Kaitlin Ugolik is an award-winning journalist based in Brooklyn. She writes and edits stories about the law, health, finance, technology and the media.

Me and New York, at five years

Five years ago today I don't think I could have really understood the magnitude of what I was doing, even though it seemed to be staring at me out of the back of a moving truck. I know I was nervous, but the move felt almost inevitable. I had always tentatively dreamed of living in New York, without ever really giving myself permission to believe I'd actually be able to do it. But when it was tied to school - something I'd almost always excelled at and invariably loved - it felt natural. Of course I was going to graduate school; it just happened to be in New York. And I'd already moved so much for educational and career-related reasons - different dorms every year, England for a semester, home, then Raleigh for my first "real" job, which seems like 20 years ago, not six - it didn't seem like much of a stretch. And no one else seemed surprised either - I learned that summer that apparently I am adventurous.

I did feel adventurous some days during that first year, but mostly I felt stressed, lonely, lost, unsure of my skills as a journalist and as a functioning adult. I explored a little but mostly I worked and hid in my attic apartment with my cat. I know now that that's a perfectly New York thing to do.

I had a very hard time adjusting to life here after school. With one short exception that I knew was temporary, I had been in school essentially my whole life up to that point. When I was unsure about my worth or my talent or what I wanted, I had always been able to look at a syllabus. I had always had the easy option of putting off finding the answers to questions about who and what and where I really wanted to be because I had deadlines and tests to study for and group meetings to attend. For a long time I didn't give myself permission to believe I had options. That's much easier on an anxious mind. Then suddenly I had graduated from Columbia, and that part of my life was over. My new job was challenging and exciting and filled that void at first, but after eight months or so I fell into the daily doldrums that so many people slog through every day, and I did not adjust well. I felt like I'd lost my purpose, which would seem to be the opposite of how one should feel after completing a prestigious graduate degree in her chosen field, but there it is. Suddenly the whole world was in front of me and it was my job to figure out how to interact with it. No syllabus.

When you are depressed, New York can feel like a hammer. Or a lot of hammers, striking randomly at 9 million nails, and you are taller and rustier and more fragile than the others and every step outside feels like an offering, a sick sacrifice. When you are very very depressed in New York, you don't even care if you get hit.

I went through a really dark period in 2012, assuaged mostly by Reid, my cat, running, a great therapist and binge-watching every episode of How I Met Your Mother. We made it through Irene and Sandy unscathed, I got promoted, and in 2013 we moved to a brighter apartment in a brighter neighborhood and I started to give myself permission to love it here. I watched Brooklyn Bridge Park grow from a scraggly strip of grass and concrete to the gorgeously landscaped and annoyingly crowded park it is today. I saw restaurants and bars open and close. Reid and I spent a lot of Sundays at Bar Great Harry playing pinball and drinking bloody marys and whiskey sours and making friends with the bartender and other people’s dogs. I perfected my commute - the best time to arrive at the F train platform when it’s not too crowded, the right door to enter on the right car, the right place to position myself when I transfer to the 6 after walking up the left side of the escalator at Broadway-Lafayette. We learned to always take a route by Mazzola Bakery on Henry Street when walking home late at night to smell the bread baking. I was thrilled when the little coffee shop opened on our corner with scones and iced herbal tea and wifi; Reid was ecstatic when the neighborhood finally got a 24-hour deli earlier this year. I picked my favorite pizza place, finally found a good doctor and started to feel confident whenever tourists asked me for directions. We signed a lease for a second year in the same place, and then a third. Reid proposed to me in a place we’d walked to dozens of times together, and while I know he would have done the same wherever we lived, because places - spots, corners, lookouts - are the signposts of our relationship, the view from this place was unequivocally New York.

Still, I have days when I hate it here. I have a lot of days when it feels like everything - commuting, walking, eating, sleeping, working, exercising, shopping, breathing - is just harder here. Maybe it’s just easier to blame New York because it’s so big and enveloping and in your face all the time. Maybe it’s easier to say New York is the reason I haven’t written as much fiction as I’d promised myself I would, or worked on much of that long and growing freelance pitch list, or figured out a morning and evening self care routine that works for me, or consistently prepared lunches and dinners for myself, or decorated much of the apartment, or visited this neighborhood or that museum or seen that show. It’s definitely easier to say that New York is just hard, it’s stressful, it’s tiring, than to admit that I’m still withholding permission.

I’ve thought a lot about moving lately. Maybe it’s big changes that get you thinking about more big changes - Reid and I are getting married in less than nine months, in a very different place, and it’s got us thinking about the future. Some days I get home from work and am absolutely certain I can’t survive here another week; others I am so in love with certain parts of this place that I can’t imagine ever leaving. Maybe five years is enough for a person like me in a place like this. I find myself daydreaming about having a yard and shower grout that's younger than me and when we travel I often feel like I've broken free of something and am allowed to relax and feel comfortable for a few days, and I wonder if these are signs. But then I wonder what would happen if I gave myself that same permission to feel happy and calm and relaxed in New York. Maybe it's not possible, maybe things are just too hectic and cramped, but maybe there are things about me that can change before I resort to leaving. New York can make you want to do that for it. And it has made me see what can be possible when I give myself permission.

There's a cheesy Pinterest meme I've seen a few times that says "bloom where you're planted." Maybe I don't have to know where I'm going to be in another five years, or even two. Maybe for now I will give myself permission to slow down and make the most of where I am right now.

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