The urge to throw a brick through the window of a fire truck was not one I’d experienced before.
But when a fire truck was wailing on the gridlocked street outside my Manhattan apartment one evening, a rage flung itself around my body, and the brick-throwing urge flashed inside my head.
The urge was fleeting, but it was enough to make me finally acknowledge a message that my soul had been trying to tell me for years: leave New York.
I moved to Manhattan in 2008 and thought I’d never leave. I had my happy trifecta: lovely apartment, great neighborhood, fulfilling job.
During my first week there, co-workers advised me to escape the city every so often for the sake of my mental health. But I thought it was an odd piece of advice – who would choose to leave NYC? And when I saw an angry, well-dressed man standing on an uptown street corner yelling obscenities at a driver honking her horn one day, I thought him terribly uptight.
I could never find fault with NYC; it just always felt like home.
Until gradually, it didn’t. I experienced a very real seven-year itch, and it threw me.
I frequently felt the need to escape that my co-workers had spoken about. I daydreamed constantly about putting my things into storage and living in the tranquility of Hudson or Ireland. But I told myself not to be so reckless.
I often yelled obscenities (inwardly) because the day-and-night honking became unbearable. But I told myself it was the price to pay for living in such a great city.
I lost my enthusiasm to go out, I stuffed my misery in, and I gained weight. These were clear signs I was unhappy, but I ignored them all. I was too scared to listen, too scared to leave.
I gave up my apartment, donated piles of things, put the rest into storage, took an extended unpaid sabbatical, and left NYC after 10 years. I’m happily hibernating in Hudson Valley with just two suitcases and my road bike. Each day is a mix of walking, riding and writing, and each night is pin-drop quiet. This spring, I’ll move to the windswept wilds of Ireland to experience the same.
I have no salary, I live on a budget, and I’m fitter, healthier, and happier.
I found the courage to let myself make this change thanks to what I call the Big Four: mindfulness, meditation, self-compassion and gratitude.
For me, moving on is never easy and making change is hard. I had to find a way to admit and accept my need for change, and stop holding myself back with all the shouldn’ts and couldn’ts (I shouldn’t take a career break, I shouldn’t use my savings to go travel, and, oh my goodness, I couldn’t possibly live without all my things!).
Making a daily effort to practice and remind myself of these four things really helped me through:
Be kind to yourself
When I began feeling unhappy in NYC, I constantly told myself that I was selfish, spoilt, and
Be willing to accept
I was refusing to accept the “what is”: the fact that my soul craved change. Eventually, I saw the futility of trying to pretend that I was still living my dream in NYC and forcing myself to stay. When I finally let go, each stage of the leaving process (handing in my notice, giving things away, leaving my apartment) felt completely natural.
Through meditation and mindfulness, I learned to really “watch” how my unhappiness revealed itself. For example, not only would honking horns irritate me, but they would make me instantly crave huge amounts of something unhealthy. My body was speaking to me in so many ways. It became fascinating.
While struggling to accept my need for change, I was a scowling, miserable grump. But I took the advice to write down three things I was grateful for each day. What seemed pointless soon became a habit. I started with simple things like “I’m grateful for having $3 to buy coffee”.
Making this change was a difficult decision for me. But I’m happy to say that it no longer feels reckless – it feels right.