To sum up quite a long story, my boyfriend Sean moved to Arizona (from Michigan) over a year ago for his job. Since then, we’ve really just been figuring things out as we go. But after a year of long distance and uncertainty, I decided to move out to Arizona with him. While we were long distance, I dreamt of moving here, and I love being here with Sean. But no matter how much I’ve wanted this, moving across the country with no new job (I’m working remotely for my same job) and no idea what each day will look like is extremely hard.
I have always been terrible with change, which I think is a common symptom of anxiety. Uncertainty is the enemy, and moving across the country without even a job in your new city is quite uncertain. Moving has always been difficult for me, even if I know 100% I want to and am ready to move, when it comes time to start the process my anxiety becomes like a little child grasping onto the familiar, digging my claws in, and crying not to let go.
While my thinking brain says, “Yes, moving is what I’ve been planning on and wanting for a long time. This is a great opportunity, and I am excited.”
My feeling brain yells “Do not leave! Stay here where it is safe and comfortable. You don’t know what’s out there. It could be terrible.”
(Wondering what the heck I’m talking about when I say “thinking brain” and “feeling brain”? Read The Three Brains and How They Affect You.)
The First Move
I had moved a total of seven times before this one, most of which were between home and school at the University of Michigan. It was not even two hours away and each move caused panic attacks.
For weeks leading up to the day I would move away to college, I was an anxious mess. The thought of college made my stomach drop and my throat tighten. I had never lived anywhere else in my life, let alone somewhere without my family and friends. What if I didn’t like my roommate? How do you make friends? What if I don’t make any? How do I know where to go? What if I have no friends and nothing to do and I sit inside my dorm and cry by myself for every? What will it be like there?
This did not just cross my mind in a few moments of nervousness; this was a constant state of fear, along with the strong desire to cling to my parents and stay home where I knew what it was like. This is not rational; I know it’s not. Anxiety is not rational. I knew that even if I had stayed at home and gone to the state college in town, my life would not be the same. My friends would move away and college would be different than high school.
The first few weeks (or months) of college I really struggled. My crippling anxiety made it difficult to settle and engage in my new environment. I wasn’t just homesick—I was dealing with depression. I didn’t just want to go to the physical place of home, I wanted to go back to the state-of-being where I was comfortable and knew what to expect. Because I didn’t have the words for this, I could only express this feeling as “I want to go home” or on some occasions “I want my mom.”
Looking back, moving got easier each time–but I didn’t really see it that way. When I moved back to my parents from college I didn’t have much anxiety leading up to the move, because I knew what I was getting myself into–I had lived there before. But with each September brought a new year of college and a new environment. College is such a transient time, every year things changed (including myself) in leaps and bounds.
A few days before it was time to move back to school for my sophomore year, I was again sick with the fears of uncertainty about my classes, moving into the sorority house, my friends, food, you name it. But in addition, I was also so afraid I would fall back into the dark depression that was triggered at the start of my freshman year. While not like the multiple weeks of fear I had my first time, this year I was in a state of high anxiety for multiple days leading up to the move.
When I moved from home for the third time, for my junior year, I started crying the day of, just before we left, and my mom honestly said “You’ve done this too many times.” And it’s so funny to me now, because it was so true. Each year my mom went above and beyond to help me move in and feel comfortable, and I cried hysterically every time.
But each time I moved, it got easier. The feelings of dread lessened a little more every year. So I thought I’d put it to the test and move across the country (seriously, who do I think I am? The nerve that non-anxious Hannah has sometimes…)
The Cross-Country Move
Surprisingly, I did not spend weeks sobbing before I left Michigan. But it was not all excitement—actually it was barely any excitement (sorry Sean). When I was two weeks away from my move and everyone asked me if I was ready, I honestly didn’t know what to say because I was just not dealing with the fact that I was actually moving across the country. I thought I was just stressed about all the stuff I had to do (which I was to an extent) but I was really just avoiding my emotions (me? avoiding my feelings? Never…).
I mostly felt disheveled and nervous, but I blamed it on having my stuff in boxes and planning out the drive with my mom to AZ. I didn’t cry once (aside from a few tough goodbyes) until I dropped my mom off at her hotel to take a nap on her last day in Arizona.
I immediately felt completely alone, and all of the fears about actually living in this new place quickly hit me. When I got back to the empty apartment, I started to really think about and envision what my life would be like here. For some people, envisioning their life in a new place might be like seeing themselves making dinner in the kitchen or enjoying a fun night in their living room with their roommate. For me, and my anxiety, envisioning my future life automatically means seeing what will be hard or go wrong. “This is how it is going to be everyday,” I thought. “What am I supposed to do? I’m just going to sit in this apartment alone and do nothing and make no new friends. I’m so far away from all my friends and family. I won’t talk to any of them and it won’t be the same. I’ll lose all my friends and be so lonely and depressed here. Why did I think I could do this?” my mind raced as I started to cry. Although, I have always referred to this experience as crying because tears are involved, it truly is a panic attack. For me, panic attacks include very intense sobbing during which I can’t catch my breath and so I take rapid, shallow breaths continuously. I did not want my mom to leave. What would I do without her? I knew I would not be okay (read: my anxiety “knew” this and told me it was truth).
Since my mom was still just down the street at her hotel, I called her and asked if I could come over there. But the next morning, when she left for real, the compulsive crying returned. I honestly wasn’t even having fully-formed thoughts. I just felt raw and exposed, stripped of my comfort and familiarity.
I thought I would escape the terrible anxiety that I felt during past moves because I was moving in with Sean, in an apartment and a city that I had visited for the past year. But a cross-country move is always going to be hard, no matter how great your relationship is or how much you prepare. The few days I spent here or the many images I had in my head of what my life would look like are just incomparable to what it is like to actually create a new life in new place.
Now, I have been here (without my mommy) for a little over two weeks. Every day is different, and my feelings about the move changes with it. Some days I marvel at how amazing this place and my life are, and somedays I wake up wondering what I am doing here? It can be quite lonely in a new state, but that’s enough for a whole other post. For now, I’m taking it one day at a time. I’m trying not to put pressure on myself to seem or be “sooo ecstatic” about the move by allowing myself to have the bad days and enjoying the good ones too.