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Country Roads Took Me Home: Depression, Anxiety, and 6,000 Miles on the Road
In 2017, I made the decision to move out to Los Angeles. In 2017, I also made the decision to move back to Kentucky, and in 2018, I made it happen.
My departure to Los Angeles came with a decent amount of fanfare. Living in rural America, where families tend to stay closely connected and within 50 square miles for generations, when someone moves off to another part of the world or country, it's a pretty big deal. It's a break from tradition that family members only tearfully support out of love, and it's something that isn't taken lightly.
To much of my Kentucky-based family, California might as well have been the other side of the world. So many of them would never have the opportunity to visit me there, nor the desire to be there. Yet more expansive than the geographical separation was the cultural barriers. In my hometown, Los Angeles– as with many other major cities– is spoken of in a way that one might speak about Atlantis or Hogwarts. The idea of these cities is cool, but to actually believe you could go there? You'd have to be crazy.
And so, I was crazy. I packed my belongings into my Camry, and I headed west. Over the course of three days, I drove from Stanford, Kentucky to Los Angeles, California. Along the way, I stopped in Amarillo, Texas and Flagstaff, Arizona. In total, it took me about 31 hours of driving and a bit over 2,000 miles.
I listened to every song I've accumulated on the iPod that I've had since middle school, an entire audiobook, and quite a few podcast episodes. I peed in a cup while stuck in a traffic jam, hit a sheet of fog in New Mexico that was so thick I couldn't see more than ten feet in front of me, and wound through the red rock mountains of Sedona, ooh-ing and ahh-ing like a child. I fell in love with Flagstaff and Sedona, and considered ending my journey there– just stopping and setting up camp where I was, content to enjoy the mountain air and hippy culture.
But... I continued onward. I checked out of my hotel, got back on the road, and made my way into Los Angeles.
All the while, it was against my better judgment. I had convinced myself that I was excited by the prospect of living in LA, and all of the opportunity that that came with, but in my gut, I knew that it wasn't a great move. But, I had already signed a lease, and was moving out there to join my significant other and support his ambitions.
When I arrived at our new apartment in LA, my spirits lifted a bit. I was exhausted from the drive, but we had managed to snag a great apartment in a great area with a great roommate. It was the ideal LA life. The apartment was large and open, with a spa, pool, and gym all at our disposal. We lived within walking distance of the Grove and Original Farmers Market, which are LA must-visit locations. Plus, best of all, our roommate had a pit bull named Nala. I'm a crazy dog person, especially when it comes to pitties, so having her there was really just the cherry on top of the cake.
As time went on, though, I couldn't help but shake the feeling that something just wasn't right. I was getting into the groove of my new job, and beginning to ramp into the position at full capacity, and thought that perhaps my general discomfort was caused by work stress. As a naturally anxious person, work stress has a way of getting to me more than it should, and I thought this was no different.
As days passed and I found my daily routine, the sense that something was wrong became harder and harder to shake. I'd put in my headphones on my lunch break or after my shift and go for a walk, trying to regain a sense of centeredness, or at least to break the sense of being completely isolated and hopeless.
It never came.
My relationship began to feel tattered. I didn't want to be near by significant other, but also didn't want to be alone. Being a remote worker and living in an apartment too small to afford me the luxury of an office, I spent 20 hours a day in my bedroom, and progressively grew more and more restless with being in the space. Every fiber of my being was begging to be set free, because never in my life had I felt more trapped.
By the time Christmas came around, I couldn't have been more thankful for the holiday season. It was the excuse I needed to go home without feeling like I was letting everyone down. Being in Los Angeles, as miserable as I was, I felt the need to stay there. So many people had wished me well and expressed their belief in me as I set off on my adventure out west. Prior to my departure, I had assured everyone that my time in California would be as magical and fulfilling as my time studying abroad in Helsinki. When the reality was far from that, coming home, even for a little while, was what I needed to lift my spirits.
My plan was to come home, visit my friends and family, remember how limited my opportunities felt in Kentucky, reframe how glamorous life was in California, and return with uplifted spirits.
What actually happened was, yet again, quite different. Instead, I got home and wanted to stay. I was back with my people, my tribe. They loved me and uplifted me in ways that nobody in California could. I didn't feel any pressure to put on pretenses, and the simplicity of life in Kentucky no longer felt limiting– it felt liberating.
We celebrated, we ate, we drank, and then it was time for me to go back to Los Angeles. My parents offered to drive me to the airport since the nearest one was 45 miles away. Even though I'm 6'3", I volunteered to sit in the back seat of my mom's sedan so that they could sit up front together, and so that they would be less likely to see my face if I started to cry on the way to the airport. I did. Like a child. As a grown man with a college degree, comfortable job, and having lived in another country, returning to California drove me to tears. All I could think about as I made my way through security and to my gate was how much I wanted to be back at my coffee shop with my friends, and how I had no idea how long it would be before I could that again.
