Topophilia, travel, grief & guilt

I happed upon a new word the other day.  Topophilia.
If it’s a new word to you too then in very simple terms it means ‘the love of a place’.
Throughout my travels, particularly during the past 10 years when I’ve been heading off solo, some destinations have struck such a chord that I’ve visited them several times over.  But only one place has ever really stolen my heart.
 
I first went to Berlin in 2011.

Late to the party, admittedly, I fell in love with its romance, its drama, its history, its mystique, its tragedy, its resilience, its spirit, its defiance, its ability to reinvent itself and for its downright wackiness.  For me there would never be another place which would ever make my heart race and my soul sing to the extent that they did in Berlin.

From my first-ever trip I was hooked.  From there I visited at least once, often twice, a year.  One Christmas I rented a swanky apartment there, did a ‘big shop’ and spent the festive season taking long baths, sipping wine and watching movies with German subtitles in a snuggly bathrobe.  No need to do any of the tourist stuff.  I could just ‘be’ there.
For six years Berlin was my second home.  I knew it as well as I knew the place I lived and certainly more than cities like Manchester or London.  I loved being able to find my way about without a map.  I clearly looked like I belonged there as I’d often get people asking me questions or for directions.  I thrived on its reckless abandon of anything goes and the anonymity of being somewhere I knew but did not know me and my secrets.
Berlin was the epitome of topophilia for me.  It was where I belonged. We were intrinsically linked.
Fast forward a few years and I came to live in my new hometown in a suburb of Leeds 11 months ago by chance.  I knew no one here.  I have a vague recollection of having visited once during my childhood and I ran an errand here from work a couple of years ago but other than that the place was completely alien to me.
For reasons which I won’t go in to I didn’t venture outside of my new flat for the first few weeks other than to do the odd shopping run and to go to work.
And just as I was starting to feel brave enough to make a start on seeing what was on offer on my doorstep, the lockdown came.
As you’ll be aware, it all happened very quickly. There were headlines and rumours and then BAM!, that was it, we all had to stay indoors.
Much of March, April and May I honestly don’t remember.  I wish I’d kept a diary.  But surviving was effort enough.  I was furloughed from work.  I was living alone in one freezing-cold room, plus a space with a bed in it, above a bank. I had no neighbours. I had no outdoor space.
Having shipped out the previous year to reside in the country, and being a lover of green space, living in a busy town centre came as a shock.  And while cities shut down, my locality did not.  It’s a place where people live in and among the shops, cafes, bars and other facilities.  Its in habitants generally don’t have gardens so they walk their dogs and take their kids out on their bikes on the streets where they live.
Observing life from my flat window it seemed that other than the pub and the betting shop being closed, and the buses being empty, life continued much as normal.  Social distancing was not a thing.
This watching of goings-on from my window did not in any way help my anxiety levels and I became gripped by fear at the thought of leaving the flat.
Prior to the lockdown, walking to and from work most days had been of tremendous benefit to me.  I suppose my colleagues thought I was a bit bonkers but five miles a day gave me something to do in the dark winter months when there was nothing other than the office and the flat.
So I knew that getting outside, with trees and bushes and grass and flowers and birds, was going to benefit me during the lockdown – I just didn’t know how I was going to manage it.
And so it came to pass that the park, five minutes away, was my saviour.
Of course, eight months on, EVERYONE goes to the park.  We all know about the benefits of green space, of being out in the fresh air, of the great advantages of being outdoors.
But when I started going to the park first thing in a morning back in March there was no one there.
Sometimes I’d walk or, if it was a fine morning, I’d get bundled up in my big coat and take a cup of coffee in a flask with me, sit on a bench and listen to the birds ushering in their days, oblivious to what was going on in the big, bad world.  It was just me and the tweeties, give or take.
There then came a new say-so that we weren’t allowed to sit on benches.  That was, unless we were old, pregnant or had walked for longer than we had sat.  While I was absolutely respecting of the rules in every manner, and so gripped by anxiety that even a trip to a small food shop or the post office was so utterly terrifying that it was to be avoided at all costs, I will admit that this was one directive that I chose to ignore.  I always picked a bench which no one had to walk past; I was sitting out of the way not bothering anyone while saving myself from going insane. I was quite prepared to argue my case should I be apprehended by anyone who thought I was breaking the law.  Thankfully, nobody bothered me.
My town’s outdoor market, which runs three days a week, is close to the park and although I had discovered it during my first couple of weeks of living here and went on to regularly support it during January and February, it was during lockdown that it really came in to its own for me.  The accessibility of fresh fruit and vegetables was vitally important but also, being new in town, the stallholder became the closest thing I had to a neighbour.  During lockdown she was the only person I saw on a regular basis.  Even if I didn’t need fruit or vegetables, I’d head that way en route to the park and give her a wave and a cheery “Good morning!”.
Moving to this town was supposed to be temporary.  It was a stop gap while I figured out whether I was going to move back to the country or to some place else.
But during lockdown something happened.
I was unable to hop on a train to Manchester or a bus to London or a flight to Berlin or Bermuda.
I was unable to go anywhere at all.
I was forced to seek adventure on my doorstep and to see the beauty and excitement in everything around me.
And, although not quite like Berlin, I fell in love with it all.  I could see what my life would look like if I stayed.  So stay I did.  I bought a little house here.

