On July 7, five days after returning from a trip around the world with some of my best friends, I moved to New York City. I hopped on a plane to become one of 8.4 million people living in 300 square miles of liveliness, litter, lights, loneliness and limitless dreams.
Within those 300 square miles, I moved into my 25 square-foot bedroom that was almost double the price of my triple-the-size-private-bathroom- off-campus apartment…).
The only place I’ve lived that even remotely compares to NYC is Madrid. But, to put it in perspective, NYC is a third bigger and has almost three times as many people. NYC is also 81% more expensive, though I do believe both cities never sleep.
The first couple months I did my own thing a lot. I enjoyed it, actually. Every day after work I explored somewhere new, ate something different and walked home a meandering way. It was the only way to cope with working a job from 9 to 7:30ish where I messed up every five minutes and couldn’t keep up. The learning curve was incredibly steep, even coming from a job in a similar industry and four internships doing practically the same work. The pace and expectations were on another level, and every day I felt like a failure. The worst part was that I often did not want to admit I was the one who had failed. I would shift blame to the confusing directions, fast-paced ask or complicated deliverable. Over time, I learned a big part of being an adult is not only failing but more importantly owning up to failure.
I couch-surfed my whole first week in the city and then lived in my cousin’s apartment for a month. My mom says helping me look for apartments in the city was one of the worst day of her life. She meant it. The process was agonizing, confusing, demoralizing and almost unsuccessful. We didn’t find an apartment until days later (most people in nyc sign for an apartment within two hours of looking). I did find a home, though, and I moved in and pretended to start adult-ing.
My first couple months I was completely overwhelmed – by the heat, dirt, grime, intensity, pace, noise (the sirens!!!!) and the homeless population. I would walk to my old job every day and pass 43 homeless people on the way. And those were just the ones I had to pass; I’d see tons others on my way from afar or across the street.
I did make a conscious effort to funnel my feelings into volunteering. And thank God I did because through this homeless shelter I met someone who attends the church I now call home. She encouraged me to go one Sunday, and I’ve never looked back. Through the church, my faith has grown and I’ve made some of the most amazing friends ever. I also meet weekly with three other women from the church where we talk all things vulnerable and difficult in our lives.
As hard as it is to admit, I stopped volunteering. The shelter needed people every third Saturday and I somehow found myself out of town, at a work event or a fun ticketed social gathering every third Saturday and rarely found ways to weasel my way out and head to the shelter. I really miss it and as I write this I’m making a note that I’d love to pick it back up in the fall.
While I was overwhelmed by my environment, I was also overwhelmed that even working 50-60 hours a week I still had so much free time. In college, I never had any time and I really didn’t have much fun. Not knowing what to do with myself, I tried out dating apps.
At first, I was so unimpressed by people’s profiles. I couldn’t believe some of the things people would write, and often certain apps only showed photos. I wanted a better sense of who someone was, and I was looking for something more serious. I did “date” one guy I met on an app for a few months here, but turns out he wasn’t really interested in fully investing in me and when I really looked at myself in the mirror, I wasn’t interested in investing in him, either.
In January, I did meet my current boyfriend on a dating app. I used to lie and say we met at a restaurant. We did… meet… at the restaurant. But that was after we matched on app. He has definitely brought so much joy, peace, love and fun into my life. But it hasn’t been on roses and daffodils this year.
The year was filled with some painful experiences. In November, I had a muscle spasm in my neck while at the gym. I had been doing push-ups, and all of a sudden one of the muscles on the left side of my neck spasmed and I collapsed onto the ground. For about four hours, my neck was in paralysis mode which left my head resting on my left shoulder. It was terrifying and I was taken to the ER. I waited a long time to be seen, told that my case was obviously less severe than others’ cases. Yet I couldn’t shake the idea that maybe my neck would be stuck like that for life.
Eventually, I was given a massive shot that sedated my body, as well as two huge pills to numb my body (ha – as an aside, I told the woman I wouldn’t take them because #opiodcrisis and she was looked at me and said, “let me tell you something. A muscle spasm in your neck – which I’m not saying you necessarily had because I’m the nurse but I’m pretty darn sure it’s what you had – is on the same pain scale as child birth. I’m pretty sure you’d get an epideral, so take the damn pills.”) I did. Immediately I sunk into the ER bed. A while later, the doctor walked in and said she was going to maneuver my neck back into place. She literally picked up my neck off my shoulder essentially to “remind” the muscle to work again.
For a week, I was on sedatives so I couldn’t work. One of my best friends here Maggie brought me dinner one of the nights, and it made me feel at home when I was feeling very far it. My mom would talk to me on speaker phone as I showered – the drugs were so strong that I could fall asleep while showering, so I was encouraged to keep someone very aware of my activities at all time in case I passed out. It was a…. growing experience… for sure. As someone who has suffered from anxiety since, say, age eight, I must tell you that all you anxiety-disorder-free people are freakin’ PRIVILEGED. Dude, while I was on that medicine, everything was so CHILL! Is that how your every day is?!
