Some Thoughts On Settling Down After 9 Years Of Living An Unstructured, Nomadic Life
It’s the height of the Midwestern summer, the blazing heat making me long for the cooler months of fall. Because despite the fact that it only took about all of April, May, and June for spring/summer to arrive in Milwaukee, the season of fall has been a time of beautiful anticipation for the last several years of my life. The coming of Fall not only meant time to enjoy steaming apple cider, cozy bonfires, the changing of the leaves, and crisp air crystallized by the beautiful fall sunlight, it also usually signified that a major and exciting life change was coming.
Like clockwork, every year at the end of August, I’d be preparing to move again for the next adventure. For the last 9 autumns straight (since I was 18 years old — I’m 27 now), I’ve picked up and moved. During my undergrad years, this just simply meant moving back and forth between university. New school years meant new experiences. In the two years between undergraduate and graduate school, this involved a whole move from one Indiana town to another with my mom and my brother, a move that signified what I thought would be a new beginning, and moving to France to live and work as a teaching assistant in a small French city for 8 months.
My yearly moves also included my move to Milwaukee from Indiana for graduate school. And within my first two months of my first year, I caught wind of an amazing opportunity to embark on teaching assistant exchange program, this time as an English language lecturer at a Parisian university and taking Master’s classes at the Sorbonne. The last move was last summer, when I came back to Milwaukee to finish my last year of graduate school, excited to finally going to finish my Master’s.
And after 9 years, it finally hit me; I was exhausted. Not just temporarily physically exhausted from moving in the heat of the Midwestern summer yet again. Not just exhausted from hauling all of my belongings (including my furniture) up from Indiana to Milwaukee with my mom and my step-dad. Not just exhausted from the jet lag I still couldn’t shake. But exhausted from doing this thing that I do every year: completely uprooting my life and having to start anew despite knowing that it would all probably change again in anywhere between 8 months and a year.
So, now that I’m coming up on graduating, I have finally made the decision to settle, at least temporarily. I’ve decided to stay in Milwaukee at least for another year. I’ve decided to stay, and it’s not because I don’t love traveling or being an expatriate anymore. It’s not because I no longer constantly crave experiencing every adventure life has to offer. No, I’ve decided to stay, and here’s why.
1. I’m choosing my mental health.
The biggest factor in choosing to stay in Milwaukee is my mental health. I have struggled with anxiety and some bouts of depression most of my adult life. However, it wasn’t until two years ago that I was actually diagnosed with the generalized anxiety disorder that I have probably had most of my life. Because I’ve uprooted twice since then, I haven’t been able to consistently see a therapist to help me learn viable coping skills. Additionally, all of the uprooting has only worsened my anxiety. Structure is essential to managing anxiety (something I only recently learned), so it was no wonder that I never felt like I could get a handle on it.
Don’t get me wrong — my numerous adventures have contributed positively to my life, and I have no regrets. However, there has actually been another component to these moves that I only now realized: escape. As unconsciously as it may have been, moving every year was a way for me to escape having to face my emotional insecurities and mental health struggles. I’ve always thought that each new place was going to be an opportunity to be different because the place would be different.
But to no surprise, things weren’t different, because my struggles are within me. Choosing to stay and focus on my mental health means I’m finally taking responsibility for myself, and staying in Milwaukee means that I can keep seeing the therapist I’ve recently found, who focuses on helping me build coping skills in holistic, mindful ways.
2. I’m choosing my financial wellness.
I’m currently at a job that, I will admit, is definitely not my passion, but it is a job that came at just the right time when I had no other options. It pays the bills, after all. I initially came into my current position with the intention of only being temporary and only working 25 hours a week. However, being temporary and not taking the full-time position, which includes extra responsibilities, means that I was missing out on a higher salary and benefits. I came into this position thinking that I would stay just until I graduated and could find a solid teaching job. Well, now that my graduation is coming up and looking at the life ahead of me, I’m realizing that something has to change.
Mentally and emotionally, after severe burnout from graduate school and only just now beginning to properly tackle my anxiety, I do not have the mental capacity to handle another job change. Nor do I have the mental or financial capacity to keep living almost paycheck to paycheck with no health insurance.
