Finding contentment in the Surrey countryside

Nicola Budd
Artist, Howell Illustrations

Two and a half years ago I found myself crying in a disused stairwell in the London building where I worked. It was the moment my brain had just reached capacity, and that was that.

I knew I’d been unhappy for a while, and had been contemplating leaving for a number of reasons. Just a year prior to that I’d been happy in my job in a small company, with lots of people who socialised together and generally had fun, in a nice, bright, airy office in Baker Street.

Then came the buyout – we were herded into a purpose-built building on Victoria Embankment where there was no natural light (at least where I sat), we lost half the people who had made the company so fun, and suddenly we were faced with thousands of people, all sitting at desks, clicking away like the workers we were.

The Friday pub nights vanished, any hope of pay rises and promotions in exchange for hard work vanished – and so did my sanity.

I’ve always been the type of person whose environment affects them hugely – and I still believe that office and its location in London contributed to my break down.

Suddenly, I wasn’t who I had been: I couldn’t remember things, or organise them properly.

I couldn’t logically order basic actions, as I always had been able to do very well (even today I still feel that I am sometimes walking through a fog that I once found it easy to just blow away) – and I started to get physical symptoms, unpleasant pins and needles, I was exhausted all of the time.

There has got to be more than this, I thought.

Just getting out of London was a huge relief. In a way, I am grateful I reached breaking point – it galvanised me to do something, to find a way of living that had a greater balance between life and work.

I didn’t quite find it immediately: too poor to stop work, and believing that the direction was for me, I re-trained as a teacher directly through a school. By the end of two years I could feel myself being dragged backwards, I had to give everything to those kids, I wanted to give everything to them. But I’d learned my lesson: I couldn’t give up my mental health.

I left.

I’d wanted to move out of the city for a long time. Luckily, I found someone who felt the same, and we moved out to the beautiful Surrey countryside.

I will not say that I am ‘better’ here, but I have created more opportunities for happiness than I ever had before.

It also gave me the chance to start my own business, Howell Illustration. It took me a long time to find my identity, but once I’d been through my papercutting, jewellery making, painting, knitting, photography phase, I found pen and ink. I love using a dip pen and ink: it matches perfectly with my intricate, neat style, and it has stuck with me since the day I found it.

With the discovery of my niche, it feels as though the rest of my identity is slowly falling into place.

Because I specialise in nature art, and am hugely inspired by the natural world, it led to me start the journey to zero waste. I now have sustainability as a core value, and I ensure continually that Howell Illustration remains on that path. And, as part of this year’s plan, I’m delving more deeply into minimalism and slow, simple living, values that are entwined with my art, my blog and my newsletter.

I have days where I feel pretty awful, and days where I feel really good. The days where I feel really good now outnumber the days I feel really bad.

And some rare days, when the weather is just right and I’m out walking in the forest, or when our rabbits sit together, curled in that really cute way, or when I’m sitting at the table, looking out at the fields, I will feel real, golden happiness, something I thought I’d lost.

Huge thanks to Nicola for sharing her story here, if this resonated with you, leave her a comment below. If you’d like to stay up to date with views, news and pick me ups, join the club here. Thanks, Jo

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