Back in LA, I went right back to my daily routine, this time with even less hopefulness. Every chance that I got, I drove out of the city. Lancaster, Malibu, Laguna, Palm Springs, Cathedral City– I spent my weekends burning fuel money I didn't have to get to places I couldn't live and hide from the truth I couldn't face: I was drowning.
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There have been a few times in my life where I've truly felt like I was drowning, and until about February of 2018, a full 6 years had passed since I've felt so low. I'd say that it hit me like a truck, but being hit by a truck would have felt like a mercy; one quick blow and then nothing. Instead, the kraken had wrapped a tentacle around my leg, and it was dragging me deeper and deeper to a crushing place with no light. In the City of Angels, I felt like one that had fallen and was awaiting judgment.
I've never been a particularly happy person– that's one of those fun things about depression that I've learned to live with– but I've at least managed to be a generally content person. Yet each day I spent in LA, I spent my time dreaming of escape by any possible means, leaving no time for contentedness. I wanted to buy a cabin in the mountains, outside of the city. I wanted to buy a house in Palm Springs, way over in the valley. I wanted to get in my car and head east to Flagstaff, where I could give restarting another try. At one point, I even considered just getting in my car and driving until it ran out of gas, just to see where I would end up.
The compulsion to escape grew stronger and stronger, and the means of escaping that I rationalized grew more and more risky. And on a tearful Saturday morning, I dumped all of this out onto my significant other. By that evening, we were in Laguna Beach, one of our favorite getaways.
The next morning, as I stood on the beach, watching as a sailboat passed by and children played in the sand, I started to cry again. Crying had become such a regular occurrence for me that I didn't mind publicly breaking down in the edge of the water. I didn't care about much. Having a sense of either shame or pride would have taken more emotional energy than I could have mustered, so I just watched the ocean and let my tears fall.
At some point, I turned to my significant other and said, "If I can still cry here, looking at this much beauty, there's not a place in California where I'll be happy. I need to go home."
"Okay. For how long?"
A few meals, a cup of coffee, and a decently long drive later and we were back in our luxurious LA apartment. With the first glimmer of hope I had felt in a long time, I told our roommate that I was going home, called my parents, and began to look at my calendar, trying to find the ideal time to leave.
Once again, I loaded up my Camry. This time, however, there were no hugs and kisses goodbye. Instead, I got on the fastest route to I-40 and hung my middle finger out the window as LA receded into the distance. I got back to Kentucky on a Saturday, and on Monday I was in the doctor's office, getting my first prescription for antidepressants. Sheepishly, I texted a few of my closest friends to let them know that I was back in the state, and that I'd be hiding away at my parents house while my bank account and spirit recovered.
Admitting that I had returned– that I had failed– was hard, but I knew that staying would have been harder. I have no regrets about coming home. Moving back in with my family wasn't something I ever saw myself doing after college, but at this point, I'm just grateful that they were willing to take me in.
Now, I'm still on my daily antidepressant, and, if I'm being completely honest, I'm still not back to the place of health and happiness that I was at once, but I'm getting better. Each day, I see more and more of myself coming back. I even got myself my own dog, and he's a pretty good best friend to have around while I'm in my hometown and away from my friends.
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While I've divulged more about my personal experiences in this post than I have in perhaps any other (and that's saying something considering I've published an underwear review article, in which I spoke extensively about the comfort of my genitals), I wanted to write this post for a couple of reasons:
- First, to say that I'm back. For those of you from my hometown who keep up with my blog, I'm back, and I have no intentions of returning to the west coast anytime soon.
- Second, and more importantly, I wanted to come clean about my failure. I couldn't make LA work. No matter how hard I tried, it was always going to defeat me. As a result, I've had to become someone who I'd never thought I'd be: I've publicly wept, I've moved back in with my parents, and I've had to accept that I'm not as strong and resilient as I once thought I was.
And, I'm okay with all of it. If failing this hard has taught me anything, it's that it's better to fail and live to succeed another day than it is to lie to yourself until it kills you. While that may sound melodramatic, I do believe that if I had forced myself to put on a strong face and stay in LA, it would have, quite sincerely, taken my life.
Every day, I try to remind myself to be grateful for the fact that I'm still alive, and that I'm back amongst the people I love, and who love me. I remind myself that now I have the emotional strength and energy to invest in BlakeWrites. I smile and pop my Lexapro, because I know that even though I'm still paying for LA financially (damn, that lease is a long one), I'm no longer paying for it with my happiness.
As kids, and especially amongst little boys, we're taught that failure is not an option.