The London Years: γνῶθι σεαυτόν (19 of 20)

Two things have tended to save my sanity over the years. First, writing. I think I’ve covered that sufficiently in these blog posts. Second, how over the top self analytical I am. I can tell you exactly how things hit, I can create a narrative about how things feel and why they are the way they are and I can come out the other end with a clear decision in my head without any second thoughts.

This, I discovered, is easier when you are younger.

Don’t know what’s going on? I’m leaving London soon so this is one of my 20 London stories – a celebration of 20 years of my life here.

I came to London when I was 22 with a self confidence that impresses even me now. I credit my mother’s Jedi mind tricks but there must have been something in my core too because I attacked life in London with a determination that knew no equal. But this is no Steve Jobs story. I was never obsessive, I was never a business school weirdo talking to you about goals, getting up at five and journaling. I just instinctively knew that everything I was doing took A LOT out of me and I expected to get A LOT in return.

I worked as hard as I could and paid attention. I did my studying part time, I changed jobs when I could, I did voluntary and freelance work to make sure I could build up my CV to break into tech. I endured a couple of shit jobs, I knew enough to leave comfortable but dead end jobs with lovely colleagues, I kept my mouth shut when I was bullied – which I don’t regret. I eventually got into tech and finally found my tribe – working in the multinational environment I had dreamed of, doing stuff I was proud of, meeting incredible people.

London is fantastic if you want to work hard. It’s not just about the work culture of an advanced economy – even though that’s invaluable for those of us coming from more… challenging backgrounds. It’s mainly about the sheer size. Not that it’s not an old boys club or that the rich kids don’t get a leg up. They do. I could never afford being an unpaid intern for example so some things took me years when they’ve taken others months. But the city is also incredibly big and has more opportunities and I was sufficiently privileged to find a way, not to mention LUCKY.

People who work hard always seem to credit the sweat of their brow and their genius for their achievements but let me tell you, London taught me otherwise. There are hundreds of thousands of talented people here who work hard, same as I do. I know, I’ve met some of them. Some were also lucky. Some, were not. Some faced a lot more challenges than I did because of their skin colour or their story or their sexual orientation. Because yes, London is incredibly liberal compared to other places but discrimination still exists. So you know, I count my blessings.

Because let me tell you, as together I’ve been in my work and my studies, I’ve also been a moving disaster zone when it comes to my personal life. For the life of me, I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone as prone to dramatic personal relationship arcs as me. I wish I could tell you I grew out of that crap but actually I don’t think people change that much. What happened was that I learned to manage.

London is a good and a bad place to be in when you are an emotional mess. I could not get out in the middle of the night, drive to a favourite spot and just wait for daybreak. There were practical considerations – no car for one. So, you know, doesn’t matter how much you’d like to gaze at the stars all night crying cause next morning you gotta get up early to catch the tube so eventually you have to give up.

But the city did give me something far more valuable. It enriched my inner life so significantly that I build up my core defences a lot more. Nostalgia hitting hard? That’s fine, I have tickets to the Opera where I can legitimately cry my eyes out and be introspective for an evening. Boyfriend being a dick? That’s fine, I’m going to watch Ibsen today. (By the way Ibsen is the most certain route to realising that there’s worse out there because in Ibsen’s plays it’s always the fucking worst that’s happening.) Feeling lonely? Who cares, I’m just starting a new job. Messed up a relationship? Damn it, at least my research is going well.

The point is that in London I could KEEP MOVING.

Perpetual movement appeals to me. There’s always another book to read, another game to play, another job to go to, another restaurant to try. And London is paradise to people like me because things happen all the time and all communities are big. Not to mention transitory. So you do lose people but you also get to meet new people – as long as you accept some of the London peculiarities.

Some people helped me and some hindered me. In the main we allow people to affect us in certain ways. The only exception to that rule are abusers, scum of the earth who prey on others. And while I met one of those and he tried hard to control me, I eventually showed him the finger. Took me a while to feel safe again but the city once more came to my rescue. My housemates, my job, the art, the new friends. I thrived and sometimes that’s all you need. It’s not even revenge because what revenge would ever be sufficient or even necessary against repugnant dicks? I reclaimed my spaces and my favourite spots, I stopped socialising with unsupportive mates and moved on.

