Last December I graduated from college and took one of the biggest risks of my life: moving across the country without a job, place to live, or knowing anyone where I was going other than my parents. I desperately wanted to experience somewhere and something new because I felt like I was stuck in the same place I had always been while living in my home state (Minnesota, if anyone is wondering).
Let me give a little background here. I grew up and lived in Minnesota from the time I was three, and it really is the only place I could remember living. For most of my childhood I didn’t really think about how living in one place affected me – after all, what kind of kid sits around and examines how their life could be different in another state?
But once I hit my teen years I began to feel an itch to leave. Depression also hit me around that time as a result of hormonal changes in puberty and some really terrible experiences I had trying to fit in with people I thought of as friends. Suddenly one of the few things I could think about was how my life would be different if I lived anywhere else. Leaving Minnesota seemed like one of the only ways to make myself feel okay again.
I stayed in Minnesota for college, although I did move three hours away from my hometown. That little move helped calm me down for a few years but after three and a half years of freezing winters and another terrible friendship experience, I was more than ready to dig myself out of three feet of snow and make my escape. I felt that if I didn’t leave Minnesota then, I would be stuck there forever.
Fast-forward to May of this year. I’m living in Texas, have a job, apartment, and the beginnings of a social circle. I’m happy, more confident than I have been in years, and convinced that I made the right choice to move. It felt like parts of me I hadn’t seen in a very long time were falling back into place.
Healing isn’t easy, and honestly I don’t think I really realized I was healing as it happened. One of the things I did notice was that I was becoming more and more comfortable in my skin. I stopped worrying all the time about if the clothes I wore were in style or if anyone noticed my tiny tummy pouch or if I was standing awkwardly. I was just letting myself exist without expecting too much more.
Another large part of my healing that I recognized was realizing that I am the one living my life. I know that sounds rather obvious, but after a lot of thought I came to the conclusion that some of the things I had been trying to aim for weren’t things I actually wanted. A higher paying job? Something I thought my parents wanted for me so I would seem more prestigious. Going straight into a master’s degree program? What I thought my teachers would have expected from me after I graduated with honors. A full life plan by the time I turn 23? Literally no one expects that, but for some reason I thought I needed to have it all figured out. Once I took a step back and really examined what I want versus what I think I should want, things felt a lot clearer. I felt a lot lighter after deciding to only go after the things I really want for myself, and not the things that I want to make other people happy or proud.
When I got overwhelmed with trying to plan out my next steps, I forced myself to take a week off to be gentle with myself. This was a huge struggle, as I spend so much of my time planning and questioning myself. During the week I didn’t let myself try to look too far into the future as to what I would do next. I spent the time catching up on sleep, watching movies that made me happy, and baking breads that I later shared with my neighbors instead. I’ve spent more time outdoors, breathing clean air and feeling sunlight on my skin (which is more tanned now than it has ever been in my life). I’ve started working on letting myself stay calm, rather than having my mind whirling away. All these things have been steps towards healing.
End of August came and I found myself on a plane descending to land at the Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport. I expected to feel nervous or anxious as waves of terrible memories rolled over me, but I didn’t even think of any of those things. Instead, I felt a sense of peace as I walked through the airport that I still knew like the back of my hand.
I spent most of my time with friends and family (the first thing my best friend said when she saw me was “Oh my god, you’re blonde!” which was both hilarious and gratifying), but I did take the afternoon of my last day in the state to go on a solo trip back towards my hometown. I both wanted to go visit the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum where my parents would take me at least twice every year growing up and wanted to prove a few things to myself.
As I drove out of the Twin Cities area and into the suburbs, I kept waiting to feel myself tense up when I passed familiar landmarks. I never did, even when passing the middle school that would almost cause anxiety attacks when I used to remember my time there. Instead I glanced out at it while driving past and felt something warm in my chest from knowing that I went there once and that it was so far in my past now.
The old, pre-move me would absolutely have tensed up while passing my old school. I also would have been swamped by all the negative memories of what happened there- bullying, not fitting in, feeling like I was drowning without anyone noticing. Current me remembered all those things, but let it roll away as I drove past rather than letting it follow me and overwhelm me. Old me would never have been comfortable spending a full afternoon wandering around somewhere completely on my own. Current me really loves to go places alone and didn’t even hesitate at the (admittedly small) chance that I could run into someone I recognized. Old me felt like I always had something to prove. Now I know that I don’t have to justify anything about myself to anyone.
I spent the afternoon at the Landscape Arboretum, wandering through gardens, reading a book in the shade, and just giving myself a chance to relax and reflect on my trip. The Arboretum is one of the places I think of when asked about beautiful places, and at the end of August it is a gorgeous riot of color. Roses were at the end of their bloom cycle, the trees were all a lush green with curls of sunlight breaking through their branches, and the kitchen herb garden smelled heavenly. While walking along a path in the Pines exhibit I caught myself thinking “Yeah, I could move back here.”
Back in Texas I thought more about the option of moving back to Minnesota. Over the last nine months I have grown so much as a person and have really been able to take a look at what it is I want from life. But Texas isn’t home, not like Minnesota is. One of the wonderful things I discovered through my trip was that Minnesota is still home, and thanks to the amazing friends I have there still I could very easily step back into my life there. Another wonderful thing I discovered was that I could go back there without hurting like I used to. I have grown and healed in Texas, and found those old hurts were tied to a time, not place.
There is no doubt in my mind that moving after graduation was the right choice for me. Had I stayed in Minnesota, I would have been stuck in old habits, an old environment, and old thoughts. Moving forced me out of my former routine and away from the safety of my friends and their reassurances as to my worth. I’ve had to learn to recognize my worth on my own and have completely made a new life for myself here. This was the biggest risk of my life, and it turned out so much better than expected. I found strength in myself that I wasn’t really sure was there.
I thought I needed to leave Minnesota so I could make a different life from the one I would have had there. As it turns out, I needed to leave so I could have the space to heal and become stronger. Now that has been done, I am able to recognize Minnesota is still home. And home will be there for me to come back whenever I am ready.
Colleen is a proud Ravenclaw, tattoo enthusiast, and Jane Austen fan. Her dreams for the future include learning to make homemade ice cream and getting a full night of sleep without her cats waking her up. She can be found on tumblr as RavenclawPianist.