I’m in a big yard in a suburban neighborhood by myself, ball and glove in hand, and I walk inside and there’s pictures on our wall and it’s our wedding, except it’s only me in a tuxedo, and a few family members in the audience, but they’re not smiling; they’re worried, they’re dying, it’s too late. Another picture: I’m tossing a Frisbee to a ghost of a baby that won’t exist in time, in time for my grandparents to see it, in time for me to be a great-grandparent, in time for us to be a young happy family, and everyone’s moving on, and I go back to the empty yard, and I’m surrounded by empty houses, and on another block are all of my friends and their families, happy, real, official, in time, and I wander through their blocks but now they’re busy, busy with reality, and I’m lonely so I go back to my empty street, and I’m even lonelier, and I don’t know what to do to make my block as colorful as their block, and I just want to start over and live a real life, and I feel like it’s already too late, I’ve already admitted defeat by Time, and I look back and try to figure out where I went wrong.
People say the long, bitter Chicago winters build character. They also say dealing with adversity builds character. Well something is being built alright, but whatever it is certainly is in danger of toppling to the ground.
My time in this city is coming to an end; everything has happened so quickly. I never seriously thought I would be leaving this soon. A roller coaster from start to finish, this experience has exposed a breaking point I never knew existed.
In the midst of this whirlwind period, I managed to get my master’s degree. I wasn’t running on fumes, though – I was running on fumes of fumes. Barely able to sleep. Barely able to wake up. Barely able to do anything in between. I was operating at such a low level that I was more dead than alive. I was so burnt out from studying for the CFA and working hard at my internship, that I could barely handle my very challenging projects and final exams. In this last semester / quarter, I got a B and a C+, which in grad school are the loose equivalents of a C+ and a D+. I was broken. I had nothing. There was so much going on and I couldn’t wrap my head around it all.
As the lease expiration date on my apartment quickly approached, I was forced to actually think about my plan past the CFA exam. I just wanted things to stay simple so I could study and focus on doing something productive in my life, but I was faced with a dizzying amount of problems, situations, and deadlines. I brought much of this upon myself, and I didn’t handle this period well. Still, it left me in pieces.
I considered staying in my current place, then I looked at apartments in the city, then I looked for places in the suburbs. The next week, I found myself thinking about staying at home for a while. Days later, the idea of staying in Florida became more of a reality, especially after a surprise phone call from my sister. Within weeks, I knew going to Tampa was the most logical decision. I can’t afford to stay in this expensive city without a real job, and no jobs have come my way. I need a break from my mind. Peace. A situation where I’m not spending much money. Family support. An indefinite change of scenery. A haven from this hell. At 25, I need to take more responsibility with my life, and this is the responsible thing to do.
The doctor started me on Strattera, a drug to help both ADHD and anxiety. It stays in the system 24 hours, so it shouldn’t have the ridiculous peaks and valleys that come with Adderall. However, it takes months to actually start working. When I moved to Chicago, I had really started taking the gluten-free thing seriously, and I had just started Adderall and stopped a bunch of other drugs. All of that took time to start working. It’s funny how I move during these adjustment periods. They seem to provide an amplified sense of closure: I moved to this city, I found an apartment, I started school, I dated and loved a girl, I adjusted to a drug, and I began a life here. Now, I am moving from this city, I am leaving the apartment, I finished school, the girl is gone from my life in the most extreme and sad way, I quit the medicine, and I’m giving up all the momentum I started here. Did this city even exist? Does it even acknowledge my existence? Will there be any mention of me in the record books? I don’t know if I like this closure, but none of my hardest efforts have been rewarded while I’ve been here. As weird as it feels, it’s time for a(nother) change.
I guess a year is my attention span for a city. I’m looking forward to being around my sister and nephew and grandparents in Florida. I wish I could say I was going there under better circumstances, with a set plan in life and a job in the area or something like that, but this is the best I can do. I have no clue how long I will stay. I’m not signing a lease. I’m not buying new things. I’m only taking the bare minimum with me. I’m not tying myself down in any more ways than necessary. It’s a commitment-detester’s dream. Until I figure out what I’m doing with my life, this is the smartest route.
