Leaving Before You Lose It (And Finding More Than You Imagined): Nature, Fitness, and New York City

Greenpoint Brooklyn Fire Escape

“New York was a city where you could be frozen to death in the midst of a busy street, and no one would care.”—Bob Dylan

I’d been in living in New York for just over three years when I realized that life is as simple as “wherever you go, there you are,” and decided, after trying to apply for a one bedroom apartment in Queens (which was less than 550 square feet) and told “Congratulations! It’s yours, so long as you can pay $8000 upfront!”), that this was not a healthy place for me continue living. Within the first six months of my move, I was rattled by the onset of what would be (and, arguably, is) the most severe major depressive crisis of my life. Within twelve months, almost to the day, I was sitting on Proctor II in McLean Hospital on suicide watch.

The admission was voluntary.

I am not solely blaming the environment for my radical decline in health, but I am taking to task the culture the newest New York (as there have doubtlessly been many iterations): for one’s life to be “fiscally feasible,” or for it to come close to even approximating that, one so often has to make sacrifice after sacrifice, truly jumping into that metaphorical rat race. Until moving to Brooklyn, I had never been terminated from a job, even when I was extremely sick. In New York, I was terminated from the job I physically and mentally helped move there while I was still at McLean. I couldn’t procure another full-time editorial job, and eventually was what I shiver to say was “lucky” enough to string together a series of unemployment benefits with freelance and part-time work to pay my rent (hint: my rent for a room in NYC is more than the rent for the entire two-floor historic house I am renting in Dayton, Ohio [and yes, Dayton is a more enjoyable place. The midwest just doesn’t get its due sometimes). That room had cockroaches, faced the street, and lacked proper security gates on the windows because I had (surprise!) a slumlord who continually broke the law, and thus I was unable to keep them open, even when it was Do The Right Thing! hot outside and those row houses feel more like brick ovens than they do homes.

Self-esteem brittle yet not broken, even after a series of psychotic breaks, many failed medications and the ever-pleasant withdrawal, more CBT and DBT than one could shake a stick at, stark isolation that I refuse to deem wholly self-imposed, and down a whole lot of money, I left New York for good less than two weeks after that $1600 lease was never signed. It was the most frightening thing I have ever done in my life, as it entailed leaving not only my temporary home (and my “better than the devil you don’t” mindset), but asking myself a seemingly much more terrifying, yet actually life-affirming question:

What now?

Well, anything.

For the past several months, I’ve had the pleasure of driving around the United States with my partner in a 1999 Volvo V70 wagon (nicknamed Sven as both an homage to its Swedish origin, and the Swedish diplomat who sold it to us at literally half the price the car typically sells for.

I was on the road for a month and a half. I don’t know if I can ever truly come back. Or want to.

Lake Chicago, Rocky Mountain Range

“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of Autumn.”—John Muir; Naturalist, author, and early wilderness preservation advocate

I’ve been to The Badlands, seen nearly 1,000 bison sleep beneath a sky so dark and far away from light pollution one can see what feels an infinite number of stars. I have been to Yellowspring, saw Old Faithful boil over with the heat and pressure from so far beneath this earth we live in; heard nearby elk bellowing in the night for a mate. I’ve been to Portland, to the Red Wood Forest, down the Avenue of the Giants, reminded of how small and short my life is here. I’ve felt the heat descend upon my body as if coming from within in Death Valley. I slept in Zion after climbing to the top of three waterfalls; was left nigh speechless in the once undersea worlds of Arches and Bryce Canyon, the latter of which treated me to my first severe electrical storm while I was sleeping inside a small tent, feeling, just slightly, the ground rage with its sharp current.  I hiked for miles in the dark in Canyonlands to retrieve water, returned to camp and watched everything instead of the nothing one is afforded on television or out the window of a multi-million dollar high-rise apartment building. I walked the narrow path of Crag’s Crest. I slept at the foot of the Rockies, with 45 mile per hour winds daring my tent pegs to stay in place. I pushed my physical and psychological limits at Yosemite, climbing Lembert Dome and rambling through the High Sierra. From so high up, the world and the sky and even you feels infinite. And invisible. There are only some places that allow you to understand that truth—and it allows you to find it.

I will be writing a series of articles based on my travels; what I learned about nature, therapy, fitness, and personal freedom, and the kindness of people who were not strangers the moment we met; and more and less. I hope you will go with me on the journey, and share your own.