Sam Hancock had struggled with mental health for years before moving to London. Then one day on the tube, something changed…
‘“London can be a very lonely place.” That’s what everyone said: my parents, my sister, my friends, my doctors. In 2014, I was diagnosed with anorexia and depression. I was a 19-year-old guy who’d been told he had two terrifying and sometimes debilitating diseases. I’d just experienced my first family loss and, for good measure, another one just a few months later. My mind hadn’t taken it too well.
A guy with an eating disorder? Surely it’s only girls and women who have those? I’ve dealt with plenty of stereotypes and stigmas around gender and disease, all of which remain untrue and, in my opinion, mindblowingly ignorant. Luckily I had the amazing support of my friends, family and doctors, all of whom wanted to help me get better.
It didn’t work for a while. At first I didn’t ask for, want or believe I needed this support. I slipped back and forth, dipping in and out of health – mostly out, if I’m honest. Then I decided I was going to move to London as soon as possible to get a full-time job and start doing something for myself. My parents were shocked.
There’s only one real reason someone with an eating disorder wants to escape their family home. I fully intended to move to London and allow myself to slip as far as I damn well pleased. But when I actually got here and started settling into the peculiar rhythms of London life, the funniest thing happened.
Have you ever been sat on the tube, and suddenly become very aware of the fact that you’re this tiny molecule in a massively gigantic sea of busy, late, funny, tired, exasperated, chatty (the list could go on forever) people? And I don’t just mean on the tube: I mean the whole of this incredible, diverse and all-round outrageous city. Well, it happened to me – and as it did, I started to realise that the overwhelming loneliness I had felt for the past two years was fully capable of packing up its oversized baggage and leaving me the hell alone. Alone in a way that meant I could admire this dingy tube carriage and all these people stuffed inside it; alone in a way that meant I could start living a life that was more full of hope than sadness.
I’m not saying that London cured me, more’s the pity, or indeed that London can (or should be able to) cure anyone or anything. What I am saying is that I came to a city that people freely call the loneliest place in the world, and I finally began to feel as though I was not alone. At last, I was making tracks towards freedom, away from the voice in my head that told me what I should and shouldn’t do, what I could and couldn’t eat, how I could and I couldn’t feel. I was a part of something, even if I couldn’t quite explain what it was or what it meant to me.
For 12 glorious minutes on the not-so-glorious Central line, my mind seemed to breathe a sigh of relief that was crisper and fresher than an ice-cold bottle of water on a sticky summer’s day. And then, just like that, I was barged out of the way as someone rushed to get off the train at Notting Hill Gate. Ah, London – so gigantic, so busy, so late, so funny, so tired, so exasperated, so chatty, and so alive.
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