I recently had a conversation with a reader in which he stated “crisis can bring clarity” and that hit me hard. I think a lot of us have been living in a constant state of crisis for a long, long time, long before 2020. I know that I have spent the last couple of years in a constant state of “freeze” (the less popular sibling of fight or flight) Over the last year or two, I came the closest I ever have to losing my battle with mental illness. Like “making plans and accepting this was the end” close. My entire time living in Oregon has been marked by me struggling with health stuff, with brain stuff, with financial stuff, etc. Every time it felt like I was working towards relief but then the best that ever happened was I was pulled back from the precipice but kept living right on the edge. I was surviving but everything was still a constant anxiety-ridden battle.
Then 2020 hit me (and so many others) like a truck. After working for 6 years to get my book out into the world and spending months planning out the book tour that I thought would, yes, promote my book but also jolt me out of 3 years of intense self-isolation and get me back in touch with my amazing, lovely, supportive colleagues, the world shut down 2 weeks before that book’s release and everything was cancelled. So, my book was in the world but all of the other relief I thought would come with that was gone. Also, like everyone else, I was facing COVID-19 and all the things that came with it. The fear, the anxiety, the lower income, the uncertainty, the frustration at an inept government, all of it. At the same time, I was hit with a very specific fear: that I would never see my family in New Jersey ever again. My mother and stepfather as well as the aunt, uncle, and cousins who have always functioned kind of like bonus parents and siblings, and who I have lived away from for almost all of my adult life suddenly seemed like they may be out of reach forever.
While all of this was going on, I was noticing some changes in myself; I was turning into someone I did not like. I was angry, cynical, and bitter. I kept catching myself assuming the worst about everyone and everything. I was very aware of being that “it’s always something” person and was pretty sure I was miserable to talk to or even just to follow on twitter. Additionally, I felt like I was incapable of showing up for the world in ways that were helpful to anyone. I was living in a perpetual state of ” I don’t have the spoons for that” and I was ashamed of it. And, perhaps most tellingly, I stopped being able to see a future for myself. Shit got bleak.
Then in June I underwent a treatment process that helped get my head above water (Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation or TMS, if you’re curious). I had hoped I would, you know, stop feeling depressed but what happened was a bit different. I suddenly became able to see beyond all of the obstacles and see choices for myself. It was like I had been stumbling around in the dark and now I suddenly had, maybe not full overhead lighting but at least a candle. It led to some big revelations:
This week has been intense and led to some conclusions:
A lot of people want to give me support and something in me won’t let them.
I almost definitely have to leave Portland/Oregon.
I’m going back to regular blogging for a bit. My brain needs the structure.
— JoEllen Notte (@JoEllenNotte) August 14, 2020
One of those revelations was that I had been sick the entire time I lived in Oregon, something I always blamed on myself. But now, after seven years of endless calls, constant dead ends, and an often fruitless fight for adequate care, I realized the problem wasn’t necessarily me. It maybe wasn’t my laziness, lack of drive and deteriorating brain, it was maybe a deck that was stacked against me by a state that gives no shits about mental health care. I was excited, at the very least, to have found a wonderful psychiatrist who was excited to oversee my care and coordinate with my therapist and PCP to make sure everyone was on the same page. While I was starting to think that I didn’t necessarily want to stay in Oregon, I was excited to see where this new standard of care took me. Then, a couple more things happened:
Two years later and the state of mental healthcare in #Oregon may actually be worse. Dr. Pritham Raj quite possibly saved my life and then @ahnw chose to shut down his facility, a shameful decision to make in the midst of a #mentalhealth crisis. https://t.co/RYlSShixkj
— JoEllen Notte (@JoEllenNotte) August 22, 2020
Between my unemployment claim never being processed and my struggles with finding adequate mental health care, I keep joking that Oregon wants to kill me. But now that large portions of the state are burning, I’m not sure it’s a joke anymore.