I don’t go to the park every day and I only usually only go to the market once a week.  But they are the things that have come to define my new life and will continue to be a massive, wonderful, joyous part of it.   Every time I walk through the park to the market it feels like an adventure.  There is always something new to see and feel and experience.

When I came to live here what I also didn’t realise that as well as it being a bustling little town centre it is also surrounded by miles and miles of green space with an incredible number of footpaths and walks, woods, valleys and becks ready to be explored.  And all without having to take the car.

The park is busy every day now and the market continues to go from strength to strength.  I’m naturally very quiet and introverted, I don’t care to mix much or to be surrounded by crowds of people – particularly if they are all as germ-ridden as we are led to believe!

I’ll admit that I prefer it when it’s quiet in the park but I don’t mind if it’s busy too.  I listen to the snippets of conversation, look at people enjoying the open environment and smile when I see the children’s happy faces.  The young ones, at least, are as oblivious as the birds flitting here and there without a care in the world.

Some days, when I’m at home, I’m oblivious too.  I switch off the news and social media and I can pretend this isn’t happening.  I’m inside, I’m safe and I’m warm.  I’m rebuilding my life.  I can be contented for an hour or two.

However, my contentment is inevitably replaced by other, less positive emotions.

Chiefly, grief.

I’m grieving about what brought me here in the first place.  The relationship I had to leave.  It wasn’t my choice.  I miss the man I left.  Very much.  Every single hour of every single day.

I’m also grieving for the life I had before the relationship.  I loved my solo travelling days and I may never have them again.

I would have typically immersed myself in solo travel to get over the grief of the broken relationship.  It might have worked.  It might have only been a sticking plaster.  But at least I’d have felt that I was doing something positive, life-affirming in the wake of the heartache.

So I’m feeling an immense amount of loss for not being able to resort to the one thing which would have helped me deal with the grief of the broken relationship.

Double-grief if you like.

The flip-side is that I’m incredibly glad, grateful and happy that I spent ten years travelling solo and seeing all the wonderful places and experiencing all the mad things I’ve done.

Never has this meme been more relevant!

Back to emotions.

Guilt.

I’m carrying a massive amount of guilt.  Guilt is an incredibly crippling, irrational heap of shit.

I feel guilty that on the days I switch off the news and social media and I forget for an hour or so and I feel contented and safe in my little house that there are millions of people out there who have not been able to forget or feel contentment or safety for the past hour.

I feel guilty that when someone asks me about my new home I harp on about how marvellous it is. I’m convinced I shouldn’t be saying how grateful I am to have my own front door that I can open whenever I like, for so much more space to live in, to be warm, to be able to sleep in my very own bed then get up and take a hot shower, to now have window blinds and a dining table and houseplants and a desk so I can work from home, and food in the cupboard and a little yard where, come next spring, I’ll be able to grow a few flowers and sit drinking tea in the sunshine.

I feel horrible guilt at having had to spend a not-insignificant amount of money to move in to my new home.  I gave up so many of my belongings last year when I went to live in the country. As a result I’ve had to dig in to what little amount I had put away for my retirement to start over and I now have left only a tiny amount of savings.  The thought that I may lose my job and have no safety net is terrifying.  But else what could I do?  I bought the few bits I truly needed but I still don’t have many of the things that people take for granted – curtains, lampshades, a TV.  Actually, scrub that – I don’t need or want a TV.

More guilt.  I feel guilty that I threw away the life I had to be with someone who was not the person I thought he was.  I should have been more cautious.

On to food and weight guilt.  I feel bad about the number of chocolate biscuits I eat each and every week.  I feel guilty about craving cheese on toast.  I get cross with myself about drinking a glass of wine or eating a dish of pasta  I feel disgusted that I’m close to hitting 12 stone in weight and about the fact that I’ve had to buy size 14 jeans.  Sure, I laugh it off to everyone else.  But it’s not a good feeling to me.

I also carry a massive amount of guilt that I’m not being the person that I should be to the ones who care about me.  I’m crippled by the notion that I’m taking much more from my friends and family than I am giving them.  I am trying very hard to reciprocate.  It never feels to be enough.

Guilt.

Guilt.

More fucking guilt.

It’s a vile, destructive, draining emotion.  I know I need to get over it and let it go. Trouble is, I’m not sure how.

How do I put it all to rest?

How do I forgive myself and allow my life, whatever form it might take in the future, to happen?

How do I permit myself to enjoy my new home and my new phase, despite the world being a truly terrible, uncertain place right now, without allowing all the negative emotions I am dealing with to devour the positive parts of my life?

Of course, I don’t have the answers.  Though knowing what the questions are is a start, I suppose.

That’s what this blog is all about.  It doesn’t have a massive readership but it does its job.  It allows me to offload my thoughts and worries when the words won’t come out of my mouth. Self-indulent it might be but it helps me in clearing my head.

Right, time to get into my stretchy jimjams and have cheese on toast, chocolate biscuits and wine for dinner.

Remember, people, one day this almighty shitstorm will be over.  Until then we just have to keep the faith, okay.

Much So Long love

Shauna x

Published by Shauna

Hi. I'm Shauna, a 40-something solo tripster. By tripster I mean part-time traveller. solong.blog is an amalgamation of plenty of personal rambling on my experiences when travelling on my own, how I feel, where I've been and what I've seen, and advice on how to go solo if you've never done it before but always wanted to try. After all, if I can do it, anyone can!

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