10 tips for surviving a move to a big city

About 7 months ago I made the move from Adelaide to Sydney to start my PhD at the University of New South Wales. The prospect of moving from a ‘big country town’ to the ‘big smoke’ of Sydney surprisingly didn’t daunt me too much at first. I was excited about what I saw as my ‘new life’. A place where nobody knows me, or my complex past. It felt like a fresh start and an opportunity to completely reinvent myself.

The reality was a little different. It didn’t take me long to get really, really lonely and really, really stressed. I thought I might write some tips for others planning a move to a big city, from what I’ve learned over the past seven months:

1. Get a GPS. NFcuavw

I can’t even believe how often I get lost. I was pretty bad with directions already, but moving to the hell-mouth that is Sydney’s road network has been a nightmare. It is easily the worst thing about Sydney, and I’ve not met anyone who doesn’t agree. There is SO MUCH TRAFFIC it’s hard to fathom and GOD FORBID any of Sydney’s streets go in a straight line. Oh no, there is no simple grid system like Adelaide or Melbourne, it’s this complex labyrinth of tunnels and bridges and overpasses and exits and nightmares. So my point is, get a GPS. Getting lost is really annoying and stressful.

2. Don’t believe everything you hear.

When you move from a small town or city to a big metropolis like Sydney, people love to tell you all of the horrible things they’ve ever heard about that big city. Like that it’s “impossible to rent anything for under $400 a week”. Or that “the people are really cliquey and bitchy”. Or that “you can never even get a spot on the beach because there’s too many people”. Don’t believe them. I’ve found that people are very eager to protect the reputation of their own city, and do so by trying to convince you that your next city is horrible. I will never understand why a person would do this just before I moved, but hey, people are assholes.

3. Be patient

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I had been warned plenty of times about the loneliness involved with moving to a new city, and spent lots of time preparing myself for it. I was determined to make the best of it, to join lots of new groups and sports and try to meet as many people as I could. These are all good things to do, but in truth the only thing that makes it easier is time. Give it time and acknowledge that you’re going to have your lonely moments. Moments in which you want to go home (I nearly did at around 3 months). But then you develop great friendships and find your favourite spots and before long you can’t imagine living anywhere else.

4. Get recommendations

Ask anyone you know / meet in your new city for recommendations. About everything! Who your new GP should be, where’s a good running spot, who sells the best coffee, what you should explore etc etc. It makes settling in a lot easier than finding them all yourself.

5. Remember your boundaries.

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The number one piece of advice I got before I moved was to go along to any social event that I could. This was my best chance to meet new friends and ease the loneliness. Again, sound advice but I want to add a bit of a clause. The thing is, there are assholes everywhere. Beyond that, there are just people that you won’t click with. So if you get invited to something and you really just don’t want to go, don’t let anyone make you feel guilty or that you’re not trying hard enough. You’ve got to do what’s right for you.

6. Go home as much as you want.

Especially in the first few months, head home as often as you want. This was a little more essential for me, as my partner still lives in Adelaide. But I would argue that if you need a bit of your Mum’s home cooking and a hug from your best friend, just go. It’s part of the adjustment process – and HOT TIP (don’t tell my friends back home), it helps you realise how much better you like the new place you live!

7. Explore.

Go out and discover your new city. You might even find you enjoy spending time by yourself!

8. Do something you couldn’t really do before.

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The big advantage of moving to a big city is that there is SO MUCH to do! It can be really overwhelming at first, but pick out some things that are just not as accessible in your home city. For me, that was joining a really well organised Feminist Collective. For you, it could be a cool exercise group or beach yoga or poetry slams or whatever you like!

9. Check the parking signs.

Closely.

10. Remember that it gets easier.

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Every day you’ll settle in a little more, find your rhythm and build your relationships. It’s tough at first, but just grit your teeth and it gets so much easier. Goooooood luck!

 

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The real challenge of a 12 Week Challenge

Losing weight is great.

