Saturday, 28 July 2018

My Love/Hate Relationship With London

I remember as a child and early teen viewing a trip to London as the most exciting place I could ever go. The constant bustle, hope of bumping into a celebrity or two (although that never did quite happen ....) and endless possibilities of activities and places to see put it high on my list of favourite destinations in the UK. My love for all things London transpired to theatre trips for mine and my sisters birthdays, shopping days with my friends when we were old enough to catch the train alone and a guaranteed stop off at Buckingham Palace or Trafalgar Square each time to tick off the tourist spots we couldn't leave without seeing. My love for London in my younger years was so strong that I was so certain that one day it would be the city I would call home- after all, it seemed that was where all things magical happened. 

Coupled with my love for London came a niggling fear that only grew as in turn I did in age. My awareness of terrorist attacks grew, claustrophobia on the underground increased, and understanding of pickpockets or losing my mum in a crowd (we all the know the supermarket fear I'm talking about) became more obvious. My growing awareness of the world as a place that wasn't as peaceful and fun as I thought as a child transferred to London and always left me a little more on edge with every visit. 

The thought of moving to London for a year at the age of 20 years old, alone and with no clear plan for my future career was therefore a terrifying one. I was so ready to take the leap and propel my way into my placement year from university, that it was only in the weeks leading up to my move to London that the gravity of what I was doing truly sank in. Whilst it may not seem a big or scary decision for most, I'd grown somewhat comfortable in my relatively small and non intimidating Northern university town, meaning heading back down South and being met with inevitably less friendly strangers felt overwhelmingly scary. 

My first few weeks and months in London were exactly as I had imagined and I spent days in a state of panic and homesickness, both due to my less than perfect internships (imagine The Devil Wears Prada and that pretty much sums it up) and feeling of being so alone in a city filled with so many. Anxiety coupled with changes in so many aspects of my life made the adjustment to London so hard that I wondered would I ever be able to enjoy time in the city that I had once felt so alive and excited in. They say if you're bored of London then you're bored of live, and I think maybe at that point I was. Mental illness can be so draining- it can fundamentally change your personality and zap your enjoyment from life, and I think the coupling of anxiety with a move to the Big Smoke was bad timing that was perhaps unavoidable. Anxiety of course makes more of an appearance in turbulent times, yet adding mental illness into the mix was yet another thing to contend with at this intimidating time. 

London is one of those places where everything happens at once. It almost feels like living in a bubble of the UK in which there are always gigs, events, socialising, parties, dinners out and spontaneous fun to be had- if you wanted you really need never leave London. Perhaps it was this overwhelming feeling of there being so much to do that I never really had an idea of where to begin, or the oh so familiar notion of FOMO that I never quite seem to shake. Whatever the feeling was that I was experiencing, my first few months in London were plagued with wanting to be anywhere but the capital.

When I reflect on my year in London as a whole, it's only now that I can see the slow but steady changes in my confidence and willingness to go out and experience new things that meant I began to fall in love with the city in the way I first had as a child. I ventured beyond the tourist spots and to ends of the tube lines I'd never heard of. I found new restaurants and rooftop bars outside of the usual chain variety. I discovered the endless possibilities for vegan and vegetarian food and wondered why I'd sheltered myself from this world for so long. I overwhelmingly realised the horrific cost of transport, food, socialising and more, but with that I accepted that my time in London wasn't one in which I'd leave with a monetary profit from my internships, but hopefully one that would profit my memories.

One of the main lessons I learnt during my time in London is that it's the type of place you love with friends but also hate when alone. It can be so isolating, especially in a job you don't love, to then travel with grumpy commuters, to a house that doesn't feel like home yet and is so overpriced that you force yourself to tell your mum everything is going great and you love the draughty windows and hob that doesn't light until you've held down the button for at least 14 times. But despite all that, London helped me grow in a way I'm not sure I would have in any other city. It pushed me to my mental limit with the constant noise, people and inability to truly 'get away' from it all, but through that I became a more resilient, stronger and sassier version of myself. I learnt how to say 'no' to things, I learnt about self care, I learnt that the grumpy man on the tube who pushes you out of the way to catch the train isn't worth getting angry over. And most importantly, I learnt that maybe London wasn't always going to be for me.

That's a statement I never thought I'd make. 

Whilst my last 6 months in London were filled with so many of the happiest memories, my year in the Big Smoke gave me chance to evaluate what it was I seek in a home and a place to relax and unwind, and I think it's okay to admit that London isn't for everyone. There's no doubt I'll probably move there once I've graduated, possibly even staying there for 10 years or so, but I think I know deep down that I'm not a Londoner in the way that some people are. Maybe that's why I loved it for days out as a child- because it was just a day out, after which I could return home to the safety and familiarity of my small and sometimes boring village.

I think for me London is just one of those places that takes time to adjust and get used to, because the pace of life there is like no other. The buses in village stop running at 6.30pm, yet in London I'd only just have finished for work at that time! I know if and when I move back to London again I'll maybe go through this process of adjustment again, but I hope this time I can be sure that I will fall in love with London again, because it's filled with that magical and exciting feeling that only really a capital can possess. 

Visiting London now still gives me that buzz I had on my first ever trips there, and I hope it's possible that in the right job, and living with the right people, I'd be able to harness that magic forever. 

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