In the space of a year I went from having one of the best years of my life to the edge of clinical depression. All because I moved to London.
Education is my career choice, but I’m no classic ‘rising star’. I am not academically gifted and have always been an average student. Dyslexic, and burdened with an intellectual inferiority complex, academia seemed a poor choice, but I had faith in myself and remained persistent. So when my student loan was denied and I lost my masters place, you could expect things to get pretty bleak.
However, in the face of crumbling life plans and low wages, I was happy. I got a qualification in early years, started a band, and threw some of the best parties in Brighton. All while living in a house of the downtrodden, heartbroken, and addicted. Yet the following year, in the face of arguably better circumstances, I ended up on the brink of clinical depression. How did this happen?
London, that’s how!
As a friend once said “London is for the rich and the crazy” and I believe this to be true. If you’re not one, you’ll end up as the other (though those in both categories seem to be the most successful). At the risk of sounding morally superior, the speed at which you have to ‘sell out’ in London is phenomenal. Yes, we all know you’re only doing it “for a couple of years to pay the bills”, but here lies the problem. In order for you to pay the bills it seems you need to sell your soul to the very organisations that are inexcusably destroying the very fabric of our society, and this planet. That, or you scrape by on the fringes of society as so many of the forgotten do. As someone who has always struggled to deal with authority, the idea of working for a large company I felt morally opposed to was out of the question. I just can’t keep my mouth shut long enough.
London is like an open jam jar, and we are the doomed wasps. It smells so sweet from the outside, but once you’re in, you’re stuck. Like much of my generation, people are drawn to London with the best of intentions, hoping to work their way up and make a difference in the world. We just convince ourselves that after a few years in an accounting or advertising firm we’ll have a lucky break and get that job in an NGO we’ve always dreamed about. But those jobs are few and far between, hiding in the corners of this metropolistic maze.
And if you, like me, are one of the unexceptional masses, that job belongs to someone else. To those who could take unpaid internships funded by Daddy’s paycheck or, in the more positive cases, to the kind of people who spent university volunteering and setting up their own business. Those sickly folk. But Dad’s an average earner and Mum works just as hard for about 20% less. You spent University getting drunk and having fun, because you firmly believed them when they said a degree will get you the job you want.
Unfortunately for me, working in early years education and paying London rent, I didn’t even have the escape of a boozy weekend to drown out my feelings of inadequacy. Instead, while friends spoke of ‘exciting gigs’ and ‘great new bars’ I stayed at home with a few cans of beer, smoked heavily, and occasionally wept into my hands for no apparent reason.
It was around this time that “depression” was first mentioned to me, twice within the space of a week, once by my partner, and once by my dad. This really hit home. “No, not me!” I’d say, “I’m too positive!” I had convinced myself that what I believed to be my own personal brand of positive nihilism made me immune. But that’s not what depression is and that’s not how it works. It defies reason.
At this point, I already hated my job. I love working with children, but I had a few standoffs with management and things had soured. I had, however, been offered the opportunity to train to become an early years teacher and this was not a chance to be missed. My partner and I had spoken about moving away a number of times already (she too has struggled with depression in London, for many more years than I), but decided that we would stick it out for another year if I got onto the EYITT course. All I needed to do was pass my QTS skills tests. With the literacy test under my belt I studied hard to improve my maths abilities.
For me, maths is the most anxiety inducing of subjects and it was fueling my self-doubt. While I know I am fully capable of understanding the concepts; mental arithmetic and memorisation don’t come easy to me. When the test came, I failed by 4 marks. Gutted as I was, and crawling ever closer to the psychological precipice, this was in fact a moment of liberation. We decided that very night that we were leaving. Deciding where to go wasn’t hard (my partner had studied in Edinburgh and my mother is a Scot) and with Brexit just around the corner there seemed no better time to hightail it north. Real north.
When I first stepped foot in Edinburgh I felt like a child again. Years of anxiety were suddenly lifted from my shoulders and I literally ran around the parks in excitement. I was once again able to see the sky without having to look directly upwards! The hills filled me with life and I pointed towards Arthur’s Seat from about five different angles saying, “I like that!”. While the weather was a little brisker, what Scotland’s climate lacks in heat the people make up for in warmth. The loneliness and isolation I felt in London was gone, and I had just moved to a city in which I didn’t know a single person.
Since moving I’ve quit smoking, started drawing, (briefly) started jogging and no longer drink out of sadness. The pay isn’t as much as London, but it’s still good, and the lower cost of living easily makes up the difference. I was lucky enough to have someone to support me through this time and help me get things organised, but many still can’t see the way out. If anyone needs a halfway house, we’ve got a sofa-bed!
It’s just a shame that all my songs are shit now that I’m happy again.