This train terminates here. All change, please.

They say moving is one of the most stressful things you do in life. Not all moves are created equal, though. Some, like leaving your home and everything you know because it’s impossible for you to stay and live, is its own category. Next to that I feel like me moaning about getting to move to London, one of the most exciting and expensive cities in the world, is very much #firstworldproblems. And it is. It is also a completely ridiculous system that offers tenants no security whatsoever.

Until you’ve got a fully completed (signed by everyone) contract and a set of keys, you can’t put your full weight on the idea that you are going to be moving. It used to be that if you liked a flat, you gave the agent a holding deposit and unless they were real cowboys you could be fairly safe that it was yours. Now – that system is dead. You have to send in an offer, for all you know at the same time as six other people are doing the same thing, and then wait for the landlord to choose who they want based on your ‘profile’ and your offer (which generally is the amount they’re asking, because this is renting, I’m not buying the bloody place). But even once your offer has been ‘agreed’, there’s no relaxation. We had 48 hours to complete our references. We got the initial email from the referencing company at 6pm on a Wednesday night. At 6.50pm we got another email chasing us to fill in the form. At 10am the next morning the letting agent chased us to get our landlords and employers to finish the references. You may think, well relax, they wouldn’t actually take it off you, especially as by this time we’d sent them a significant chunk of money to pay for the referencing and for the agent to change the name and address on a contract boilerplate – but this very agent showed us a property which they said was under offer but the tenants were being a bit slow getting their references together, so the landlord had asked them to keep showing the flat to people. And if we went over the offer by as little as £5 we’d probably get the place. Wow. What a beautiful system.

Anyway. That bit is over. I was dreading flat hunting in London and it was every bit as vile and stress-inducing as I remembered. We have ended up paying more than £300 a month more than we originally intended. Our rent is almost double what we’re paying in Canterbury for a larger place. It is easy to focus on the negatives.

However! One of the main reasons for the move is for us to swap commutes, and we have managed to achieve that. I was fully expecting to still have an hour’s commute to work, because in London, unless you can walk, everything takes an hour. But we did find somewhere I can walk from, so my commute is now a 10-15 minute walk. I have no idea what I’m going to do with all the time I’ll have now that I won’t be out of the house from 7am to 7pm four or five days a week (I get a work from home day at the moment – and yes, I will be giving it up when we move!).

We will be a 15 minute walk from one of my dearest friends. I didn’t tell him where we were flat hunting, so I got to break the news to him in person last night – and it was delicious. We used to be flatmates and leaving him was one of the hardest things for me when I moved to Canterbury. We have many plans for brunches, walks in the park, and watching Queer Eye at each other’s houses.

Another of my best friends I haven’t seen so much lately since she had a baby, and has very few free evenings when she can leave the house. For me to go to hers I had to stay over because it was too far to get home. She’s just had twins and now I’ll be 30-45 minutes away, within easy reach for popping over for dinner/tea/to help out when needed.

Yet another of my best friends will be about half an hour away by tube – she is living in central London for the first time since we lived together in halls during our MA degrees, and her excitement at me being back in London is heartwarming and infectious. I can’t wait to experience London through her eyes, as she sees so much more of what there is on offer than I do.

Another friend who I speak to almost daily via text but who I see about once every six months will be so much closer – I’m hoping to invite myself over to see the house she’s bought with her husband, and see in the flesh the wallpaper I didn’t really help to choose (they ignored my suggestion) and generally hang out and drink beer as in the days of university.

For my partner this move is an opportunity to expand his work contacts, join a volleyball club, meet some people who are interested in playing board games (they bore me senseless) and generally spend some more time with people who are on his wavelength. I am really hopeful he will start to feel more settled and at home in England – when much of your interaction day-to-day with our country is through the news, even when you live here, it’s easy to feel unwanted and out of place if you weren’t born here (or sometimes even if you were). As London is one of the most cosmopolitan places in the world, with any luck he will find it easier to build a community.

