Discover more from Wonderstruck from Siobhan Curham
Leaving my unhappy place
Greetings, dear Wonderstruckers,
This missive is coming to you a little late today because I’m currently ‘on the road’ because two days ago I officially gave up my home - or, as I like to put it, I finally left my unhappy place.
It’s been a weird two and a half years, and I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling like this.
For me, the weirdness started (obviously) with the pandemic, and was then exacerbated when I moved from my beloved Brighton to a town just a few miles along the coast but, it turns out, worlds away in terms of character.
For places are like people and they all have their own unique personalities.
Brighton was lively and edgy and arty and fun.
The town I moved to was the opposite, and I can honestly say that I’ve never lived in a more unfriendly place.
Of course, I didn’t realise that at the time. I moved during the second long lockdown in the UK and with everything closed and the streets stripped of people, the town I moved to seemed lovely.
It was only when things opened up again that I realised how unfriendly it was and that the street I’d moved to, which was great during lockdown, turned out to be the gathering place for the local crackheads and junkies by day, and the drunks by night.
And so it became my unhappy place.
I recently came across a post online that talked about how places shape you as a person, and it really struck a chord with me.
I’ve lived in quite a few different places throughout and when I look back I can see how each place shaped me in different ways. Growing up in London toughened me up and made me street smart. Moving to Liverpool when I was 18 brought out the creative, and the comic, in me. Moving to a village in the Midlands when I became a mum caused me and my life to shrink, and when I returned to London after three years, my true self would cheer with relief every time I saw the sign for the Underground, I was so grateful to be home. Buzzing from the energy of the capital, I entered one of the most creative and sociable periods of my life. Then, when I turned forty and I was feeling a little Londoned-out, I moved to a cottage in the countryside and, surrounded by breath-taking scenery, the spiritual side of me flourished. After six years, I felt the call to live by the sea, and moved to a quirky, arty town in Sussex, where my creative and sociable self again flourished.
(Writing all of this down to share with you has been an interesting exercise so I recommend you try it: Write a list of all the places you’ve lived and how they’ve made you feel and who they’ve allowed you to be.)
And then the pandemic happened and I moved to the town that caused my life to shrink and my soul to shrivel - and in case you think I’m being super-sensitive, I now know many other people who have lived in this town and felt exactly the same. ‘I spent the worst years of my life there,’ one friend wrote to me a while ago. ‘You couldn’t even stand at a bus stop without encountering racists. I thought I was going to die an emotional death.’
At the beginning of 2022 I felt exactly the same. I felt trapped and depressed and with every sullen stare I encountered while walking around, I could feel my spirit fading.
But then I had a breakthrough. Instead of feeling helpless at not having any kind of plan or escape route, I allowed myself to not know what to do.
I sat in the indecision - or as I called it, the ‘butterfly soup’.
I knew I needed to make a radical change, but like the caterpillar in the cocoon, I first needed a period of time to dissolve the old in order to completely recreate myself and my life anew.
So all of last year I worked hard to pay off the debts I’d incurred during covid and to rebuild my financial foundation, so that when I’d decided what my next move should be, I’d be able to pay for it.
Then, in October last year, I went on my first trip abroad since 2019, travelling around Jamaica, and I felt my true adventurous self spark back into life.
For it’s not just the places we live in that shape us as people, but the places we visit too.
Jamaica made me feel wild and free and strong.
(And again, I invite you to continue the earlier exercise and add places you’ve visited to your list, and how they’ve made you feel and who they’ve made you be.)
As soon as I got back from Jamaica I booked a month-long trip to the States, where I stayed in a quirky, arty, super friendly town in the Ozarks and lo and behold, my quirky, arty, friendly self sparked back into life.
And when I got back I knew exactly what I needed to do to change my life for the better.
The last couple of years have been a slog and trust me when I tell you that I had some very low moments last year, but my god, it felt so frickin’ sweet to hand in the keys to my flat on Friday and to walk through town one last time, en route to the station with my suitcase.
And now I’m going to live light for a while, travelling to different countries, trying out different places to see how they make me feel and who they make me become.
Next week I shall be writing to you from Paris, where I’m hoping to feel creative (as I have a book to write!) and immersed in culture, and will probably be in danger of becoming a croissant!
Until then, I hope you’ve found this helpful and it sparks your own inquiry into the effect of place upon you as a person. And as always, I’d love to hear from about the places that matter the most to you and why, in the comments or a reply.