I am a dramatic and anxious person. I can envision any and every horror that will befall me the second I go outside. From fires to brain aneurysms, I think about what could go wrong all the time. Which is great when you’re writing a thriller novel. But for day-to-day, it’s exhausting. So much so, that just a couple years ago, I wouldn’t leave my apartment except to walk the dog.
But over the last two years, I seem to have found my happy place. And it required changing everything in my life.
I don’t need to tell you that life has a way of veering wildly out of your control. That despite your best efforts, bad things happen. That’s how it is, we all deal with it. That quote floating around social media about everyone fighting a battle is true.
For me, it was losing my mother to pancreatic cancer. And then losing my career. Layoff after layoff decimated any savings I had. I was trying to eke out a living with blog posts and barely surviving. At 20, I could have dealt with it. At 39, I was exhausted.
So I left. I left it all. This isn’t an ode to leaving New York. I love that city with all my heart. But I had a sinking feeling if I didn’t do something drastic, make a major change, I’d end up that batty old woman wandering the halls of your building in her housecoat, muttering to her dog. (I was really almost there.)
I moved away because my lessons don’t come easy. I’ve never been the person who can meditate and then hit an epiphany. I need to live through things and hopefully become better. Things have to get really bad before my brain says, wait a minute! Let’s change things. My life in New York felt over. I couldn’t get hired; I was barely covering all my bills and rent. My dog had vet bills, which meant I lived off instant noodles. It wasn’t what I wanted anymore. My dreams of being an editor no longer appealed to me.
So what did I want? To write.
After my first layoff, I was so deep in grief over my mother that I couldn’t fathom taking a job. I couldn’t get out of bed. But then I started writing fiction. Writing gave me something to look forward to. Something to focus on that wasn’t the big hole in my life where my mother used to be. It gave me a lifeline. And I realized that’s what I wanted to do. So I wrote and rewrote until I liked what I was doing.
But reality check: Writing fiction will probably not pay the bills. I would love to be able to live in New York again and not worry over money all the time. That gnawing feeling that your card will get declined at the grocery store, or hoping the MTA machine is accepting coins for once. (Yay, more things to worry about!) Or that embarrassment that comes when your friends charitably pay for your dinner. This wasn’t where I was supposed to be at 40.
While I was having this shift in my goals and slurping down my fifty cent ramen noodles, my dad was in Arizona, by himself. That weighed on me, too. He and my mom had the type of love that stories are written about. They were soulmates and he was alone now. I promised her I’d take care of him and now he was so far from all of us kids. I had to pull my head out of my self-pitying butt and make the decision to go be with him.
It’s been two years now. Living with a parent at my age is challenging. But I’m happy. There’s something about being so deep in the wild that makes me feel like everything will be okay. I see wildlife more than people: deers, javelinas, bobcats and mountain lions, coyotes. There’s a bear wandering around and a tarantula living outside the front door. I know bad things will still happen but I also feel like I can deal with them when they do. This former fashion editor who wore stilettos in snowstorms lives in sneakers and Birkenstocks and no makeup. I’ve learned to drive. And while I still have my bouts of anxiety and fear rising up, if I’m outdoors in nature, I calm down. I breathe. I’d like to bottle that for everyone. If you told me two years ago that I’d become a nature girl, I’d have laughed in your face.
In New York, I obsessed over getting a book deal. It was the only thing that would make me complete. I wanted a deal so bad I’d cut off a limb for it. I wanted to be successful like the people I followed on social media. But in the mountains, that desperation, that need, abated. I wanted a deal, sure. But the idea didn’t send me into a self-loathing tailspin. I stopped comparing myself to every other writer around. (Seriously, stop doing that.) I realized, finally, that success is not some finite resource. That if person A is successful, person B can be, too. That was a lightbulb moment and it took distancing myself from my old life to learn it. I told you, I don’t learn things easily. (And yes, I did get a book deal and my debut novel, #FashionVictim, comes out in September.)
Am I still an anxious person? Yes, of course. I struggle with that daily. But I’m learning to parse through what’s flashing in my head, to not react over every little thing. I’ve learned that I don’t like having to be in control of every single thing. I also know that I don’t handle stress well, at all. I learned that where I am at 41 is right where I should be and all our journeys are different. And I’ve realized I really enjoy the quiet. (My old apartment had an elevated subway right outside. Just thinking about it makes me tense up.)
If you’re where I was before I left, feeling like the me of two years ago, find your happy place. I don’t mean sell your things and move here (though if you want to, by all means!). I mean find that place where you can breathe. Find that place you can quiet your mind and just be. Log off social media for a while, focus on all the things that are going right in your life. It was a struggle for me to do that in New York because I wanted to do all the things everyone else was, and then got so worked up I couldn’t get off the sofa.
But out here where I have to drive two miles to check my mail, I feel so far off the grid at times that it’s easier to distance myself, to stop caring about what everyone else is doing. Find that place for you, even if it’s in your apartment. (And invite me over so I can breathe with you!) I’m gearing up to return to NYC for a visit, and I want to bring my happy place with me. If I’ve learned my lessons enough, maybe I will.