There are so many good things that accompany losing weight, and you’ve heard them all before: reducing your risk of disease, improving fitness, helping your mood, and, most importantly of course, being skinny instantly makes you a total babe.

For me, after struggling with obesity for all of my childhood and adolescence, all I could ever think about was how much better my life would be if I could just lose weight. Like, in my young and closeted head, boys liking you when you’re fat just doesn’t happen.

And so, after struggling to lose about 5kg on my own, I was pretty damn excited when I learned that my gym, Goodlife Health Club, would be running a 12 Week Challenge. Eureka! Weekly group workouts, workshops about nutrition and a chance to work with a personal trainer every week. I’d be SKINNY and HAPPY in no time!

Now don’t get me wrong, I loved my time in the 12 Week Challenge. In fact, I loved it so much that I did it twice – one in late 2012 and one in early 2013. I made some incredible friends, got advice that changed my eating habits for the better and lost about 15kg all up. More importantly, I became fitter than I ever thought possible. I even completed my first half marathon. Fitness wise, I easily had the most drastic transformation of my group, both times I completed the challenge. I went from one of the least fit to one of the fittest.

But I didn’t win.

Luckily, I couldn’t give a crap. I’m the least competitive person you’ll meet (any kind of competition makes me nervous and sweaty and emotional). I thought it necessary to write this piece, though, because future participants need a warning: you probably won’t win either.

The reason is that the 12 Week Challenge creators seemingly attended the Biggest Loser school of health and fitness. They claim to take a range of factors into consideration when choosing a winner: weight loss, fitness, a personal essay, and input from trainers. But it’s just not true. Truth is: it’s all about the photo. To win, you’ve gotta lose a fuck ton of weight and basically look like half of the person you were at the beginning.

Below are the before and after photos of one club winner:

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She looks fucking incredible, right? I take my hat right off to this girl because jesus that must’ve taken a Herculean effort.

I don’t want to take anything away from her or other winners of the Challenge, but focussing on the outward transformation of Challenge participants is harmful. Participants need to know from the start: you probably won’t experience this kind of transformation. Just like The Biggest Loser, crowning winners based on their photo alone gives challengers the misconception that it is realistic to lose a significant amount of weight in a short period of time. It isn’t. It’s not even effective: 95% of people who lose weight quickly put it back on, and then some. It also sets people up for failure. A friend of mine worked her ass off, lost a bunch of weight, and had a psychological transformation like no one else in her group. But, she didn’t look different enough. She was devastated when she didn’t win.

Participants in Michelle Bridges' 12 Week Body Transformation get a pat on the back for big weight loss
Participants in Michelle Bridges’ 12 Week Body Transformation get a pat on the back for big weight loss

The marketing of challenges like this and Michelle Bridges’ 12 Week Body Transformation love to peddle the old story that if you lose lots of weight, you are going to be happy. I bought it hook, line and sinker. And while losing over 30kg in the last three years had made me healthier, it hasn’t necessarily made me any happier.

I learned that exercise is a natural anti-depressant, so I guess my mood has improved. But I think there will always be things that I want to change about my body. I still struggle with depression, and I’ve had my heart broken 3 times since then. My self esteem has improved, but that’s almost certainly had nothing to do with my weight: in the same time period, I finished Uni, got a job, left my crappy boyfriend, came out of the closet and basically got a life. More importantly, I learned the very important lesson that size has absolutely nothing to do with beauty. And I’m certain that my wonderful girlfriend would love me no matter my size.

Celebrating non-appearance related achievements is important for so many reasons. For starters, they take fucking hard work. Additionally, getting stronger, fitter and more active has so many more benefits than just being skinny ever will. It would also help to fight the stupid myth that you need to be thin (but not too thin, jeez) to be beautiful, confident, worthy, loved and happy. You don’t. You are all of these things already, no matter your size.

So despite being a loser, I choose to consider myself a winner. HIGH FIVE!