The Rat Race
Anyone who has lived in London, or even just visited, knows that this city is the epitome of the term “rat race”. I’ve been to New York, and I can assure you that, in comparison, it definitely does sleep. There’s always an event to go to, be it the opening of a new art gallery or just after work drinks, your diary is always full. Surrounded by all these things to see and do, it’s easy to get swept up in the manic and wonderful offerings of London town. But what happens when you get so swept up in it all you lose yourself, and any kind of grounding we desperately need to maintain our mental health? I did. It was not good.
When I moved back to London in 2009 (I was born here but moved away at 11 and returned when I was 16), I threw myself in every way shape and form back into the city. I was so desperate for a freedom that had eluded me during five years in North Africa. I started working in the city and slowly created a small social circle, mainly with people I worked with. At first it was very much the norm, working Monday to Friday, going out for drinks maybe once a week. The rest of the time I would shop or just stay at home with the cat. All I needed really. As my social circle grew over the years, as did the parties and events I was invited to. As someone that never got the chance to go out when I was growing up, I always said yes. I was the walking definition of FOMO. Fast forward a couple years and my one night out a week became four, still reserving a couple for myself, though these were mainly for hangover days rather than just general self-care.
Work was exhausting and consistent. The only way I found to relax was to have a few drinks after work and bitch about my day. Some days I would have one too many. Then work would be even more difficult and so on and so forth. I would go to every party, brunch etc. as I didn’t want to be flaky, as well as not be invited again (or so I told myself). In reality I was always late, looked like shit and was exhausted so not even much fun. But I couldn’t see it. I couldn’t see that all these events, distractions and work had completely eradicated any grounding of mine.
I was using these distractions to run away from any internal anxieties of mine and numbing my emotions. I didn’t do anything I actually loved. I thought I did, but I didn’t. I never spent time in my room so I never did it up or had enough money to do so as I spent it going out, so I didn’t even like going back to the house. I tried to change this in 2018 and create a room which I loved, in the hope that I could maybe become more stable. It turned out this didn’t really work and I still felt I was missing out… therefore I still didn’t ground myself or spend any “me” time.
Fast forward to a pandemic. Everything shut. No more pubs. No more events. No more friends. No more work. My reality was now just me and it, and it was petrifying. I had forgotten what I actually enjoyed doing and it was eating me up inside. I decided to stop drinking completely and still keep a normal-ish routine. Slowly, but surely, life slowed down. I remembered how much I enjoyed plants and general gardening, so I bought some and put them around the house. Even got into a watering routine. I never missed a skincare routine as I was always up for doing it. I started feeling better and more consistent as a person. Started to re-establish what was and wasn’t important to me. I fed the horses that potter about locally to me daily. It was wonderfully quiet and I could feel myself being able to hear my inner thoughts. Yes, my anxiety was still there and sometimes worse than before, but this was because my feelings and emotions weren’t being numbed and I was having to deal with them. I had to take responsibility for my anxiety for the first time rather than pushing it to the side and ignoring it. I was healing myself slowly but it was still going in the right direction.
A couple weeks ago I was called into work at our central London office. I was excited and nervous about the train into town, but keen on getting back to normal, slowly. Once I got out of the train station I was IMMEDIATELY overwhelmed by the noises, colours, people etc. I didn’t realise how overwhelming this city can actually feel. Also, has anyone noticed a strange dull smell in central London? No? Just me then… Could it be, however, that I was always overwhelmed by it all but forced to deal with it because it was expected? That for years I didn’t actually enjoy it? I numbed myself so well that I didn’t face how unhealthy this city was for me. Ever since I was a young woman I was always known as “mother nature” and “peta girl”. I’ve always loved nature and animals, yet I can count how many country walks had happened over five years on my fingers. I let the pace of life truly take over and had let my personality as well as my happiness fade slowly.
I’m probably the only person to say this, but for me on a personal level, I needed this lockdown to re-evaluate the important things in my life. I allowed my health and work-life balance to take a hit prior to this but thanks to the lockdown I’ve been able to slow it all down and rearrange my priorities. I also gave up smoking. I suspect the whirlwind of city life has happened to a lot of people. Getting stuck in a warp of long shifts, events we don’t really want to attend and general exhaustion has an effect on all of us. Take your time to be present. Be who you really want to be. Do what you really want to do. Hopefully the rest should fall into place ☺