Real experiences: Transition, Hairloss, and New Beginnings in The Netherlands - Part 1

Our choice to move to Zwolle happened quickly. My fiancé’s job offer came through and in less than 2 months, we were already moving to the Netherlands with nothing more than a couple of bags each. At the same time, we both were also merging as one, as we had landed into Zwolle a day after getting engaged and after being long distance for a year. Prior to this, he had lived in another country and I had just moved from Miami to Denver. The move from Miami to Denver to Zwolle all happened within 12 months. Astonishingly, I moved twice in 12 months, which led to lots of stress and unnerving overwhelm, and unsettled feelings. This time, the move was not for personal growth or my career, rather it was to support my now husband’s career and to start a new adventure and life abroad together. Not too many question marks answered at the time, which added uncertainty to it all.

For the first time ever, I was in the middle of a convoluted mess of feelings, including heavy doubts of myself and my decisions… which is extremely rare as I am optimistic and confident in most things. I had been to the Netherlands before, and loved it. In fact, I fell in love with it so much, that I applied to do my masters degree in Amsterdam back in 2005. Life has a way of sorting things out… and perhaps my time in 2005 was not the right time for me.

I believe things happen for a reason, and know where I am, is where I am correctly positioned to be. We call Zwolle home. It’s a quaint 120,000+ person medieval town whose center is surrounded by a moat. It’s an hour away from civilization, aka Amsterdam. It’s been a transition on many fronts: work, home, language, personal and social.

When I first arrived in August of 2017, I had just sold all my personal belongings. Letting go had been quite emotional yet freeing. I was not only letting go of my single self, but also of the life I had created for myself as an independent career driven woman. Now embarking on a new life, with a future husband and perhaps a new identity shift in the making.

Amid all of the adjustments, changes and excitement, I had developed alopecia, an autoimmune disease where your hair falls out. Your immune system actually attacks your hair follicles thinking it’s an invader. Mine happened to be all over thinning and bald spots that kept getting bigger like crop circles. There are many types of Alopecia and mine was classified as Alopecia Areata. This period of time was the most challenging for me, as questions arose around my career, figuring out how to heal my alopecia and also figuring out so many other things like getting married, keeping my own identity and independence while being here on a limited “sponsorship work visa and spousal visa.” Keeping myself productive is in large part needed to my wellbeing as a “Type A ~ I Can Do It“ personality. I came to many realizations during the first 9 months which helped me sort out myself and make peace with my newly embraced life in a provincial town in the Netherlands.

Abruptly, after the sightseeing and settling in had phased out, I realized I had left a fabulous community of friends back home, and for the first time in a long time, I felt isolated. Starting over in Zwolle was difficult, as making friends as an adult can be. Add language and cultural barriers and it makes it more challenging. Finding like minded individuals who are open and who have shared common interests, who also make time to cultivate friendships, is rare and unique. Being present is a gift no one should take for granted. As we get older our time is less and much less for new “friends.” I didn’t notice that Zwolle was perfect for me until the wave of peace and quiet came over me like a warm blanket in winter. This was exactly what I needed. I needed to spend time meditating and figuring out my next move, my next career endeavor, and my health. I needed to be alone, with no distractions from friends, family and social outings. Time zone differences also helped in blocking out the noise. Nearby cows, sheep and goats in the many petting zoos throughout town, kept me grounded and offered simplicity to my overwhelm. Coming to Zwolle is like taking a step back in time, coming back to basics, cherishing the simple life. Enjoying nature, people and the day to day. Bike riders, children at play, geese flocking, all contribute to the “taking a step back” approach that I needed to catch my breath and my thoughts.

A quick trip to California in November of 2017 allowed me to see family, buy a wedding dress, see doctors, and to come back a bit revived from the dark and gloomy weather I was encountering in Zwolle on a daily basis.

Upon my return from California, I dedicated my time to research, webinars, medical journals, podcasts, books, anything and everything regarding health, autoimmune issues and alopecia. Married to an athlete, health is a top priority for both of us.

Come summer, I finally started to see results, not only in my hair, but also in my overall health.

I returned to my normal habits of attending personal + professional growth conferences, making friends, and doing the things I enjoyed like yoga, pilates and creating community within Zwolle and in Amsterdam.

As a seasoned event planner, I had organized Boston University’s alumni gathering event in 2017 which was great. I quickly started discovering Facebook groups full of expats and people who also wanted to connect in a new land. Participating in Toastmasters is a new endeavor in which gives me time to connect with other like minded individuals who want to improve their public speaking skills. These have all been wonderful avenues for integrating, making friends and widening my circle.

Through pilates and health and wellness, I’ve made new friends and even began teaching at a local studio. Once my alopecia healed completely, I started helping others, online and in person with my website offering courses, trainings, retreats, coaching and my book.

The need and will to integrate continues with my Dutch lessons, riding my bike everywhere, attending local events and embracing everything Dutch, from food, to sayings and way of life.

Article by Johanna Dahlman

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