Posted in Everyday Clutter, London And I, Postaday :D

London and I: A Tragedy (3/3)

If you need to visit post (2/3), here it is.

I mentioned my phone but didn’t mention who I spoke to. It was him: best friend, boyfriend, sanity-saving miracle wrapped into one.

He was working at the time, running in a gruelling 8 am to 7 pm schedule. Our time difference should have been an issue but somehow, it wasn’t. I’m not one to take favours lightly; I don’t like owing people anything I can’t immediately repay. But I’d be a small mean person if I didn’t acknowledge this: he was what stood between me and a desperately early flight home.

Rizu, there is nothing anyone could ever do that would make me forget London. How could I? I remember waking up and texting you, letting you know what I’d be doing that day. I’d send you snapchats daily: my outfit, the walk to the station, my current playlist, new boots, anything and everything that would connect my life with yours. I texted to tell you the most insignificant things, the tiniest details. And you were there, every time. Patient, understanding, loving, more than I’ve now seen is humanly possible.

Do you remember once when I caught the bus, intending to explore a new area of the city? I was scared to go by myself, afraid of getting lost or ending up with a dead cellphone and no way of getting home? You called me, stayed on the phone, talked to me while I roamed around alien shops and ate at a new pub. I was horribly anxious; you gave me your whole day. We talked when the connection was spotty, when it was too loud around me, when I couldn’t hear you properly. I would get mad, scream in frustration, and you stayed, always patient on the other end.

Remember when I actually did end up getting lost? I went too far West, and couldn’t find my way home. And it was raining pretty heavily; I wasn’t wearing a hat or a hoodie. I called you out of the blue (ha, rhyme), and you were there. We spoke the whole way home. I kept checking Maps, which led me in circles but we made it home in the end. We made it.

Remember when I called you crying? And I said I’d had it: fuck the internship, fuck my degree, I’m coming home! You listened and then you told me to keep my head high. You told me I was better than the stupid anxiety, the isolation and the fear. And that you were proud of what I was doing and how I was doing it. You said I should be proud too, that I’d won the internship, that I was doing what I liked. You said, 3 more weeks love, and you’ll be back…and I’ll be waiting at the airport. 

I believed you. I held on to everything you said because it was all I had. For God’s sake, we went to the British Museum ‘together.’ I told you that I’d never been to a museum by myself and I needed you there. We skyped for hours while I roamed around, sending you funny snaps of oddly shaped statues. We came up with memes and you told me historical facts off the top of your head.

And here’s something I will especially never forget. Remember when I visited the World War 2 Museum and saw the Holocaust exhibit? There was a glass fixture filled to the brim with the shoes of Holocaust victims…all sizes, brown and withered. I couldn’t take it and had to step outside; I was so overwhelmed by the magnitude of ancient tragedy. And you were there, on the phone. We discussed it at length, and suddenly everything was fine.

What still astounds me is this: I was supposed to be strong. I never thought of myself as a person who’d need emotional crutches and certainly, no one besides you has ever seen me that way. But I broke in London. And what still surprises me is this: I would talk to you nearly every hour of every day. And you never made me feel like I was clingy or needy or annoying. You dealt with me as if you had all the time in the world to give me. And all the love.

You are why I got through. You are why I made it.

IOU. Forever.

The End.

Posted in Everyday Clutter, London And I, Postaday :D

London and I: A Tragedy (2/3)

If you need to visit post (1/3), here it is.

I retched until I couldn’t stand straight and made my way to the bed, where I passed out for a couple of minutes. I thought I’d called my mother, only to discover that the phone still lay next to my pillow. Laugh if you want, but I actually thought I’d become delirious. Perhaps I had, for a brief second.

My mom panicked when I told her what was going on. But she wasted no time and called her cousin who lived a little outside London. She asked him to come get me. And so I went to the hospital, where a bird-like doctor flitted around me, took my temperature, asked for my symptoms, and handed me antibiotics. Home free!

I stayed with my family for 8 days, always wrapped in blankets, always smelling of medicine. I didn’t eat. Couldn’t eat. But being in a family home helped. I was able to start talking normally and I began laughing at nonsensical things, as I used to. Of course, it had to end and I had to go back.

Once I came back to London, my apartment seemed haunted. I cleaned it from top to bottom, but I couldn’t sleep. I don’t think I slept properly for the rest of my time there. Everything started up again. I took the 8.18 train to London Bridge, got breakfast, went to work, rinsed and repeated.

I had about 3 weeks left when it happened: I had an anxiety attack. You have to understand: I grew up with family and loving friends always around. I was used to sleeping next to and waking up with my sisters. I was used to being in a bustling house with lots of people and constant noise and company. I wasn’t accustomed to walking in circles by myself in a room where my own footsteps could deafen me.

Anyway, I’d never experienced anxiety like this before. I remember I was just sitting, thinking about when I’d go back. I was in bed and half covered by a grey blanket. The pale blue nightlight was on and everything was absolutely quiet. I was thinking about the time left, counting each day, then the number of hours, then minutes, then checking my phone, then counting; it went a little like this:

21 days – 24 hours in one day – plan out every hour – do I have a calendar? – how will I know when it’s time to leave – check phone! – why has no one called? – oh yeah time difference – so 24 hours multiplied by 21 – too many hours – I need a calendar! – CHECK PHONE – WHY IS THE TIME DIFFERENT??! – WHY CAN’T I HEAR ANYTHING – WHAT HAPPENS IF I FALL SICK AGAIN??? – AMA, BABA, BABA

…and then the loudest sobbing you can imagine. I know, I know. It sounds ridiculous to me as I’m writing it now, safe and warm in my bed at home. But right then, I was unfamiliar with anxiety and I didn’t understand how to cope.

