Living as a Digital Nomad

I’d like to tell you a story about what happened to me last summer, during August / September 2019. I have a diagnosis of the mental health condition schizoaffective disorder, which has led to several hospitalisations and a generally quite turbulent life journey over the last 15 years. The last time I was discharged from hospital, around five years ago, I had very limited accommodation options and I ended up moving into what is known as ‘supported housing’, which basically means partially subsidised housing with practical support from a mental health charity.

The home I moved into is a small one bedroom flat in an area of South London which I absolutely love, and it’s a great place to live, except for the problem of having two very difficult neighbours who live in the same building, which is a house divided into three separate self-contained flats. The most difficult of my neighbours has serious mental health problems which cause him to be a compulsive bully, and he spends most days shouting at his cat, smoking marijuana, and playing music so incredibly loudly that it can be heard at the end of the street.

For the above reasons, among many others, I got so fed up living in this place that one day last summer I packed up a bag with some essential belongings (including my laptop) and left the flat without the intention of ever coming back. I hoped that I’d be able to persuade the authorities of the seriousness of the situation, and that a happy solution would be found in due course.

While I discussed everything with my landlord, the supported housing charity, my local Member of Parliament, and the police, I spent some time staying in temporary accommodation. When no solution could be found to the problems with my neighbour, and the police and housing association were unable to intervene (for legitimate reasons), I made plans to move into privately rented accommodation and start a business – Tealight Books – which I have been planning to establish as an author services company as well as a publishing imprint for some time.

After a great deal of flat hunting while moving between different cheap hotels and Air B’n’B’s, I managed to find a room to rent in a flatshare in Wimbledon (that’s the Wimbledon famous for the tennis tournament), which is located in another borough of South London a short journey from where I had been living in Wandsworth. In this new flatshare, I would be living with an Indian couple and an Italian girl. The rent was very affordable for the area, largely because there were no communal living areas in the small flat.

My plans were underway to become self-employed and establish Tealight Books working from home, and I had gone some way along the process of applying for a small business loan in order to do this. But it soon became clear that things were not working out in the way I had hoped.

So what happened? Well, I found that I didn’t feel comfortable in that place at all. For a start, the vibes that I got from the flatmates were not good. Also, the lack of a communal living room meant that the kitchen became something of a battleground, and having lived in a self-contained one bedroom flat for the previous five years I found it very difficult transitioning into a shared flat where there was much less privacy and space.

Another thing that made me unhappy is that Wimbledon is a very expensive area. Although the rent for the room was reasonable, the living costs were very high. The only local supermarket was very expensive, and all the public amenities nearby were as well. In general, the whole feel of the area was not what I was expecting, and I found I was feeling unwelcome, lonely, and paranoid — I was not settling in well at all.

There came a day when, after I got into an argument with the Indian couple about some domestic issue, I felt that things weren’t working out, and that I should probably leave. I was in danger of becoming homeless, and I phoned the mental health crisis line, as well as a family member, to ask for advice. The general consensus was that it would be wise to return to my previous accommodation, even though I had already given in my notice. I wrote an email to the landlord of my previous accommodation explaining that I would like to revoke my notice and return to the property, and they said I could.

I wasn’t happy about going back, because I had left that property feeling I was unable to continue putting up with the insensitive behaviour of my neighbours. But it felt like moving back was the best thing to do in the circumstances. I had already cancelled all the services at the flat — gas, electricity, water, TV licence, Internet, etc — and had also made the decision to come off state benefits because I intended to start work as a self-employed small business owner.

After I returned to the Wandsworth flat, which I felt very uneasy about (all things considered), I had to go through an upsetting and stressful process of severing my contract with the landlord from the Wimbledon flat and settling back into the old flat by taking out new contracts with all the aforementioned utility companies, and reapplying for the state benefits that would allow me to pay my rent. A complicating factor is that my bank had mistakenly cancelled my debit card while all this was going on, so I had very limited access to money.

