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Two Years In

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In just two weeks it will be my 2 year anniversary in London. I figured that’s worth an update. I’ve been pretty crap at this. There’s been more doing than documenting these days which speaks well of my life here in some respects.

I spent this morning swimming in the London Fields Lido with some new and budding friends/friendships. More and more I’m having experiences that resemble my best case imaginings of moving to London. However infrequently and however newly, I’ve begun to meet and spend time with some really lovely people with warm hearts, creative minds, and excellent senses of humor. Making friends here is a very different sort of process. It’s slower, not just culturally but logistically. Transit is exhausting and people have busy lives. For the first time in my life, I have more friendship potential than I’ve actually had time to explore — which is unfortunate since I also have never had such a lack of social connection. But this is the social math of London. And the self-imposed hermitude that I’m only just now beginning to come out of hasn’t helped things, really.

On that point, my sweet friend Tina came to stay with me this weekend. She’s doing field work for her dissertation in Athens, which I think of as a difficult city, not just for its current political and economic struggles but for its logistics (specifically its dense population), and even she was stymied by London’s magnitude and the sheer amount of energy it takes just to do the smallest things. She congratulated me on adapting so well which made me laugh as I often feel like I’ve done this very poorly. She sweetly provided me with a very convincing counter-argument.  That, coupled with listening to another friend’s exhaustion at visiting England, has me reflecting on my experience here with a new and more compassionate lens.

Until recently, I’ve been tough on myself for not feeling more ‘present’ in London — thinking; I’ve been in this amazing city for two years and I’ve done so little of what I’d think of as typical London “Stuff” — not necessarily giving myself credit for how radical a shift it really was. Moving from a city of 600,000 to 8 MILLION was and is intense. Gone were the days of quiet lunches in uncrowded restaurants, or basically being alone, anywhere, ever. Even in my own house, I was (and am) constantly aware of the occupants of the two flats above me, the two to the right, the one to the left. Slamming doors, whistling, loud music, stomping feet, overheard conversation, the clanging of pots and pans. The din of London is unrelenting and requires constant compromise. Other people are terribly inconvenient but there’s no real alternative but to live alongside them, however different from you they are. So you wear ear plugs or get a white noise machine, and sometimes you ask them to take their shoe off if they’re tapping their foot along to music directly above your head, and sometimes you just figure you’re probably really annoying sometimes, too, and let it go.  But it’s a constant negotiation of the type I certainly was not used to and the reality of other people’s existence demands energy from you even when you’re not directly engaging with them.

I don’t know if I’m an introvert with extrovert tendencies, or an extrovert with introvert tendencies, but in either case after moving here I found myself steadily depleted on both respects: My introvert self lacked true solitude and my extrovert self — even with omnipresent yet still distant others — lacked true connection. The result was a steady state of overwhelm that, with the addition of a 3 hour commute every day, rigorous study and the outside world being full of things I was constantly reminded that I didn’t fully understand, lead to me tucking myself away quite a lot in this house and/or at University with only occasional forays out into the wider world of London Proper.

It’s understandable that I’d have felt that way. Adjusting to life without the vast majority of things I found familiar or comfortable, life without a car (so a major bodily adjustment), life without an immediate and accessible social circle (so a significant drop in emotional support), add in a major shift in eating habits (no gluten, soy, dairy, or eggs – which made even something as simple as grocery shopping a herculean feat), add in a shocking amount of street harassment and a return to higher ed after a 17 year break and it’s no wonder I spent what little free time I had glassy-eyed in front of Netflix.

Somewhere, though, in the last six months, things began to shift on all fronts. I can’t pinpoint where, when or what, really, caused the change. There was no great epiphany. My skin just thickened a bit. I stopped looking for judgment on every face. The city and its transit started to feel a bit more knowable. I started relaxing a bit more. Being more open and approachable. Doing more active approaching on my own. Taking more chances. I’m still battling that new kid anxiety/insecurity but I think I always will battle that — I’m socially awkward and never stood a chance, really, at being anything else. Thankfully this is a city  full of awkward people so I kind of fit right in.

And in the midst of all this change, I’ve managed to have some really amazing experiences. In the last two years, I’ve gotten married (Twice!) to a woman I am consistently amazed by. I’ve excelled in school — a 4.0 for the first time in my life! I’ve traveled to new cities and countries. From a distance, I was able to play a small part in the care circle for one of the dearest people in the world to me and the love and support that gathered around her before she passed, and that gathered around everyone who loved her after, was an inspiration. I’ve maintained long-distance connections with really precious people. I’ve grown stronger physically — I’m even training for a 5k walk right now. I’ve grown stronger emotionally — I’ve become more independent, more confident, more compassionate. None of those things are completed works (are they ever?) but positive growth amidst the chaos of adjusting to a new way of life is a thing to be celebrated. And today as I walked down the street in the sun with a little gang of rad fatties, all of whom were nomming ice cream cones (me with a dairy free ice lolly (that’s a popsicle for you yanks)), London started to feel just a little bit more like home.

This weekend, my newly minted Partner and I, along with three lovely friends, are headed to Greece for a honeymoon/vacation full of sun, swimming, excellent food, and other honeymooney type stuff. And while I know that waves of missing my loved ones, general overwhelm, and other hard things will come, and while I know that even better things await me as well — right now I honestly couldn’t feel more contented.

 

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