A Hard Year: Moving On

This is a post in three parts. First I'll sketch out what precipitated my sudden departure from Minneapolis, the circumstances, as I understood them, that pushed me out of my home and away from my support systems. Second I'll go in depth as to how I made this actual move, what steps I went through to leave Minneapolis and go back to Chicago. Third I'll introduce the natural sequel to this series, what I did next and was indeed affected by these weeks, as everything in my life has been, but which I can't rightly call the hardest days 2016.


I think for simplicities sake, the way I handled the early weeks of 2016 amounted to a retreat. Starting in January when I set myself about traveling in the spring, I ceded ground over how I governed my day to day life to my calendars. When I was in the ER I retreated into this beige room. At home I retreated from collaboration with my roommates. I retreated into my room. I've mentioned that I ceded a lot of the area of my house to people I was retreating from by the day. By taking medication, still the right choice, I ceded control over my mood to doctors and chemicals.

But there was some limit to retreating and I wasn't the best at maintaining the boundaries at all times. With so much ground given up, how could I really be expected to be? A panic attack can be like the rolling boil suddenly boiling over without touching the heat, just waiting too long. All my muscles would tense and neurons screamed from within my head. Call it an encroachment, an intrusion, a violation of privacy, ceding that ground eventually led to a collision on March 14, 2016.

And the retreat was the life equivalent of braking and swerving, anti-lock brakes tapping underfoot. When a driver walks away from a near wreck, hostility and paranoia are not the typical responses of onlookers. But that's where I wound up when a real argument with a roommate broke out over my retreated but heavily fortified position in the house. The argument was really like a bad fender-bender--we both walked away despite the anger and excitement, we accept the actions and events, some glass was broken but no one was hurt.

This collision eventually led to phone calls that left me raw on the floor of my room. It led me to the amazing generosity on my neighbor's couch. It led me to the worst coffee meeting ever. Eventually this collision pushed me out of my home. But this is a point where I actually found some strength, organization, and will power as well. On March 15, 2016 I met with a psychiatrist, by March 27, 2016 I was driving to Chicago. Here's how I did that.


March 19, 2016 I had this terrible coffee meeting. Then it was the weekend, but I was looking for leases that started in June. They were out there and eventually, with help, I found a studio to move into after June 3 and a view of the Minneapolis skyline. But frankly the lease was the easy part. I resolved to my therapist that I would be back on the couch, even though I hated living in Minneapolis, this was the wrong way to leave. That resolve underscored the hard arrangements I had to make.

I had to figure out what to do with my stuff--moving and storage. I had to make arrangements at my job, essentially, for a leave of absence. I had to plan these things, have these meetings, and act. And quickly.

A year or two earlier I'd house sat at a place just off MN-280 near Como, when I'd biked up there I always passed this U-Haul storage spot. So I went there and told them I'd need a storage space from March to June. The way the leases got hashed out, the cost actually seemed like a wash. I'd pay the same amount to store my stuff for three months as I would've paid for one month at the house I was leaving. The storage space was 5x10 and I had about half of my life to pack up in there.

Doing that right is life-size Tetris. To win you have to do front end work with measuring tape and organization. This was an opportunity to be obsessive. I made piles and taped off the area of the storage unit on my bedroom floor.

 Piles of things that would be stored or moved. Bottom right corner a label shows what was going to Chicago.

Piles of things that would be stored or moved. Bottom right corner a label shows what was going to Chicago.

For a few days I was walking around these piles. Eventually I set things in the area of my room I'd taped off as the 1:1 schematic I'd figured out for the storage unit. This space I could walk around from any side rather than the actual unit which had a door everything would have to go through. There was a distinct ship in a bottle inspiration here, which I guess is a metaphor for what I was doing with my life. But what was more of a shocking experience was seeing everything, all my material life in one place like this.

I sketched it into my notebook and slept with this pile of stuff on it's side and packed together like a weird installation piece in a modern art museum.

