I must be crazy.
This thought pops into my head throughout the day. It’s like a jingle or catchy tune that I can’t seem to escape:
Nationwide is on your side…
Here’s my number, so call me maybe…
I must be crazy…
It lives with me; I wake up with it and go to sleep with it. I feel the fear that I am crazy as it swirls around my stomach, threatening to overtake me. I’m not crazy. I’m not. At least I don’t think. I left my hometown of South Bend, Indiana for Los Angeles almost four years ago. I had $1800, a jam-packed Jeep Cherokee, and my mom for moral support. I had no plan. No job. No prospects or place to live. All I knew was that I was supposed to be in Los Angeles, so I set off, hoping I made the right decision. We arrived in Hollywood a few days later; exhausted yet fueled by excitement and wonder. We went to the Hollywood Walk of Fame and Kodak Theater, which as it turns out, was preparing for the 2012 Academy Awards. I didn’t know what the future held but I was glad I took the leap.
Unable to leave me without a place to live, my mom’s positive energy led us to the perfect hotel with a front desk hostess who casually mentioned she lived a few blocks away.
“My apartment complex isn’t the best, but you should try their other building a block over. My sister just got a place there without a job so who knows…”
We walked over and met the landlady; giving her my total savings of $1800, I moved in two days later. My mom flew back to Indiana the day after that.
I lived in a one room efficiency with no kitchen; I had a ceiling fan, laptop and an air mattress.
My air mattress kept getting holes; it was like sleeping on a sinking raft.
I survived on Laughing Cow Cheese, oranges and Ramen Noodles.
I finally got internet service; one of the best-days-ever!
I obsessively job searched.
I wrote a crappy screenplay.
Within four months, I got a job; four months after that, I moved to a studio apartment a floor down. And I proceeded on, creating sustainability. I became self-sufficient, paying my own bills and going to work. I was an adult. Or at least what I thought an adult should be. I went through the growing pains of leaving my hometown, reshaping my perspective and identity without even realizing it. Without going into too much detail: I dated, explored LA, laughed, cried, and had adventures.
Ultimately, as the years went by, I became this version of me. Confident. Resolved. Strong and focused. In the meantime, I was able to acquire creature comforts that I was proud of: two raises and a part time job afforded me financial comfort; I bought a new car and was planning to redecorate my studio. I even started making meaningful friendships—ones that consisted of truth, connection and authenticity.
I was a responsible adult, working 50+ hours a week at two jobs. I gave myself a pat on the back: you did it! The problem was, like Los Angeles, reality is exceptionally different than what’s presented to the masses. Although I could pay my bills and attend lively LA events, I suffered from extreme stress and anxiety. Emotional instability with crying fits of frustration; I was exhausted. My weeks blurred into one long day. My full-time job was an emotionally taxing, oppressive environment. And my part-time job teaching, one that I was so excited to get, quickly turned into a nightmare.
I was stretched too thin. Back spasms coupled with severe stomach issues. I drank sparkling water and ate soup for weeks on end. I would fly off the handle; I couldn’t relax. I had no motivation to do things that could potentially make me happy: screenwriting, meditation, and self-care. Although I had everything I thought I wanted, I was supremely unhappy. And once I turned 35, everything seemed to go nuclear. Unable to handle what was happening to me, I returned to my therapist to try and sort it out.
I was honest about a lot of issues going on with me; from romantic relationships to daddy-issues and personality development. In the end, I had to ask myself: What do I want my life to look like? Did I want another job? The thought of that brought on more anxiety—to me, it was continued sameness. Did I want to downshift; give up my studio and rent a room? Continue teaching but try other things…even that didn’t bring peace.
Do I want to go back home to Indiana?
It was a paralyzing question—one that I had been avoiding for months. The thought of returning home filled me with unspeakable dread. I couldn’t escape feeling like I was admitting defeat. I couldn’t see my return any other way besides: Oh, I can’t hack it in LA, so I’m crawling back to the safety of my hometown. My pride flared in rage.
