All the emotional stages of your first big move
Moving is tough. Whether it’s planned or unplanned, it can be a exciting and positive but also a discouraging and uncomfortable change. It’s a disruption to everyday patterns many of us may take for granted. The familiarity of streets, close proximity to family and friends, our favorite bookstores, coffee shops, and farmers markets. All of these so-called simple pleasures, after moving, must be modified once you’ve bit the bullet and moved.
My first big move happened last June. I gathered up my Seattle home and relocated it down to Los Angeles, all for the sake of work. Though I’m still situated on the West Coast, LA is very different from the mountain-filled, lush green Pacific Northwest. I knew a few co-workers prior to my move, which were actually more surface level acquaintances than friends and had lived in Los Angeles the summer prior. Beyond that, the city, its people, and its culture were a whole new territory. As willing as I am to confront change and tackle it head on, it didn’t make my move any easier.
It began with excitement. The idea of progressing my life in an unexpected way stirred up a great deal of joy that had previously been stuffed away by grad school, work, and family stress. I felt awake by the opportunity to start a fresh new chapter. I could visualize the end of the college cycle I had been on for the past six year, making me more eager to pack my things up and start this journey before my optimistic bubble burst.
The excitement reached further than my inner joy to leave behind a setting that I felt was becoming tiresome. I had been living with family while I was completing school and was ready to get back to living on my own. As someone who lived by themselves for four years prior to moving back in with family, creating my own space was a bit of a priority. A priority I believed was more of goal, or dream, because I had been watching so many of my friends fluctuate between moving home and moving out. This new chapter also included the feeling of control. My job came with financial independence, a luxury I considered a superpower. Sure I still had loans and sure I would be working for a non-profit, but I could pay the rent, bills, and groceries plus have a new book if I so desired.
The first two months were filled with weekend adventures around the city, explorations of coffee shops, bookstores, and farmers markets, and setting up my new space. I was alone for the first time in a long time and was able to decide what I wanted to do and when, before and after working hours of course. As an introvert, I was most eager to find the places that I could build my routine around. Where would I go to write on the weekends, what grocery stores would I frequent, and what would I fill my weekends up with. It was the first time in my life that homework wasn’t trailing behind every activity.
However, after two months of searching, exploring, and acquainting, it was clear that it would take much longer for me to establish a comfortable routine. As the excitement faded, the inevitable feelings of loneliness and the harsh realization that moving is one of the more uncomfortable experiences of post-grad life set in. It took a while for me to put a word to what I was feeling, which was complete and total uncomfortable-ness.
There was zero familiarity and too much new. Added to the fact that there was no one familiar around me. I became acutely aware that I had left behind my partner, family, and friends who sometimes felt suffocating, but nevertheless were being’s who I felt a connection with. I realized that though I enjoy being alone and need a great deal of alone time to feel completely recharged, there is a big difference between choosing to be alone and being alone because it’s the only option. Although a lot of people move on their own will, I know I could have declined the job and stayed at home, it doesn’t make being out of your comfort zone 24/7 any easier.
It was during this stage that I started numbing out. Not with alcohol or drugs, but by detaching myself from thinking about my current situation. I watched a lot of television and movies, things I’d already seen but wanted to view again because it gave me some sense of familiarity and predictability. I cleaned a lot. Deep cleans and time consuming organization. If I could control my immediate surroundings like my apartment, my spending habits, and the way each hour of the day was spent, than I could survive another day.
When I wasn’t consumed by controlling my atmosphere, I was plotting my return home. I set aside two years for work, which quickly dropped to one, strictly for resume purposes. I hadn’t factored external differences in like the change in scenery, weather, and seasonal changes. I deeply missed the changing leaves of the Pacific Northwest, and longed for cold mornings, grey skies, and rain. I found myself looking for job openings in Seattle while I was trying to finish various projects at work. Focusing on a book that I genuinely found interesting was proving to be a strenuous effort. The middle months were the most difficult that caused my stomach to feel uneasy most of the day and resulted in restless nights. But as I later found out, if you can get through these months, the following months feel like a breeze. Not a joyous breeze, but definitely a breeze.
The third quarter of the year was the acceptance stage. The thoughts that once kept me up at night, the guilt of not feeling grateful for an opportunity that so few people my age are offered, and the shame of not being able to trump my uncomfortable emotions with gratitude for my new city faded once the third stage budded. I wouldn’t necessarily say I was happy, but I earned back some of the vision and perspective that had been clouded by anxiety.
To me, the city may have still been awful, but it did start to feel familiar. I was grateful for some of the smaller changes I didn’t notice I needed. Post-holiday seasonal depression never set in because of the unrelenting and unapologetic sun. I sold my car (because my income didn’t allow for that luxury), and although I miss it at times, I bypassed the inevitable aggression and rage of LA drivers. I found a Caffe Vita, a Seattle based coffee shop located in East LA. Finally, I stopped scrolling through Seattle apartments and job listings and started focusing on the job in front of me. What I had started to resent was now turning into an opportunity I was grateful for. Of course Monday to Friday jobs suck sometimes, but I began to focus on the opportunities it gave me. Walking around outside became more enjoyable than watching Beginners and Pride and Prejudice for the hundredth time. Slowly but surely, these acceptance months prepared me for the inevitable, final stage of the first year of a big move: appreciation.
Yes, after almost a year I can finally, honestly, and confidently say that although I my gut says I’ll be back in Seattle one day, I appreciate Los Angeles and have managed to settle into a state of comfortable, routine, adult life. LA is different, but it has a lot of characteristics I love that I never would have witnessed had I not mustered up the courage and moved.
It’s diverse. I’ll never forget when I told someone I was from Seattle and the first thing that came out of their mouth was, “It’s very white up there.” And it’s true! For a city that promotes itself as a diverse community, it doesn’t compare to the culture of LA. It took almost a year for me to feel appreciate the fact that there is always something happening in LA. Movies, concerts, art walks, festivals, whatever it may be there are always ten thing happening a night, and you don’t have to participate in any of them if you don’t want to. Thing I disliked or felt overwhelmed by suddenly felt smaller and more manageable. Sure it’s sprawling and inconvenient, but every neighborhood feels like its own new city. There’s no need to take a weekend trip elsewhere because travelling from West LA to East LA feels like a day trip outside of the city.
Not everyone is going to move to a bigger city, and for some it may take more or less than a year to feel grounded in a new environment. However, whenever you follow a path that will lead you to uncomfortable and new territory that will break your familiarity and routine, there will be an inevitable patch of unease and thoughts of regret. No matter the case, things eventually get easier. I promise.