It's been half a year since I arrived in London, and naturally I've been doing some reflecting.
These past six months, I've grown and learned more than in the last five years combined. I have had moments of absolute regret, wondering what I was doing here. I've had days of jubilant awe, and heart-wrenching fear.
On July 22nd, 2016, I landed at Gatwick, tired and hopeful, with two very heavy suitcases. England was in the middle of a heat wave and I made my way through customs onto the Gatwick Express and into the city, dripping with sweat. When I finally reached the front door of my sublet, I nearly collapsed. I was jetlagged and tense all over, not only from spending the flight over sandwiched between two large, armrest-hogging men, but from the sheer anxiety of the preceding days, not knowing if I would manage to bring with me everything I needed (I didn't).
After showering and getting dressed I finally sat down to catch my breath and it dawned on me that I had done it. I'd moved halfway across the world, and I had no idea what I was doing, but I couldn't be happier to be doing it.
I remember rushing across the city to meet my friend Esther and noticing that the rain that had greeted me that morning had cleared and by dinnertime, the sun was shining on me, a welcoming beacon to my new home.
That first week, I lived nocturnally. I danced, I drank, I endured raging hangovers and gleefully shouted at strangers about how new I was. Yet I also remained focused. I knew I had to find a job, a more permanent place to live. I had to survive.
Within six days I'd been hired for a job that I'm still happily at. A job that has saved my sanity time and time again, not only because of the weekly paycheques that allow me to actually get by, but because of the support of my colleagues who have in turn become my friends and my family-away-from-home.
In August, when my dad fell ill and needed emergency heart surgery, I had only been here two weeks. Relative strangers comforted me and let me use their phones to call my family and check in. In September, when my sublet (and my money) ran out, friends who I had known for such a short time allowed me to sleep on their couch and didn't flinch when I burst into stress-induced tears (a rare occurrence for stoned-faced me).
At times, living here has terrified and angered me. When I lost my wallet in the streets of Islington, I broke down in tears and may have yelled at a policeman (not my finest moment). On one occasion I took myself to the emergency room because my anxiety had caused me to start experiencing unending chest pains. I couldn't breathe at night, or even during the warm, sunny summer days, trying to find calm by staring into the gardens of London. I woke up everyday scared and angry at myself for diving headlong into an unknown abyss. Who did I think I was, starting a new life with no real back-up plan? I was broke, living off of oranges and plain pasta, avoiding leaving the house because I couldn't afford to go anywhere and I was too upset and stressed out to even bother. My hair started to fall out, I lost weight. My birthday came and went and I felt practically nothing in regards to that passage of time because I was so worried about where I was going to be in a month's time, if I could afford to be anywhere at all.
But at one point, and I can't pinpoint exactly which moment that was, my survival instinct kicked in. I had become so engrossed by this feeling of fear that I had built a home inside of it. It's a familiar feeling for anyone who has dealt with depression, or anxiety, or fear. Your pain becomes so much the norm that you adjust to it, expecting that life will always go on this way and accepting it. But the thing was, I didn't want to be at peace with struggling to get by anymore. I didn't want to be OK with waking up hungry and in pain, already giving up on the day ahead. I wanted to use my fear as a tool to push myself forward, to build routines, to work hard, to maintain my sanity.
And so I said goodbye to living at the bare minimum. Finally, for the first time ever in this life so far, I decided to actually live.
And now, six months later, I finally feel a calm coming over me. My life is a balance of work, writing, hobbies, friends, exploring, eating, dancing, and saying "piss off" to worrying about the bullshit that doesn't really matter. It's about finally listening to the best pieces of advice my mother has ever given me ("money comes, money goes" and "take it one day at a time") and the advice of my friends (most notably, "fuck it" and "don't let the bastards grind you down"). It's about appreciating the fact that I've been given this two year visa to gain a new perspective on this life, this one life that I've been given. About taking time to make lists, to organize my days, to set out tasks for myself and to proudly cross off each accomplishment, no matter how big or small. It's about meeting new people and seeing who they really are, and fully understanding that we all have our own universes within ourselves. It's about giving up on being a girl and becoming the woman that I want to be, the one I'm meant to be. The kind of woman who takes care of herself, who creates whatever she feels, when she feels like it, who marches with the masses against sexism and hate, who says "no" when she doesn't want to do something and "yes" to new experiences, who asks for help when she needs it and offers it when she can. Who continues to grow. Who makes mistakes. Who works hard.
And I know that I never, ever would have gotten here if I didn't scare myself first. If I didn't take that initial risk. I know that if I had stayed at home in Toronto, I would be exactly the same person that I was nearly two years ago when I was first debating to move here. That bored girl who blindly accepted a bland routine. I know now that change is a terrifying thing but it is necessary and it must be constant. That stagnancy will only leave me feeling lost. And I never would have learned these lessons without fear.