My First Year in NYC Was the Worst Year of My Life

My First Year in NYC Was the Worst Year of My Life


Post-Break Up Life

I moved into Manhattan July fourth weekend 2011. For two years prior, I had been working in the city commuting from New Jersey. My main motivation for the move was to be closer to work. Taking the NJT train over an hour twice a day was draining and costly. I wasn’t necessarily excited about living in NYC but I was ready for a change.

The previous October, I ended a 4-year abusive relationship and immediately started seeing a therapist. I began trying to have a normal life again. I went out on dates, met people, slept with people. I was more than ready to get out of my NJ apartment that held many bad memories of the bad relationship. A friend offered me a room in her UWS apartment and I happily accepted. It would be a change of scenery plus closer to my job. It seemed like a good move all around.

Honestly, I never desired to live in NYC. I wanted a shorter commute and I wanted to move somewhere new. The city fit both criteria. But I never dreamed of living in Manhattan when I was younger. Now I love living here, but I certainly didn’t that first year.

Welcome to Manhattan

The apartment I moved into was at W. 108th st and Broadway. A fifth floor walk-up. With little direct sunlight. My bedroom just barely fit a full sized bed.

The first night in the apartment, my roomamte woke me up to help her take care of a dead mouse in the kitchen.
The last night in the apartment, my roommate woke me up freaking out that a cockroach fell on his face.

But in NYC it’s not about the apartment, it’s about the location. The location was the best/worst part for me. It certainly was convenient being a block away from many food places, clothing stores, and quintessential nyc attractions. But everything felt busy all the time. It felt like there were always people everywhere. The tall buildings made me feel claustrophobic. The lack of sunlight made everything dreary. Plus, everything was considerably more expensive than other parts of the city. And you all know how I am about money.

Depression in NYC

I know depression had been building inside since the break-up. And especially since I was talking about a lot of things in therapy. It was the first time I was really taking care of myself emotionally. And my brain was not happy about that.

Depression would have found me either way but moving into an overpopulated city the size of a shoebox where everyone feels alone in the crowd certainly sped up the process.

As soon as I moved into the city, I suddenly wanted to spend less time with my new group of friends. I had been going out so often that it finally caught up to me. I didn’t adjust to the lack of privacy very well. Public transportation meant I was around people all the time. The only way to escape from people was to sit at home in my dark apartment. So I did a lot of that.

I should say I spent a lot of time at home when I wasn’t at work, which honestly wasn’t often. I was working a job I no longer enjoyed from 8a-7p daily. Long hours. Boring work. Sure, it was close-by but that just meant work expected me there more.

Sometime in August, I started waking up every morning crying. This crying would continue until I could either pull myself together to go to work. Or if I couldn’t find the energy, I’d call in sick. Going out into the world felt overwhelming. Caring about anything was exhausting. Showering daily felt like an impossible task.

I began crying everywhere. At work in the middle of the day. On the way home on the train. Every night to fall asleep. Every morning when I woke up. Anything else I did was just in between crying sessions.

Depression Doesn’t Care About Your Great Job, Big Apartment, Accomplishments…

Depression is different for everyone. And it is impossible to describe if you haven’t experienced it. It’s not a lack of motivation. Because nothing feels good. Period. Ever. When I tried to go for a run, I would just feel as sad after as I did before. Nothing mattered. Who cares if I take a shower or not? I’m not leaving the apartment. Why do I need to eat? I’ll still feel sad anyway. Why bother stop crying? I’m only going to cry later. If nothing will make me feel better, then why bother trying at all.

It felt like I was living in darkness. An actual dark cloud of sadness. I guess that’s an expression for a reason. The bouts of crying were never triggered. It was never because I had a sad thought or watched a sad movie. They just overcame me. It felt like I was crying “for no reason.” Though there was a reason, buried back there.

Even though my lease wasn’t up until July 2012, by January I couldn’t handle living in Manhattan anymore. I spent two weeks barely showering and hardly eating but mustered enough energy to apartment hunt. By the middle of February I signed a lease for a 1br apartment in a residential neighborhood of Brooklyn. I currently live in that apartment.

The new apartment was amazing. It was huge. Fifth floor with an elevator. In a part of Brooklyn with families and homes. The sidewalks weren’t crowded with people. Tourists didn’t get down that far. Lots of natural light in the apartment. I was living on my own. No roommates judging or complaining. Just me, happy to do whatever I liked. Which at the time was mainly sit on the couch in my underwear sobbing all night long.

At the same exact time, I also found a new job. I was trying my hardest to fight this depression but depression was not giving up easily. I now had a new job away from midtown. Actual 9a-5p hours. Doing something I enjoyed. With coworkers who were wonderful and supportive.

On paper, everything was going great. It really was. And depression didn’t care one bit. I was still sad. I was still crying. Except now I was crying alone in my giant apartment away from all my friends. I was still hardly showering and eating. It’s hard to eat and cry at the same time.