No, I don’t want to return home.
The Chantell that was reshaped and forged through fire was not about to leave an independent life for one that represented insecurity and desperation. Hometowns are a great place to visit, not return to. My hometown was the epicenter of my heartache, loss and misery; I suffered depression when I was home. Returning was the equivalent of being unable to breathe—how could I be the new me in a place that seemed old and frozen in time? Thing was, I couldn’t escape the feeling that something bigger was beckoning me home. I quelled my fears and started to explore what was really going on with me. I wasn’t returning home a failure: I’m a 35 y/o woman with a master’s degree in English, working as an academic coach and college instructor. I didn’t depend on anyone for anything and wouldn’t have to. So what else was holding me back?
Truth be told. I was afraid. Not of relocating but of losing who I had become. I was afraid that upon arriving to Indiana, I’d be told to take off the woman I’ve grown into and replace it with the insecure girl I was when I left. How could I go back to a place so small after being exposed to the bigness of life? As I searched for more options besides going home, I started to take on another way of seeing things.
What do I want my life to look like?
I quieted myself for clarity as key words started manifest themselves: balance, quality of life, happiness… They began creating a buzz of energy inside of me. What if I took some time to decompress, reflect and write? Time to reconnect and restore. What if I started doing the things that I couldn’t manage in LA due to the stress: unplug, get a dog, exercise, and most importantly, be present.
My spirit relaxed into the possibility of starting a different journey; within a moment, everything was clear.
I’m going home.
Not in defeat but victorious that I’ve survived one of the hardest yet greatest journeys of my life. I told my mom then asked whether I could live with her:
“What color do you want your room painted?” she said, adding, “I’m so happy you’ll be home; your brother Marty needs company.”
Marty’s our dog but she was right. It was time for me to head back and continue the work of becoming myself. After sitting on it for some time, I finally came clean with friends and my places of employment. Aside from the sadness of me leaving, everyone, and I mean everyone has expressed such amazement at my decision.
“I’m so jealous. I wish I could do that too…” is mostly what I get. To this day, I’m still shocked. For some reason, I thought people would scoff at my unplugging from the Matrix to access true autonomy but no; more than anything, people wish they could do the same.
I must be crazy.
See, there it is again. Making a move like this isn’t as easy as it seems. Yes, it’s the right thing to do; yes, people are envious. But each day, I play a flip-flop game where I’m proud of my decision, only to be filled with anxiety a moment later. And while I know I’m moving home, letting go of LA is proving to be harder than I thought.
There’s a pride that’s been ingrained in me since leaving my hometown and starting a life on my own. There’s blood, sweat and countless tears that have been shed on these streets: the US 101, Vine, Cahuenga and Variel; the pain I’ve learned to live with here has turned me into a completely different person—someone I’ve grown to love and respect. It’s hard to say goodbye—my heart is relieved yet confused: where are we going? Wait?! We’re leaving? After all the hard work we’ve put in? What are you doing?!! I silence the cries as I box up my apartment; I hold back tears as I look into the eyes of my friends—we know the end is here, even if we don’t want to admit it.
It’s my very own Vermont moment.
It’s widely known that before becoming the sole owner of Thursday night Primetime on ABC, Shonda Rhimes moved to Vermont to finish a screenplay. From there, a series of events happened that shaped her life into what it is today. I think about this often because I’m obsessed with her and I love the idea of taking time to create. In a sense, I’m doing the same thing. I’m leaving LA in order to do my real work; I’m removing myself from the distractions of the city to tap into my shiny, new voice. The voice that was developed right here in Los Angeles.
I can’t say what the future holds. For the first time in my life, I don’t have a plan. All I know is that in order to have the life we want, we must boldly go for it despite fears and uncertainty. In fact, it’s in the uncertainty that the true work can begin. So here I go. My journey starts on Dec 31 when I take my first solo road trip home. Armed with audio books, my iPhone and journal, I’m going to experience and reflect.
I’ll report back what I discover. Stay tuned as the journey continues.