19 June 2020

Contemplating 'normality'

My daily soundtrack has been very different, the last two and a half months. From energetic work out music, 'How to Fail' podcasts and train announcements, it's become wood pigeons, the trickle of a fountain and Absolute Radio (my parents love the 80s).

My days are set out differently, too. From 6.35 gym workouts, meal prepping and evenings of meet ups or Netflix, to 7.45 wake ups, lunches cooked leisurely on the hob and weekend afternoons lost in a book.

When we went into lockdown, I wasn't someone who mourned for the loss of normality - I was relieved. I had adapted my life into something that was manageable, not something that was comfortable. I was walking around in a pair of tight fitting jeans that I couldn't take off even when I went to bed. I felt constantly squeezed. Squeezed of time. Squeezed of money. Squeezed of personal space. And this is coming from someone who is self aware, does therapy, and knows how to say 'no'.

But I was relieved. It was like a weight had been lifted. Suddenly I could exhale, and inhabit the world on my terms. Life had been turned upside down but I was breathing slower, easier.

I now savour my night-time skincare regime. I sleep for longer. I've rediscovered the joy of reading. I have evening baths. I take solo walks. I snack less. I stretch more. I've treasured the time to focus on me, which is a luxury I know not everyone has had.

Not that I haven't had days and weeks where it's all felt too overwhelming and I've cried and wished this all to be over. But I think the good, for me, has outweighed the bad.

And now, I'm looking to the future. I'm contemplating how I return to 'normality' in London. My job and income remains the same; my friends and boyfriend remain there; but everyone seems to considering their place, too. So how do I fit in?

But therein lies another problem. The squeezing, too, of life in London. Not sure where I fit because so much relies on place - the workplace, where you call home, your friends, where you stand in the gym, and even on the tube (because really, who ever manages to get a seat?).

I did an exercise, once, with my therapist, where she asked me to place a number of items (buttons, pebbles, coins), each representing a person in my life, according to my relationship with them. I placed myself last. I didn't even think it was strange. It was only when she pointed out that most people put themselves first, and then arrange everyone else around them, that I realised I constantly saw myself in relation to other people, instead of the other way around.

So I need to contemplate 'normality' a little differently. My return to London will be London 2.0, after nearly 7 years of living there. My extended break has been a blessing in disguise which has allowed me the physical and mental space that I didn't know I needed. I can begin to consider my place in London and how it might fit me, rather than the other way around.

Not that it will be easy. Samuel Johnson said 'when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life', but never really considered that London itself is tiring. It's relentless and simultaneously ever changing. It's a wealth of opportunities out of reach, and full of promises it doesn't keep. Without you knowing, it can pick away at your energy levels.

But it's also wonderful. A melting pot of creativity and ideas and freedom that anything goes. It's where I discovered food; where I interned at incredible publications; where I've met the best (and, admittedly, the worst) people; where I've learned to fend for myself; and where I've fallen in love. I've become my truest self in London.

I'll continue to contemplate. I feel reassured knowing that when I return, London will be different, too. It's had to take a step back and reassess the day-to-day, just as we have. So I don't mourn for the loss of London's normality, either. Maybe it's for the best.
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