This part was the hardest. To sit there thinking “I should be happy. I’m supposed to be happy. Why aren’t I happy? What is wrong with me? A normal person would be happy. I just want to be normal. I will never be normal.”

I was still waking up crying every morning.

The Break Down

In the beginning of March, I woke up one morning crying. Really crying. This didn’t happen as often as just regular crying. Trust me, when you spend most of your waking days crying, you learn to identify different types of cries. That morning was the hysterical-sobbing-hyperventilating type of crying. I couldn’t breathe. I was hysterical walking around my apartment. I couldn’t stop. I thought I was going to be sick.

I stood in the kitchen for a moment and had one long stream of thought: I should call in to work today, I’m so tired, I just want to lay down, I just want quiet, I just want to stop crying, I just want some rest, I’m so tired, I just want to sleep for a little bit, I just want a break, I want all this to stop, I could take the big kitchen knife, go lay down in bed, slit my wrists, then it would be finally be quiet, that sounds so relaxing, I can just lay in bed all day, so relaxing.

I didn’t want to die. I just wanted a break.

A Little Bit Lighter

With the coaxing of my therapist, I began reaching out for help around this time. Instead of laying down in bed with a kitchen knife, I instead turned to an online Depression forum. It sounds silly but it was actually very helpful. In that moment, I wanted help but also anonymity. Kind words were said to me by people who actually understood what I was going through. From that, I built a few relationships to help me get through the tough times.

After that day, I started to reach out more to friends as well. Instead of hiding in my apartment or going out and pretending everything was fine, I started talking about it. There’s a point where you stop caring so much that you’re not even embarrassed anymore. I was at that point. “I’m too sad to shower and too sad to care.”

I was also referred to a psychiatrist and prescribed a low dose of Welbutrin to “help take the edge off.” And that is exactly what it did. Between opening up about my depression and taking the medication, by May I had gotten to a point where I could function. Don’t get me wrong, I was still very sad. But I could eat dinner and shower.

By summer, I had stopped crying every morning. I was still crying. Just not as much. Which was still probably a lot compared to someone not depressed. Sometimes I called into work. Sometimes I canceled on friends. I still felt alone. But I wasn’t crying every single morning. And I started feeling like I could take on added responsibilities. I began volunteering and adopted two cats. Small steps. Nothing overwhelming.

By that fall, over a year after moving into Manhattan, I was finally coming into my own. I had my own likes and dislikes in nyc. I had favorite bars and restaurants. Favorite neighborhoods. My commute was perfected. I knew the subway system. I began feeling like I belonged. But of course I wasn’t out of it completely.

Because it’s three years later and I’m still not. I still cry, just not every single day. I still feel sad some mornings. But I no longer call into work over it. I function now. I shower, eat, socialize. I have grown friendships with supportive people who care about me. I’ve learned how to live a life and not take anything for granted. I’ve also learned that NYC can be a real bitch.


19 Replies to “My First Year in NYC Was the Worst Year of My Life”

  1. Leslie, this is such a brave post. For me it really highlighted the difference between “wanting it to stop” and getting help. Non-depressed people would think of those two things as the same, but clearly they’re not. With a dark cloud hovering, it must be so hard to take steps to change things, especially knowing that results will take time to pay off. Kudos to you for coming back so far; I really mean it.

    1. Thank you so much. I’ve been wanting to write this post for a while but it took two years for me to be able to think about all that again. I appreciate your kind words, it means a lot.

    1. Thank you, things are much better now though I’ve learned they might never be “perfect” or “normal”. Interestingly enough, going to a therapist was definitely easier for me than talking to my real friends about it. Though once I did, some of my friends opened right up back and said they’ve also been dealing with the same things as well. It was a terrible yet eye opening experience all around.

  2. Leslie – what a moving post. I had a similar experience when I broke up with a boyfriend in my twenties. I cried every day for a year. I was under incredible stress at work and also trying to go to school. I had horrible insomnia and lived in a very dark apartment in a congested part of the city – I hated it. Sunlight makes such a difference. I took a semester off school and began seeing a therapist. My therapist suggested I move and get a roommate. I did so – a bright sunny apartment in a different part of town. Kind of a crazy roommate though. Once I started feeling better I stopped therapy. I’ve regretted that from time to time. I think I could have used another year or two of therapy.

    BTW – I now understand why you liked Mary Karr’s Lit so much. I just finished it. I had a hard time reading about her downward spiral, but the chapters covering her acceptance and recovery are some of the best I’ve read ever. I’ve even jotted down a couple of the strategies she used to try in my own life.

    Happy to see you are feeling better and I’m glad you had the courage to seek help.

