Mental Health: Location, Location, Location

A lot of people probably think I live some sort of fabulous life in New York City.

While I’m very privileged to live in this gazillion dollar city and grateful to live rent-free in my in-laws’ house, my and Rick’s makeshift living situation isn’t a sexy get-up. ;) Of course, we chose this life, me not working so I could fully focus on school.

More important to note than a shared living space as newlyweds, though, is that inspiring geography doesn’t alleviate the same bouts of depression that would strike in the suburbs or rural areas. It’s easy to romanticize New York, and imagine my days filled with strolls through Central Park, coffee in hand, before stopping off for a chic lunch at the Met followed by 5pm cocktails at the Carlyle. But, let me tell you, that’s not how most New Yorkers’ lives go down. It’s an exhausting city of grit that requires peak professional performance and constant reinvention and innovation to survive in every sense. New York City is like the ole duck simile, calm on top of the water and, out of sight, furiously paddling below the surface.

I think a lot of New Yorkers have to regularly sell the city to themselves – why do I live here, again? Subway smells, $80 takeout dinners from an average place, traffic, the general filth. In the burbs I’d have beautifully done hair and makeup, get into the car, and arrive to my destination still coiffed. Here, I have to tie back my hair lest I arrive with knots and sweat at my neck and consider footwear to accommodate the weather. This ain’t no Carrie Bradshaw game, and there’s a reason why heels are referred to as “cab-to-curb.” They’re only feasible if you’re getting picked up in a cab, dropped off at the front door of your destination, and the same on the way back home. It’s impractical and most certainly not a frequent occurrence for the average New Yorker. When Rick and I get wagged along to a black tie event with my father in-law, we of course take pictures because it’s a rare, effortful occasion. I never want to sell a farce.

I’m proud of having lived in New York City for eight years as of next month (yes, I count the 18 months I lived in D.C. as part of my time in NYC because I was remotely planning a wedding and up here constantly), but not for the reasons you may think. I can officially call myself a New Yorker after ten years, and I can’t believe it’s coming in hot. But, I’m not proud of living here in an “I’m fabulous” type of way. I’m proud of having made it this long because it’s been a lesson in survival. I moved here at 23 and would go home to Texas as often as I could. In those first couple years I’d cry on the plane every time on the way back to New York. While the city excited and inspired me, I was in survival mode in terms of finances, profession, finding a good friend group, and safety.

My apartment in Bed-Stuy in Brooklyn had a MC across the street and one night I woke up to gunshots right outside. I had to stay below the windows in case a stray bullet flew into my apartment. I’d be aggressively cat-called on the street and even followed. My apartment was bare- a used, frameless bed resting on old linoleum and thrifted sheets covering my windows. One time, when I was still days away from getting paid, I ate cornbread for three days because that’s all I had in my cupboard. I know my parents would’ve wired me $20 if I’d asked, but this was on me. NYC was my game.

One night it’d gotten too late for me to safely take the train out to my apartment, so I had to splurge on a cab. Just months after my brother Alex’s latest foray into booze-fueled tragedy, the cab driver stared at me in the rearview.

“Do you like to party?” He asked, leering at me, a smile playing on his face.

“Uh, I guess… do you?” My eyes shifted out the window. The area we were driving through was rough.

“Yeah. Do you like to drink? I’m drunk right now.” He laughed.

I noticed his eyes were bloodshot. “Are you serious?” I re-surveyed my surroundings and considered which option was better- getting out of the cab in a strange, scary neighborhood and find my way home, or hoping this drunk cab driver would get me home safely. I could call 311 to report this guy, but it wouldn’t change my current situation. Although I kinda didn’t want him to know where I lived, I decided to stay in the cab. The speed limit was 20, or something, so I hedged my bets. “That’s not cool.”

Finally, we turned onto my street.

“My friend’s house is right up there, first building on the right,” I lied.

“You should stay with me and party,” he smiled, still leering, this time over his shoulder at me.

“Yeah, no thanks. You shouldn’t be driving people around drunk. Seriously, it’s not cool.”

I opened the cab door as I paid so he didn’t get any ideas about driving off with me hostage in his car. I raced up my building stairs and bolted through the exterior door, interior door, and then my apartment door as quickly as I could. I closed my door and triple locked it, then began my usual inspection of every potential hiding place for a person in my apartment. I finally considered myself safe, but my shoulders never fully relaxed. They’ve been tense since the day I moved here, to be honest.

“We’re just not gonna tell your dad about this,” my mom said when she visited.

“This is where you live?” My friend Betsy asked once, mouth hanging open, eyes darting between my “curtains” secured by pushpins.

After “Frankie” got shot (I know his name because it was being screamed over and over), I received the following note from my landlord:

You’ve been a great tenant and I know you’re a woman who lives alone. I understand if you need to break your lease to move to a safer place, given the recent events.

“You live in that building? I wouldn’t feel comfortable if my daughter lived there, either. Let’s get you out of there,” said the man who leased my next apartment to me. Relief.

My New York City living situations have been precarious and thread-bare, barely scraping by, filled with strokes of luck and kindness: a friend letting me sleep on their couch my first ten days, bosses moving me for free, landlords who seemed to truly care (unicorns in this money-hungry, ruthless city). So, while my living situation isn’t ideal, I’m at least safe in my latest blue-blooded cocoon.

me and my friend Marlon, the friend who let me sleep on his couch when I’d first moved to NYC six months prior, at my 24th birthday brunch

It doesn’t matter where I am, though, when it comes to being at the mercy of the storm swirling around inside of my head. A suburban Wal Mart is the same thing as Bergdorf Goodman. When you have mental illness, public school is boarding school. Bed-Stuy is the Upper East Side. Depression is depression, an equal opportunity head occupant.

Wednesday posts cover something that’s top of mind for me that week and are written in a short period of time. This means that editing is not strong. While it’s not my best work, it is my best, unfiltered thought.

More on Bummed Out Baker:
Mental Health: New Year Goal Mapping
Mental Health: The Sad Clown: Part 1
Mental Health: Spiral

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