February 5, 2016

Alone Time

Quality House, Quality Court
Sherri Gardner

This past Sunday I got a bit lost. Well, perhaps lost isn’t quite the right word because I passed places I’ve visited before. So let’s say that I was a little directionless. For two hours I was weaving my way around the City of London, SoHo, and Covent Garden. Why was I walking with no goal in mind? Partially to get in my daily 10,000 steps and also because I was getting really stressed out.

I’m almost 31 days into my life abroad and I can feel homesickness looming on the horizon. For me, it’s not places that I’m missing, but people. Most of my support systems are hanging out in Midwest, USA and time differences make it hard to call up my parents when I’m feeling down in the middle of the day. Anyone who knows me well is aware that I can get into emotional funks, especially when I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed and a little helpless. A lot of changes are happening all at once and it feels like days are flying by in a whirlwind. Because of the way that my schedule is laid out (all my classes meet Thursday and Friday) it get really easy to lose track of time and waste entire days sitting in my apartment procrastinating. Couple a fuzzy sense of time with a sudden melancholy mood and you get me at 2 in the morning, inconsolable and distraught.

When I woke up the next morning I didn’t really know what to do with myself. I couldn’t call home just yet because it 3am there. I sat around for a little while contemplating my options when my computer pinged with a new email. My book was ready for pick up from the library and thus started my mini adventure.

Adventure might be a strong word, and maybe I’m overstating what exactly I did on my walk. I didn’t run down dark alleys (though I did wander into Quality Court that had a slightly alley-like entrance) and I didn’t enter any interesting boutiques. In actuality I was relatively close to some places I visited earlier. Like the British Museum, the Primark on Oxford Street, a graffitied statue lovingly renamed “The Stinker” and the Foyle’s flagship store. Because I was in proximity to familiar places and streets I never actually felt lost. I also had my phone with me the whole time, so if I got truly lost I could get home easily.

The Stinker by AK47, formerly The Drinker by BanksyOn my little trek around (a fairly small segment of) London the most impressive thing was the silence. Yes the shops around Seven Dials are fun and intriguing. And the music shops that line Denmark Street were so enticing. I also can’t forget the comfort I got from eating pizza and reading a book at NY Fold. But honestly, the most magical thing that I found on my walk was the silence of London on a Sunday.

 I usually listen to music while I walk around (I know it’s a terrible habit, I’m working on breaking it) and that day was no different. At least until I noticed that the audio quality got a little too good. With my earbuds out I noticed that there were no cars zooming by and barely any pedestrians. I guess I shouldn’t have been too surprised because the City of London is not a hub of activity outside of the workweek, but the silence still stopped me in my tracks for a moment. The rest of my walk was music free and without an additional soundtrack keeping company, I felt more serene. I know, I know. It sounds horribly cheesy and cliché, but I’m telling the truth. Being disconnected from the constant stream of sounds I subject myself to gave me the chance to actually observe my surroundings instead of rushing past them. It also gave me the opportunity to sift through all the clutter in my brain and figure out why I was feeling lonely in London.

When I got home the first thing I did was Facetime my family. I told them about my day with mixed reactions (my dad wasn’t very excited to hear that I was lost) and more importantly told them about the previous night. I can’t say for sure that taking long walks is a guaranteed cure for feelings of loneliness or homesickness or stress, but being alone for a while gave me a chance to sort through my head. I have a habit of hoping negative feelings go away on their own, something that never happens. But before when I was reaping the consequences of bottling up emotions, I had a team on the ground ready to catch me when I fell. Now that team is a handful of hours and couple thousand miles away, so the change has to come from within. For the moment, taking a chance to clear my head and think things through seems to be the best choice for me. I also get the added bonus of getting marginally more familiar with my new home, so win-win! For all the people out there truly away from home for the first time I just want to say two things. One, it is totally 100% percent to cry about your situation, but don’t wallow in it for too long. Two, try to stay in contact with your support system even if you’re afraid that you’ll annoy them.

Check out photos from Sherri's walk over in our photo album section.