In time, things settled down a little, and I was able to arrange the practicalities of moving back into the old place. I had given a lot of my belongings to a local church, because my room in the Wimbledon flat was relatively small, and I was fully intending never to return to the old place.

By around the middle of October, I had pretty much sorted out everything important back in the Wandsworth flat. The neighbour who had been causing me all the trouble that had prompted me to wish to move out was still behaving just as before (playing the very loud music, etc), and even started stamping loudly on the floor outside my flat whenever he passed by, which seemed to be an intimidation tactic quite characteristic of his general behaviour.

As I write this it’s July 2020 and I have been living back in the Wandsworth flat for nearly a year. On a daily basis, when my neighbours act in a way that is thoughtless or antisocial, it frustrates me greatly, and I still often find myself thinking about how much I would love to be living in a place where I could be on friendly terms with my neighbours.

Okay Steven, thanks for the story, but how does all this relate to self-publishing, digital nomadism, and the author epiphany?

Well, I’m glad you asked; sorry about the voluminous introduction. During the weeks where I was living ‘between properties’ and staying in temporary accommodation, I was living almost exclusively out of a single rucksack. In the months prior to all of this taking place I had spent a lot of time watching videos about alternative living on YouTube. I had become very interested in van life, and had even contacted some people who were advertising that they had vans for sale, with a view to potentially buying a van, turning it into a home on wheels, and embarking on a new life as a travelling self-publishing van dweller.

As well as the van life videos I had been watching, I viewed a large number of videos from vloggers who were living as digital nomads. While the idea of travelling has never really excited me, there was something about the freedom of being able to live and work having only the contents of a single backpack that was, and remains, incredibly enticing to me.

That said, the experience of summer 2019 which I have detailed above gave me a valuable insight into what nomadic living might be like. And let me tell you, it wasn’t very pleasant at all. Not knowing where one might be sleeping from one night to the next can be incredibly stressful, and not having the stability of a reliable internet connection and basic privacy were challenges that I found really difficult to live with.

In my experience, it’s not easy to generate an income as self-publishing author that would be large enough to make me feel comfortable about living a travelling nomadic lifestyle. The only circumstances in which I think I would find nomadic living appealing are if I were to hit the New York Times bestseller list and experience a Jordan Peterson like explosion of my YouTube channel. I would want to be very financially stable before even considering the nomadic lifestyle again.

Those of you who have read the ‘Welcome’ page on this website will be aware that I wrote about the dream of making a living as a self-publishing author, and of enjoying the freedom of being able to work from anywhere. These are still dreams I do believe are entirely possible, and the information I have provided on this website will hopefully contribute to many people achieving such a life.

That said, my own life focus has changed somewhat following the experiences of last summer. While I am still ambitious to become a full-time self-publishing author, I have realised that I love the comfort and stability of having a roof over my head and a simple and regular life routine. I’m not as much of an adventurer as I thought I was.

There was a time, many years ago, when I went to a travel agent and got some information about the possibility of travelling the world using some savings I had. But presently, having been through four spells in psychiatric hospital, having been on medication with troublesome side effects for many years while continually living with the possibility that I could relapse at any time, my ambitions have become more focused on simple and peaceful living, rather than the thrill-seeking of my younger years.

These days, my ambition is to live a simple, peaceful life. I want to spend my days talking with people about all the big problems of philosophy and theology, and writing books about the insights God has given me into philosophical matters from the comfort of my laptop. I want to do a little each day to reach more of the right kinds of people with my writing, and I want to focus on building beautiful relationships and developing my character and personality in a positive way.

When I hear my neighbour shouting or growling at his cat, or playing his ridiculously loud music, I sometimes still think about putting some essential belongings in my rucksack and leaving this place for good, as I tried to do last summer. But I have learned that the dream of digital nomad freedom isn’t quite what one might expect, and that there is perhaps more freedom in finding deeper levels of appreciation for the blessings of one’s immediate circumstances, rather than in striving after dreams which can actually make life more uncomfortable and stressful than we might initially imagine.

Phew! Good to get that off my chest. What next? Learn about ways to make money as an author!

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