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Strength in solitude

A personal reflective essay on life as a first-year student at Western Sydney University, written in poetic-prose style describing the highs and lows ...

Sometimes, the air in Sydney feels soft, sweet, and safe. I see this land as more of an embodiment of home to me than ‘home’ ever was – how else can I express that a daughter forced to leave a motherland 9143 km behind might be seeking safety, might be brave enough to break cursed cycles that are centuries too old? 

Image of Sydney harbor taken from an airplane as it lands.
(Credit: Shabnam Siddique)

On autumn afternoons, strolling through the crimson and gold decked grounds of Western Sydney University, I wonder if I could ever shed the chaos in me the way a tree so effortlessly sheds its leaves. But to hope it would be that easy is almost toying with what took me miles to get here in the first place.   

You see, I wish I could tell you that I chose to move far and away because I could —but I chose it because I couldn’t choose not to. To live alone and apart is an art, but to live lonely and lost is a lingering ache – and romanticism can hardly avail for it.

image of Western Sydney University, taken at Parramatta South Campus during Autumn.
(Credit: Shabnam Siddique)

May arrived, and with it, I found something I never thought I could: a safe space to finally breathe. 

From then on, into June, commuting on trains, watching Sydney’s suburbs and fields and woodlands and streams glide past, I think of 18-year-old me: dreaming and falling in love with this very city. I imagine cupping her chin as she stares at me in utter denial, whispering in her ear, ‘We made it, my sweetest child, we made it right here’— 

Healing involves creating and evolving into a version of yourself who will unconditionally cater to your needs and be the safe space for your wounded parts. Let me introduce you to my wounded parts: my inner child and my inner teen.  

Then there is me: the adult version (trying to be) their safe caretaker –together, we are learning and attempting to heal, thrive and stay alive. 

Image of a train in Sydney, taken at Parramatta Station. The sky is colored pale pink at sunset.
(Credit: Shabnam Siddique)

Training to be a therapist, I am learning to extend grace to others and hold back the pain that, sometimes lingers on the warped lens of my wounded worldview. I can guarantee that it eventually pays off: realizing that I can be safe for my friends is something. But to be told I make someone I hardly know feel safe is glory of a glowing kind. Because becoming a therapist is undeniably the same as learning the skill of mothering those who have never been mothered before.   

Road-tripping into the Blue Mountains, campfire crackling in the early hours of the wintry night, I thought of how healing, like all transformative things, has its phases.  Thus, speaking of ache with no nod to joy would be quite cruel. For joy did meet me, speckled across this year: In its soft and endearing ways, joy made healing feel real as it led me to people, new and old. 

Image of Western Sydney University, taken in Parramatta South Campus with sunlight speckling the scene.
(Credit: Shabnam Siddique)

If I were to take away just one lesson from my 2023, I would tell you that I do not want to ever say the words ‘take me back to…’ again. From now on, it is ‘take me forward into…’ — Isn’t that a mark of growth itself? 

Living apart at last from everything in my past feels eerily familiar: as though whatever I’d envisioned the distance to be is now in focus as the fog thins. Which is to say, this is me healing.