I stepped out of the Uber and lugged my suitcase up four flights of stairs to my fifth floor apartment. My dog jumped on the couch and wagged his tail in relief. After a missed flight, waiting two hours, and a flight with a woman coughing the whole time because she’s “allergic to dogs” while passive aggressively eyeing my dog, I made it.
Let’s back it up a few weeks. “Berkeley, you need to come home,” my mom urged. She was right, I figured. The pandemic was running rampant in New York City and I was isolated. I took the next flight home, literally booking my flight at 4:00pm one day and leaving at 6:00am the next. I was going to North Carolina indefinitely. The first night was fine. My sister was at my mom’s, but she slept in our step sisters’ room while I had the guest room. Then I went to the mountains to spend a few days with friends, which sounds relaxing, but my anxiety crept up and made it hard for me to focus on work and enjoy my time there.
When I came back to my mom’s, things had changed.
My little step sisters were home and wild as usual, lort bless them. My sister was in the guest room with me. I felt I didn’t have my own space. Mornings were met with a few minutes of silence followed by the girls waking up and wanting to be with me nonstop. At night, my sister and her dog slept with me and my dog, the four of us packed in like sardines.
I don’t blame anyone. I wish I had known it was going to be as cramped as it was, but you can’t always predict when family will need you. It wasn’t anyone’s fault. My mom wanted everyone close, but it just happened to be a little too close for my comfort.
I had a panic attack the first night back. I felt hopeless. I was still paying rent in New York City and couldn’t afford rent and an AirBNB for a month, at least. There was no space for me. I tried to push through it. “Why don’t you go to your Aunt Kate’s,” my mom asked.
Let’s pause. I know myself. I knew I wouldn’t be calm there either. Do I sound like a brat who isn’t trying? Probably. But I know myself better than anyone. Why keep trying when you know it’s just going to make it worse? For a good time, that’s one thing. But for panic attacks and my mental health that I was repairing from a chronic depression, that’s another thing in itself.
I knew it wouldn’t work. I could feel my depression seeping back in as I sat in the upstairs living room, eating Cheetos and watching Tiger King. Going outside felt like too much. Reading a book was a nonstarter. Baking and cooking seemed impossible. I was tired, and I had no motivation.
Those were the warning signs.
Two weeks in North Carolina,and my mental health was failing. Was it location? Absolutely. It’s nothing anyone did. I was just in too much of a fragile state to begin with to change routines or locations. It was a little too chaotic for my mental health at the moment.
After days of feeling sick to my stomach, debating flying back, knowing I could get sick, and wondering what my mom would say, I chose to leave.
I used my points to get a $5 plane ride. When I told my mom, she was resigned. I felt like a weight had lifted off my shoulders. For the next two days, I was cooking. I was playing Just Dance and beating my little sisters at it, too (suck it!). Booking that flight felt like the sun had finally shown through clouds.
And that’s when I truly understood that I know myself best.
It’s been a week and a half since I’ve been back in NYC. Do I regret leaving? Kind of. But I know being there wouldn’t be as good for me as waking up in my own bed and following my own routine. I don’t regret leaving. I know I did what’s best for me.
Sometimes you have to backtrack decisions because they aren’t good for you. And that’s ok. I am not a failure for needing to be back home. I am safe and I have enough food. My mom calls me every day. Sure, I’m bored out of my mind, but I have a list of things to do, including writing this.
Bottom line: you are not a failure for putting your mental health first.