Get Well

Self and the City: Unapologetically Me

by Jessa Chargois

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 in to hannah@chillhouse.com

I believe New York is composed of pockets. Pockets that offer protection, sanctuary, strength, and a sense of identity for all of those who choose to inhabit the sleepless city. These pockets are deep, worn with the stories of the extraordinary and exceptional 8.6 million individuals who call New York City home. They have shaped millions before us, and will mold millions after us. We are all merely a thread in the pockets of New York City, and it is our job to figure out what our threads represent. Who are you within this city? What defines your thread, your purpose, your story?

The Lower East Side serves as my pocket. As dusk falls, the streets come alive with a palpable electricity. Fueled by cheap tequila, an excess of dollar slices that invariably end up cheese-down on sidewalks, and bright-eyed creatives seeking an escape from their demons, the Lower East Side offers an escape. For many, salvation comes in the form of liquid courage, an excess of human connection, powdered regret, or an array of destructive rituals, offering temporary solace. I have cozied up to these vices in the past, dampening out my pain with brief salvation. Recognizing my detrimental attempt at coping, this column, written on my Lower East Side fire escape, will serve as a more permanent and sustainable source of healing and definition of my pocket’s thread. 

For the past eight years of my life, I have existed with the constant support of a boyfriend, a role filled by three distinctive men, all of whom had a significant impact on the formation of my identity. 

For the past couple months, I have existed solely as an individual. I lay awake at night, slowly lulled to sleep by the relentless pings from an array of dating apps, notifying me of messages from men and women who intend to know of me, not know me. 

While this may sound critical or cold, frankly, my emotional capacity for romance is limited. My last relationship consisted of many months at a time spent physically apart. This distance slowly seeped into our romantic and emotional rapport, inevitably, leading to the melancholy conclusion to a relationship I truly thought would be my last. While I hold him with the highest regard, I cannot help but feel bitter, recognizing the time spent communicating with him ultimately detracted from the time I spent developing my own identity and pocket within the city. This left me shattered and in the midst of an identity crisis, in a city that I was emotionally unattached to. 

Today, I possess a strong sense of self. However, a few months ago, when I would look in the mirror, I did not recognize the woman in the reflection. The creativity and passion I was raised to tackle life with had been drained. I felt as if my world had turned grey, a muted tone of a routine that did not belong to me. 

In need of a fresh start, I began to develop and establish more permanent and deep roots in my metropolitan surroundings. I had been afraid to fall in love with the woman I could have been within the avenues of New York, apprehensive that my ex would have desired an old version of myself, a version that did not yet understand who she was. New York City has hardened me, challenged me, and embraced me in ways that are irreversible. For the first time, I feel free of the ghosts haunting my past. 

With no one to hold me back, I’ve let myself fall smitten with the buzz of the streets, the laughter that echoes south of Houston, and the unapologetically authentic experiences of New York. My emotional bandwidth is filled by the tender relationships between myself and friends. The magnificently strong and talented women who I call my best friends exceed the standards of relationships I’ve held in the past, surpassing any love I’ve ever felt before. The caring, intelligent, and formidable men that I now view as older brothers, protect me from my innermost self doubts, pushing my personal growth to constantly exceed the previous versions of myself. Shifting from an emphasis on romantic endeavors, companionship with my friends and those close to me has been more fulfilling than any singular hand to hold. I have an endless supply of hands to lift me up. 

Although my New York City pocket is deep and fruitful, I am still acutely aware of the void that has reappeared in my life. Without the presence of a significant other, I have had to redefine my concept of self. How does one be alone? While there is no universal or methodical answer to this existential question, I’ve found solace in practicing extreme self-awareness, self-reflection, self-forgiveness, and most importantly, self-love. Without someone to lean on for support, I’ve been forced to practice self-reflection. Examining past mistakes, clarity has been provided for significant moments in my young life, moments where I’ve lost dear friends, handled my anger or grief in regrettable ways, or simply, behaved out of fear. Rather than harvesting feelings of regret or grief, granting myself self-forgiveness, accepting the past, has allowed me to strengthen my sense of self. This self-awareness has transcended into all facets of my life, from friendships to my professional life. Through vulnerability, I have begun to understand what type of woman I intend to be, accepting my flaws, and celebrating my strengths. Within the restless streets of Manhattan, I’ve begun to fall in love with myself again. 

