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Being brave

When I was 19 I used the London Underground on my own for the very first time. I’d started singing lessons in Pimlico and asked literally anyone I could think of asking to come with me because I was afraid of several things, namely:

  • Getting killed by commuters for walking too slow or generally being a weak country impostor with NO OYSTER CARD
  • Falling onto the tube tracks
  • Falling down the escalator
  • Falling up the escalator
  • Getting so lost that I ended up in a dystopian version of Narnia
  • Being kidnapped by the buskers who walk up and down the tube for not giving them spare change despite their unsettling, borderline aggressive enthusiasm; particularly the mariachi band that I’d seen that one time…
  • Other human beings
  • Eye contact with said human beings

I was socially anxious and cripplingly aware of it. I was a Level 97 introvert. But I wanted those damn lessons. I remember my brother teaching me exactly how to get to Pimlico station… straight from Euston to Pimlico… Victoria line… that’s blue… which blue?!… light blue… okay… I freaked out a little, but I managed it. I bought my ticket, I got on the train, then I got onto the tube, I made it there and back and I made zero enemies and was kidnapped zero times, I didn’t die and I didn’t end up in Brixton.

Recently I’ve been thinking about whether I could define myself as ‘brave’ in that moment, and it’s taken me a while to realise that bravery means different things to different people. For someone who wasn’t 19 year old me, travelling to London solo might have been the easiest thing in the world, talking to strangers without writing an entire script in their head first would have been natural, easy. But for people who suffer quiet battles and are scared to do or say things that other people think are trivial, for people who are like I was at that age, it’s hard.

I guess you could say we each have our own boggarts. If you’ve not read or seen Harry Potter, a boggart is a spirit which transforms itself into the worst fear of the person looking at it. We all have fears, some of us have plenty more than others and some have just one or two, but we are all afraid of something. I think that people forget that for some people the trivial things in life can be really terrifying. We need to realise that bravery comes when you fight your fears, no matter what they are or how small they man be. Being brave is being terrified and doing it anyway, because what you need to accomplish is more important.

Interestingly enough, I now live in London. I’ve gotten my bag stuck in the tube doors twice, met a one legged man with an eye patch on a late night tube journey home, been yelled at for trying to give a homeless man directions because he thought I was deliberately sending him wrong way AND walked up a down escalator. I’m not scared of the tube anymore.

 

A Life Lesson

Over the past month, I’ve realised how important it is to breathe; physically, mentally and emotionally. Moving to London, diving head first into the unfamiliar, leaving all I have ever known and starting a full time opera course… it was and still is a journey of sheer drops, lofty mountains, walks through the woods, unearthed dangers, once in a lifetime thrills and unimaginable treasures.

I’ve experienced a lot over the last month. I’ve adapted to changes I never thought would come about. I’ve lived on my own for the first time in one of the biggest, loudest and most unforgiving cities in the world and I am not ashamed to admit that for the first three weeks I was drowning. I felt like my entire world was collapsing around me. I’d never felt so lonely before, and I’d never had such a swelling of nostalgia or a desire for things to return to how they were before.

The first week was the hardest and was made up of countless moments of helplessness and enough tears to fill a well, but an internal monologue played in my head when ever I succeeded in doing even the tiniest task; “Congratulations Lissie, you got out of bed this morning. Wow, good for you Lissie, you left the flat and you’re still alive. I’m so proud of you Lissie, you didn’t have a panic attack today!” I was assured it would get easier by the day, and I was surprised to find that it did. I could feel my skin getting thicker and my heart wrapping plates of iron armour around itself.

The opera course became my safe haven, a place for me to express myself and pour my built up emotion into music and song. In singing, breath is the anchor. Breath is what supports the sound and allows your artistry to bloom. In our course we began taking lessons in yoga and meditation, and suddenly breathing was not only a survival technique, but an essential tool, an invaluable resource, a friend. As I became more aware of this is translated itself into my personal life. I realised that rushing around, wearing out my brain and giving in to the stresses that a big city can burden you with was futile.

London is a city full of excitement, it’s a place that never ceases to shift and change, it is wonderful and unique, but also terrifying. Living here has made me realise that it’s so important to observe, to stand back, to admire and to stop trying so hard to understand everything. When I visited home for the first time after living in London for a week the first thing I realised was how still and quiet it was. Breathing was easier, not only because the air was fresher, but because as soon as I stood on the platform all I could hear was a beautiful crisp quiet. After returning to London I realised that it took me leaving that unrelenting city to truly appreciate it’s brilliance. But I also realised I needed to stop thinking London was against me, and admitting defeat so early on.

What I have realised now is this; There is no person on this earth who goes through life untouched by fear, loss, anger or sadness and the more I tried to protect myself from those inevitable forces in my life, the harder I fell. I realised that you must not fight so hard when the battle is already lost, that sometimes you just have to let it be. You have to watch the storm brew and accept that it may tear down your walls, but know that you will re-build them. Know that you are strong enough to brace the greatest winds and the strongest quakes. Also remember how wonderful the world is when it glistens, see love and light and laughter. But above all things know this; giving up will never, ever be an option.

© Photograph by Elysia Allsopp

I am the wolf that walks alone

Behind these shy yet blazing eyes, there lurks a mind as sharp as ice. I am a veiled creature, a quiet force which creeps below the stars in the clear winter sky. I do not raise my noble chin to chant my sorrows to the moon. She does not hear my hushed ache, for she is burdened by those who lustily howl and wail skyward. She hangs above the broken lives below, and like the crystal rivers, bathes their wounds in soft streams of light. I do not yearn for her brief remedy, for though the glow is bewitching and tender, in these lands there lives a greater spirit.

I, the solitary beast, am the most tenacious of them all. But if my ancient scars could sing they would whisper into my ear the lullabies of tribe and truth that I yearn to hear, and my soul would blossom like the patient trees of spring. Through knotted woodland passages do I wander, straying, and yet never led astray. The wild and dangerous lurking in the shadows conceal themselves, wanting to enshroud onlookers in fear, but they hide, cowards behind a curtain of nightfall, who are feared more than they are fearsome.

I do not hide, I do not hunt, I am the wolf that walks alone.

By Elysia Allsopp