The life I had before my breakdown wasn’t perfect, but it was mine. I was in control of my days and where I lived, my finances and what I did with them. I lived paycheck to paycheck but felt comfortable. I was independent.
I still mourn for that life, because the life I have now is one I decidedly did not choose. This time last year I thought I’d still be in Paris in my tiny studio, planning my next apero with my friend from work, or maybe going on a bigger night out with my new circle of friends. I’d still be teaching, getting better at it every day and enjoying the challenges and craziness it throws up on a sometimes hourly basis. Maybe I’d have moved on to a different school where things felt a little less rickety, but I’d still be teaching. Hopefully, I’d have gone on a few day trips by then to Mont Saint Michel or Versailles, or a few days in Strasbourg or Rennes.
I would definitely not be nursing new scars, spending every day in greying jogging bottoms and having nightmares several times a week. I wouldn’t keep crying.
I miss the promise that France carried, and the first date I went on. I miss dreaming about the future and all the things I could do. I miss fresh croissants, chain-smoking and all the cheese I could ever dream of. I miss the frustration of trying to utilise my terrible French and never fully understanding how my bank worked. I miss the weird smell of the Metro and the peanuts and corn at Gare du Nord.
My life wasn’t perfect, but it was mine. It was my choice - all of it. I was yanked out of it and back into London and the past. I feel like being here is taking more than two steps back, even though I’m doing things that are meant to help me, like therapy. I’m struggling to find the control and the choice in what I’m doing now.
I’m trying, though. I’m taking my first fitness classes this week at the local leisure centre, hoping that I’ll reap the mental health benefits sooner rather than later. I’m writing more and trying to plan my first novel. I gave up smoking in an effort to behave like I’m worth not having tar-filled lungs. It’s hard, though. It’s hard to pull myself out of the smog and build a life that means something to me.
I’m starting to think I can do it. If I can move to France at the drop of a hat and set up my life by myself, I can build a new one back in London. I just have to let go of what I lost.