I have dealt with adversity ineffectively; time will tell if I become a better person because of it. Until then, it’s simply adversity, and it sucks. In two weeks, my work here will be done. Hopefully I can take my experiences and knowledge with me and thrive in a completely new environment. Here’s to new beginnings and sad endings. Chicago, you won. You beat me senseless. I’ll learn from this. I’m not going to let my surroundings beat me again.
Edit: At this very moment, I am supposed to be in Cancun with some of my best friends, but I’m not. I canceled on short notice. I was looking forward to that trip so much, but it just didn’t feel right when I had to move out and take the CFA in two weeks. When I’m this stressed in life I usually drop out of every possible obligation (luckily, I managed to not drop out of grad school for a second time). I don’t feel as bad about canceling as I thought I would, though. I’m taking the most important test I’ve ever had to take, and getting my moving situation dealt with is a big deal. I’d rather have my guy friends complaining about how stupid I am for not going than about how an otherwise smart person keeps avoiding the real world and not doing anything with his life, which has been the more frequent topic covered when I’m mentioned. I need to take a bunch of deep breaths and get through this last two weeks alive, and only then will I feel up for a vacation.
I recently visited my sister and grandparents in Tampa, an extremely apprehensive feeling clouding my thoughts. Around Thanksgiving and Christmas every year, I have to fight back tears that I get because of an awareness of my family situation. Holidays used to be normal, at least as normal as they could be with a family like mine. But over the years, things changed for the worse, and the holidays are synonymous with isolation, sadness, and a longing for the past.
We used to celebrate Christmas at my grandparents’ on Christmas Eve after what seemed like the longest church service in the history of man. The night before the 24th, I would fool myself into thinking that, the earlier I fell asleep, the earlier the day would come. Of course, I would fixate on this tirelessly for 8 hours until, upon waking, I would realize I got about 30 minutes of sleep. Nonetheless, everyone could plainly see my anticipation and subsequent rapture; I would jump around like any other kid on this happy holiday with wonderful spirits and an eagerness to seize the day.
We would usually spend the next morning, Christmas morning, reading the relevant Bible passages, eating a good breakfast, and opening presents at my parents’ (mom and stepdad’s) house. Then my dad would pick me up Christmas evening and I would walk into my room at his house to find a large quantity of presents that I was always hoping would be more than the previous year (he wrapped everything, even packs of gum and Chapstick, to boost the number of presents, but he still got me a ton of things). I would then visit my cousins’ place one of the next few days, and sometimes we would visit my mom’s aunt and other family and friends.
This was the case for most of my childhood until high school, and although the family was never perfect, they got along enough to do the same thing every year without many problems. Then everything changed: besides people growing up or moving, which happens in all families, the hostilities increased to the point where Christmas as I knew it could no longer exist. I was used to spending Christmas with the same group of people in the same place on both my mom’s and dad’s side. Long story short, no one wanted to be in the same room anymore. I was the only one who talked to everyone, but it was now much harder. I would have to see each entity individually, on both sides of my family. Christmas got smaller and more depressing.
Now holidays are spent very casually, if they are spent at all. It’s like three or four people usually. My mom sometimes cries, and it has become hard for me to feign excitement because I share some of her pain. The few of us have gone out to eat at a casual restaurant a number of times in recent years. My dad is usually alone or with a girlfriend, and we usually just play some cards and eat food. I visit my grandparents and sister in Florida and enjoy seeing them, but it just isn’t the same anymore. We don’t really do much for it except share cards. It’s warm in Tampa so it doesn’t feel like winter. And there isn’t a Christmas tree or many packages anymore.