— JoEllen Notte (@JoEllenNotte) September 10, 2020
So there I sat, feeling like staying in Oregon would be remaining locked in a constant battle for even the smallest scraps of physical, mental, and financial well-being, while being thousands of miles away from most of my family. It basically felt like I would be signing on for another chunk of time locked away in a tiny apartment that I am paying through the nose for, going through more trial and error with doctors and therapists and never getting quality, coordinated care, feeling like I was pretty much on my own and hating myself because life in a capitalist society has taught me that (even though everyone around kept talking about how hard I work) my low income meant that I was a lazy, lazy failure. Thankfully, TMS had jolted my brain enough for me to see some more possibilities; to see that I didn’t have to stay here.
This came with a very unexpected realization about where I might want to live:
I may have just spent two hours googling “towns that are like Stars Hollow“
— JoEllen Notte (@JoEllenNotte) October 11, 2020
In the shock of a lifetime, I realized that after 18 years of living in progressively smaller cities, always being convinced I needed to live places where I could walk to stuff (bars, coffeeshops, etc) I’m kind of done with city life. I want to be somewhere cute, quiet, and in my fantasy, somewhere close to a lake/river/pond/maybe ocean(?) because I had a (yet another) big revelation this year about how being in naturally occurring bodies of water is good for my brain:
For a couple of years I’ve had this theory that I do better mentally when I can get in a lake/river/ocean regularly but due to… reasons, I haven’t been able to test it. Today I spent 30 mins in a river and I am so happy right now that I can say yeah, I need to be in water more.
— JoEllen Notte (@JoEllenNotte) September 6, 2020
The upshot of all of this is that in 2020 I realized that (and this is hard and scary for me to say out loud) I want more, I need more. More space, more air, more healthy days, more work, more swimming, more of the autumn I know and love, more family, more support. I just need more.
So when my PDX lease ends at the end of March, I will be setting out on a cross-country drive (because I don’t trust airlines to not kill Grover), crash-landing at my mom’s house in NJ, and commencing the housing hunt in earnest. I’m looking to end up within an hour/90 minutes of my mom’s house and have New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, and possibly even Pennsylvania on my radar. Additionally, as I want to be close to more family I may end up back very close to where I grew up which is something I never thought I would do but thinking about it over the last month or so, I’ve realized it might be my best route to what I need. There will be lots of comparing cost of living, medical care access, and a bunch of other stuff in my future.
I’m excited but still, as always, terrified. The other day I went into a panic spiral where my brain kept telling me that I have wasted my life and accomplished nothing and that even if I manage to move myself across the country, I will wind up paying through the nose for a studio apartment in Nutley and basically just move my whole “hiding from the world, depressed on my couch” routine across the country. I’m trying to keep that voice at bay.
It’s also all a bit sad as leaving Oregon means leaving behind my brother as well as my partner of 7 years. I’m not looking forward to leaving either of them but with them both here it does give me ample reason to come back and visit. On top of that, it’s sad because I moved to Portland in 2013 after a series of changes and showed up here so excited about my new life. Now it feels like I’m admitting that that new life fell through which leaves me feeling like I have lost the last 7 years. I know that’s not true and I know a lot has happened but it’s still sad. It’s just that I’ve hit a point where being able to feel hope and excitement about anything is worth facing some sadness too.
So, things are scary and big shifts are coming but for the first time in YEARS I actually see potential, I see possibilities. I’ll keep you all posted as to how it goes.
Want to support me in these huge shifts? There are so many ways you can do it!
Buy my book:
Especially a signed copy as the cancellation of my book tour left me with over 100 copies in my closet.
Review my book:
People have been so lovely about my book; so supportive and complimentary! But seriously, it’s been like pulling teeth to get people to post reviews. The thing is, posting a review is a quick, easy, and FREE way to throw some serious support my way.
Folks, so many of you have said such lovely things to me about my book and I’m so grateful for that.
That said, if you could post those lovely things you said in a review, perhaps on a place where the book is being sold, I would really appreciate it.
— JoEllen Notte (@JoEllenNotte) September 14, 2020
Shop my Big Sexy Yard Sale:
Part of my “moving across the country” process is cutting down on my belongings and this includes the many brand new or used once toys in my collection. The sale has been going for about two weeks but there’s still some very cool stuff available:
Have you ever learned something from me? Enjoyed my work? Otherwise benefitted from my existence? Awesome! If you wanted to show your appreciation in a monetary way, that would be awesome too!