A few months ago, I went “home” to California for a month. The official reason was to visit my family for the holidays and do a speaking engagement I had been booked for at UCLA. The unofficial reason, however, was a little bit more complicated than that. For the last year I had been feeling like New York was a claustrophobic monster that was beginning to close in on me. It sounds so stupid and dramatic but, after almost four years of living in the city, I had started to feel unsafe for no reason. And not unsafe in the “Oh my god, I think I’m going to get mugged!” way. (I had been mugged before I even moved to New York, when I was looking at colleges to transfer to from California, and it didn’t scare me off one bit.) I mean unsafe in a vaguer sense. Like I would walk home alone from a bar on a Saturday night and get the overwhelming fear that I could just disappear, like I could just vanish and no one would even think to look for me. This anxiety stemmed from the fact that I felt very lonely and isolated at the time. I was experiencing detachment from most of my friends, so I would just go off the grid for a few days and become a total frosted flake. It was a vicious cycle. I would feel alienated, so then I would alienate myself and feel even more alone. There was no logic but, in my defense, I had pretty terrible coping mechanisms. I went through a lot of changes in a short period of time and, quite frankly, didn’t know how to deal with any of it, at least in a healthy way.
It was worse during the summer. Those were three months of hell, of lost days and hazy memories, and in the middle of it, I went back to California for the first time to get my crap together. I originally was only supposed to go for a week but I ended up staying for a month. When it was time for me to leave, I kept postponing it, and you want to know why? Because I was legitimately scared of New York. Isn’t that ridiculous? In the story of my life, I had casted New York as the villain, as some sort of abusive lover who represented everything bad that was happening in my life. The thought of returning made my bones tremble. I was convinced that by staying in California, I was keeping the monster at bay. It’s not me, It’s New York!
Except, of course, that wasn’t true at all. And here I was, a few months later, going back to California for a month under the guise of figuring my stuff out again. I believed that this time the sunshine and beach and being with my family would act as some magical cure and shake off these feelings I had been grappling with for quite some time. California would be my salvation.
Do I even need to interject the cliche saying here, the one that ensures doom when one runs away from your problems? “Wherever you go, there you are!” It’s trite but true. Put a beach in front of me and I’ll just be feeling the same terrible things. Sad with a beach. Changing my locale only demonstrated that my issues were something a plane ticket couldn’t solve. I was supposed to know this already. I was supposed to know that running away wouldn’t fix anything and, in a way, I was aware that it was fruitless. I just didn’t want to make the changes that were necessary in order for me to be happy. I was enjoying my downfall, deriving some sick pleasure from the misery that I had grown accustomed to. It feels good to run sometimes. It feels good to be broken. This is something no one is supposed to tell you. We’re supposed to always want to better ourselves. It’s human nature to strive for excellence. But that’s not entirely true. You can experience true comfort in destroying yourself. It’s exciting to see how far you’re willing to go. It’s like playing a game of chicken with yourself. When is it going to stop?
My last few weeks in LA I felt totally depleted. I knew I didn’t have another escape in me and, as it turns out, running away from your life is expensive and exhausting. I needed to go home. I needed to fix myself in my own apartment with my New York family and commit to the city. No more scapegoating New York for my problems. That was cowardly and getting me absolutely nowhere. It was time for me to take responsibility and stop placing the blame on a damn city. Whenever someone complains to me about the city now, blames it for all their unhappiness, I want to tell them that it’s probably them, not the city. If they moved, they might buy themselves some time but as soon as the novelty wore off, all of their demons would come out to play again. For some people, I genuinely believe that New York isn’t the best place for them. It brings out unhealthy behaviors and they quickly discover that they’re too mellow for the fast pace or whatever. But for the most part, if you honestly believe that it’s a city’s fault that you’re unhappy, you haven’t figured it out yet.
I’ve been back in New York for two and a half months and I have no plans to return to California for more than a week or two at a time. I did what I sought out to do when I returned and made some necessary changes. I’m not saying that those familiar feelings won’t rise up again and I’ll find myself wanting to leave. But I will say that, for the first time in my life, I took a proactive role in maintaining my own happiness. This is something I never thought I would have to do or could do. But here I am! And to tell you the truth, I’m not even sure why I’m writing this. A lot of the things I’ve talked about in this piece have been popping up in my articles lately and I guess I just felt like a coward hiding behind the all-knowing second person. It was time for me to come out of the “I went through a hard time!” closet. I want to make it clear though that this isn’t a way for me to say “OMG, I’m cured! I’m so happy!” because, ew, that would be sanctimonious and not entirely true. I guess I just felt the need to talk about where I was and where I now hope to go. And to also tell you to please stop running away from your issues. They’re tenacious little brats and they will always find a way to sneak into your carry-on.