CW: Racism, panic attacks, anxiety
Sitting on my balcony, I poured myself another glass of wine and rolled another cigarette. I wanted to go to bed, so desperately wanted to sleep, but knew any attempt at shutting out the referendum will be followed by hours of anxiety-ridden dreams. So I lit my cigarette and refreshed the BBC live updates page. When Gibraltar came in with a 95.9% vote for Remain, I felt a sense of calming and relief. It was the first local vote to come in, but the chances that they were going to be a minority felt improbable.
Good thing I'm not a gambler.
It was now 2:45am, and Leave was ahead by a few hundred thousand. I rolled another cigarette, wondering how long I'd be able to stay up and watch this. My lungs began to wheeze and I realised I'd nearly finished the whole bottle of cheap Shiraz. I found myself obsessively looking at the label of my red, trying to source where the grapes are grown, where the wine is fermented, to see where in the EU this wine I'm drinking, is from. Turns out it was Australian and I had wasted a few minutes of not refreshing my phone.
(I found out later, that the Australian-EU-UK free trade agreement is greatly affected by Brexit).
A few hours of being locked between the live updates webpage and tweeting, my anguish begun to take it's toll. After reading genuine fear, sadness and pain from people living around the EU, pining for family, worried about careers, desperately seeking financial advice, the very aspect of the Leave campaign became very obvious.
A few days ago, Nikesh wrote this piece about the Leave campaign's propaganda and the very real fear himself and others suffered from. This feeling was suddenly all over my timeline. It's no surprise that we live in a world that economically, politically and socially thrives from racism and xenophobia - we are all aware of it, but what we've also done is normalise it.
When someone yells 'go back to your country' at me, I don't feel as outraged and disgusted as I should. I roll my eyes, shake my head and hope something terrible happens to them. I don't grab people around me and say 'Did you hear that? Do you believe it? Can you believe it?!'. The biggest feeling that comes in, taking over my whole body and jolting it, is the shame. The shame that I've been the person who has been victimised, that I've made others aware of it and that I've accepted it.
That is what normalising racism has done to people in this country. What this vote has now accomplished, is allowing people to get a 'community feeling' when yelling this at me. 'Half of the UK agree with me, I can say this, they will applaud me and join me'.
You may tell me your Leave vote did not come with any racist sentiments, but backing a campaign led by UKIP leaders, that mirrored nazi propaganda, I can't help but question your intelligence.
The EU may have it's problems, but you've just made the UK a terror-led land of mistrust and hatred.
On my balcony, I held my phone tightly, watching the battery reaching 1%, taking a deep long breath on my cigarette and downing the last of my Australian wine. I quickly succumbed to my drunk, tired eyes and went to bed. The Leave campaign were ahead at this point, but I was too tired to watch the events unfold.
I woke up at 6am and reached instantly for my phone. I unlocked it, my hands slipping, pressing wrong buttons as I hurriedly tried to reassure my mind. My eyes were still half shut: hayfever had them sore and blurry, so my first reaction to the news was comedically rubbing my eyes and gawking back at my phone.
My anxiety had me trembling and my heart racing. I lay in bed for the next few hours, imagining the worst, visualising the most horrific. I kept thinking of my parents, of my extended family. I began thinking about all the people directly and instantly affected by this. Living with anxiety and panic attacks is something I've dealt with in my own way, to the point now where I'm able to control panic attacks, if I catch them quick enough. I did some breathing techniques and managed out get out of bed at 11am, 5 hours later.
I went to the pub and looked around. All I could think was 'I wonder who here voted Leave. I wonder who's looking at me and thinking about telling me to go back to my country. I wonder if others will join in'.
I live in Hackney, in London - I'll be fine, but good luck telling that to my anxiety. The very real feeling of fear will not go away. Our pound may bounce back, we may still be able to trade with countries around the world and continue to be financially 'okay'. Financially okay in the 'working class are fucked, but the rich are happy', kind of way. We may get stronger relations elsewhere. But a lot of 1st/2nd/3rd generation immigrants are now living in very real fear.