“Once back home, everything felt so much lighter, as if I had regained control”

Juriaan van der Graaf is a mathematics teacher in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and went on a bike trip to Copenhagen this summer to process what he learned about his past. “I have to do something about it and I can no longer bury my head in the sand.”

A year and a half ago I discovered in a very strange way that my past was different from what I had always thought. I knew the house wasn’t much fun back in the day, but it turned out to have a lot more than I thought and could remember.

“After I broke up with my girlfriend, I had a bad feeling about how everything was going. I had a feeling that I was really difficult in relationships, and I thought this had something to do with my home situation from back in the day. Then I visited my brother and sister to ask if they’d gotten to know each other. on it.They knew exactly what I was talking about.

“I knew it wasn’t fun at home that day, but it turns out there was a lot more I thought and could remember.”

It was great to visit them again as I haven’t communicated with them in years. At the age of twenty, I had to choose between my divorced parents. I stayed with my mother and my brother and sister stayed with my father. My mother was at war with the rest of the family, and she was very violent and problematic. She is a complex person and I felt compelled to take care of her, even if I got nothing in return. Two years ago I pulled the plug, and we haven’t had any contact since. It sounds harsh, but I’m very happy with it.

My brother and sister talked a lot about the past; Violent stories of abuse and neglect. I can’t even remember many of these things. I guess so, because we’ve all noticed that we have huge gaps in our memory when it comes to that time. I know other things have happened, but I have never attached a very strong emotion to it. Until I suddenly heard my brother and sister say it, and then I realized how severe it really was.

Until I suddenly heard my brother and sister say it, and then I realized how severe it really was.

I understand now that I don’t know many things because I deliberately suppressed them. I deleted it just in self defense. It also explains a lot about my relationship problems. You learn how the relationship works from your mother and father, and if a bad example comes to you, you grow up with the wrong picture of the relationship. I think I could be evasive because of that. I bury my head in the sand and hope that you solve the problems in the relationship itself. I was also often aloof when someone needed affection or intimacy. My brother and sister understand this.

After that night it felt like a bomb had gone off. Your world is turned upside down for a moment, but again not because it wasn’t a complete surprise either. I knew there was a lot going on, but I always acted as if it was normal not to worry about it. Since that night I know this is not the right way. It all had a massive impact, and still does. I have to do something about it and I can no longer bury my head in the sand. I have something to treat.

“After that night, it felt like a bomb had gone off.”

Initially I did some digging mainly. I wanted to know exactly what happened and went looking for people from the past. I went to the mother of a good childhood friend and it turns out she knew our house was always arguing and messy. I found it hard to hear. She has always been very welcoming and always has the best of intentions, but I don’t think she really knows how to handle it or how to help. I don’t blame her, but I think you as an adult have a responsibility in such a situation.

I’ve sought help from a psychiatrist, two even, and it helps. On my brother’s advice, I also did a guided mushroom trek because it helped him a lot. This has been very important to me. I knew I no longer had to bury my head in the sand and accept my situation, and I also learned that I had to work on the things I could influence. Then I had another setback. I played in a band that was very important to me, but since the singer was my ex, we had to break up in the end. To address a few things, I decided to take a bike trip to Copenhagen. That trip came to symbolize the lessons I learned.

“That trip became a symbol of the lessons I learned.”

“One evening in Denmark, my Airbnb for that night was canceled at the last minute. With the help of the receptionist in the climbing forest where I had dinner that night, I finally found another Airbnb that looked very shady. It was the only option so I reluctantly got back on the bike. On the way , A car sped and stopped right in front of me. Someone from the climbing forest shouted out the window and said they had found me another place. Back in the climbing forest, I was told to wait in the parking lot, someone else would come and pick me up. After a long wait – I was about to doubt whether It was still fine – someone came with a pickup truck that didn’t speak a word of English.

We drove through a forest to a meadow where there was a wooden bed with some sort of corrugated iron roof and nothing else. Even out in the middle of nowhere. I was given a sleeping bag with a label written in English so that I could have breakfast at the reception the next morning. We took a picture together, thanked him, and set off again.

“It got dark quickly and I went to bed. I thought it would be fine.

So I just stood there with my bike and nothing else. All I saw was meadows, some flower fields, and somewhere else in a field with some pigs. It quickly got dark and I went to bed. I thought it would be fine. At that moment it started raining causing a huge noise due to the corrugated iron. I fell asleep anyway and when I woke up an hour later I saw that the edges of the bed had gotten completely wet.

I tried to go back to sleep and every time I woke up I saw that the water was approaching. I sat there staring hopelessly in front of me, but I knew there was nothing I could do about it. I couldn’t press my fingers so it wouldn’t rain. That’s what it was given to me and I’m just going to have to deal with it, I guess. I realized again that I had to accept some things; Rain as well as my youth.

“So I just sat there naked, the sun was shining and I really felt good.”

The next morning, my sleeping bag was wet and all my clothes were wet. I wanted to dissolve what could be dissolved and put my clothes in the sun to dry. So I sat there naked, the sun was shining and I really felt good. I was proud of myself for doing it all anyway. I asked some people for help and immediately received breakfast and shower. Two hours later, I was back on my bike and there was really nothing to worry about.

The trip was almost therapeutic. After that night I felt very strong. A lot has happened in my life and there will be more to come, but I also realized that I am very strong and that this is not the end of the world. I can just handle everything. Had I wanted to, I could have cycled straight to Stockholm. I was so proud of myself and that helped me a lot in the end to deal with everything.

“I better communicate with my friends about my situation and tell them when things are not going well.”

“As soon as I got home, I felt that everything was much lighter, as if I had regained control and no longer walked through life without guidance and had to put up with everything. I can try to fix what can be fixed, the rest I have to accept. The turning point was that I went to my brother and sister, they helped me a lot. Since then, I have asked for help several times. I better communicate with friends about my situation and tell them when things are not going well. I see now that I have people around me who want to help me, I should only dare to ask. I really learned that.

Do you know or are you a human being or HR person with his/her story? Send an email to Profielen@hr.nl to make an appointment.

Text and image: Wietse Pottjewijd

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