I guess this wouldn’t be as bad if I didn’t know what family feels like. But I do know that this group of people, in the past, has worked together to share warmth and happiness with each other and provide me with a sense of contentment. No one is perfect, but it is nice when everyone gets along and has a real actual holiday. The growing up part, where the young people grow old and are busier and don’t want many presents besides money or actual useful things, would be manageable if I knew the people around me had a sense of togetherness. I don’t feel like I can provide enough love and solidity by myself to cover for the nonexistent part of the family. Besides personally wanting to enjoy the holidays without having to deal with divided units, I want the people I am with to be individually happy. When I put myself in their shoes, it is impossible for me to believe they can be at ease when people they care about are not in their lives. I don’t know what that feels like, but everyone else in my family does.
I’m not trying to depress you. I’m not asking for sympathy because my holidays suck; I have some great friends who have made me feel like part of their family on numerous occasions. Really, I just feel that something must be missing from my family members’ lives, because I know it is missing from mine. I wish there was more I could do.
I was walking along Sand Key Beach on a perfect day as my sister followed behind with her camera. The waves occasionally came up farther than I anticipated, and we both laughed when my rolled-up jeans would get soaked.
During this walk, I thought about our childhood. I thought about how much I missed my sister. I thought about the week in Tampa. We had a great chat and bonded for the first time in a while (I keep more to myself nowadays, plus we’re both busy and far away). I got to be around my nephew for an extended period of time. Holding little baby Jacob was a reminder of how important my sister is to me. I am a part of his life. I’m her brother. I’m his uncle. I haven’t seen my grandparents smile that much since I was young, and it makes me smile seeing how much love they give to the baby. My family might not work well, but this is family. A new start. The person I looked up to growing up is now a loving, happy mother. The man she is with makes her happy and is a wonderful father. I don’t get to see her as much as I would like, but I’ve never seen my sister this happy.
I guess I forgot what that feeling of family is like.
Who knows, maybe I will move to Tampa after I finish in Chicago. Maybe that’s what I have been looking for. Maybe spending more time around this part of my family is the solution to the holiday problems.
Merry Christmas, everyone.
I moved to Chicago for so many reasons. SF is far, far away and the people are very different. I missed simple Midwesterners. I missed chain restaurants (barely). I missed seasons, and the inclination to seize the day because the good weather is more ephemeral. I missed driving on quiet roads in the plains, just getting away. I missed playing Ultimate Frisbee with people who were actually good. I missed being able to park my car without getting a street cleaning ticket. I missed paying less for things (Chicago is expensive, but SF is ridiculous, and the rest of Illinois is dirt cheap). But these reasons are not enough to warrant a move. The true factors were family and friends. I missed my family in Springfield. I missed my family in Florida; it is much easier catching a direct flight to Tampa from Chicago, and my grandparents like driving back to Illinois anyway to visit some of their close family and friends. I missed my close Chicago and Peoria friends. I had a girlfriend and wanted to be closer to her, as a distance relationship would not be feasible.
Let’s rewind a bit. Months before moving, I had dropped out of grad school after finishing 3/4ths of a Master’s program, and my life was so hectic from that point on. I traveled through Europe alone and had some fun and also crazy experiences. I attended a Cardinals win in the NL Championship Series. I saw numerous psychiatrists, psychotherapists, and doctors. I sought the support of friends, yoga, and meditation. I read a few self-help books. I started Adderall. I started and later finished (because they didn’t work) many different antidepressants and anti-anxiety medicines. I changed my diet. I realized I am gluten intolerant. I exercised more. I changed my spending habits. I checked things off of my SF area bucket list. I took piano lessons and started to learn French. I read an absurd amount of books. I worked a few minor temp jobs and got paid to participate in a bunch of fun focus groups. I tried to figure out what I want to do in life that isn’t finance. I had some interesting experiences with girls. I rented a Shelby Mustang GT and drove faster and better than I ever have in my life. I went on a bunch of hikes alone. I dabbled with journaling. I went on a cruise with my close friends and saw my family in Florida. I visited home. I started a fun relationship with a girl who had liked me for a long time. I…the list is endless.