A lightheared conversation before diving into the even harder stuff.
This year I also lost my grandma and my uncle. I wasn’t super close to either person, but both were on my dad’s side and boy am I close to my dad. He’s one of my biggest inspirations and role models, and seeing him so sad for so much of this year has really taken a toll on me – and my family. I also had my fair share of complete breakdowns at work from the stress of adjusting to an extremely fast-paced work environment, personal struggles, family dynamics and adjusting to a new city all at once.
I frequently questioned why the hell I live here, and many times I sobbed on the phone with both my parents wondering how much longer I had to live in this “dirty shithole.” I also thought I had bed bugs multiple times because I’m paranoid and don’t want the full New York experience. And, to be quite honest with you (who am I kidding I’m always quite honest), I was also desperately trying to move on from a boy I fell in love with senior year who never felt the same way. So much change, and for a lot of it I felt alone.
Winter was b r u t a l. There were many more times when it was 11 degrees when I asked myself why the heck I live here — again. I’m not prepared for next winter given this year’s was apparently “a record hot.”
For all its shittiness, NYC is also the most amazing place ever. Nowhere else could I befriend the cashier at my local smoothie shop and get so excited to see her a few mornings each week. Nowhere else could I make friends with people on the subway, the streets, in stores. The city is the loneliest place on earth, but there are benefits to that. Everyone wants – and needs – friends. If you simply smile, people will stop and talk. I’d like to tear down the myth that New Yorkers are snobby and unfriendly. Go ahead and fight me on this, southerners, but New Yorkers are some of the most real and ready to talk people I’ve ever, ever met. Okay, yes, they look down when they walk and they don’t talk unless they have something to say, but if you engage them, they will listen and they will invest in you.
And the longer you live in the city, the faster you get out. I traveled to California, Scotland, the Hamptons, upstate New York, further upstate New York, two different parts of Pennsylvania and New Jersey throughout this year…. With no other plans than just to bask in the clean air and this green thing called grass… And I still probably traveled less than most of my colleagues and friends.
At one point in April, I broke down to my boyfriend that I had mono. “You do?!” he asked, incredulous and worried he had it too (ha). “No, not actually. But I physically feel as if I do, from trying to do everything all the time here.” I began sleeping for 11 hours a night, turning down social engagements, still barely able to keep my eyes open. Two weeks later, I contacted my doctor freaking out that I was anemic. She assured me I am already anemic (lol) and that I just need to start using this word called “no.”
Things got better. I spent more time by myself, went to sleep at reasonable times and drank more coffee. I also signed up for a lot of “self-improvement” classes. I took a writing class, a Spanish class, and even a dance class with my boyfriend. I committed to getting stronger and built a lot of muscle mass. I ran a half marathon, checking off number 13 of 50. And I upped my wardrobe by using Rent The Runway. From January until now, I committed to cooking three to four times a week, and I can now say I know how to cook!
I also fell in love again, so that was another whole can of self-improvement worms. Because, crazy, this guy fell in love with me back! You should all tell him to run.
Did you KNOW that when you date someone your flaws are on display for that person to see 24/7?????? Of course you knew this because every adult ever has told you this. Well, let me tell YOU, it’s worse than every adult ever told you. Wait until you date someone who prays for YOUR flaws every night. Like excuse me only I am supposed to know and deal with my flaws!!!
Anyway, my boyfriend has taught me more than I could express about slowing down, finding peace in a crazed city, believing in myself, fighting for what is right, prioritizing family, sacrificing time, being generous, selfless and thoughtful, and the power of abounding grace. He has also introduced me to lots of comedians, TV shows and sneakers – three things I swore off before meeting him.
If you made it this far, well, thank you. I hope I properly caught you up on my year in the Big Apple. I don’t have quite as ambitious goals for Year Two, but I’d like to post on the blog a little more faithfully. So stay tuned :).
I dare you to say yes to something terrifying. I said yes to going to a church where I knew no one and from there I found my best friends and my home away from home. I said yes to living in an apartment I had never seen in person and from there I found the cutest place. This year I said yes to boiling water and from there I learned to cook. I said yes to going on a date with a stranger and from there I fell in love. I said yes to working on myself and I realized massive growth in just twelve months. I said yes to taking a new job and from there I found joy and excitement. I said yes to a whole heck of a lot, and I got really exhausted in the process, but I grew more this year than any other year of my life. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
And I dare you to say no to something you always wished you had the courage to walk away from. I said no to dating a boy who wasn’t a good influence. I said no to continuing at a job that wasn’t the right work-life balance for me. I said no to social engagements when I felt tired.
If this girl who has lived in North Carolina can move to New York City not knowing a soul, you can say yes to something scary and no to something not worth your investment. I promise it will be the most challenging and rewarding year of your life.
Thank you to the friends near and far who have visited me this year, and the ones who have welcomed me into their cities, too. Come back again soon, and I promise I’ll be back soon, too.