I felt my throat closing up and I couldn’t breathe. And I continued to cry, till the bed was shaking with the continued violence. I heaved and cried and couldn’t stop for the life of me. I felt like the world was going to end and I would never see anyone I loved again and I would never leave the dreaded country. I wanted to go home right away.

So I did the next best thing: I called up my best friend. I told him what was going on and cried and cried, clutching the phone to my ear as if it could save me. He knew exactly what to say and I clung pathetically to his words. The apartment melted away, London almost disappeared. I didn’t want the call to end. But of course it had to. And it did.

I came away from that experience a shaky, nervous sort of person. Where I’d had one anxiety attack, I started to confront the emotion everywhere. My sheer loneliness made sure that anxiety remained my only friend. And so I shopped, shopped and shopped some more, waiting for the next thing to arrive in the mail. I delighted in those brief moments; I’d open up the brown packages, my happiness flaring and then burning out, a bright and brief arc of desperation.

And I got through it. Time after all does pass, no matter what you do. Looking back at it now, I don’t quite know how I managed to come back sane and healthy, but a lot of factors went into it.

And one of them, perhaps the most important one, was him.

…to be continued

Posted in Everyday Clutter, London And I, Postaday :D

London and I: A Tragedy (1/3)

I think it’s high time I wrote about this, so here it is.

I went to London in February this year. Before I left, all sorts of people told me all sorts of things. They told me I would gather new experiences, make new friends and discover myself, whatever that was supposed to mean.

I did end up making new friends, great ones, called anxiety and almost-crippling isolation. Sounds melodramatic? Let me explain.

I ended up in London for a 2.5 month internship. I was eager to leave Doha, with its dusty buildings and ever-present sandy winds, excited to trade that in for a place I’d never been to, but read much about. London! Trafalgar Square and Oxford Street and Kings Cross! Wanted to see Monopoly in real life, I don’t know?

My room was perfect. It was a studio apartment and huge, according to London standards. I had a kitchenette, my own bathroom, a full length mirror, a writing desk and a large springy double bed. Plus, it was right next to the building’s entrance so getting in and out took no time at all. The nearest Underground station, Tufnell Park, was a mere 7 minute walk away, which meant I was ideally situated. The commute to my workplace wasn’t bad at all: 30 minutes and no changing trains. I’d get off at London Bridge and walk another 7 minutes to get there at 9 am sharp, every morning. So far so good.

The first week was wonderful, I won’t lie. I loved my morning routine. I’d get up at 7, shower, change and head out by 8.10. Once at London Bridge, I’d grab a cup of oatmeal or an egg sandwich from the deli nearby and head up to work, where I’d settle in, say hi and hello, and get to it. I loved the fresh air and the ease with which I could get around the city. In 3 days, I’d memorised the transport system; I could have led you around blindfolded. It was thrilling, there were so many possibilities! The theatre, the cinema, parks, monuments, castles and pubs.

And don’t get me wrong. I genuinely enjoy my own company. I have no trouble wandering by myself and in fact, I prefer it sometimes.

So I started to roam around the city. After work I’d get the train to Victoria and walk in St. James Park, try to make friends with the geese and ducks. I visited the Tower of London, Buckingham Palace and the British Museum. I did all the touristy things I could think of and then I started to notice it.

I’d been visiting Oxford Street more and more frequently. I’d come home laden with shopping bags. I’d started to think of shopping as a compulsive need, almost like something I couldn’t control. As more time went by, I convinced myself of more things I needed to buy: white eyeliner, leather tights, boots lined with fur, fingerless gloves. The list was endless and I still didn’t stop.

If shopping was one problem, my phone was another. I realised that it had become a literal lifeline. I would open to check for messages every 2 minutes. My phone, the crutch, was what kept me going. When I ate alone in pubs across the city, I held on to it, hoping someone would call so I wouldn’t feel as isolated as I did. I’m still getting used to being away from my phone for prolonged periods of time. I still fear, as I did there, its loss, and consequently, the loss of everyone I know and love.

I was alone alone alone. The 8.18 am train to London Bridge was always packed. I’d squeeze myself into a corner and stand, one among thousands, all rushing to the same place. I was me, a whole world within myself, among people I didn’t know, people who didn’t look or smile or talk.

Points of actual human contact:

  • co-workers who I couldn’t hang out with after work (they drank, I didn’t)
  • the nice woman at the deli who gave me breakfast every morning
  • the occasional friendly train-goer
  • one old friend
  • assorted passersby and shopkeepers

Sad. I went from being constantly cheery to a nervous lonely human who’d dread eating alone. I started talking to myself. Incessantly. I think I was my only friend. I kept counting the weeks left till I could go back, till I could stop walking down crowded streets alone.

And then, London played its last card: I came down with my first ever stomach virus. It started as nothing but a high fever. I collapsed while standing and couldn’t get out of bed for 3 days straight. My throat kept constricting, I couldn’t eat, and I threw up record amounts of pasty grey phlegm. There I was, utterly alone in my springy double bed, sedated with heavy painkillers, drifting in and out of miserable sleep at odd hours of the day. Life went on outside. I heard students walking in and out, people doing their laundry, cooking, etc. I felt wretched.

On the night of the third day, I felt like vomiting, and went over to the sink to do it. It wasn’t until I had dry heaved till eternity that I noticed I was throwing up something bright red and lacy. Spiderwebby thin ribbons of phlegm and blood snaked their way down the white drain. I’d never felt as frightened as I did then.

I called my parents, 3000 miles away and unable to help. I thought I would collapse and no one would find me.

But someone did.

…to be continued.