    1. I am so sorry you had to deal with depression on that level. Have you considered finding another therapist just to talk about every day things? I am still seeing mine. And while I no longer walk into her office bursting into tears, it is still helpful to be able to talk to someone about various things that come up. Even just every other week to keep myself in check.
      Yes, I could definitely relate to Mary Karr’s recovery! In fact, there was one strategy she used that my therapist uses with me all the time (who says?? if you’re your only source of information you need a new source). I also related to her hesitance of writing a novel in which she was, as she put it, “the asshole.” This post was the first time I’ve talked about my previous bad relationship and it’s really hard to talk about because I put myself there.

      1. I admire your courage in writing about this. It does help others who are going through similar situations and it really helps those suffering from depression to know they are not alone.

        My brother who lives in NYC has a wonderful therapist and he shares what he learns about himself and our family with me from time to time. I still haven’t had the courage to write about my upbringing on my blog other than in passing. My brother’s therapist says our home ranks pretty high on the emotionally abusive index – though he did have it much worse than me. He was the youngest and I’m the oldest. What I could use help with is learning how to stop internalizing things that don’t need to be, standing up for myself and to stop feeling like a loser. Okay – maybe I do need one. Do you pay for yours out of pocket or through insurance? I think my brother pays for his on his own. He gave up going the insurance route and really likes this guy.

        1. For therapy, I found mine on the Pyschology Today website (post). I pay for it out of pocket but finally set-up an FSA this year so I get reimbursements. That helps a lot; mine is $95/session.
          My childhood also involved emotional/verbal & physical abuse (post). I forced myself to end the abusive romantic relationship I was in because I saw myself following right in my mother’s footsteps. That was why I checked myself into therapy following the break-up. I wanted to end the cycle.

    1. It took me several years to process my experience of depression. One of the worst parts of being depressed is thinking you’re alone – because no one likes talking about depression. While writing about this wasn’t fun, I hope that it does help others dealing with this to know that they aren’t “crazy” and it really does get better (not perfect, but better).

  3. I’m so glad things are going better for you now! Your words really spoke to me, as I’ve been down the black hole of depression a few too many times, so thank you for sharing this. I tried going to a therapist, but none seemed to be able to relate in a way that was beneficial. After my last break-up, I missed a college final because I was so distraught that I lost track of time (I thought the final was the following week). That was an absolute low point for me.

    I’ve been able to put it behind me for the most part, but I still get into funks where I just have those awful feelings of hopelessness, cry at the drop of a hat for no reason, and can’t seem to find happiness in anything, even though I know damn well I have a lot to be grateful for. Having a support network is really great, and that includes my cats, as I can’t stay upset at them for very long. Pets are their own form of therapy.

    1. Getting cats definitely was helpful in a lot of ways. Being responsible for something else makes a difference. Plus, you’re right, they’re cute no matter how many of my glasses they break :)

  4. I’m going to be honest… I couldn’t read this full post because it just hit too close to home for me. My break-down happened last summer, and it’s still so hard to re-live. I did skip to the end to read about how and when things started to turn around for you. I’m so glad that it did!

    And thank you, so, so much for sharing.

    1. I completely understand! I have had this post floating in my head for a while but just thinking back to the time made me far too sad. Or fearful that I would fall back into it. I definitely needed time to past before I could be so open about it. And honestly, it was very difficult to write. I included as much as I could but admittedly left out some of the harder stuff.

      I hope you are doing better now and continue to heal and grow.

  5. Dearest Leslie,

    Such bravery! Thank you for all that you’ve shared. I came across your post about family and finances as my retired parents have been asking me for money for their “investments”. I clicked on this side link about this post and was so amazed and inspired by your raw, authentic honesty. I just moved back to California a couple of weeks ago to be closer to my parents and brothers after living in NYC for a few years on and off (during grad school, I lived on 109th and Amsterdam, not far from you lived, and later moved to Queens). While it was challenging to be on my own after a divorce and so often alone–even on my birthday in my first year there–I also found my resilience and, like you, it got better day-by-day. I’m so glad that you’ve experienced many positive outcomes and it’s wonderful that you can reflect back with a more balanced perspective. I also want to thank you for the lovely strawberry pasta sauce recipe! That recipe is an exciting twist to try in the kitchen. If you would like to meet wonderfully friendly people through Meetup, I recommend the NYC Vegetarian and Vegan group as they have been one of the most welcoming bunch of people I’ve met in New York and have made many personal friends. If you’re not vegetarian and vegan, you can still join in on their weekly events and the organizer hosts other groups that meet in Brooklyn as well. Take good care, Leslie, and keep up your inspiring work!

    1. Thank you for the kind words! I am sorry to hear you are having financial/emotional issues with your family – I hope you stay strong and keep your finances independent from them. It can be tough, though.

      Ah, it looks like you were indeed my past neighbor. Hopefully your apartment was nicer than mine? I have met people through various nyc groups and finally feel like I have a tight-knit group of friends who I really can count on. But that took a while. Good luck with everything in California.

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