“I’ll meet you at the bridge.” It was the beginning of April, the early days of the pandemic lockdown, and I’d bundled up in warm clothes, ready to head out into the cool spring air for a long walk. I clasped my FitBit around my wrist, stepped outside and took a deep breath, trying to calm the nagging sense of dread I felt.
I’d been holed up inside my apartment for what felt like forever, furiously writing and editing hard news stories for the investigative journalism startup I worked at. That is, until I was let go the week before. Now, I had nothing to do except feel lonely and stir crazy.
A week before losing my job, I spent an evening in the emergency room at Toronto’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. Fourteen-plus solitary hours a day hunched over a laptop had pushed me to the brink of psychological and emotional collapse, and I was struggling with suicidal ideation. A psychologist was eventually able to calm me down and I was allowed to go home that night. I’d simply needed someone who would listen without judgement.
Clearly I was desperate for human connection—so when my friend Chiderah suggested we meet up for a stroll through the gloomy, deserted streets of Toronto a couple weeks later, I jumped at the opportunity. Anything, anything was better than another day of hiding out in the unending sameness of my dimly lit bedroom, and I was still struggling with my mental state.
Read this next: Where to Find Free & Accessible Mental Health Care Across Canada
Chiderah and I had come to our friendship in an unusual way: I met her on Hinge in February 2019, just over a year before our fateful walk. At the time, she was exploring her sexuality but ultimately realized she’s straight. We’d had great chemistry and compatibility, so we decided to retain a friendship, catching up every couple months or so.
It took me half an hour to arrive at our meeting spot. When I got there, we exchanged an awkward—albeit warm—hug. (Back then, it was still unclear if we should at all, given we’d come from separate households.) We both really needed a hug. We spent four hours roaming through the city, taking in how the pandemic had changed everything around us and interrupted the trajectory of our lives.
Only six months earlier, Chiderah and I had spent an evening at an Italian restaurant in Toronto, laughing over our dire financial circumstances and sharing our hopes for the future—primarily, we realized we both had a dream of moving to Europe and starting new lives. But we never never anticipated it could happen so soon.
But it did—largely thanks to our star-crossed friendship. “Kismet,” says Chiderah. “We found our road to redemption through meeting one another.” Chiderah has Bipolar Disorder and I have Borderline Personality Disorder, two different types of conditions with overlapping symptoms, including intense emotional responses, depression and impulsive behaviour. It was hard for either of us to imagine we’d outlive our own self-destruction. But on our walks, we challenged our mutually held false beliefs that our disorders made us destined to suffer and things would never get better. We developed our own emotional lexicon that allows us to empathize with each other on a deeper level. It’s wordless, without need for explanation, something we both yearn for in a world that makes us feel impossible to love or understand.
Our first walk was so enlivening, we decided to make it a ritual. For weeks, we embarked on hours-long journeys, headed nowhere in particular, with only moving our bodies and being in great company as motivators. As we talked through our trials and tribulations with mental health, relationships and substance abuse, we provided one another with mutual support and watched as our friendship rapidly blossomed. Sobriety was a major thing we had in common, as we’d both recently quit drinking. Whenever I’d second-guess myself, Chiderah reminded me that I didn’t need alcohol to live a full and beautiful life. Sometimes, all you need is for someone to say, “You can do this. It’ll be OK” to feel reassured and steadfast in your commitments.
During lockdown, I found my platonic soulmate—the person who sees me completely and whose love and support is unwavering and unconditional. We shifted from acquaintances to best friends in a matter of days. Our bond developed faster than most as, with the pandemic having wiped our calendars clean, we were able to spend concentrated, meaningful time together. I’ve never met someone whose impact has transformed my life so drastically in so little time.
In conversation, we revisited our shared desire to live abroad. Like Chiderah, I’d always envisioned Toronto as a stepping stone, not a final destination. During a time when the world stood still, we started to dream again. “I have hope,” I wrote to her one day. “I want to swim in the ocean and breathe in the fresh air.”
We found ourselves in a positive feedback loop; our excitement and joy was contagious. My clenched fists began to soften and a sense of lightness spread through my limbs. We started planning how we’d make it across the Atlantic. Even as borders remained closed, airlines and Airbnb were still keen to make money, allowing bookings. In June, we booked one-way flights to Portugal, knowing fate was on our side. A month later, we were on another continent, with even my dog along for the ride.
It’s hard to anticipate how travelling with another person will impact your relationship, let alone living with them. But spending every day together only strengthened our bond. We stayed in Lisbon for a month to enjoy a few weeks of sunbathing and relaxation before heading to Germany. It’s no easy feat to move to a new country, especially during a pandemic when bureaucracy is slower than usual. But we kept one another calm as we navigated the gruelling process of entry conditions, visa requirements, government appointments and apartment viewings. And everything has been worth the risk—we are both the happiest we have ever been.
If I hadn’t had the guts to venture outside my home on that dreary, overcast day, I might’ve never realized my dream of moving to Europe. In fact, I might’ve headed back to the west coast to stay with my parents, no longer able to pay the rent premium to live in Canada’s most expensive city.
Read this next: What Canadians Should Know Before Travelling During COVID-19
Today, Chiderah and I call each other “my better half” and warmly joke about being married with a kid. Chiderah has fallen in love with my dog and we share parenting responsibilities. We are profoundly similar and different—each other’s yin and yang. After living together for months, I’ve become less passive and more bold, while she’s become more patient and less impulsive. With her in my life, I’ve grown more in the past six months than the last six years.
In early September, Chiderah and I found a tattoo parlour with available walk-in appointments in Berlin. We nervously chose a font for our matching script tattoos and held one another’s hand as the artist buzzed away, permanently marking our skin. “Go where the love is,” reads the text, a quote from an Instagram video of American actress Amanda Seales. It reminds us that if somewhere no longer uplifts you, you can always find a place—or a person—that does.