At the root of all interactions within our world, is a fundamental desire to connect. In order to connect, we must offer our purest form of ourselves. This is mine. 

In the last few years, I have experienced an array of traumatic events, from the incarceration of my father and younger brother, to the physical, mental, and emotional abuse of  hostile men. My autonomy and identity have been shattered, utilizing boyfriends as emotional crutches. I had wandered off the path I had forged for myself. While I thought the path required a guide, I have begun to realize that no one else can navigate my path except for the most unapologetically pure version of myself. This version of myself must accept the past, and learn how to utilize these lessons in order to create the future I not only desire, but I deserve. I am a messy person, passionate and opinionated, and I’m learning to no longer apologize for that. I’m learning to have the courage to simply and unapologetically be, me. 

I am a twenty-two year old New Yorker who has formed a community centered around creativity, love, and support down in the Lower East Side. I’ve explored my desire to write, transforming the way I view the world and my experiences. Through pure coincidence, I have formed new friendships with strangers, now best friends by saying yes to opportunities. These strangers, now serve as some of the integral members of my support system, encouraging my creative pursuits. While I have always been told my presence is intimidating, one of strength and confidence, there are plenty of times I have felt pathetic and lonely. I often refuse to expose my vulnerabilities.  I am a writer, a creative, a fiercely loyal friend, and a raging liberal. I believe in a sex-positive culture, filled with compassion and forgiveness. This city fosters growth if you accept the unpredictability. I’m just beginning to define myself in the city. 

At the end of the day, most of us have no idea what we are doing. Growth is far from a linear and measurable process. Too often, we are told to hide our feelings. Crying portrays us as weak, broken, or worthless. I argue, that showing your emotions is courageous. I have found strength in my womanhood by accepting my feelings of loss, trauma, love, joy, guilt, and anger. By allowing these feelings to be a part of my daily experience, I am learning to accept what is outside of my control. While it is impossible to control others, you can celebrate them. My beautiful and talented best friends have encouraged growth and self acceptance. I have formed new bonds within the sleepless city that will last a lifetime, bonds that have left me with an external family. Men have wandered into my life, leaving me breathless, angry, bitter, joyful, and confused. Women have entered my life, leaving me inspired, breathless, joyful, and thankful. I’ve had nights where I’ve collapsed in my friends’ arms, stricken with grief and anger. I’ve had nights where I’ve danced with strangers into the night, sweating through my best dress to the soundtrack of the 2000’s. I’ve been front row at performances of bands I’ll never hear of again. I’ve been in love. I’ve been lost. I’ve been awe-struck by the beauty and grace of others. I’ve been sad in a room of friends and had to pretend my smile was real. I’ve laughed so hard that I’ve cried my makeup off. I’ve fallen in love with this city and the pure sense of wonder and opportunity each day brings. Everyone has something to teach you, regardless of their permanence in your life. It is okay to be selfish. It is okay to fight for what you love. It is okay to forgive. It is okay to forget. It is okay to let yourself be happy. 

This column is meant to remind us all that it is okay to not be okay, and to serve as a more permanent and sustainable source of healing and growth. Vulnerability is a courageous path that leads to self-reflection, self-forgiveness, and self-love. New York City has a way of responding to the energy one emits. We all have no idea what we are doing, and the sooner we begin to embrace this lack of control, the sooner we can embrace our vulnerabilities. When you welcome the eccentricity, New York has a way of rewarding you within your own pocket. 

In the words of Candance Bushnell, “Eventually all the pieces fall into place… until then, laugh at the confusion, live for the moment, and know that everything happens for a reason.”

Feature Image via Jessica Harrington

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