I’ll be able to stay at work drinks without worrying about which train to catch! I can eat dinner somewhere other than King’s Cross! Every social interaction I have after work won’t have the inevitable, ‘Are you all right for time?’ ‘Well I can leave in the next ten minutes or I’ve got over an hour. Do you want to rush or do you want to get drunk?’ conversation! Going to the theatre with friends won’t mean getting home at midnight and looking dead-eyed at work the next day! I’ll be able to go out dancing again! I won’t be exhausted every evening because it’s taken me two hours to get home! I’ll be able to throw out the enormous, ugly backpack I carry all my stuff in, which I’ve finally admitted to myself in the last few days is MONSTROUS and I HATE IT.

London is busy, and stressful, and undeniably so expensive it makes you queasy. I will miss Canterbury enormously, and will definitely be down here fairly often (especially to see the one friend I’ve managed to make down here!). But I am trying to remember to count all the things money can’t buy me, too. It’s not easy: seeing the money you’ve saved over the last year vanish in the moving costs feels more tangible than the time I’ll have free and the different opportunities I’ll have on my doorstep. But the latter are equally real. And what do I have the money for if not to spend it? We are beyond lucky to be able to do this, to have the means (just) and the flexibility to do this. It may not be easy, but like all big changes, you have to hope that in the end it will be worth it.

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Perfectionism

I haven’t been writing much lately. I have plenty of ideas in my head and still draft pieces as I’m walking around but haven’t found the time or the headspace to write anything down, and part of that is thanks to one of my biggest flaws: perfectionism.

I’ve often thought of it as being low self-esteem or anxiety, and I’m sure they’re contributing factors, but what it boils down to is that I am a perfectionist. I hate getting things wrong and hate feeling like I’ve made a bad job of something, or haven’t done as much as I could have done. In some ways this is useful and it makes me good at many parts of my job, but it is also self-destructive. I get far too upset about the little things and that lack of perspective is really unhelpful.

There are a couple of recent examples of this. One is the issue I’ve written a few blogs on this year, about body image. I am still struggling to view myself in a healthy and positive way since gaining some weight. I do not always recognise myself when I catch sight of my reflection, which I find unnerving, and I do not feel attractive at all. I think a lot of this problem is in my head: my body shape has not changed THAT much. But it is different. For most of my adult life I’ve been able to walk into shops, pick up the smallest size on the rack, and it will probably fit, or it will be a bit big. Now, I essentially have no idea what size I am. Clothes I’ve worn in the last few days have ranged in size from a 6 to a 12. I am throwing out a lot of clothes that no longer fit, but when it comes to buying new ones, as well as not knowing what size to choose, I don’t really know what will be flattering anymore. I can’t “get away with” some options I’ve worn in the past. High-waisted pencil skirts used to be sleek and slimming but now make me look squat and shorter than I am. T-shirts no longer sit neatly above my jeans but get a little stuck on a bit of tummy and make me look like I’ve had an over-generous lunch.

Or do they? I am aware that my own view of myself is not healthy and not necessarily grounded in reality. I’ve had other periods in my life when I’ve had half of my brain absolutely convinced of something, while the other half is fairly sure the first half has lost the plot. I had a brief period years ago when I was convinced I was pregnant. I wasn’t. I had nearly a year when I was certain that my hair was falling out. It stressed me out horribly, and I was forever checking my hairline in the mirror and trying to judge whether it had changed. My hair wasn’t falling out at all, or no more than is normal, and eventually the anxiety subsided and I forgot about it. I fear the same thing is happening with my view of my own body, that I see something that isn’t really there.

