By Alyssa Firth
After graduating from college, I lived in Chicago for one year and eight months. In that time, I quit my first full time job after three months, went through a serious bout of depression that lasted most of my time there, was asked to no longer live with my roommates, lived by myself for the first time, gained skills and experiences I didn’t know I’d ever need and learned more about myself than I had in my entire short life.
When I think about everything I went through, it boggles me. Did I really do all that in such a short amount of time? And why on earth did I do any of it?
I don’t know why I moved to Chicago. I mean, I know I moved there with a friend because she wanted to go to grad school there and I loved the city. I was prepared for any challenge and being successful in Chicago seemed like something I could definitely do. I felt nervous and unsure about everything, but I’d figure it out. I always did.
But I didn’t actually prepare myself for the move. It sounded fun and bold, and even if I was a little scared, I had always thought it was good to force yourself to do the things that scare you. I quickly learned that I was uncomfortable with living in the city and all the things that seemed to go along with it. The long, crowded commutes by myself, not knowing how to make friends, and dating felt ridiculous when I was as miserable as I was.
“For the first time, I couldn’t find my sense of home. I missed my friends and family every day. The song “So Far Away” by Carly Simon became somewhat of an anthem — everyone was far away from me, but that seemed like my own fault.”
From the day I moved to Chicago, I never fully relaxed. I felt scared, alone, depressed, and I was the usual ball of anxiety I’d always been, but I hid a lot of that from my friends and family. I was ashamed that I didn’t know how to live my life properly, so to speak. I had the usual post-college shock that I know a lot of people have, but I felt like I was failing myself.
In my head, I decided no one wanted to hear someone lucky enough to live in a big city complain about it. I cried on the phone to my mom and dad weekly, but only to them. Have you ever seen a random crying girl in a crowd? That was me. I cried in public so much, I’m kind of proud of it. I didn’t really know anyone, so it didn’t matter.
For the first time, I couldn’t find my sense of home. I missed my friends and family every day. The song “So Far Away” by Carly Simon became somewhat of an anthem — everyone was far away from me, but that seemed like my own fault. I felt like I had put myself in Chicago, so I had to stay there, but I was utterly miserable. I created a routine of survival, not even making my rent with each paycheck. My fun was limited because I worked 50-plus hours a week and was too exhausted to explore the city. A phrase I often found myself saying was, “I don’t even feel human today.”
At a certain point, I started imagining scenarios that would force me to go home, like getting fired or a serious illness in the family. It took me a while, but I finally figured out I didn’t need anything to happen to go home. I could just go there because that’s where I wanted to be.
I took this photo the day I moved back home. When I first pulled this picture back up, I debated whether this was before or after I had cried (puffy under eyes give it away though). I remember the incredible sense of joy I felt driving myself back to Detroit. It felt like I had put my real life on hold the entire time I lived in Chicago and it was about to start back up again.
“It’s OK to admit you were wrong about yourself or your choices, or even that you were right.”
However, within an hour of being at my parents’ house, I felt confused. Most of my friends were busy, so I had to see them another day. I had a lot of unpacking ahead of me, but nothing to do right then. I sat on my bed and just felt like I didn’t know where to be. Despite how much I disliked being in Chicago, I had developed a routine there, and it suddenly struck me that it was all gone. That was exciting, but at that moment, bewildering. Once again, I hadn’t really prepared myself for this big change.
I cried out of exhaustion, relief, confusion, and whatever other emotion was going through me. My mom calmed me down, as she always does, telling me it was OK and that I didn’t have to know where to be right then. So I laid down, turned on the TV and snuggled with my dog. I was still a little lost, but I was finally home.
I could end up back in Chicago someday. I have no idea. The biggest thing I learned about myself is that I don’t know what’s coming next, and I can’t prepare for it. Life throws a million curve balls at you, and sometimes they really nail you. But it’s OK to not know how to handle it. It’s OK to admit you were wrong about yourself or your choices, or even that you were right.
I don’t want this to be an essay bashing Chicago, and I certainly don’t hate that city. Looking back, I wish I could have been in a different place in my life because I know I missed out on some great experiences out of fear and anxiety. That whole time, it was in my head that you were supposed to leave home. You weren’t living your life fully if you didn’t branch out somewhere else. But you’re not “supposed” to do anything. You can’t live your life questioning every move you make — you just have to live it.
Alyssa Firth is a graphic designer living in Royal Oak, Michigan, and still cuddling with her dog on a regular basis.