”I spent most of my twenties traveling the world by myself. I would always avoid winter and chase the sun. Just as I avoided my depression, I avoided the discomfort of winter and the cold. While traveling, I certainly had beautiful moments, but deep down, I was miserable. At the beginning of this year, I moved back to Amsterdam. This time I decided to stay. I’m no longer running away from my pain. For the first time in my life, I’m in therapy. There are tough days, but I’m no longer ashamed of it. Like yesterday, I wasn’t feeling too well, but I still went to visit my friends. A few years ago, I would have locked myself up in my room, but now, I allow myself to be there, even if I’m having a bad day. I wear my pain with me on my chest, and I allow it to exist. This year, I learned that in life, you should not avoid the dark winter days. They have a purpose; to make you grow.”

“Although my grades were much higher than my older brothers, he was the one who got to go to university. Back in the sixties, girls often got married at a young age, so it was seen as a waste of money to send girls to university. I wanted to study psychology, but my father wouldn’t let me. I ended becoming a social worker. I thought that was a beautiful profession, but my ambition to study did not disappear. For five years, I worked at the child protection services. My supervisor at work was a female psychologist. I learned a lot from her. She inspired me to quit my job and study psychology. My mother completely disagreed with my choice. To calm her down, I promised that I would only study for one year. In the back of my mind, I knew that was a lie. I was too old to qualify for a scholarship, so I sold my car. I loved studying. I was doing so well that the university decided to offer me a scholarship after all. I had a good career as a professor at a university. I never wanted to get married or have children. That was just not for me. I have experienced so much freedom in my life. Besides, life has blessed me with twelve nieces and nephews. I am the happiest aunt on this planet. “

“I was at my aunt’s house when we received a phone call that my dad had passed away. I was living in Suriname with my mother at the time. My dad lived here. Despite the distance, he tried to visit me as much as possible. He would always bring expensive clothing from The Netherlands, which made me the coolest kid in my street. The last time I saw my father, I was nine years old. During his last visit, he took me to all these different places and told me a lot about his life. It was as if he knew that it would be the last time we would see each other. My father got buried in The Netherlands. I was supposed to stay only a few months until after the funeral, but my mother thought I would have a better future here in The Netherlands. My mother went back to Suriname, and I stayed with some relatives. Growing up without your parents is difficult. As a kid, I didn’t know how to express my emotions. Anger became a way of expressing my pain. My outlook on life changed when I turned eighteen. I would hang out a lot with my friends on the street. One day, a man from my neighborhood came up to me and said: If we are lucky, we have a few people who take care of us in this life. I have been watching you. You are not taking good care of yourself. After he said that, I realized that I needed to take better care of myself and deal with my emotions. His words hit home because he actually noticed me.”

“Right before departure, I was separated from my family and taken off the train at Amsterdam Central Station. They took me to a children’s home. I was only two years old, so I don’t have a lot of memories. I do remember that every time someone rang the door, I had to hide in the basement. When the war ended, I went from one foster family to another. I have lived in over 27 different foster homes. It was not a secure upbringing. When I nine, I discovered ballet. A few years later, I got accepted into a dance company. I’ve been told that dancing is for prostitutes, but I never cared. I always said, ‘if dancing is for prostitutes, then I’m a prostitute.’ Dancing became a way for me to express my emotions. I met my ex-husband when I was eighteen, and we had two children. I became a dance teacher. Even though life continued, I never stopped having questions about my past, what exactly happened to my parents, and what my life was like in the children’s home. Since my family was Jewish, I have always assumed they got deported to the death camps, but it was never confirmed. When there is nobody to verify your story, you sometimes doubt if it really happened. I have never been able to find anything about my past until twelve years ago. I was at my foster mother’s house when my then-boyfriend called and said there’s an article in the paper about the children’s home. I picked up the paper and saw multiple photos of emaciated children. Amongst those children, I saw a little girl. It was me. Someone had found a box of files and pictures at the garbage and brought it to a journalist. Amongst those files, statements were detailing the abuse, neglect, and mistreatment that took place in the children’s home. I remember I was shaking reading the article. It was painful and confronting, but at the same time, it felt like recognition. For the first time, I could say this is not a story that I made up. This really happened. “

Stel, Erasmuspark

Stel, Erasmuspark

“She was one of the baristas at the café I was managing. At work, we got along really well but at the time, I was still in a relationship with a man, and I had no idea that I could be attracted to women. After a year, I got transferred to a different branch of the company. A few months later, at a company party, we ran into each other again. My relationship had just ended. That evening we had quite a few drinks, we got to talk, and there was this strong chemistry between us. That night, I went home with her, and from that moment on, we are together. In the beginning, I thought it was just a phase, but I felt so comfortable with her that I realized it was for real. I’ve always been someone with quite a few walls up. Since I’m with her, I dare to be more vulnerable, which has also positively impacted my relationship with my friends and family. We have been in a relationship for two and a half years now, and one month ago, we moved in together. I always had this complete picture in my head of what my life would look like when I turn thirty. I thought I would have a house, a job, and live with a man. The picture looks slightly different, but it feels pretty complete.”