Now, I grew up quite poor, and my student status has not been conducive to making it rain, so struggling financially has been what I’ve known my whole life. It’s something that I know that I can handle. I’m used to not being able to go out with friends all the time, not having health insurance, or not being able to take a vacation except for once in a great blue moon. However, as I look forward, I’m realizing that living like this is no longer going to cut it. I’m no longer emotionally capable of dealing with constantly knowing that one hospital trip could send me into an absolute financial crisis.
This is a risk that I am no longer willing or wanting to take, especially because I faced severe health issues when I was 19 that I still have to monitor every year to this day. And when I say monitor, I mean the full kahuna: doctor’s appointments, bloodwork, MRIs, etc. That shit doesn’t come cheap. So, when my doctor quoted me my yearly MRI sans health insurance for about $4,000 (thank you, American healthcare system) just for the exam itself, I told myself I just simply could not live life like this anymore.
So, I decided to take the full-time position at my current job despite my fear of getting stuck in a role that I’m not passionate about because taking it means getting an increase in pay and benefits. This means that I’ll be making around $39,000 at just this main job (doesn’t seem like much to some people, but it’s about $12,000 more than I make right now with this job and my weekend brewery job put together) and receiving health insurance. I no longer have to fear taking on even more debt to get my yearly check-ups. I no longer have to worry about finding extra money to go to the doctor if I need to.
A higher salary also gives me much more financial capability to focus on finally making huge dents in my debt. I have a combination of credit card debt, student loan debt, personal loan debt, and various medical bills, which all equals about $71,000.
And the biggest reward of all of this newfound financial stability is knowing that my life will have more structure and stability overall, which will directly feed into my mental wellness.
3. I’m choosing my career.
I currently work in the field that I want to continue my career in; I’m just not in my desired role. I work as the program assistant for an English as a Second Language program at a university. This job consists mostly of administrative work which, let’s be real, I’m not exactly passionate about. Keeping track of data, processing program applications, and responding to emails, amongst other admin duties, would not go on my top-five list of best jobs in the world. However, it has taught me endless skills that I can use in my actual dream career: teaching English as a Second Language and French to adult learners, and eventually opening up my own language school.
But opening a language school is not going to be all about just the actual language teaching. Administration has to be a part of it. So, I’m using this job as a stepping stone toward that goal. I’m taking advantage of every new task I’m dealt and every new skill acquired (I had to teach myself how to write simple code in WordPress to manage our program website), remembering that all of this will pay off immensely when I finally achieve that dream goal.
4. I’m choosing community.
Like pretty much anyone, I’ve had terrible experiences with relationships. For me, that has been with both romantic relationships and friendships alike. These terribly ended relationships were sometimes my fault, mostly due to my immense insecurities and awful anxiety-coping strategies, but sometimes I was just flat out betrayed. This sort of betrayal only fed into my depression and anxiety, and quite frankly, made me into quite the bitter bitch. This, in turn, fed into my constant need to escape. See the cycle here?
So, in choosing to stay in Milwaukee, I’m finally choosing to find faith in myself and humanity again. Choosing to stay in Milwaukee means nurturing the friendships that I’ve made here, despite my fear of being betrayed and despite my insecurities. I’m choosing to build a community of supporters around me. Nurturing current friendships and allowing for vulnerability will put me on a road to build trust in myself, add structure to my life, and battle my anxiety. I need solid friendships now more than ever as I tackle these big changes in my life. And it definitely helps that I’ll be doing all of this in the Midwestern cheese and beer-loving, vibrant, and culturally diverse city that I love.
Though I know that I won’t stay in Milwaukee forever, especially because I’m looking at tackling my doctorate at a university in Montreal someday, it’s home for now. Choosing to settle for now doesn’t mean settling forever. It also doesn’t mean that I can’t still travel or someday be an expatriate again. Choosing to stay just means I’m choosing myself, and after almost a decade of choosing everything and everyone else but myself, it’s about damn time.
Lindsey is a 27-year-old (almost no longer) graduate student studying French and Linguistics. When she’s not hitting it hard at the books or working away at her two jobs, she’s perusing used bookstores, killing the fast fashion industry by making a hobby of thrifting, experimenting with vegetarian cooking, and slowly but surely trying to figure out who she is in this world by writing on her personal blog, She Seeks Adventures.
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