All of this sounds like a step in the right direction, and it probably was. Realizing that I had ADHD and depression, and subsequently dealing with it with the right medicine, really helped. Being more aware of myself and of my problems also helped. It was like I was just starting to live, just beginning my actual existence. I knew it would take time to figure myself out. I was confident and had good SF friends to help while I transitioned into a new life and career path.
So if all these positive things were happening in SF, why would I decide to move back home? I don’t have a straightforward answer to that, but for one, I was playing on house money. This all sounds great but living a life of fulfillment and entertainment and medicinal help and little work, etc., are not cheap by any means. At 24, I was lucky to have such great grandparents providing some of my monetary support, but I could not stand still accepting money. I needed to get on my own, to make my own money and get rid of that feeling of guilt. I needed to say I accomplished something and earned an honest living. Every one of my friends had a job or career path at this point. I had been secretly living this lifestyle of wandering for years. On the cruise with my friends, we sat at a table for nice breakfast one morning. A nice older couple across the table asked everyone what they did or were trying to do for a living. It came to me, and I just told the truth of not being sure but doing a lot of fun things while I figure it out. The husband’s response was, “Hey, I can’t wait to live the retired lifestyle either. You’ve got it made.” I laughed sheepishly. In so many ways, this was depressing to me. I didn’t deserve any of this. Yes, it was good I was figuring myself out, but I had to stop being a retiree and start being a poor, hard-working, intelligent 24-year old. In a period of “starting over,” I did not want to be so far from my roots and so alone in my endeavors, enjoying myself in one of the nicest cities in the US. I needed to go back to what I knew. I decided to finish out my Master’s program, but at a sister school in Chicago. I decided living by myself would be the least stressful and best for my new high-maintenance lifestyle (more time alone, better sleep, diet, and crazy mood effects of new medicine / withdrawal of old medicine). I would be within very close range of my friends, girlfriend, and family. I would spend less money and find a job and feel good doing it. All in all, I moved from SF because I believed I needed a support system closer to home: family, friends, doctors, and the comfort zone that had developed over 23 years.
I pride myself on having perspective; I don’t usually judge cities based on small sample size (weather, people, food, etc). But when I lived in San Francisco, I definitely let my circumstances influence me. I thought I needed to get away, that I needed to go home to begin blossoming. I am having this same problem right here in the Windy City. My circumstances are once again affecting me: I cannot find or keep a job, I don’t care about school or the finance path, I screwed things up with my loving girlfriend because I am a distant idiot, I am spending more money than I should (the bike thief didn’t help), I can’t figure out the medicine situation, and I can’t seem to care about anything. I have seen my family and friends more but, when I am so mentally distant, all of that doesn’t help much. I am truly trying very hard but keep facing adversity, whether it is physical or mental.
It is a natural human tendency to remember primarily positive things from the past when things in the present are not going well. I miss the nice SF days, Ocean Beach, Golden Gate Park, the Presidio, the Golden Gate Bridge, Twin Peaks, Highway 1, the ability to walk everywhere, the early baseball, the breathtaking scenery in the area, Frank and Nic and other awesome friends, the fun shopping, the great food, the crazy people, and the amazing experiences I had in the City by the Bay. It has been 6 months spent in Chicago, and I keep telling myself San Francisco is not for me now, but could be in the future. Well, if things don’t go right soon, that future might be sooner than I anticipated. The idea is creeping up in my head to reverse my initial decision to move to Illinois; moving back to SF could be a viable option to get me on that right track I have been seeking. True, living in Chi-town could still turn out to be the best option, and I am not giving up yet. Plus, I still have school to finish, if I decide to do so. I just hope I have perspective in whatever conclusion I reach. I will not be in this rut for long. Whether it is in Chicago, San Francisco, or any other city in the world, I am confident I will find a way to positively contribute to the world soon.