This past September I moved from upstate New York to Denver, CO for a job I didn’t yet have, with no place to live, and no ability to drive. That sentence feels ridiculous now, even though it seemed like the obvious thing to do at the time. The reality was less rom-com adventure, and more just straight up ridiculous. The next time your physically disabled, single, female friend who just turned 20 says she plans to move across the country alone to ~figure shit out~ show her this post. Not because she can’t, but because maybe she just shouldn’t. And okay, maybe the wandering soul in question doesn’t fit that exact description, but this advice is transferable to many young people who may have the urge to do something that is actually more logistically and emotionally difficult than it’s worth. Our rom-com culture glorifies overblown adventures in the name of self discovery, even if it’s at the expense of self care.
I had originally come to Denver in Summer of 2016 to work with my dream company- Phamaly Theatre Co. Phamaly Theatre is the only professional theatre company completely comprised of actors with disabilities. That first summer I completed an intensive internship, which was one of the best learning experiences of my entire life. Filled with disabled and disability aware people, the city of Denver had won my heart. When I landed a role in Phamaly’s production of Annie the year following, I jumped on the opportunity. But when my financial aid was cut in the middle of the run that July, I faced a choice: go back to school immediately or try my hand at a full time job. I chose the latter, moving 1,800 miles away semi-permanently to be what I thought was an administrative assistant, but was really a case manager in a program for people with disabilities experiencing homelessness. You know, some light cultural fare for my time “off”. I was suddenly in an entirely new reality: living on an air mattress, I was grateful for the experience, but realized I was unprepared to be this far away from my support system in a completely new job.
Our society loves the “teachable moment” the “I pushed myself and never looked back” stories. Mine was indeed a teachable moment. And from (almost) the other side of it, I can also say it was Too Much Too Fast, and if I had the chance to do it over again, I would take less on or maybe not even come to Colorado in the first place. I get that this is not always a feel good thought: girls takes leap; didn’t like what it felt like to fly. But there is real value in admitting you didn’t like something, seeing it through, and being able to be honest with people about what you did (and didn’t) take away.
Now that I have you on the edge of your seat with that rousing message of uplift, what didn’t I like- what wasn’t I ready for? My new position contrasted the artistic vibrance of my past experience, and I felt on my own in the newness of everything. I have a well rounded group of friends in Denver, but got here and realized they all have lives that weren’t changing like mine. I started to miss the bulk of my support system that is pretty evenly split between upstate NY and Boston. Of course now that I’ve been here for a year I’m getting ready to leave the friends I’ve finally made. But that’s the way the cookie crumbles, and I’m able to view it as having pockets of support all over the country. That said, it took time for me to build community alone in a new city, and the first several months dragged as I was constantly reminded of how few people I knew here. Thaaaank you social media ;).
There’s another side of the loneliness, which is the reality of having to single-handedly address logistical curve-balls without the support of, say, a significant other or close friend who shares the experience in real time. I wouldn’t say I’m resentful of the single life. That is until I got home at 11 PM from my second job and saw at the end of that 17 hour day that my bathroom and surrounding carpet was flooding with toilet water. It took the “emergency maintenance” personnel over an hour to arrive, only to insist this was not an emergency (???) and to quite literally yell at me while doing a substandard job at addressing the growing flood. In this scenario and so many others it would’ve been nice to have someone to share the brunt with right then; to act as a buffer with this mean man; to remind me to make a copy of the complaint I submitted the next day, and/or just to give me a hug and remind me I’m okay. The whole “me against the world” thing gets really exhausting really fast. And I don’t want to be against the world, but the amount of curve-balls thrown made it feel that way even when I was finally making friends.
