I will never forget that day in August, the day I flew in with a heaving, fuming cat in a soiled bag under my arm and turned the key to our new apartment for the very first time. I crumbled. I didn’t expect that reaction, so I panicked because of it. Sure, I had been nervous. Yes, I had been semi-afraid of whether my happiness would hold up in a new city. But I thought that was just the normal noise triggered by my terrible talent for self-doubt. I didn’t think I would actually collapse on my apartment floor minutes after my arrival.
I didn’t think New York City would rush in around me, making my world feel abrasive and unfamiliar, making me feel estranged from the very growth I had earned after two years engulfed in self-help literature and counseling. So why, why was I now hysterical with tears?
What sent me crumbling was the reality that the apprehension I had flown to New York with had been merely nerves surrounding ideas, hypotheticals, the potential fate of myself. These were fears. Possibilities. They had all been intellectualized. What I hadn’t been prepared for was the visceral experience which closed in around me with the closing of my front door. It was the experience of worry moving from something that had only been entirely mental to that which dropped into my body as a well-being that was entirely felt. And the fact that I was feeling—not just imagining—the very fear I had been dreading, the very reality I doubted whether I could actually stand up against, consumed me with panic almost immediately.
It was alarming, this instant return of loneliness. It was terrifying,
the weak way I collapsed in the very moment I could have been celebrating myself, the fact that I had found a way back to New York City, my dream world which had once been the heartbeat of my life.
While my panic did come from my feeling of aloneness, of losing hold of and sight of familiarity, the culprit was not my feelings. It was actually all my thoughts and assumptions surrounding aloneness. I was being reduced by my own thinking, terrified that the absence I was so suddenly witnessing myself in mirrored the elements surrounding my past depression, and I was afraid of that. Afraid of falling into the life cycle I had spent two years intent on surpassing. Afraid of the lifelessness I had known too well.
Afraid that depression would become me once and for all, that it would be a condition I could never shake,
which I could never overcome. That’s what was panicking me. That already on the first day back in New York—in my empty apartment, with my queasy cat—I felt myself losing hope that my future days, even in my most favored city, would be any different from the saddest, most isolating years of my entire life.
The crippling panic I experienced that first day lived in me for several days. Even as it subsided, I still found that I had to talk myself out of sadness every morning for a very long time. You see, happiness never rose up in me immediately or even completely. It just doesn’t. It has taken time. So much time. And effort. So much effort. I’ve had to go after happiness with perseverance. Actually, happiness is not the magic word. It’s self-belief. That’s what I’d lost and so desperately was seeking for myself again. My happy spot.
The place in time where all my senses and actions are informed by my believing in myself.
Because when you do, you’re able to reshape your world. You’re able to resolve it and repurpose the pain. You’re able to redefine the very limits you are up against. That’s what I’ve had to discover, that the degree to which you value and count on yourself is directly correlated to the degree to which you enjoy your life.
That first day in New York City, I couldn’t even walk down the street, let alone purchase an air mattress to sleep on. Yes, even in a city almost entirely composed of wandering bodies, I managed to still feel impossibly isolated. Paralyzingly self-conscious. Unable to bare it, I left my woozy cat and took a cab and checked into a hotel. That’s how I spent my first night in New York, running away from home, holed up in a hotel room with the TV on. I felt deeply ashamed of this, too. Ashamed that the only thing that could ease my pain was the voices of the Real Housewives. I was aware of how pathetic and privileged this was. Not everyone gets to jump ship and remedy their discomfort with a credit card and a hotel. But then, not everyone feels the walls caving in around them just standing in the middle of a room.
Not everyone stares out a window and wants to be apart of a life they feel excluded from or not strong enough for. Not everyone picks up on a person’s laugher and realizes they haven’t heard their own in months, maybe even a year. So sure, the television was on and I was wrapped in a robe under a cloud of white duvet but it wasn’t a luxurious moment. I was an escapee. A woman cradling herself, crying, thinking about the friends I didn’t have and the amount of antidepressants it was going to take to get me on my feet again. I was a woman alone in a hotel who had abandoned her sick cat in their new apartment just down the street.
I was wrapped up in myself, in problems entirely of the mind,
wondering how I had let myself slip into an existence I had once been too good for.
One important takeaway is this. That I was not above anything. In fact, that it’s better to not even imagine that you are. It’s better to realize that you are not immune. When I was lying in that hotel bed that first night, that’s what I wanted more than anything. I wanted to be immune. If I was immune, I could melt into the sheets and not be afraid of going at life on my own. I could wake up and feel comfortable in my body and calm in my head. I could have the strength to get up in the morning and go somewhere and say something to someone. And that’s what I wanted, I wanted to speak up.