And then I fell into a sort of rhythm. I travelled a lot for work, I found Antonis, I knew what I liked and could do it. The city became a bit of a lovely playground. New places opened up and I discovered new things. That could have been the point to stop but no, this girl had to KEEP MOVING. And that’s when I got pregnant.

Motherhood is a psychological bomb that – at my age – you have created and set yourself. There is no claiming that societal pressure made me do it. There is no claiming that I was too young and didn’t know what I was doing. I did it myself and I can tell you that it took me a couple of years to have actual fun with the kid and to be able to say to myself “ah, this is the good stuff, right, I had no idea”.

But again, the city helped me and it did so in practical terms (because patronising misogyny especially when you become a mother is rife the world over). There were play groups, there were parks, my mother and my step dad could rent a flat and have health insurance and be here to help us out. There were high chairs in every restaurant, there were ways to travel with the kid, loads of information online to help you prepare.

I was also – again – lucky. The way I wanted to work as a mother was possible and I was working for someone who did not question me. My parents were able to come and help us out. And Antonis turned out to be a full time, dedicated and complete father – which as I’ve mentioned, you don’t actually know before you have the kid.

I did have a wobble after I had Philip. It was the first time in my life I could not make a decision. I would get up in the morning, try to talk to myself about myself and I’d come up against specific questions I could not answer. That’s enraging to someone like me. I called some friends – asked them about their choices. I read a couple of books. I even spoke to a therapist, that’s how monumental I found my inability to take a clear and absolute decision. And then, I let it go… I just… somehow made my peace with that part of me that only the kid revealed to me and that’s also progress.

You might expect this post to say that I’ve mellowed. That over my 20 years in London I’ve had my fill of the wonder of the city and I yearn to settle down with my wonderful husband and adorable child. That I look back at the determined little know it all I was and smile beatifically. That London is now a hectic place I visit here and there. That I stopped running around so much and discovered the magic of a quiet afternoon at home, my child signing harmonies with himself in the background.

Don’t make me laugh.

I think that’s my biggest revelation about myself. There is no mellowing. That’s what terrified me after having Philip and I couldn’t make a decision. Was that it? Had I lost the woman I was? No danger of that here mate. There is no changing the passion and the drama. There is no changing how I manage my life and my relationships, there can be no movie-like change of heart. There is growth, yes, there is maturity. There is knowledge of ways to manage the crazy, but finally, fucking finally, I absolutely love the crazy.

The crazy is why this city did not beat me, how I rode it’s waves, how I found the little corners where I could breathe. I did not get here despite the crazy, I got here because of the crazy.

I can’t fucking wait to get back here on holiday, put on my dr. Martens and take the kid out to a concert in Camden. I can’t fucking wait to take him to the ballet the next day. I need no permission and I never did because this place SHIELDED me and I got to be me, completely, irrevocably, sometimes apologetically (cause we all need to do that from time to time) but actually me.

How the fuck can I ever repay that debt?

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My #20LondonStories

  1. Grexit/ Brexit 
  2. The way to anyone’s heart is through the stomach
  3. The night bus 
  4. Words save our lives… sometimes 
  5. The rest is noise 
  6. How not to bite your nails in the Officials’ Box 
  7. Always have a sister 
  8. Greek London 
  9. This green and pleasant land 
  10. The bridge of aspiration 
  11. The knight in well travelled armor 
  12. Carpets in the toilet and other adventures in housing
  13. Moments in Art 
  14. The NHS hunger games 
  15. In nocte consilium
  16. The friends we found, the friends we lost
  17. Blogging tips for beginners 
  18. Lord of Gondolin, Bane of Gothmog, mighty beater of his headboard, conqueror of the slide, aka our child
  19. γνῶθι σεαυτόν
  20. How to leave London

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