Today, the English Major in me wanted to tell a story. And it’s the story that is really the long answer to the question I get asked the most these days: why did you move back from Colorado to Arizona. I usually find myself telling the abbreviated version of this story, the plot synopsis, the 3 - 5 sentence short answer section of the exam. I know how to tell it without getting too personal and overwhelming people with what is a very personal story in reality. I actually wrote this months ago after we first moved but was super afraid to share. But today, I randomly remembered it and decided to revisit and feel like it’s okay now. So if you’re down to read this, just thank you for just being here friend.
So I suppose the story starts with why I even moved to Colorado in the first place. This is also the second most common question I get asked these days, but the answer to that one is pretty simple. It was my senior year of college at the University of Arizona, I had been dating the same guy, Alec, for 3 years, who I am now married too, in case you didn’t know us back then, and I was getting ready to start looking for jobs. I was at that cliché fork in the road with pretty much every aspect of my life. Real-life adulthood was looming big, my friends. But when it came to my relationship, now that was the one thing I was very certain of. Alec and I had already been talking about marriage for at least a year and were comfortable with that. We had same core friend group and had even lived together at one point. In my little hopeless romantic, Nicholas Sparks readin’ mind, there was no doubt going into that year that we should and WOULD be getting engaged by the time graduation rolled around. So when Alec got offered a full-time job following his internship with USAA in Phoenix and he started talking about the opportunity to take that position in USAA’s Colorado office in Colorado Springs, it was like whoa man the future really is here and it’s time to make some big girl choices.
Now, let me take a minute to tell you that I personally didn’t have any job prospects. Like I said up there, I was an English major. I was one of those people who chose it because I liked to read and thought that maybe it would be fun to teach teenagers to like The Great Gatsby and see the feminist genius of Sylvia Plath. But by the time that last year of school rolled around and I had had enough forced reading assignments to make anyone a little insane, I didn’t want to read another classic let alone force children to. Girlfriend was a lost lil duckling. So I just did what my heart was telling me and that summer before senior year started, over some spicy tuna rolls, I said hell yeah, why not, let’s go to frickin Colorado Springs.
So that last year in Tucson was so good. Probably the best year of my life so far. Knowing we were becoming working adults soon and would be leaving everyone we loved behind in pursuit of change, we lived it UP. Like the non-stop parties and barbeques, hanging out by the pool with our friends kind of livin. Then that summer following graduation I spent 10 days playing with starfish and exploring glaciers in Juneau and got spontaneous matching tattoos while drunk with my cousins in Mission Beach. Alec and I got engaged in Barcelona and then a few days later were singing along to Molly Malone and drinking Guinness in Dublin’s Temple Bar with some of our best friends. We camped and hiked in the Grand Canyon and listened to wolves howl from the camper every night. And I thought that trend of adventure and pure thrill for life would continue on with us in Colorado even after the summer was over.
But. Things don’t always go as you envision. Sometimes even things like moving to a new state aren’t as simple as “life is what you make of it”. I knew it would be hard, but the homesickness that hit me literally the second that my family said goodbye and left Alec and I in our first apartment there was so immediate and so intense. Like in-bed-reading-Gone-Girl-for-3-days-straight intense. It surprised me honestly because I had had similar goodbyes before. I had done this same thing when I said goodbye to all my high school friends and family and got dropped at my dorm at the U of A. I chalked it up to adulthood not being nearly exciting as college and 900 miles from home being way different than 90 miles up the freeway. I told myself it would just take some time.
So we tried to immerse ourselves in our new little town. I got a good job within a couple weeks of being there in marketing and real estate in a high-rise in downtown. We decorated our apartment and joined a gym to try to meet some people outside of work. We tried breweries and pubs and hiking trails and went to a concert a Red Rocks. We were making the most of the awesome culture that is Colorado. It still didn’t feel quite natural, but we were making it work and living the best we knew how in a new unfamiliar place.
The first winter rolled around and anyone who knows me knows that I hate the cold with a fiery passion. I will say snow is beautiful and the snow frosted pines remind me in the sweetest most nostalgic way of the little ones my grandma would buy my siblings and me for our gingerbread houses as kids. And the way the wind picks up the powder off the top of the Rockies in little delicate swirls is absolute magic. And yet, the change of season still left me just feeling cold & empty. It was also around this time that Alec was scheduled to start working Saturdays, which is totally completely heinous. But I decided to “suck it up”. I pulled out my art stuff and just started painting and sketching for myself as an outlet and as something to do on Saturdays when I was feeling too shy to hang out with our new friends on my own. And I made it through the first winter like that. I got really good at being on my own without being lonely, even started to maybe enjoy it a little bit. I wasn’t great, but I was doing okay.
We adopted a puppy in April, Alec’s schedule luckily changed back to normal, trees started to bloom in May. We rented a cute little Victorian house in June and I started to feel like, hey maybe this is home. If you’ve ever been to the Rockies around June - August, or you’re planning on going some time, boy you are in for a TREAT. It is so so gorgeous and so fun. For us being from Arizona we were like “wow this is great to not roast alive walking across the parking lot!” and “wow they don’t even need patio misters here!?” It was magical my friends, I loved it. We were camping again, going to concerts at Red Rocks, exploring Denver. I love those days even now when I look back on a time that as a whole was very hard for me.
