I remain unsure about my relationship to London. It's a love/hate relationship of sorts, and it'd be folly to downplay the impact it's had on me. Leaving was surprisingly easy, but when I visited last week I quickly realised that returning wasn't particularly so. It might seem strange to compare London to an addiction, but somehow it feels pretty appropriate - particularly since relapsing is often said to be part of recovery. Here's an account of the three stages of relapse I experienced when visiting for work last week.
It was a sunny Monday morning when I landed at Heathrow, six months to the day since I'd left. I felt nothing at all. Not a single thing - almost as though I'd never left. But the night before I was near hyperventilating, scared that I'd feel as though I belonged in London without really have anything to do there (this wasn't helped by the fact that all my meetings were booked at the very last minute). I only had one meeting that day, and once it finished that feeling crept back. I got on the tube during rush hour, and once a notoriously resilient commuter, I now had to control my breathing to fight back an anxiety attack. I was overwhelmed by the crowd and the crowded space, and getting on the wrong tube really didn't help.
An adrenalin junkie's fix
Over the next two days I ticked off six meetings with PR agencies, top tier journos, VCs and influencers. It was bloody great. I love my job, I love talking about why I love it and incidentally, the two are often the same. All very meta, I know. Anyway, it was two stressful days and I was pumped from eating very little food (not purposefully, I might add) and having some fantastic conversations. I battled through crowds on the streets of London as I rushed from one meeting to the next, and again, it was as though I'd never left. I got my fix and actually felt high in a way only an adrenalin junkie and/or a workaholic does. I started questioning my decision to leave London, a place where I learned from and worked alongside world experts in my field. Thankfully I was staying with my mentor - one of said experts - who successfully brought me back down to earth.
Feelings of gratitude
On the third day, my snot was black. It's as gross as it sounds, and Londoners will know what I mean. I went running in the morning and quickly realised why Mayor Khan recently warned Londoners against exercising in the outdoors. It made me think of my new hometown, its beautiful parks and the fact that I cycle everywhere. I cycled everywhere in London too, but out of resilience and high stamina as opposed to it being thoroughly enjoyable, or the city being easy to navigate around. Being on a crowded tube that morning also made me remember how lonely I often felt in London, a city populated by 8.5 million people. Perhaps amazingly, I've made a number of close friends in Malmö in just a few months time. Those are the thoughts that were running through my head after I landed from my high the days before.
To quote Samantha Jones (lol) I love London, but I love myself more. London is wonderful for the young, the wealthy and the hustlers, but to have the best experience I think you have to be two out of three. At one point I was both young and a hustler, but London aged me prematurely. Consequently I'm not as young and naive as I once was, and although I did give adult life in London a real working chance, I'm happy I got out when I did. And I'm even happier that I get to return every now and again for work and some quick fixes of adrenalin.