It’s 2018, day one. I wake up in this room that smells like me, now. A mixture of my perfume, my washing powder, my oldest shoes and my newest hormones. Inhaling feels like breathing in peace. The bed has indentations from the curves of my body, and there’s a mark where I absent-mindedly turned the straightener on before I made my morning coffee some months ago. That’s the wrong way round, that bit of the ritual. The coffee I make to place on the window ledge while I get ready and look out onto the London skyline goes before the straightener, but after the hairdryer.
These four wonky, not new and not perfect walls make up my fortress, and my funny little routine within them is my solace, in this flat where I so effortlessly dance with those who also occupy it in a rhythm that is full of familiarity, of ease. Our rickety house, with the tired new parents downstairs, the curtains that don’t match the cushions, and the food cupboards that are never full of anything, really. Turning the key and walking in the door is one delicious sigh of relief, even though nothing beyond it is luxurious, or particularly Instagram worthy. To us three, it all makes perfect sense.
It is right here, in this place where society says no 30-something woman (let alone three of them) should be content, that I feel most content.
The plastic sofa (cheers, landlord) where I sit and type isn’t overly comfortable but is full of our secrets; our hilarious, stupid moments of everything and nothing, our ridiculous fears uttered at 9pm on an idle Wednesday after two glasses of red. It is right here, in this place where society says no 30-something woman (let alone three of them) should be content, that I feel most content.
I am emotionally a million miles from where I was a year ago, living a life that felt so damaged. It looked like I had all the pieces, but instead of fitting together they were slowly, surely, and then more starkly, more dramatically, pulling me under.
I had acknowledged similar feelings before, and taken some bold steps to address them. But I didn’t head to the source(s). I daren’t. It was staring me in the face, and I was running out of ways – and running out of reasons – to ignore it.
I kept on running, switching pace, trying a new tactic. I kept giving myself over, and over, and over again in different ways, instead of looking at why I was running in the first place.
And so I stripped. Completely naked (metaphorically, you understand), shedding fundamental parts of my life. There was not a sudden dramatic epiphany, the way the films suggest – this had all been… lurking, drawing closer, like the slow rumble of a stampede for many months, possibly years. I had kept on running, switching pace, trying a new tactic. I had given myself over, and over, and over again in different ways, instead of looking at why I was running in the first place. 30 years of doing a whole lot of living (and a whole lot of running) is enough to know that it wasn’t supposed to be – and didn’t need to be – so hard. It’s not meant to hurt so much.
It was terrifying, removing all the layers of myself, but by the time I did it I didn’t feel I had much to lose. It doesn’t mean that I wasn’t aware of my own privilege, or that I didn’t have a fantastic career, or indeed a fantastic life. But that also doesn’t mean that the wheels weren’t falling off.
The only way we can really give to others is by first giving to ourselves.
So I began again. I worked slowly, from the ground up. I took the bones of myself and nursed them – re-centring, recharging. I’m not talking about wearing a charcoal face mask of a Friday evening and tagging it #selfcare; this was stark, and often ugly. I was kind to myself, but there was no self-pity. I only ever wallowed momentarily, before a big dose of perspective – and there’s always perspective – would make me take another step. I didn’t strive to be anything entirely new, I just strived to get back to myself. Home, but a different kind of home. Back to the flawed but vibrant human I am that has a lot to offer, actually. The one who embraces silliness, is spontaneous, decisive and loves to ugly laugh. It sounds indulgent, but I wanted to be able to positively affect those around me once more – and the only way we can really give to others is by first giving to ourselves.
It’s so tempting in these moments to fill the void – the overwhelming uncertainty, with noise. Temporary highs, frivolous spends that prevent you from staring your naked soul in the face. But I knew that I had to square up to it all, in the echo of the night and the silence of the morning. So I was protective over my own energy – who or what I gave it to, when I gave it to them. Steadily I increased the volume on the kind of noise that brought me closer to the life I wanted to live. I threw myself into carving a different kind of work life, one where I couldn’t coast through a day lost in my own head. One of the fundamental things I’d changed was my job, and while romanticising about who you want to ~be~ is lovely, it doesn’t allow for six months of reflection when you’ve got bills to pay. The work engaged my brain and stimulated my creativity, and everything else in my life had to move with it. Forwards. Through. Beyond.
Strangely, my type 1 diabetes became something of a comfort. As my world felt so in flux, the daily mundanity of knowing I had to get up, check my blood sugar and take my insulin was a routine and an accountability I needed. Through it all, my Omnipod sat right where it always was, ticking and clicking away, reminding me that I was indeed ticking along too.
The huge appetite for life that had faded has returned and the most delicious moments are often the simplest ones, and even sweeter for it.
And now there is life anew. It looks gentler but it’s more considered, it’s softer but more confident. I am not unchanged. I wanted to get back to myself, and I did – but a self with more experience, new lessons, and greater integrity. This city is home but the disarming rush of it is less appealing. The huge appetite for life that had faded has returned and the most delicious moments are often the simplest ones, and even sweeter for it. There is love everywhere. I have so much to give, again. And when I have a very average 3/10 day, as is entirely normal and completely unavoidable, I have my fortress to return to. My wonky, wonderful fortress filled with three wonky, wonderful souls.
I have steadily given myself (and everyone in my life) a human that is, for the most part, whole – and I’m not sure there is a greater gift than that. I’m in no way perfect; if anything I am even more aware of my faults and flaws. But I sleep soundly, and it no longer hurts to breathe. So if any of these words are resonating, for whatever reason, please dare to ask yourself if the race you’re running is the one you signed up for. Find a way – any way – of making yourself a priority, of listening to what your sad soul is telling you in the dead of night. You know, those hours when the world is silent, but all you can hear is screaming from within.
Ultimately, that big leap I took that felt like jumping off the ends of my Earth wasn’t so terrifying in the end, because my Earth is and always was here, within me. And in time – not quickly and not without effort – but at some point, rather suddenly and very tangibly, I realised I’d landed safely. It was more than ok – it was light and bright, and vivid and exciting. And wonky. But wonderful.