And then there is my job. Oy, where to even begin. The very premise of working with a group of adults, all of whom are 10+ years older with ~degrees~ and ~families~ had me in over my head. I have learned that one can hold themselves professionally- be respectful and timely, and still unknowingly fail in adhering to an organization’s specific, long list of unspoken cultural guidelines. And everyone was perfectly nice, as was I. It’s not necessarily about “nice”. Perhaps in a place where there aren’t many opportunities for excitement, like a monotone office filled with smaller offices that all look similar, with similar work being done day in and day out, there isn’t much engage folks. So people create their own ways to engage, making an arbitrary set of ‘rules’ to work under.
The social cultures I’ve slipped in and out of prior to this are very different- the boundaries are clearer, and if there is confusion about a boundary, it is acceptable to voice said confusion candidly in a more casual setting. In the job there was an expectation to talk about your personal life and hear about others, but what was okay for one person to say was not okay for another based on hierarchy and seniority. This caused stress around how much I was sharing or not sharing, and I felt uncomfortable that my superiors would confide in me as much as they did, worrying I wasn’t responding appropriately. Meanwhile those who were confiding were protected by their status in the office. Because of how new I was, and how young I am, and being the first physically disabled employee, I immediately felt pressure to prove myself as capable within the job. Maybe some of it was self imposed, but there were definitely some raised eyebrows and quick dismissals that weren’t of my imagination.
All of this considered, I think I did okay, handling situations with as much grace as I could. But again, just because I managed doesn’t mean I should have stayed in that position of unsureness. This confusion carried over into the work as well, the messiness of which only furthered the blurred social lines. There were contracting and under-staffing issues early on, which is why I ended up taking on case management so quickly. Before I knew it, I was working a lot of overtime and doing crisis management on an admin salary, and not until after the storm blew over did I ever even consider resigning and going home. It never occurred to me that I didn’t have to be in the position I was; that the program would survive without me and a part time job at Michael’s craft store in the comfort of my parents company was really just a few emails and a plane ticket away.
I failed to consider this as a viable option because however stressful, I felt empowered on some level by the job I did have. It may have been a struggle from start to finish, but at least I did it, right? Along with the romanticizing of taking big leaps, american society has a phobia of “giving up”. Walking away from anything is internalized as defeat on a cultural scale, and trickles down to individual decisions. In an unhappy marriage? If you haven’t sat in that discomfort for a certain amount of time in an effort to “work it out”, divorce is frowned upon. Same applies here. What kind of callous person would walk away from the opportunity to help vulnerable people to instead work a retail job? Certainly not me, no sir. I had moved across the country! This was my time to fly my east coast nest. The idea of leaving felt ridiculous- ruining the lifetime movie that was only halfway through, so I didn’t even give myself the option until I only had a few months left and leaving was no longer justified.
It is worth noting that in the times I felt the overwhelming exhaustion, I had Phamaly, the arts, and the glimpse of a future career to keep me grounded. The second job I mentioned was doing accessibility research on their production of Into the Woods. And when I first arrived for the case management job in September, I jumped into work on a Sketch show. Were these opportunities “worth” everything else I endured? I don’t know how to quantify that, but I am so so grateful for Phamaly and the fact that I was present and involved for so much, even if the rest of my experience this year wasn’t all curtain calls and applause.
At this point, with just days until I leave Denver, I am left with gratitude for all I have learned, hard to swallow pills and all. I will miss the sense of independence I enjoyed, and my new close friends. Despite everything I’ve described. I don’t at all feel regret, because like it or leave it, this is where I am. Because of this experience I am all the more grateful for the opportunity to return to school closer to home. It’s so close I can taste it. With that in mind, if you are reading this and realizing you feel stuck where you are, don’t hesitate to make that change! Sure there is risk involved, but if you take a risk and don’t really like the outcome, I hope my testimony is enough for you to find a way to make another change. I’m beginning to realize that life is simply a series of turns that we don’t have control over. But we can control whether we’re making the turns, or others are for us. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that I’m no longer going to accept a given circumstance simply because it’s been put in front of me. I hope you can commit to the same.
Today, this is where she stands