I remember standing in my mother’s kitchen, getting ready to travel to New York City for yet another work trip, when I sarcastically said to my father, “I feel like I live there,” and he responded, “Oh, I just assumed you would have tried to move there already.” My stomach flipped when he said those words because:
- I had always dreamed of living in New York City but never actually considered moving there.
- I couldn’t ever leave my family! That would be nuts. After all, Atlanta was all I’d ever known as an adult.
- Everyone knows you need to get paid a cabillon bucks to live there, and I certainly didn’t make that much. How else do you afford to go to those five star restaurants every night? [The answer is happy hour — that’s how you get by on no money and still have a social life.]
This was the day that my whole world changed.
Fast forward nearly two years. I’d been working my ass off to get my condo sold. Unfortunately, the HOA was in a lawsuit against the builder, and nothing was able to get funded because of some shit I can’t remember about lenders not lending to distressed properties. Fine. I had something like eight or nine offers and contracts [no lie] fall through on my house. I won’t go into the details here because it’s really boring. [So boring you’ll probably smash your head on a rock, and I can’t be held responsible for that.] It took well over a year for my condo to sell. Short sale. Yay.
I moved to Hoboken to be with my man on December 31, 2013. Have I mentioned that man is a saint? He put up with the emotional roller coaster of a short sale, and then he flew down on December 30, sicker than a dog, and helped me pack up the last few things in my place and then drove me up to The Big Apple. The move doesn’t matter, so I’ll leave that part out. What matters is that Dave is one of the most incredible people I’ve ever met, and he’s more loyal than anyone I ever could have imagined.
When people think of living in NYC, they think of Sex and the City, Gossip Girl, White Collar [#RIP], Friends — all of those shows where the characters have normal jobs yet still somehow seem to afford gorgeous luxury apartments. I knew that wasn’t “real,” but guess what? Even the people who make nearly $200,000 still live in shitbox apartments the size of the closet in my condo. My job paid me well, but it certainly didn’t pay me enough to be able to afford a one-bedroom apartment on my own. It almost didn’t pay me enough to give Dave half the rent money, excluding utilities and everything else that goes along with being an adult. I remember thinking how crazy it was that I was hemorrhaging money when I had almost no social life. When people tell you New York City is expensive, they mean it. And when I say it’s expensive, I’m not only talking about everything it costs to live there. And it doesn’t just cost money — though, dear God, it certainly does that. It’s an emotionally, physically, mentally expensive place to live. It challenges all of your reserves, and before you know it, it can take your sanity.
So here’s my story about giving up a whole lotta shit in order to live my dream in the magical New York City and what happened when that magic faded.
I was unhappy in NYC. I didn’t feel like me at all. I never realized how difficult it was to make friends, especially since I’d never had trouble with it before. Looking back now, I see a number of reasons why I struggled, but how could a little southern gal compete with one of the busiest, craziest, most accessible cities in the world? I had no friends. And by that, I mean I had no friends willing to find the time for me to come into the city to hang out or consider crossing the Hudson to hang out with me at home. Nobody wanted to meet my dog. Nobody wanted to see my new apartment. Why bother? If you live in NYC, you’ve seen it all. When I couldn’t get my best friends to come over and when traveling into the city to see people still wasn’t appealing enough, I started to wonder if there was something wrong with me. Was I not good enough? Was I not supportive or encouraging enough? Did I talk too much? Not listen enough? Why didn’t anyone want to spend time with me? I must not be worth it.
It’s difficult to make friends when people are scared of interacting with one another. When you walk down the street and people make eye contact but then quickly turn away, so as not to acknowledge your existence. I get it: you’re walking somewhere so you MUST be busy. But I’ve got news for you, people of the northeast, a smile costs nothing, and it’s the most valuable thing you can give to a person. [Side story: a New Yorker I love and respect posted something on Facebook about how people were polite to him while on a lunch excursion to a neighborhood bodega. He was shocked that people said “thank you” for holding the door and “you’re welcome” whenever he thanked them. This should be the norm, not the exception. I’m pretty sure lightning would strike me dead if I banished please, thank you or you’re welcome from my vocabulary. Manners, mother fuckers. Google it.]
I joined a gym to try to stay healthy, but mostly so that I could meet other people instead of relying on Dave all the time. He had band practice, hockey games and other adult stuff he had to take care of. I didn’t make any friends at the gym regardless of the level of effort I put into it. I changed my focus a little bit and signed up for a yoga class. I met some great people but didn’t keep in touch with anyone but the instructor. She’s one of the jewels that came out of the darkest year of my life. I’m still unsure why I struggled to make friends; I don’t think I’m so awful. New York City led me to believe me otherwise. New York City made me think I wasn’t good enough and didn’t deserve friendship.
