Thursday, March 20, 2014

Living for the first time

Just a couple of hours ago I posted this photo on Instagram. My friend, Rachel, commented on it and said, "Sheila, you make independent living look downright glamorous." I smiled and immediately thought about how great living on my own really has been for me. Then my fingers started twitching and the next thing I new I was typing another short novel of a blog post. So thank you for the inspiration Rachel! Here's what I have to say...

Everyone should learn how to be content with being alone. From the time we're babies, most of us are surrounded by family and friends 24/7 with only short-lived escapes into freedom and to be honest, most of us don't know how to deal with that freedom, so we reject it.

I rejected independence for so long and I would have never admitted it before. The common attitude among my peers throughout high school was "I can't wait to get out of this boring town and be on my own somewhere new." I was always too comfortable to feel that way unless something upset me for whatever reason. The few "world-shattering" moments I've had don't seem so bad now that time has passed, but those were the only times that I can remember truly craving space and time to be alone.

It's sad that being unhappy leads to that desire and I can't tell you if it's the cure to misery or not, because I tried something different. I tried living on my own during a good time in my life. I was perfectly happy with the way my life was going before I decided to study abroad in London. Coming here wasn't an escape from reality or depression for me. I came here to grow and experience life in a new way without the safety of my familiar bubble. I wanted to use this trip as a tool to grow as a person.

I suppose a good comparison would be relationships, because we're all taught that relationships are the healthiest and most fulfilling when you go into them loving yourself. If you enter into it looking for someone to complete you, fix your problems, or make you feel better about yourself, you're probably not going to have much success in the long-term.

I think that we all need to go through a few of those before we realize what's truly important in our lives. Happiness can be fleeting and attained by latching yourself onto other people with the risk of disappointment and heartbreak, or it can be lasting and rich because the source of that happiness comes from within yourself.

Now I really don't mean to sound like Ghandi or Dr. Phil (strange pair), because I'm only 21 and I still have a ton of insecurities and fears about silly things. I get lonely sometimes and hope for some company. You can hear advice from people all your life or read this post and it won't necessarily help you until you experience something that throws you in a new direction.

London has thrown me so far in a new direction that I'm probably going to have whip lash for the rest of my life. Yeah, I guess that doesn't sound too pleasant and I should probably quit using hyperboles and metaphors since they're really hit-or-miss kind of things, but you catch my drift, right?

Living on my own in a foreign country without any family and friends nearby to turn to (at first) has been absolutely, crazy good for me. I've learned to cook a bit more than toast and pasta, I can make phone calls to strangers without feeling pukey and shy, I can keep to a budget and stay organized when it comes to household tasks, I can plan huge trips to foreign countries and I can navigate through a city even though I've never lived in one before (and London is HUGE).

Those things are all important, and they're only a fraction of the things I've learned to do since arriving here, but what I'm going to take away from this trip is so much bigger than taking responsibility for tasks like those.

I have learned to love myself more and to treat myself better without depending on anyone else in the world to hold my hand.

I call my dad often and I keep in contact with people from home. I have friends here who I see daily and I chat with people during class. Those interactions are important, and they make me feel more established here in London, but they're not all that time consuming and I definitely don't depend on them to make it through my days.

To be honest, most of the time I'm alone. I grocery shop alone, cook alone, sleep alone, go to class alone, shop for essentials alone, read alone, explore alone and so on.

Three months ago the thought of that would have horrified me. We can all pretend that being alone is great and doesn't bother us, but binge-watching Netflix with our pets during school breaks doesn't entirely count as being "alone." Experiencing life and enjoying it without the constant presence of familiar faces is the most challenging and strange task I've ever been given. Instead of feeling anxious and sad that I have no one to talk to like I would have in the past, I feel liberated and happy.

I'm not afraid to be alone with my thoughts and I can entertain myself with simpler things. Of course it's always amazing to be surrounded by the friends I've made here and that happens often, but it's not like I have anyone to go home to or lounge around with on slow days. This is the first time I've truly had to rely on myself to be the decision-maker and the source of light and positivity that I need.

Instead of feeding off of the group or settling into a routine of socialization, I look to myself for insight, comfort and happiness. And you know what? I'm so damn proud of myself for that.

It feels amazing to be able to feel that way. I don't need people the way I used to. I don't crave constant interaction anymore. I don't even think that I realized that I did before because I would hide away in my room sometimes and then re-emerge when I was ready to eat or have a conversation. I didn't see that as dependence on others at all. I thought I was quite independent when I wanted to be. That wasn't the case and I completely see that now that I can't just hide away and then go downstairs for some company or drag my sister around when I don't feel like going somewhere alone.

Besides the freedom that comes with this new mind-set and lifestyle, I have also gained some awesome experiences. Like today for instance, I bought myself some strawberries, indulged in some Nutella and watched an episode of The Vampire Diaries. Okay, okay maybe more than one episode... but anyways, I had a lovely little break from the hustle and bustle of the London streets and museums and the constant hopping on and off of the tube. I set aside some time for myself to relax and I even had some time to write this blog post.

I've had tons of little moments like that since January and I can't wait to take that all home with me. Instead of bringing home emotionally damaged baggage, I'll be bringing home an overweight checked bag, a carry on, my camera bag and the new-and-improved me.

I hope that I can continue to grow in this direction because whether I'm in Europe or not, it's something that will help me for the rest of my life. I hope that you can all experience that too at some point in your lives because it's a beautiful thing.

Happy International Day of Happiness! :)

Write soon!
xx Sheila

"The most courageous act is still to think for yourself. Aloud.” (Coco Chanel)


  1. You go girl! : ) I just made a CD of all the music you put on your videos. I want to listen in the car. Happy Spring!!! Love u, Aunt Bon XO

  2. It's so awesome that you have realized all these things about yourself. A lot of people would go through these experiences and not do anything with them. You have really let them change you and help you grow. You are such a smart and beautiful person <3