‘I went home and thought it would all pass after a good night’s sleep. But in the following weeks, I had daily panic attacks: the fear of experiencing another seizure became the very cause of it. I was overwhelmed by fear. It wasn’t long before I didn’t even dare to leave my house, not even my bed.

I had just turned thirty and I thought everything was on the right track: my career, my partner, my apartment. I had worked hard for it, it all seemed perfect.

What on earth had happened to me?

The neighbourhood where I grew up was poor and full of misery. I’ve seen it all: shootings, thefts, children coming to school beaten black and blue by their parents. I’ve always been proud of my working-class background, but from an early age I knew I didn’t want to end up living a life like those around me. I began to distinguish myself by changing how I spoke and excelling in school.

The other kids got jealous and started calling me names. I was lonely, but that being said, I never wanted to fit in with them in the first place. I stood out with my fancy clothes and later on with my beard. While my classmates rode mopeds, I set myself apart by getting my driver’s licence.

Image: Elvin Boer

My father is an immigrant from the poorest part of Turkey. He met my mum here in the Netherlands at a local cleaning company. I remember staff in stores watching us and occasionally checking our bags. At the bank and the city hall, people addressed me instead of my dad, which was humiliating for both of us. Often on these occasions, I would ask for the manager and confront them with the racism of their company. My dad didn’t want to cause a riot, but I knew he was proud of my rebellious eloquence.

‘I stood out with my fancy clothes and my beard. While my classmates rode mopeds, I set myself apart by getting my driver’s licence’

I had girlfriends in high school, but my first time with a guy was liberating: I was doing something I really wanted to do. I was experiencing all my senses, some kind of inner truth. At the same time, it frightened me. I knew there would be no turning back. My dad had always urged me, as his only child, to live up to his expectations: I should marry a beautiful wife and give him many grandchildren. I came out to my mother, who cautiously told my dad. He asked me if what he had heard was true, because if so, his life would be over.

His rejection felt so unjust. So unfair. I had spent my whole life trying to make him proud and be the perfect son. And this was my reward. Of all people, he should know how it feels when you don’t belong and continuously get judged. But instead of standing up for his son, he rejected me. I felt like a failure.

Image: Elvin Boer

I moved out and my dad and I didn’t speak for years. I was on my own now. More than ever, I made sure that my life would turn out to be a success. I went to university, graduated, moved to a big city, fell in love, broke up, fell in love again, bought an apartment, got a job, and applied for an even better job at the same company. I had worked day and night at this company, and I was a perfect fit for this new position. But for some stupid reason, I didn’t get it. That’s when something snapped.

Therapy has helped me understand that I have been preoccupied with trying to excel throughout my life. When something went wrong for reasons I couldn’t control, it activated an old pain of rejection. It made me feel as though I had failed as a human being. Realising this pattern was the first step towards healing myself. Little by little, I learned to welcome imperfection and peace into my life.

‘I honestly feel bad for him. I’m finally living a life true to myself, and by not being part of it he is missing out on all the good stuff’

I’m now living in Berlin, which feels like one big learning curve, because nothing is perfect here. It can be challenging at times, but it is home. Back in the Netherlands, people are concerned with their status and their future. But here we mostly try to live in the moment and enjoy life as it comes. Oddly enough, I feel more valued than ever before.

Image: Elvin Boer

My dad and I have never discussed my sexuality. I honestly feel bad for him: I’m finally living a life true to myself, and by not being part of it he is missing out on all the good stuff. I regret this situation, but I’m also at peace with it. I know he loves me. Every time I come home for a visit, he picks me up from the station and makes sure my stay is as pleasant as it can be. I know this is his way of saying: you are my son.’