It is a certainty that my body has changed over the last few years, as I’ve hit 30 and been commuting and sitting down for an extra three hours a day. But I don’t know if the change is as drastic as I perceive it to be. I do have little stretch marks on my inner thighs, and I’ve never had stretch marks before so I’ve found that a little bewildering and upsetting. It’s on one leg more than the other, and they don’t seem to be fading, so I’m a bit worried that they’re not normal – even though really I know they probably are, it’s just new and I no longer have that “skinny” body I’ve had for so long.

The other ridiculous thing, as well as worrying about any of it unduly, is that even when I was very slim and had none of these issues with a tummy or stretch marks or anything else, I wasn’t happy. I thought I was TOO thin, a view backed up for me by various people at high school and all the media ever that tells you that “men like a bit of meat on your bones”, or “men only like big boobs”, etc etc. So I’m upset about losing something I didn’t particularly like. What a mess.

The other perfectionist example is from this week, when we had a pub quiz as part of a team building week. One of our founders is also a quiz master so once or twice a year, he puts together a quiz for us. In the first ever work quiz, I was on a team with the CEO and overruled him on a question about the bridge on the river Kwai. It turned out he was right, and although we won, he brought it up the following year, making me realise he hadn’t forgotten my mistake. (This is hell for a perfectionist, who hates being reminded of mistakes, even when they’re seemingly inconsequential quiz answers.) This week at the quiz, a question on the bridge on the river Kwai came up again. I completely lost my head (aided by some wine) and insisted I knew the answer – unfortunately, I once again put down the wrong thing (the bridge on the river Kwai is in Thailand, not, as I seem to be utterly convinced, in Myanmar). When I realised my mistake I felt like chucking myself off a bridge, and ever since whenever I think of it I cringe and inwardly berate myself for being such an idiot.

I bet you’re laughing though, aren’t you? To everybody else, it’s a very funny story about how fallible a person can be, insisting on making the same mistake twice instead of saying ‘bridge on the river Kwai? Count me out, I am not getting involved’ or thinking about it for two seconds and saying ‘I can’t believe it is Thailand, because they’re the only southeast Asian country not to be invaded in World War Two so I have no idea why anybody was doing anything with a bridge there, but it is Thailand’. I’m sure everyone’s lives are full of these silly moments which make you pull a rueful face, but to me they mean more than they should, and there seems to be a part of me which really feels like I’ve failed when I make any kind of mistake like that. Half the fun and potential for fallout from quizzes is that you have to make a decision as a team, some people will be ignored or overruled, some people will insist on certain answers, and everyone at some point will be wrong. It shouldn’t matter, but because I have an unrealistic idea of how perfect I can be if I only try hard enough, I feel like it does matter and everyone is sneering at me for being so stupid. Even though, really, I know they’re not, and it’s making mistakes like these that make people like you more because you are human and they can imagine the pain of realising what a goon you’ve been and empathise with that. (For the record, my team won the quiz anyway – and apparently the rest of the company have never seen me so ecstatic; I reacted as if I’d won the lottery and a gold medal at the Olympics and the World Cup all at the same time.)

Being a perfectionist is a real pain in the arse. I wish I had a more realistic and healthy view of myself and a more positive attitude towards my own failures. I waste a lot of time worrying about things I can’t change that nobody else thinks are problems anyway. I don’t really have a neat solution today – I’ve been this way for a long time and learning to be kinder to myself is not going to be quick or easy. It doesn’t help that most of what we read tells us how happy we’ll be once we’re a) thin and beautiful and b) wildly successful. And all that involves striving for perfection, being your “best self”, picking the best selfie for Instagram, never eating cake, always getting the promotion, never getting fired, always being in a relationship, never regretting a decision, and so on. I’m trying to take baby steps, giving myself permission to shop around for new clothes, and practising self-care when things don’t fit; and reminding myself that embracing imperfection makes you far more fun and likable than if you’re always pristine and never trip over your own feet or say something stupid. Nobody is ever going to be perfect, despite what social media may want us to believe. I will, however, learn something about the bridge on the river Kwai, other than the fact that it is – allegedly – in Thailand.