Self and the City is a column intended to increase visibility and dialogue surrounding mental health, relationships, harmful stereotypes, and the necessity for self-care and vulnerability. Self and the City will be headlined by Jessa Chargois on a bi-weekly basis. Submissions and guest columnists are welcomed to send work to firstname.lastname@example.org.
I believe that this sunset is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen and also the saddest and both are okay.
It’s a Tuesday evening, the glow of golden hour streams through my windows turning my studio apartment into a puddle of sunshine. Everything drenched in honey and sunlight. I’m sitting on my couch, and I’m reading a book, and I’m wondering if taking a picture of the shadows dancing across my floor to post on Instagram will make this moment feel any less lonely. While six pm on a Tuesday is beautiful, it can also ache with loneliness. A description that feels shameful to admit but also seems to undeniably encapsulate the feeling of moving to a new city alone. It’s beautiful, and it’s lonely, and they often coexist within the same breath.
Apartment 201, situated in a pretty grey building in the heart of San Francisco, has been my home for the better part of a year. I moved in last August, hauling box upon box up the stairs with my dad. It’s beautiful, it’s bright and white with hardwood floors and large windows.The first morning I woke up in my new bed I couldn’t stop smiling because living on my own in a big new city was what my daydreams used to be made out of.
Ever since an eighth grade school trip to San Francisco, I’ve been making plans in my head of what being all ‘grown-up’ in a big city would look like. We had stayed at a colorful hotel in the Marina and spent the week riding the bus and rushing through museums and wandering the streets. One night as the sky was turning pink, we all walked across Crissy Field, the lights of the Golden Gate Bridge behind us. A few friends and I linked pinkies, promising that we were all going to move here one day.
While I fulfilled some promise to my thirteen-year-old self, the daydream of a studio apartment in a big new city is a lot more complex in reality than it had been in my head. The fantasies were full of all the beautiful moments, which indeed do exist. However, those fantastical thoughts had omit the complexities of real life. They didn’t include the Tuesday evenings alone in a sun-drenched apartment nor the Friday nights when the only interaction you’ve had is Netflix asking if you’re still there.
Apartment 201 has taught me a lot of things…that it’s best to do the dishes before an ecosystem starts to grow in my sink, that not having anyone tell you what to do is both a blessing and a curse, that having a comfortable couch for people to sleep on is key and that dancing around in your underwear can actually be as fun as movies made it seem. But perhaps the most important lessons are that you can’t let your expectations diminish the beauty of your reality, to accept that life is never black and white, that most of it exists within the grey.
I’ve learned that being stuck in how things were supposed to be blinds me from what’s right in front of me. I have spent weeks sulking and sad at how far away I feel from where I thought I’d be by now. Those harsh lines of our expectations make it seem as though life is either black or white, good or bad, that if there’s a drop of sadness or loneliness or anger, then your life cannot also be beautiful and fulfilling and whole. Our daydreams exist in vacuums, void of the realities of mental health and every day mundanity. And those already difficult realities become even heavier when we judge them against our unrealistic expectations.
And buying into the trope of life being as simple as “good” or “bad” means I miss out on so much of what makes life meaningful. Those weeks spent sulking and sad are weeks I lose sight of the people I love and the passions I have. It diminishes the flavor of my favorite cup of chai and the meaning of my favorite song. I forget to notice the watercolor mess of sunsets and the sound of my friends laughter. I get so caught up in the minuscule details of my thirteen-year-old’s daydream that haven’t come true, that I forget to celebrate all the ways I am very much living in that daydream. Apartment 201 has reminded me that the search for perfection really is the enemy of finding contentment.
Living alone has taught me that life exists in the in-between and the nuances. It’s taught me that Sunday afternoons when anxiety spikes can also be a wonderful time to read a book. It’s taught me that my dining room table can be a place where I eat leftovers alone on a Thursday but can also be covered with candles and surrounded by smiling people. It’s taught me that this life is going to look a lot different than my thirteen year old self thought it would. While at the same time being a life that I’m pretty sure my thirteen year old self would be really proud of me for creating. The person I am today is someone I would want my thirteen year old self to look up to more than the idealized version of me that had existed in her head. This me, the real one, has been brave in ways that fantasized “me” never would have had to be.
Moving to this new city has taught me that I can be both brave and terribly anxious. It’s taught me that life is about embracing the hard moments, and treating them with compassion and empathy. While also celebrating the beautiful moments, never letting a sunset or smile or view of the golden gate bridge from my bus ride home go unnoticed. This city has made me confront the loneliest, saddest parts of myself but has also heightened the giddy and joyous and fulfilling parts. This apartment, this city, has reminded me that just because something is not how you thought it would be doesn’t mean it can’t be absolutely beautiful.
Feature Image via Jessica Golightly