Money

Starting to start over

I’ve officially started over. I’m in a new city, in a new house, with two new jobs and a bundle of freelance work. It is terrifying and exhilarating and also very, very ordinary.

Having lost a home and had an awful experience with my last job, it feels incredibly good to be working again and being out of my parents’ home, able to support myself again. The moment I moved in to my new teeny-tiny room in a beautiful, welcoming shared home, a huge weight of anxiety lifted and a level of self-respect that I hadn’t realised I had lost returned in a rush. Starting my new jobs felt positive – challenging but rewarding having responsibility again and great to have some structure to my time again. And both in my new place and in my new jobs, I’ve been really lucky to meet interesting and supportive people.

The initial rush of starting over was quickly tempered by the daunting reality I’m facing. I’ve moved to a city I know slightly, and I’ve been lucky enough to move in with a friend of a friend, so things are a little familiar rather than completely strange and new. I also know several people in the city already, although I’ve never simply ‘hung out’ with them because my life was somewhere else. So I have a little head start in making a life here. But once the boxes are unpacked and the madness of moving fades, you realise you actually have to build a life in this place, for yourself, by yourself. You have to make things happen, otherwise all you’re going to do is shuffle between home and work. You have to go out there and make a world for yourself.

That’s a huge task to face alone. Even with friends around you, you still have to do it alone. I literally don’t really know how to start and have kind of had to get comfortable with the idea that I just need to put myself in certain places and then let life go from there. Joining classes and a sports club have been my initial forays, and actually talking to people when I’m there rather than just shuffling in and out. It’s been a push, but each time I’ve felt better.

My housemate has been amazing; we’ve been out a couple of times and she’s invited me out to various parties to meet her friends. It’s intense meeting so many new people in such a short time – it can simultaneously feel like you’ve come so far that you’re creating a whole new life and that you’ve isolated yourself so much that you’re surrounded by strangers.

I’ve also been trying to figure out how to develop the friendships I have already in this city, turning occasional socialising into hanging out. It’s really hard, because on the one hand, you’re potentially asking a lot of people – just because you want to spend more time with people, it doesn’t mean they want to spend more time with you! And I’m also conscious I’m currently learning to be alone after eleven years of always having someone there by my side – and that can mean I am asking too much of people, as I look for ways to not be alone at moments when in fact I should be.

It’s an intense learning process; how to build a life, where the boundaries are between you and others, how to live life alone rather than always thinking for two. And it’s peppered with moments of very cruel lucidity, where you see your current life with your old eyes. For instance, thinking about the fact I’ve crammed the remnants of what was a loving household into a tiny room in a shared home leaves me feeling winded with shock. But the key thing is that it’s shock at the scale of the change, rather than regret. I wasn’t happy in my old life. It wasn’t working. It fell apart. As huge as starting over is, it is better than the alternative.

Survival Techniques: Creating Sanity

So the big move has happened. Our little household is now officially dispersed across a small portion of the south of England. Half our stuff is in storage, half of it is stacked up in two rooms at my parents’ house and the random detritus we need to get through everyday life is following us around in wheelie suitcases.

Perhaps more significantly, half of ‘us’ is sleeping on an airbed in Haggerston while the other half is adjusting to life at said parents’ house. All the stuff that’s gravitated to us over the years could be a million miles away and we’d still have that sense of having a home in the world just by sharing the same space – home really is something you weave between you and those close to you. So yes, it’s the fact that we’re in different places that means ‘home’ has become a nebulous idea at the moment.

Combine that with a) facing the world without a plan for the first time in over a decade and b) the unavoidable horrors of moving back in with your parents in your mid-thirties and you’ve got a recipe for a pretty gloomy outlook, no matter how short-term your sojourn is set to be. The highs of having no rent, no bills and a chance to start again from scratch are almost always rapidly followed by crushing lows which turn freedom into loss, conscious, careful decisions into stupid mistakes and hope for the future into failures and fairy-dust. The next few weeks are going to be bumpy to say the least.

I saw that coming. These emotional tsunamis are not a surprise – not that this makes them any easier to ride out. But what this expectation has allowed me to do is to come up with a survival strategy to help me get through the next few weeks and months, a sort of emergency raft to stop me sinking into a paralysing despair.

It’s simple really. It’s giving myself space and time to be creative. That’s it. Simply dedicating some proper time to pursue my creative interests seriously, rather always leaving them as the last thing on a never-ending To Do list. I’m not talking about becoming a ‘serious’ artist, or about making money from what I do – I’m not kidding myself about my abilities! I’m talking about staying sane, staying calm, being happy, by creating something you would like to see in the world. I’ve spent years putting work first and squeezing all the other things I do into the life left over – and that hasn’t paid off or made for something that feels like a good life. So now I’m going to try and swing the scales the other way – put what I love to do at the centre of everything and work around the edges to support that centre.

This is easier said than done right now, but it feels like the only sure way to get through the trauma of changing everything all at once and still preserving the parts of who you are that you love. So to get things going even though my world is here, there and everywhere, I’m starting off with some structured creative space.

First, there’s this blog – which is still an embryonic creature to me, no idea what it will grow into. Then, I’m making my way through codecademy.com courses, so I can start getting stuff out there in interesting ways. And I’ve just started an online course at The Poetry School, ten weeks of writing and sharing poems with other people, something I haven’t done in years. A bit of structured space to let my mind run riot – with any luck, these things will keep me sane at an insane moment.