But again, if you know anything about the Rocky Mountains, you also know how short-lived summers are, at least in comparison to what we’re used to here on the west coast. It starts to get cold again in October even before Halloween (cold by my standards of course, I’ll just keep adding that disclaimer). So we’re talking 7-8 months of below mid-50’s temps, snow and surprise blizzards that come out of nowhere from behind Pike’s Peak that last until the end of May. 8 months of not enough sunshine even when the sky might be blue.
The shortlived summer was kind of that heartbreak all over again. It brought back all those negative feelings of homesickness, missing my desert, missing being able to be outside and feel warmth on my cheeks and a breeze that didn’t bite. Seasonal Affective Disorder also known as SAD (so appropriate) is depression brought on by changes in the seasons. It probably sounds silly to most, like girl get a grip it’s just the weather. But it wasn’t until I started talking to some coworkers that I trusted that I realized that it is a very real depression and it was hitting me hard. Literally, the lack of vitamin D from the sun causes chemical changes in your brain that affects the way you feel physically and emotionally. It’s why some people in places like CO take supplements and buy special lamps. Broad City fans- think Ilana in the episode where she covers the walls of the storage closet at work with foil and is desperately trying to recharge herself with the light from her lamp. As insane as she seems, it’s beyond real!
I think that’s what it was that killed all the hope and potential and love that I had started to feel for Colorado. And by the end of winter, Alec felt it too.
It didn’t matter that we had just gotten married and had just spent the most beautiful amazing week in Jamaica, it didn’t matter we had friends visiting somewhat regularly and that I had developed some amazing friendships with my coworkers. I had gotten to a point with my painting right around the New Year where I wanted to figure out how to pursue it full time and yet felt totally uninspired by what I saw as dead, colorless surroundings. Honestly, I just felt tired. Every day. And it’s like that daily struggle to even do what I love most only compounded how burnt out and anxious I felt. Alec was working Saturdays again and was also starting to be miserable in a job that wasn’t fulfilling to him any more. It wasn’t good for our marriage. By the end of March, I was a total basket case, socially anxious, and honestly just so stuck in this cycle of negativity and what I see now as just pure and simple sadness.
And that’s the thing. That’s why I don’t tell this story. It’s like there’s no way to tell it without being negative or acknowledging my struggles with what I accept now as mental illness. Anyone who knows me well knows that the real Kendall is a happy person, adventurous, has amazing friends, loves life to the core, loves making memories to laugh at and having good stories to tell. Even you in reading this and reading about my summer before I moved can maybe see that. I was losing that part of myself, for whatever reason something in my brain was crippling all those parts of me, making me question myself. I would rehash every social interaction I was having with anyone from my boss to random strangers to my closest friends. I’ve always been a pretty shy person but not quite like this. It was like “Sorry the old Kendall can’t come to the phone right now. Why? Because she’s dead!” Lol just kidding, not quite T Swift level, but you know what I’m saying? It felt like this downward spiral and I was losing my grasp on who I am.
So as you can guess, when Alec got an amazing job opportunity offered to him in Gilbert, we literally jumped at the opportunity and were back in AZ within a month. It was yet another fresh start even if it was going to happen back home. It was our way to get back to everything we were missing: holidays with our families. Weekends with our closest friends. Year-round Valley of the m-fing sun. Even more than that for me, it was the refresh button that I was desperately seeking for my career and my dreams.
Maybe that makes me a coward for not just pursuing that anyway from where I was at. But I guess all I can say is imagine being terrified of 90% of social interactions and then trying to quit your job and start a business where you know only about a dozen people. For an artist too, environment is everything and I just felt like I was in an environment that was sucking me dry two-thirds of the year. I don’t know if that will even make sense to a non-right-brained person, but I still knew myself well enough to know that moving back to Arizona is exactly what I needed to do to give my dreams and myself the air to breathe and to grow again.
It hasn’t been all sunshine. My anxiety hasn’t gone away overnight. Since we’ve been back in Arizona, we’ve actually faced some of the toughest challenges of our marriage yet with career struggles on my end, serious health scares on Alec’s. But things are better. I guess I’ve long accepted that if happiness is a choice, Seasonal Affective or not, this is THE choice we needed to make to find it together.
While so many people were supportive and excited that we were moving back, I got some comments on social media after I announced it that were basically mocking that we were leaving CO after only 2 years. And at first, I took it to heart, allowed them to make me feel like maybe I did fail. Because for the longest time I thought—because I think our society likes to believe this too-- that going to school out of state or starting a big job away from home is a way to measure some level of success. And don’t get me wrong, if you can do it and love it, it’s definitely something to be proud of. But what I’ve realized is that the most important thing is building a life and a home that YOU are proud of, where you are your happiest, healthiest, best self. For me, that’s here in the little, quiet suburb of Gilbert, AZ and that’s beyond okay. And no matter where you’re at on your path in life, I hope you find it too.
So I know this was really long and I need to stop procrastinating that painting lol but there are a few things I hope people can take from this:
1. If you’re struggling with anxiety, depression, SAD, or any other form of mental illness, it’s okay. Don’t be ashamed because truly there isn’t any shame in it. The last thing you need to feel on top of it is that you’re the only one.
2. Don’t make assumptions about what’s going on in other people’s lives or judge their decisions. You don’t know what brought them to that point.
3. If it feels right, just stop. Stop living in a place you hate. Stop working for your asshole boss. Stop worrying what other people might be thinking or saying. Stop telling yourself you’re okay, if you’re not. Stop hiding your struggles from your friends and family!!
Anyway, if you read this and identified with some aspect and want to talk to someone or need some advice, I am here for you!! I love you all for reading and for your support as always.
Until next time, XO,