Pep Talk #900

When I left New York, I was sure. I didn’t want spend another steamy summer making the mad dash into the oven underground. I didn’t want to work a million hours a week. I didn’t want to be in a relationship with my iPhone. I didn’t want to be surrounded by so much hurry. I didn’t want to run around Central Park one more time. I didn’t want to wait in line to get into Trader Joe’s. I didn’t want to live in a closet. I didn’t want every day to be trash day. I didn’t want give myself Pep Talk #900 before walking down to Eataly, to ask for a seat at the counter and a pasta dish I was half afraid to eat.

Although there were parts of New York I loved, for the grand majority of the time, I walked around wishing I’d brought a book, and had a way to block out all of the noise. And dim some of the lights.

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I was lonely there, too. Really lonely. I’d broken up with my boyfriend and tilted my world on its axis and didn’t feel sure about anything, except that the life I was living was not sustainable. But I made friends in New York. Such good friends, in the end, and that made all of the difference. Had another few things been different, I would have given it another year.

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I suppose I’m thinking about all of this because in another few days, I will have been in Oregon 16 months. For some reason I have this thing about giving new places a full 365 days before contending with any yes/no check boxes. But I’ve needed longer, in Oregon. I might need longer still.

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For the first 12 months I was sick, and let’s be honest, in no place to be doing much more than focusing on getting better. One day at a time. One meal at a time, even. It sounds hokey, but I healed out here. In the rain and the old-growth forests, in the cozy coffee shops and on the twisty back roads. I needed to put physical distance between who I was before and who I was going to be, and I was able to do that here.

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So. Pluses for the clean slate, the slower pace, the smaller city, the staggering beauty, the wonderful food, and the non-judgmental nature Portland is known for. Pluses for its proximity to Mt. Hood, the Pacific Ocean, and the Columbia River Gorge. Pluses for an incredibly talented nutritionist I don’t need to see anymore, and a therapist I do. Pluses for public transportation, and for a pretty downtown.

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Pluses for a full-time job with benefits, even though it’s not what I’d ever thought I’d be doing. Pluses for a 5-minute walk to work, for days that end at 4pm, and for to-do lists that don’t follow me home. Pluses for time to exercise and cook and read and relax. Pluses for being able to live on my own. (Finally! Barely! But finally!)

Pluses for so many things.

But what’s missing is big. It’s what made NYC bearable and, ultimately, not as easy to leave as I thought it would be. Again, it probably sounds trite, but: connections. No matter how badly the day had gone, no matter how fervently I wished I were sitting down at my mother’s kitchen table that night, I knew I could walk over two blocks and have peppermint tea with Harry. I knew I could get on an express train to Brooklyn and have dinner with Vivian. I knew I could get Bonnie to meet me at Levain, or Charlotte to meet me at Ample Hills, or someone to meet me at that falafel place in the West Village. Taïm, I think it was called.

There were people I could text and call and see and hug. Do you know how long it’s been since I’ve been hugged? Don’t answer that.

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It’s not that I haven’t made a single friend in Portland, after all of this time. But I haven’t made a best friend, and that’s what I need. I would rather have 2 or 3 very close friends than 20 acquaintances, and that’s what I have. The acquaintances. Most of them are also from away, and we’ve bonded over one thing: how surprisingly hard it is to “find your people” in Portland.

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It sounds whiny, I know. But Portland is an introverted city, and it really does seem like unless you grew up here, went to college in the area, or moved with a built-in buddy, it’s a serious challenge to find a way in. I’ve tried a lot of different things: online dating, happy hours with co-workers, a Meetup group, a couple of classes. I’ve tried eating alone at a bar, without my phone to keep me company. I’ve tried reaching out to people on Instagram and getting together with them IRL, just like I did in New York. I’ve tried becoming a regular at certain places — the gym, the farmer’s market, this one coffee shop in my neighborhood — and no dice. Or no real dice, anyway. I’m not weird enough for the keep-Portland-weird set, and I’m not hipster enough for the rest.

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But…maybe it’s not fair to blame place entirely. Wandering around in a daze, wondering when I would be able to have my next carrot didn’t exactly leave me a lot of energy for making fast friends. And although that feels like eons ago, I’m still not super outgoing, so it takes me a long time to rally myself to do something extroverted, and an equally long time to recover afterwards.

Perhaps I’ve only just articulated what every twentysomething new to a city center has experienced. It IS really hard to meet people. But is the lesson that we should marry the people we met in college? That we really shouldn’t stray too far from our hometowns, or from our families, or from our childhood friends? It can’t be. Or I really don’t think it should be.

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But the fact remains that I am too lonely. And too sad, too much of the time. Despite how lucky I am, when it comes down to it.

And so I think about adjusting my expectations, about stretching my timeline. What if 2015 was about figuring out how to be with myself?

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What if it was about realizing that I enjoy the agony of leg day and I also enjoy my mom’s maple walnut cake. I enjoy hauling ass up to the top of Pittock Mansion to look out over the city, and I also enjoy flopping down spread-eagled across my bed to eat meatballs I didn’t make. I enjoy feeling nice in my best jeans, but I also enjoy putting together a cheese plate and digging in with someone else who had a tough week.

What if it was about taking all of the time I needed to be able to say: Don’t do that. Don’t wish you were in another skin, that you were another person. Don’t wish you were someone prettier, thinner. Don’t wish that you had narrower hips or a flatter belly or longer legs.

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What if it was about really coming around, about making the major decision that I wasn’t going to miss 95% of life to weigh 5% less? I’m protective of all of my gentle slopes now. Every last one. Even when I’m moody and irrational and perilously close to my period. All I can think of is my nutritionist looking at me and saying: This is your body. When are you going to stop giving it such a hard time? And then later: The trouble is that so many people think they have to have a perfect body to be loved. But all it has to do is be capable of loving — and being loved.

I wanted the rewards to come quickly. I wanted a triumphant return to a normal, happy, healthy life. With all of the relationships that having an eating disorder had robbed me from before. And I still don’t feel like I have them. But maybe that’s okay. Maybe in 2016, I will.

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For now, I read articles like this and laugh when I see shades of myself, shades of every girl I know. I buy cards from a local, not-exactly-in-the-budget letterpress studio and wish I could still raid my mom’s stash of forever stamps.

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I snap a photo of myself, post snip-snip-snip, in a mirror that made it all the way from Maine, and determinedly don’t think of it as a selfie, and try not to feel too vain.

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I think about someone else being there, someday, to take a picture for me, whenever I need an updated one. And I think about someone being there to stand in the frame with me, because that’s always better. I think about how I used to dodge the camera lens, and how I wouldn’t do that now.

I take another picture and can’t decide which I like better. Decide that’s not a bad problem to have.

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{NYC skyline via @sarahjampel, Brooklyn brownstones via @joannagoddard, Portland sign via @aspensummit, Rowena Crest via @madeoregon, rainy tree via @ioegreer, downtown Portland via @crippeakasizzler1, Mt. Hood via @scott_kranz, Multnomah Falls via @blakeinthepnw, dirt road via @iogreer — all on Instagram.}

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