I originally started blogging over 5 years ago (RIP Tea & Sequins) when I was 26, still in grad school, and living with two other roommates in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood. The years immediately following college had been rough. I had graduated during the recession, and it had taken me a few years to get on a career path for occupational therapy. At 26, I finally felt like I was where I was supposed to be. One year later, I had graduated, gotten my first OT job, and was celebrating my two year anniversary with my now-husband, Denny. For the most part, everything was on a predictable and familiar path- exactly how I like it. I’ll be the first to admit that I hate change in any form. Even if it’s good change, I get anxious and try to plan out every little detail in my head. I’m a total control freak, and risk-taking is not exactly my strength. I had spent almost my entire life living in Chicago, and, on my first date with Denny, I remember saying “I’m never leaving Chicago.” Funny how things change.
Denny and I planned a trip to Europe in summer 2014, and we came home engaged. I was obviously thrilled, but there was one little problem- I was still living in Chicago, and he was living in Milwaukee. Looking back, I’m surprised I didn’t fight harder to make Chicago our home. I think I was just so tired of doing the long-distance thing, and the day-to-day realities of my first job were starting to wear on me. In what seemed like an instant (but, realistically took months), I left my home of 27 years and went to the great state of cheese. And beer. And sausage.
Before I say anything else, let me say this- we had a great life in Milwaukee. It was the city of our first shared home, and I smile when I think about those nights spent in our favorite dive bar. I found a job (ironically, still in Illinois which meant I was commuting about an hour each way), and we planned our destination wedding in San Juan, Puerto Rico. (Side note: if there is any part of you thinking about having a destination wedding, DO IT! It’s the best.) We spent a year just being together after so many years of living apart. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, it happened. I stopped sleeping. In one weekend, I was awake for 48 hours straight, and my body would jerk violently any time I felt like I was on the verge of sleep. I was an emotionally distraught zombie who had to have my husband drive me an hour away for work because I didn’t feel safe enough to drive a car. As someone who has always been independent to a fault, it felt like I was losing everything.
I was 22 and in college when I was diagnosed with anxiety and panic disorder. It shouldn’t have come as a surprise seeing as my mom, multiple aunts, and a few cousins have the same issues. Fortunately, this meant I had a great support system in place, and they were able to understand what I was going through. I think the worst thing about anxiety and panic attacks is that you know you sound crazy when you try to explain them. Rationally, yes, I know that I’m not going to pass out and vomit while standing in line at the grocery store. But does that stop me from leaving a full cart of groceries on the conveyor built as I run out gasping for air? Unfortunately, no. I had experienced a few small bouts of insomnia in high school, but, generally, I had always been a champion sleeper. (Any previous roommate can attest to this.) When I was first diagnosed with anxiety, I went on medication because I knew it was something physiological that I couldn’t just wish away. Then, as life got more stable, my doctor slowly weaned me off over a period of 2 years until I wasn’t taking anything at all. I have to admit it was a nice feeling. I had more energy, and I didn’t have to pick up a prescription every month.
I think I knew within two days that my insomnia was related to anxiety. It took me a little while longer to admit that it was because I was terrified about the future. Denny and I had conversations about where we’d end up long term, and they never ended with much of a conclusion. I was convinced we’d go back to Chicago, and he really loved Wisconsin. He was a navy brat growing up so moving didn’t really phase him. He saw it as more of an adventure and an opportunity to see new places. (And even I can’t deny that Illinois taxes and cost of living suck compared to Wisconsin.) I, on the other hand, had a deep sense of home and being connected to a physical location. Plus, I knew all of my friends were still there getting to live these lives that I wanted. I never wanted to resent Denny or the choices we’d made, but I could tell it was starting to happen. I guess I wouldn’t admit it so anxiety stepped in and made the choice for me. It sucks having to explain to someone you love so much that you need more and don’t feel settled. I felt so selfish and was so afraid he would think I was blaming him, but, to Denny’s credit, he was amazing even if he didn’t understand it. It doesn’t mean we came to a compromise overnight, but we knew we needed to make a change.
I won’t go into all the details since this post is already a thousand pages long, but some circumstances changed that made our future a little clearer. I went back on anxiety medication and was offered a position at an amazing Chicago clinic through a good friend’s sister. Denny made a job change that was much-needed, but he continues to work in Wisconsin since that’s where his strongest career relationships lie. I spent a year living with my parents while he worked about an hour and a half away which kind of sucked (ugh the commute!) but was also kind of awesome (my family is the best). I had to say a really sad goodbye to my old work clinic who basically kept me afloat during those horrendous sleepless months, but they’re like extended family now. And, as I’m sure you know if you follow me on Instagram, I finally made my grand Chicago return at the beginning of this month.
Life will never be perfect, but I can’t even explain the sense of peace I feel each day. Denny still travels, but we have our place in a neighborhood that I could have only dreamed of living in three years ago. We still have a lot of work to do in regards to planning our future, but it finally feels like we have a path. I’m sure Denny could have stayed in Wisconsin forever, but he says that he’s happy with where we are, and I choose to believe him. We’ve both agreed that if a great opportunity arises for him elsewhere that he should absolutely go but me (and any future babies) will stay here. It’s a lifestyle that probably sounds crazy to many, but it worked for us while we dated and hopefully it will work for us in the future. His job can be unpredictable and take him anywhere so having a support system is crucial for me. It also doesn’t hurt that my mom, best friend, or cousin can drop in any time. I have no idea what the next day, week, or month holds, but I feel like we’ve gotten through some shit together. And, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right?