I’m not going to lie, the last five months have been rough. I moved to New York City in January because the school I felt best fit my career aspirations is located on Manhattan. But I knew from the moment I submitted my tuition deposit that this would be a challenging transition.
One of the biggest advantages to my life with the Park Service was the peace. I never lived in a place with reliable internet or cell phone access and never splurged for cable or satellite TV. I read constantly, I explored on the weekends, and I listened to tons of talk radio. I had a lot of time to be introspective. I knew when I graduated college in 2010 that I was feeling unhappy about something. At that time, I couldn’t quite put my finger on just where this discontent was coming from, but I was able to narrow it down to the place. So I decided that I wanted to get out of Boston, and my emotional health shifted massively when I arrived at Canyonlands that summer. For the most part I remained in an absurdly happy state of mind throughout my tenure out west. Aware of this change, I started to wonder why. And so I read.
Eventually I came across the book Quiet, by Susan Cain. Nearly every word in those pages spoke to me – loudly. I quickly embraced the label of introvert, and suspected that this way of being had something to do with my easy happiness in the west and my struggles back in the cities of the east coast. But there was another label introduced in that book that really caught my attention. This was where I first learned of the Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) – and the more I learned, the more I identified with this state. A simple google search is a great place to start if you’re curious about the traits of HSPs, and Susan Cain’s book Quiet is also very enlightening. In fact, Dr. Elaine Aron – one of the key researchers and advocates for HSPs – has commented that Quiet actually more accurately describes HSPs than introverts. In any case, the reason I began this post by describing a little bit about my discovery of this trait is to give you, single reader, a bit more background into just why this move has been so difficult for me. It’s not the transition in itself – I have moved many, many times during my transient life these past five years. It’s the place. I have found New York City to be very, very difficult. The noises and bright lights are incredibly intrusive and abrasive to me. If there are many conversations going on around me, I have trouble focusing on the one I am meant to be engaged in. I hear them all. The social situation is a special challenge for me. With so many people around all the time, I am constantly running into familiar faces. But my coping mechanism to deal with the constant stimulation of my senses is to draw inside myself, and at that point I am so wrapped up in my own thoughts I don’t even recognize the person attempting a wave. I understand why that doesn’t feel good to the person trying to reach out to me, but I often become flustered when I’m suddenly drawn out of my head and into the busy world around me. I think this sometimes comes off as disinterest or even just plain strange, and I’m having a lot of trouble juggling the physical stimulants I seem to be constantly surrounded by with the social expectations of those around me. That combined with my January start (no fun bonding orientation activities for me!), has left my social life as more or less a bust. It’s hard to make real human connections in class, and it’s scary to reach out to basic strangers. A brief browse through Facebook informs me that I actually do know many people in this city, but even so I find myself locking the door behind me when I come home at the end of the day, exhausted by the noises, sights, and smells of the urban landscape and the fast-moving nature of the people who inhabit it. I know establishing a community here would help me adapt, but it’s hard to foster relationships when my environment leaves me so drained. It’s funny, because in a lot of ways Nicaragua should have been a much more abrasive place than New York for me. And it was abrasive. This HSP status played a big role in my uncomfortable interactions with certain large cultural differences. But because of my Latin upbringing, it was also very familiar. Before I ever stepped foot on Nicaraguan soil I had already developed coping mechanisms for a lot of the situations I encountered there. While New York is not entirely unfamiliar to me – I spent a summer internship here in college and have visited many, many times – this is the first time I’m really having to deal with living in this environment. It’s one thing to experience discomfort for a summer (especially since at the time, I had no idea where it stemmed from), but the long-term nature of this experience necessitates I put some thought into healthier ways to interact with my environment now. And I’m getting there. Spring has helped significantly. This winter was absolutely horrendous, and gave me no incentive to pursue my usual release in these situations – exploring in search of beauty. If only I could see NYC as a massive labyrinth of canyons or mountain peaks, surely I could find the beauty that I know exists here. Now that the weather has warmed, this is becoming easier. There are days, I have to admit, when this strange island reveals its magic to me. It’s just a matter of working up the nerve to face it.
Now that I’ve survived my first semester, I’ve resolved to do just that. I hope to spend my scarce free time this summer not cooped up in my apartment hiding in the way I have been all winter long, but out enjoying some of the adventures this city has to offer. This is a place I used to love to visit, and it’s time to reconnect with the wonder I once had for this myriad of skyscrapers and brownstones and parks and underground tunnels. Then maybe I can grow more comfortable with my time here – loud noises, bright lights, fast walkers and all.
That being said, I could use a push every now and again. If you live in (or have lived in) NYC and have a favorite spot to recharge – please let me know! Even better if it’s accessible by public transport and on a grad student’s budget!