I worked from home quite bit when I first arrived. There were a few reasons why, one being that I was never a full transfer and there wasn’t a desk available to me. Also because it’s incredibly hard to live anywhere in the New York Metro area and not make New York Money. I couldn’t cheaply get from Hoboken to Columbus Circle on a daily basis [think: NYC rent plus still paying for gas as if I were driving in Atlanta]. I had to walk to the bus stop in three pairs of long johns and through weather that would normally have me curled up in a ball under two blankets; wait in line for a bus that seemed to have the mind of a stubborn dog, only coming when it felt like it; fight my way through Port Authority [a special kind of hell]; then walk several blocks underground to the train platform and wait to get on the train. If I was lucky, I’d catch the express and maybe even have a place to stand where someone else’s hand would not be touching my butt, boobs or face. I’d take the train a stop or two, figure out where the hell I’d exit and finally walk across Broadway and into the monstrosity that is Time Warner Center. I’d take the escalator up two flights and stop at Bouchon for coffee or tea. That beverage break was the best part of my day and a total necessity after dealing with what was always a fucked up and exhausting 1+ hour commute. My commute into the office was so dreadful, it had me longing for Atlanta traffic.
Whenever I’d get into the office, I’d be sitting in the presence of people who visibly disliked me. The product manager that took every opportunity to make me feel stupid and valueless tried to pretend she liked me and understood my role. This is the woman who ultimately pushed me over the edge and helped me decide I needed a shitload of therapy. She was directly responsible for making four incredibly talented people quit their jobs, and yet, she rose to the top of the leadership team faster than anyone else in my department. So, product manager lady, if you’re reading this: FUCK YOU. And your boss.
It didn’t take long for me to decide to stop going into the office to be in a shitty environment working around really awful people [that’s not to say that there weren’t a couple of gems]. I upgraded the home office space and worked from a brand new desk Dave purchased for me. It was an awesome setup. I was eating healthy foods and getting as much exercise as my body would allow in winter weather. I worked doubly hard to keep in contact with my coworkers in Atlanta despite no longer being in the office. But after a while, people forgot to add video calls or conference bridges to meetings, and before long, they forgot to invite me to meetings altogether.
It wasn’t long before “out of sight, out of mind” became a very real nightmare for me. Work items stopped queuing. I would go two or three days without a single email. I’d eat lunch at 10.30 am, then again at 12 pm, then a snack at 3 pm. My waistline grew like a marshmallow in a microwave. My clothes stopped fitting. I stopped trying to get dressed every day, and I kept packing on the pounds. There were days where I would get up to take the dog outside, then get back in bed and stay there until 2 or 3 pm staring at the ceiling and responding to the occasional instant message on my laptop. Sometimes I’d cry; sometimes I couldn’t feel anything. I’m not sure how it happened, but it happened quickly. I was spiraling out of control.
There was no incentive to go outside other than to take the dog on a walk. No point in going to the grocery store because you can have everything delivered in New York — even toilet paper! We had a fantastic apartment with lots of natural light and a small outdoor patio, and honestly, the apartment was a dream compared to the ones I’ve seen my friends living in in Manhattan. The unfortunate part was that we were a few blocks from the grocery store [too far to carry everything myself], seven blocks to the nearest coffee shop and what seemed like an eternity in wintertime to the pet store where I had to buy Autumn’s food. We lived in the “family” section of Hoboken, where everything you might want to get to was at least a 10 minute walk away in cold, crappy weather, but the apartments were nicer! I remember feeling like everything I wanted from my life there was a trade-off; it was just a matter of what I was willing to give up in order to get what I wanted.
I remember everyone asking me how I was liking living in the greatest city in the world. And I remember wanting to deck them and throw them into the Hudson when they did. Living there requires great patience and lots of effort, two things I have in short supply. People were always surprised by my answer at first and then said to me, “Oh, that’s okay. Everyone hates their first year here. I wanted to kill myself until my Xth year.”
Um, I’m sorry, what?
At that time, I was headed toward 30. I don’t know how old all of these knuckleheads were, but clearly they weren’t mature enough to understand why I was not willing to waste a year of my life being miserable. I can’t even explain what it’s like to own your own home, own a car, have a savings account with actual money in it or be able to splurge on a vacation. These things I took for granted when I lived in Atlanta, and the new people in my life had never even experienced. So while all these people seemed personally offended that I wasn’t happy in NYC, I was feeling sorry for all of the things they’ve missed out on in life. But again, there I was, thinking I was the problem. I was too stupid to understand that New York City was the greatest place in the world and I should be grateful I lived in it.
