Whenever someone asks where I'm from and I tell them "London", it's met with some kind of admiration, as if I've done something impressive by being born and raised in the capital. I found this so often in a previous job, where I worked with people who had travelled from all over Europe and beyond to follow their London pipe dream. People who left everything behind and accepted living in a grotty house-share and working in a monotonous, barely minimum wage paying job because their belief in London's artistic, multi-cultural makeup was so strong. They're right; London is, in many ways, full of spirit, opportunity and culture and that was something I used to feel proud of. I used to be unable to imagine living anywhere else and didn't see what other cities could offer to rival it; but that was before I'd really travelled, before I'd seen other cities and how they differ firsthand and considered that maybe London isn't where I belong.
When you're young and growing up in London, your imagination runs wild with visions of working in a fabulous job, living in a luxury riverside apartment and meeting friends for dinner and drinks after work. Everything is on your doorstep and London will be your playground; all you're waiting for is the freedom that comes with growing up. No one tells you how hard it'll be to find a job; how your friends now might not turn out to be your friends later on; how living in practically any part of the city is extortionate and, if you're lucky enough to get a graduate job, your wage will barely cover your rent. How, actually, you're going to be so exhausted from the gruelling commute to and from work that there's never time for mid-week plans. No one tells you you'll be living in a bubble of toxic air pollution that you shouldn't be breathing in. I know I'm privileged and lucky to have grown up in a city that offers so much which I have benefited from, but I can't remember the last time I went away and actually looked forward to coming home. In fact, the most recent time I drove back in London after a weekend in the Irish countryside, the sight of the city filled me with dread and a horrible, numb, lost feeling like I shouldn't be here.
In the past two years, I've been to eight cities and counting. Eight cities that made me realise there's always more to discover; that who you think you are and how you're supposed to live isn't always right. London hasn't changed, but I have. Despite always believing I was going to be a city-slicker career girl with a packed social calendar, maybe that's not who I am or who I want to be. I don't want to bookend my working day with an hour of being crushed on the tube and the anxiety that comes with it. I don't want to live in a city where I'm constantly plaguing my lungs with inescapable dirty air and resenting every breath. I feel it when I catch a glimpse of my angry faced reflection in the tube window when I'm being shoved on the northern line; when I can't concentrate on anything because I'm daydreaming about beaches and open spaces and when I'm sitting on a bus in the second hour of my journey home cursing latest rail strike.
I know the grass is always greener and overall I'm a very lucky person, but I've outgrown this city and the dreams and expectations I used to have for it. Whenever I leave London, I feel a physical weight lift from my shoulders and the pent up anger and anxiety I feel bubbling every day disappears. I've found a happier, relaxed version of myself from travelling that I just can't access when I'm here, that I can only explore somewhere new. Maybe happiness doesn't lie elsewhere, but new challenges and a break from this robotic routine do. The concept of uprooting and moving somewhere new is absolutely terrifying, but it's the first thing in ages to offer me the kind of excitement I've been craving. I admit defeat: London has chewed me up, swallowed me down and spat me back out.