Last week I put down the deposit for my first apartment since everything fell apart six years ago. At the ripe age of 20, I thought I had everything together: I was attending university for writing, had an internship at a domestic abuse organization and was renting a one-bedroom to myself. After growing up in an abusive household, I finally felt free. But I came to learn how naive I was about freedom.
When I moved out my senior year of high school, I had fled to my boyfriend's house and lived with his family until graduation. Afterwards, I shared my friend's one-bedroom while working. Somehow I was accepted into a writing program and I ended up moving back into my parents' house so I could concentrate on my studies – I thought I could handle things better after growing up a bit. But things turned out to be just as bad, and I was tired of walking on eggshells in other people's houses, so I decided to get a place to myself.
I loved it. No one yelled at me or made me feel bad for being there – and although it wasn't ideal to rack up student loans while living by myself, I finally had my own space to exist comfortably. Soon my fight-or-flight response for survival started to slow down and I settled into the idea of a happier, more stable future where I would graduate with a degree, get hired at a magazine like Cosmo and write a Sex-and-the-City-esque column while being fabulous and sipping martinis.
But life turned out a lot different than I thought.
First went my mental health. After growing up in a house where I was constantly yelled at, criticized, belittled and intimidated, living in an atmosphere that posed no threat triggered the reality of my anxiety disorder. With the memory of my mother's negative words ringing in my ears, I was constantly wondering what was going to go wrong and take away my newfound happiness.
Then the depression set in. Then the binge eating, the drinking, the partying and the sex to numb the pain. Suddenly I had gone from being excited about pursuing the life I'd always known I'd wanted to being frozen in fear from the devastating truths I'd been running away from my whole life: Mental illness, disability and a lack of support from my family.
If you've read my writing, you'll know the next parts: I dropped out of school, tried to hold down job a job, went on welfare and rented rooms in people's houses where I felt like I had to walk on eggshells again. I visited multiple doctors, trying to figure out how I could get back to the future I once saw for myself. I started a magazine, began freelance writing and looked into unconventional ways of supporting myself because I didn't see a way out of poverty. No matter how hard I tried to get my magazine off the ground, I knew that if I didn't get my shit sorted out I wouldn't be able to properly run it. So I got sober, sought out a psychological evaluation, applied for permanent disability and actually got it.
But now I'm terrified.
I'm terrified that things won't work out for me and that my future happiness will be taken away from me again. And I'm especially terrified of what's going to happen when I'm not in survival mode anymore. What if I move into my new place and fall back into the same anxiety and depression I experienced the first time around? What if I develop new health issues that eradicate more of my quality of life? I suppose these anxieties stem from the guilt of not feeling like I deserve to be happy, but even moreso, I think they come from being better prepared for danger than satisfaction.
For six years, going on permanent disability benefits was always a dream that I was working towards but never thought I'd actually achieve. I was always in a constant state of survival, ready to pack my bags and move if I couldn't pay my rent or the person I was giving rent to treated me terribly – and there were lots of those times. But this place – which is ironically in the same neighbourhood as my first apartment – is somewhere that I plan on staying long term.
"Long term" is an idea I'm incredibly unfamiliar with. I learned at an early age to never feel at home because things could go awry at any minute. Growing up, I would run out of my parents' house in bare feet because they scared the shit out of me, and I guess that part of me never went away. I got rid of most of my possessions so it was easier to move each time – and because of this I need to buy practically everything for my apartment. But it's an amazing feeling to know that I won't have to worry about planning an escape route again.
Moving into my own place means I'll regain the freedom of independence. I'll have the space and the mindset to fully concentrate on getting my magazine off the ground, as well as other projects I've been working on. I can spend hours making delicious things in the kitchen instead of feeling like I'm in the way of other people. I'll be able to have friends over for dinner parties, grow a small garden and maybe even get a small emotional therapy dog.
But most of all, I'll finally have a home. And even though I'm terrified of something destroying that, I know I've spent 6 years acquiring an array of positive tools that will help me face any struggles in the future, such as therapy, meditation, yoga, exercise and diet.
My life is undoubtedly a lot different than what I thought it would be – instead of fabulously sipping martinis like Carrie in Sex and the City, I humbly sip green juice and go to bed early. But I'm happy that things turned out this way, because I've learned a lot about the realities of life and have come to discover what I actually want from this existence: To live a minimalistic, stress-free-as-possible life where I give back to others. I've felt the benefits of working incredibly hard at what I want, and I know this work ethic will carry over into the next chapter of my life. As I look around my one bedroom apartment, it'll remind me every day how success is truly possible.