Oh wait, no I didn’t. I lived in New Jersey. [You just passed judgement, didn’t you? Have you ever been to Jersey? Most of it is beautiful.] Have you ever told someone where you live and then have them immediately judge you based on their warped perception of your neighborhood? Give it a try sometime. It’s a real hoot. Does anyone ever really stop to consider why someone chooses to live where they do? Maybe there’s more to the story than you know, so quit providing people with your unsolicited feedback on their life decisions.
I bought my condo in Buckhead because it was convenient to two dance studios, I could hop on 400 and be at my parents’ place in 20 minutes, or I could hop on the connector and be practically anywhere in Atlanta in the same time. Everyone shit on me for living in Buckhead, just like everyone shit on me for living in Hoboken. But I was able to get anywhere I needed to be quickly, and I had everything I could possibly need a quick drive away. Meanwhile, in my head I’m wondering why the hell I keep making the wrong choices about where I should live. There has got to be something wrong with me. Surely if I lived in a cooler section of town, my friends would come visit me more often.
I spent a lot of money on therapy my last few months in New York City, and I don’t know how much it helped. Outside of helping me remove blockers like the job that made me physically ill, there was a lot of conversation about what I wanted and needed out of life. And here’s what I learned was important to me:
- Being close to my family and my friends.
- Feeling valued in both my professional and personal relationships.
- Having the option to walk or drive anywhere I want [but especially drive to the grocery store and buy a week’s worth of stuff].
- Being in a climate that is more in line with the Bahamas than Oymyakon, Russia.
- Manners [they are extremely important].
- Love is hard, but it’s fantastic when it’s right [and you’ll feel it when it is].
I’m back in Atlanta now, but Dave is still in Hoboken. And even though he’s going to move down here to be with me, there are still plenty of dark days when I feel like all of those big changes I was supposed to be proud of added up to nothing. But the good moments are finally starting to outnumber the bad ones. Sometimes I will catch myself feeling truly light-hearted and happy, and it’s a really great feeling. Knowing that Dave is going to be here with me in the next few months is a big relief, and for the first time in over a year, I am finally looking forward to something in my life.
Depression is a real thing. It hangs over you like a rain cloud constantly sucking the color from everything in your life, even the happiest and brightest moments. And the worst thing is, it doesn’t just sneak up on you — it’s a slow creep. It’s so slow you can’t even feel it happening, but when you look back at it, you see the signs clear as day. The first time I realized what might be going on is when Whitney mentioned it to me on gtalk one day. And then I brought it up with Dave. And then I started to take note of how I was feeling on a day-to-day basis [mood charts anyone?]. And it felt like I had sunk into a black hole with no way out. No matter how much progress I made climbing out on Monday, I fell back to the bottom on Tuesday. Depression is like quicksand: no matter how much you try to escape, it’s impossible to fully remove yourself from it without help.
The few times that I’ve heard people speak openly about battling depression, they’re always talking about the effect it has on them. The unfortunate part about depression [and all mental illness] is that it doesn’t just effect YOU, it effects everyone in your life. That whole year+/- that I spent so fucking pissed off, unbelievably sad or completely apathetic about everything really took a toll on Dave, on my family and on my friends. Not only was I hurting my body by cramming food in it nonstop, but I was hurting myself by personally causing my true friendships to deteriorate. And once I realized how my isolating behavior was affecting my relationships, it felt even shittier than loneliness. But at least I could identify the problem. And I started working to fix it. [I’m still working at fixing it.]
I’m incredibly grateful to those who have stuck by me through this awful time and tried to help me overcome this. I’m not quite in the clear yet, but I’m definitely on my way. And as much as it sucks to not feel like myself a lot of the time, I wouldn’t change this journey I’m on.
I don’t regret anything. If I had to do it over again, I’d definitely make a lot of decisions differently, but I don’t regret a damn thing about the last year. In fact, I believe that more people should take giant risks like I did because it’s worth it in the long run. Maybe next time I have an opportunity like moving to New York City, I won’t be doing it alone.
If you’re still reading this, then you might be feeling pretty crappy. Don’t. If anything, this giant post should be hopeful! If you’ve read this far and you’ve been able to identify yourself in my thoughts, hey, you’re not alone! There are other people out there dealing with the same dark cloud in their lives, too. You are not alone. The most important thing to remember is that you have the power to change things. The power to seek therapy, to work toward a brighter outlook – hell even get on medication if you need to – lies with you. Be brave enough to be honest with yourself, your family and your friends; be brave enough to be honest about the obstacles you’re facing; be brave enough to get help, whatever help looks like to you.
And remember, if your eyes meet a stranger’s, smile, asshole. It’s free and it burns calories.