Is living in the city worth it?

Before the lockdown, most of my time was spent planning the next escape, putting the plan into action or transitioning between the two.

First, it was escaping addiction. The stranglehold of alcoholism had begun to suffocate me. Next, was escaping the debt that felt like a ball and chain holding me back. Finally, freedom from restrictive behaviours put me in a position to escape the rat race for a short while and travel. The lockdown exposed that without the ability to escape, I was miserable. The only thing that made me happy was escaping the life that I used to do the things that made me happy. The pursuit of happiness through the external is a thankless task. A cyclic pursuit that never relinquishes. The lockdown laid bare the need for escape. It magnified the NOW and forced me to take stock. I didn’t like what I saw, the rat race had become a rat trap.

For years, I had accepted the grind as part of a bigger idea. And my happiness was a worthy sacrifice to this progress. The lockdown was a yellow flag to the rat race. It made me slow down. It gave me enough space to ask some pertinent questions about life. Was it what I wanted? To bustle through the city to pay an inflated mortgage or extortionate rent? Was there enough to keep me in the grind? Or would a move to a quieter area be more beneficial?

I’d moved to London nearly eight years ago to complete my PGCE. The intention was then to move on and travel whilst teaching. Unfortunately, the move to London coincided with my peak alcoholism. The debt I accrued from funding the alcohol-fuelled life, was a bind that restricted my options. I was lucky enough to land a job that would help me pay off the debt and eventually travel. But now that is finished, the question “What do I want to do next?” has reared its head. Do I want city life? The peace in the lockdown was a taster for a life I would prefer. The chaos has lost its appeal. The birds singing and the silence was a welcome reminder that beyond this materialistic life is reality. Beyond the chaos is the peace I seek in the things I buy. The lockdown shook me and made me question the pursuit of the fake. It was the first time, in a long time that I felt alone. Isolated. Surrounded by things but devoid of meaning.

In total , 45% of adults feel occasionally, sometimes or often lonely in England. This equates to twenty five million people.

During the easing of the lockdown, I travelled to my home town. Standing on the platform of the train station I had been to numerous times, I reflected on the first time I left town to pursue something. When I was eighteen I left the area to move 400 miles for an engineering apprenticeship. I wondered if that young man would be happy to see me now? Would he be proud of the adventure and the sobriety? I am sure he would be happy to be comfortable in his own skin. What was that young man looking for? What was it that drove him onwards? Twenty-one years later, the burning ambition has dwindled and the outer chaos he sought to reflect the inner chaos he felt is no longer welcome. It must be my age. As I approach forty, peace is preferable.

London gave me what I needed. It sorted me out and sent me to my dreams but now a future of quiet reflection is desirable. It isn’t achievable there. The rents and house prices are too high. The chaos is too persistent. I was happy to share a house when I was saving to travel but now it has lost its appeal. I would like a garden, no matter how small but it is a luxury I cannot afford.

The lockdown exposed my real human needs; love, connection and social inclusion. I don’t feel a sense of society amongst the hustle and bustle of the city. I just feel like another drone marching to work, dreaming of change but deluded by a preconception of success. I am at a fork in the road. One leads to change and one is the continuation of the same. The status quo is comforting. The uncertain future spikes my anxiety but a continuation of the same spikes my depression. It is a quandary.

I returned from travelling on the 9th February 2020. The lockdown started in the UK on the 23rd of March 2020. From six months of freedom to isolation. The enforced reflection highlighted that I lived for escape. That the trips out of the city were the things that kept me in the city. It seems illogical. To continue doing something I don’t enjoy, to live in a place I don’t enjoy under the hope that a couple of weeks a year away will be enough to offset it now seems like a form of self-punishment. I can’t unknow that.

With no escape through travel available during the lockdown, I instead fell into the consumption trap. Thankfully, not alcohol and drugs. I tried to find happiness through hoarding. Or as it’s more commonly known “retail therapy.” It only offered temporary relief. The new soon became old. The highs returned to lows. The answer? Do it again! Buy something else!! The question “Why?” brings no relief as there isn’t a reason. It is an addiction. It is Escaping reality through external stimuli. I have been doing that my whole life it would seem. And unhappy in the process! I have been running on the hedonic treadmill and complaining about being tired of it! The only logical solution is to step off. But there is an underlying fear. A pang of guilt even for not wanting to participate in that lifestyle. It makes me feel ungrateful for not indulging in all that life has to offer. Even though I have tried and usually ended up feeling worse for it. It really is no wonder I get depressed! I sometimes do wish I didn’t ask so many questions about life. I imagine it would be easier if I just did what I was told and got on with it. Instead of pondering the alternatives… although Socrates did say “an unexamined life is not worth living…” see what I mean?

What I have learned from the lockdown is that genuine connection is key. And to find a genuine connection I have to be genuine. I have to ask the question, is this me? Is this the life I want? The answer is NO. It is making me unhappy. I got dragged along by ideals. By a preconception that eventually life would get better if I just kept doing the same thing. The lockdown exposed this lie. Made me realise that there is far more to life than chaos and artificial stimuli. True connection and nature are where I feel at peace. It is time to pursue that path. It is time to change and create a life that aligns with my ideals.

Thanks for reading,

Charlie

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