I took an even bigger plunge and started applying for jobs in London. I knew that Sally, my best friend Lucy’s mum, lived in Surrey and that she occasionally took in lodgers. She also worked in London, so I knew it was not terrible commuting distance, and figured it was a good place to start while I got settled in my new London life. When I was offered a copywriting job at a small e-commerce company, I contacted Sally and she said she would be delighted to have me. It would only be temporary, I assured her.
Living the Surrey/London commuter life was quite the adjustment at first. I was used to living half an hour walking distance from work, but now I was having to walk 15 minutes to the station, take a 35 minute train to Clapham Junction, and then take the Overground to get to my new place of work. Overall, I was spending 3 hours a day on travrel (more if there were disruptions, which there often were). It completely wiped me out. But, looking on the bright side: my boyfriend was now only a 25-minute drive away on the M25, rather than over 3 hours on the M1, and I was finally getting my foot in the door to a career I wanted.
Except it wasn’t that simple; nothing ever is. The job I landed ended up being worse than the one I left. Although I was gaining experience in a career that was (somewhat) relevant to my degree, the atmosphere was toxic and my boss was a bully. No way was I going to stay in another job that made me anxious and cry everyday, so I had to re-strategize. I gave 6 months to that job before deciding to pursue a Master’s degree in something I really loved: Creative Writing. I had spent a couple of years doing creative writing workshops to flex my creative muscles and escape from unfulfilling jobs, so I thought why not commit a year to honing my craft?
I got into the University of Surrey in Guildford, handed in my notice, took a part-time job at pub near my house, and started over. Again.
Doing my Master’s was great – I got to meet writers and fellow students from all over the world, and it gave me time to really focus on my craft. I even got to go to a class where Monica Ali (!!!) taught us about character building and how to refine the opening of your book. I wasn’t super enthused about working in a pub again but, I rationalised; there are worse places to work than a village pub, and at least I wouldn’t have to spend money on travel since it was so nearby.
What I underestimated was how lonely and isolated I would feel. Because I was a commuting student, I felt a degree of separation from the rest of my classmates. Colleagues and punters in the pub had all known each other since forever, and I never felt like I was part of the crowd. Plus, my boyfriend and I only saw each other on weekends still, despite living in much closer proximity to each other.
The new year of 2018 rolled around, and it brought on a lot of change. My relationship ended, for one, as it became increasingly clear that my ex and I were not on the same wavelength. I changed jobs, managing to find a part-time Marketing Admin role at a small company, splitting my time between Epsom and Wimbledon. The increase in pay and job satisfaction made the commute bearable. I was still feeling lonely and isolated, so I decided that it was time to commit to therapy. I found a private therapist in Ashtead, who gave me a lower hourly rate because I was a student.
By the time March rolled around, I had accidentally spent a year in Ashtead. My situation was no longer temporary, and I had to accept that living here was my new normal.
It wasn’t all bad. In fact, I kind of liked having a degree of separation from London at times. I liked having a garden, a room in a spacious loft, and a little old dog. Sally was very kind to me, always knew when to give me space, and I liked not having to live with a stranger. In a sense, it kind of felt like family. My mum had also moved back to the UK from Paris, to provide me with some motherly support in the wake of my break up. She found a nannying job with a family in Wimbledon, and it was nice having her closeby again.
Things weren’t perfect, but I was starting to feel much better. The therapy helped, as did dedicating much of my week to writing. My Master’s never felt like ‘work’ because I was doing something I loved. My new Marketing job also felt like it came at the perfect time, and it felt nice to be appreciated. I even started to dabble in dating.
By the end of summer, things took a bit of a turn. I was on study leave as I worked through my dissertation, and pressure at work started to build up. My relationship with my mother started to become fraught, as I was trying to balance living my own life against her expectations of me. I started dating (and very nearly fell in love with) a man who constantly manipulated me and made me second guess myself. All of this cumulated up until a solo trip I took to Greece. I had booked the trip earlier in the year because I hadn’t been on holiday for a couple of years, and I thought it would be a great opportunity to celebrate completing my Master’s.
Greece was… an experience. I had a great time overall, but I’d be lying if I said it was fun all the time. During this time, my anxiety and depression had peaked to levels I had never seen before, and everyday was a challenge in setting that all aside while I bonded with new people as we explored the islands of Greece. By the end of the trip, however, it did provide me with a clarity I had never experienced before.
When I got back from Greece, I spent a whole weekend in bed as I recovered from an intense week. On the Monday, I decided to go for a run. I went on a few runs that week, actually. I also went to see Heather’s The Musical, as a post-holiday treat. By the time I went back to work the following Monday, I felt like an entirely new person. Everything felt easier. I can’t explain exactly how or why, but it’s like a switch went off in my brain and suddenly everything felt clearer and I didn’t have a massive weight on my shoulders. I started doing stand up comedy, and I decided to go on a crazy adventure where I go on 26 dates before I turn 26…
Fast forward to now. I’m in a new job that I love, where I’m trusted and respected, and finally have leeway to move closer to London. I’m currently sitting in my new room in East Dulwich, and life feels better than it ever has. I have friends on my doorstep and possibilities seem endless.
The past two years in Ashtead have been tough, but they were necessary. I felt lonely, but I think the solitude forced me to look deeper, to really work on myself and figure out what I want, and more importantly, what I don’t. Sally’s home in Ashtead provided me the safety net I needed to grow, and it wasn’t always comfortable, but it was crucial to building who I am today.
Things aren’t perfect, they never will be – I had a couple of panic attacks back in April and have had some periods of low moods – but I feel much better equipped at dealing with it now. I’m so grateful for the past two years, the good and the bad, however I’m so looking forward to what’s to come. I was anxious, at first. Change can be scary. But no one has gotten anywhere by staying in their comfort zone, right?