You see that girl staring forlornly up at the tube map, with her wild, rain splattered hair? That was me not so long ago. Freshly arrived in London and fantastically overwhelmed.
I often wonder what I would like to tell three-years-ago me. What little nuggets of been-there-done-that-made-it-out-alive wisdom would I have found useful?
Instead of letting these thoughts mull around in my head, I decided to write them all down in a little note to myself from three years ago. I hope that someone, somewhere might find this useful.
Dear London New-Comer,
Welcome! You’ve made it to one of the greatest cities on earth. These streets, steeped in history, this familiarly foreign skyline, the hidden warrens of alleyways and snickleways (that’s a word!) – they’re all yours now. This churning, endless, restless cacophony of sights, sounds and smells lays open before you, waiting to be explored. I’m sure right now you’re seized by the wonder of such a place, but there may be days when the sky feels heavy and the train ride longer than usual and you just feel like a little of the magic has disappeared. For those days, I want to encourage you-
You will feel overwhelmed and that’s ok.
Don’t worry, we all were. We all are. Throwing yourself into something as larger-than-life as London is bound to be overwhelming. Just because people rarely admit that they felt this way too doesn’t mean they didn’t. I think you forget. The longer you’ve lived here, the more the city erodes your pre-London edges and fills in the corners of your eyes. You forget what it’s like to be new and fresh and excited and overwhelmed. But there’s nothing wrong with feeling a little (or a lot) overwhelmed. It won’t last forever.
You will get tired of it and that’s ok.
Let me tell you one thing about London – it is never ending. That is both a good thing and a bad thing. It’s good because there is always something happening. It’s bad because there is always something happening. Moving countries, continents, cities, house – that is all incredibly tiring. Add to that the emotionally draining task of constantly meeting new people, finding your way around and figuring out how to do life in a new place and you’re in for your fair share of utter exhaustion.
Don’t feel like you have to do everything at once. You don’t need to rush out and conquer London in your first month (must climb to the top of St Paul’s, must cycle round Hyde Park, must go to sky garden, must see every show in the West End). Your soul and your wallet will be thankless wastelands if that’s your approach. You live here now, take the city slowly.
You will feel lonely, but you’ll find your people.
I am going to let you in on a little secret, London is a lonely place. Ironic isn’t it? With over 8 million people buzzing in and out of our streets you’d think ‘lonely’ would be one of her lesser characteristics. Sadly not. But – there is always a but- you will find your people.
Truth be told, it might take longer than you thought, but don’t settle for subpar friendships in a haste to make friends. Don’t sell yourself short to fit in, don’t waste money on things you don’t need or at places you don’t like to make an impression. Stick to your guns, hold onto your integrity, rest in your patience, seek out the things and the people that make you feel comfortable and accepted. They’re out there.
You don’t have to say yes to everything.
This is what people will tell you to do- ‘Say yes to everything, go to every event you can and you’ll meet people’ and it works, but it is also incredibly tiring. Remember that you need time and space and saying ‘yes’ to everything may burn you out rather than build you up. Pick your events carefully, ease into friendships, find your own way. It is OK to take things slowly.
Your first winter will be the worst. And then it gets better.
No ones likes rain and cold, especially if you’re a sun-loving creature from the southern hemisphere. But it does get better. You learn how to dress for the weather and figure out to make your home cosy. And if you’re anything like me, you might find yourself growing quite fond of the crisp cold. And the best bit? It’s not winter all the time. Armed with a woollen hat, there’s no stopping you.
Sometimes all it takes is a little bit of ‘me too’.
Though you may feel like it, you’re not the only one who feels this way. You’re not the only one who has days where thoughts like ‘What the hell have I done!?’ slam into your head like the central line at a ‘no stop’ station. You’re not the only one who is lonely. Sometimes all you need is a little ‘me too’ and a friendship is born right before your eyes. Secretly we’re all stumbling around blindly, looking for the ‘adult’ in this situation.
You don’t have to feel bad when you have no plans on the weekend.
“You mean you’re not going to the latest and greatest pop up just down the road? How could you live for a year in London and not do this and that!? Why don’t you just hop on a plane to Europe?” You’ll quickly find that quiet, ‘nothing’ weekends are not the norm in this chaotic city. But sometimes (read ‘often’ in my case) they’re top of your list.