. We hold onto those. We even consciously create them, meeting our need to hold onto good things during change, almost like clutching debris in a storm at sea. It’s what we put on social media to convince ourselves that we made the right decision but also because we can’t believe how lucky we are to live surrounded by such beauty. It’s what we as a family have done.

We exacerbated our move because we changed much more than our cities. We reduced our lives, chucked lots of our possessions (a good thing but also a different thing), and now rely on less help. We started with a clean slate to see how a new way of life could work. We caused a lot of our own pain.

The unforeseen soon became reality – my car broke down, our dog died, our house nearly burnt down and a long list of other, smaller, but oh so inconvenient, disasters. Yes, it is to be expected that things will go wrong and that the best-crafted plans may not play out as you thought, but the experience of it can be startling.

Each family member experienced the transition differently. Our personality traits were magnified – some hit the ground running, exploring and made countless new contacts and friends quickly and easily, others made sure their home base was organised before they carefully ventured out in a considered manner. I have learnt so much about my family and about myself through this transition:  I needed my friends on the other side of a WhatsApp call and I needed to share my story as I worked through this change.  I also realised again that I am blessed by friends who show up for me and who have become an indelible part of my memory.

Moving is considered one of the most stressful transitions, especially for those after mid-life. It has given me new empathy for my clients who often seek our help through life transitions like divorce, death of a spouse, retrenchment or retirement, where moving is just one element of their transition. I feel for those who must navigate moving whilst experiencing other chaos.

Now, three months into our Cape adventure, I have an insight into what change is all about.  It sets you back before it propels you forward. It requires courage. It will force you to come face to face with yourself. Change will be your teacher and finally, your friend.