I wasn’t looking to be showered with affection or even acceptance,
I just wanted to feel present, to be in the moment long enough to show and develop interest.
I wanted to say hello. When I fell asleep that night, I didn’t know how I was going to do it but I knew that’s what it was going to take to finally lift me out of my fear and depression. I was going to have to walk out into the world and talk. That that would take courage and self-compassion rather than the numbing affect of immunity was a detail I learned after my hotel stay, one step and one word at a time. That detail eventually brought me back to life.
The morning of the second day, I tried to eat the complimentary breakfast served in the hotel’s dining room. On one side of the room the tables were filled with people eating and chatting away, and on the other side there were big booths and tables and no one. That’s where I sat. I remember taking a croissant from the buffet and walking past everyone to the other end of the room. I remember sitting down at a big booth—not in the middle of the booth either, but at the very edge—as if a dozen invisible guests were squeezed in alongside me, as if I wasn’t sure I wanted to stay or be the first up and out. What I remember most is trying to eat my croissant and not being able to. My hand was shaking. I was so locked within myself, within my own little world. My shyness like a hand firm around my throat. My insecurity, palpable. I remember believing that everyone could see it. Could see how uncomfortable I was. How fearful. How socially and emotionally weak.
I remember a waiter walking a family to a table near me. I remember sensing that they had seen me trying to eat my croissant, that they had seen my hand shaking. How pathetic and impossible I was. How far I was from materializing, from showing up meaningfully in the world. I almost doubled over in tears but bolted. Bolting, as maybe you can tell, had been my go to move for the last nine years. And so, on the morning of my second day in New York, I bolted. Again. Against every ounce of me that knew I needed to do otherwise, I left.
The tragedy was I knew better than to leave. Lying in bed the night before I had told myself that today would be the day. Today I would push through the uncomfortable moments. That if I could just sit there and finish that damn croissant and have a coffee and, shaking or not, push through then I would eventually make it out on the other side. How do you account for this? I knew what I needed to do to help myself, to essentially get over myself, and still I bolted. Telling myself I wasn’t there yet. I wasn’t ready. I wasn’t prepared to even try.
The thing is, we are never ready.
That’s what I’ve learned. We can only be willing. Or, we can be desperate. That’s what I became. Desperate to get over myself. Because who I’d become was wearing me down. The reality that I’ve walked by more experiences than you could fathom was wearing on me. That I’ve left places I have wanted to stay at. That I’ve rushed out early as if I had somewhere else I needed to go, when I never had anywhere else to be. That was eating me alive. My own allowance for self-sabotage.
That I had passed by moments I’ve so desperately wanted to take in, to experience, to spend my time on. I’m not talking about just the big moments, either. I’m talking about all the simple moments that make up a life. Like, idling on the bench outside the coffee shop under a stream of beautiful light or eating my sandwich at one of the bakery’s round tables. I have given up on that light. I have rushed home to eat my sandwich on my bed. But I never wanted to eat it there. And I did what I did not want to do for years. Years.
When I moved back to New York, I didn’t know in which direction I was going to take my life. I knew the direction I wanted, and even needed, to take but I didn’t know whether I could do it. Whether I’d ever actually walk into the world and begin talking again. I didn’t know if I’d ever overcome my instinct toward escaping the uncomfortable moments, my instinct toward bolting and waiting for a better day to try and challenge myself. If you’re reading this right now, that means I’ve managed to do it. I’ve managed to overcome the worst of me, to not only turn my life around, but take my life back. I’ve managed to see beyond myself long enough to get out of my own damn way and get close to people, to prioritize listening to them more than my own berating interior voice. I’ve managed to no longer wait to reach out and speak up. This isn’t a story about how that happened, only that it can.
I’m not suggesting that my answer is yours, that walking out into the world and talking again will heal you the way it has transformed me. What I’m saying is that whatever it is you know you must do for yourself, that you feel unprepared for and vulnerable to, I’m saying that that is your answer, that that is enough to bring you back to life. Doing what you must is not actually the difficult part, it’s allowing yourself to. It’s the decision to try. Life is beautiful when we know we can do what we must. We are safe in every moment when we know we can do what we must, when we know we are stronger than our habit of running away, than our talent for self-doubt.
I’m here to tell you that the world gives you what you need when you stop leaving it.
The world rewards you when you finally stand for yourself. So, stop running. Stop running away so the world can love you. Trust me. Start sticking around and the world will talk and talk and talk you into love.