 I really wish I had pictures of this thing because it was beautiful. There's never been so well packed a storage space. 

I really wish I had pictures of this thing because it was beautiful. There's never been so well packed a storage space. 

I also came up with a routine for getting everything in place. Figuring out the order in which to do things is very important for efficiency--I knew exactly how I was going to pack this 5x10 unit; I had a sense of how many trips I wanted to take with a rental van; drawers were packed with items off my desk and taped shut; I knew where things could be stacked on top of stored furniture.

But there was some unexpected work to do. I didn't want to leave anything behind. So there was a night I just stood in every room in the house and cataloguing what was mine. Then I gathered it in my room. I took notes and started the sort of hypothetical schema of how things were going to further thin out in the future.

 This list catalogued what was mine in each room in the house. I started with a sort of eye-spy search and then got more things as I gathered everything in my room. It's funny seeing the euphemisms we had for things and rooms, there's a weird dispassion looking at where the editorializing came in here.

This list catalogued what was mine in each room in the house. I started with a sort of eye-spy search and then got more things as I gathered everything in my room. It's funny seeing the euphemisms we had for things and rooms, there's a weird dispassion looking at where the editorializing came in here.

Two thirds my things I'd leave in Minneapolis, the size of the storage space. A third I'd bring to Chicago, it had to fit in a VW beetle. Some smaller group of things I'd take with me to Europe and then back to Minneapolis, which had to fit in a shoulder bag. Compartmentalizing life in these very distinct and logarithmic scales creates a very personalized existential feeling of butterflies in the stomach, like the powers of ten video. But this was also a bit of healing.

Previously this kind of planning was laborious albeit welcome, the only way through the grand scale of my life. Now I had to live in the day. I'd set out whole months where I intended to stay on the track of eating a cup of rice and an egg everyday and sipping 20 ounces of whole milk hot chocolate at work. When I was derailed it would take hours to get around to dialing phone numbers. Moving was like a splash of ice water to the face in the morning. This move was a bit of harsh medicine, moving back to taking the curveballs life throws and dealing with problems out of my control.

Finally, the day to move came. March 26, 2016 I was opening at the coffee shop, so I woke up at 4:00am. I got to work probably an hour later and worked a full shift till 1:30pm. I biked straight from work to the U-Haul center and picked up the van. I made a few calls. Then I started packing.

I had some help from my family to move some things around and get me out of the house I'd lived in since August 2015. Everything was in the storage unit by about 7:30pm, I hadn't eaten since before noon and was doing most of this moving with my wasted muscles on my own, and it started to rain. In the dark and rain I biked to my cousin's house and ate three sloppy-joe's in a row. That night we slept in a hotel. I'd been up for 17 hours, gone through full work day, moved 90 percent of my things, and packed this storage space with the help of my notebook before I got ready for bed.

March 27, 2016 I ate as much as I could at the continental breakfast. We packed the VW beetle. I wrote a letter to my roommate. Then I drove for eight hours back to Chicago. We only stopped at a purely Wisconsin road stop.

 Oakdale, WI

Oakdale, WI


There's some important points I've glossed over. A breakfast with an old friend where I started to figure out what had happened for one. But more important, I received one of the greatest graces I've been offered during this week. My manager knew a lot of what I was dealing with at the time, I think just by observation and a few surprising interactions with my roommate, but we still needed to have a conversation.

I explained how suddenly everything had come to a head. There was already a time-off request that had been approved for April into May, but that had to change as a result of the situations I didn't choose but now had to deal with in the struggle toward Chicago and health. My manager generously made a deal with me: I had to send a weekly update about my plans, in return I'd still have a place when I got back and wouldn't have to go through the problems of transferring or reapplying. There's a lot that could be said about the place I worked, but the mantra of that company is that they are a people company that connects with customers with coffee. That means that they take good care of their employees. That was my experience, and I'm thankful for it.

To continue piecing together what happened to me last year, I'll be reviewing the letters to my manager over the next weeks concurrently with events as they unfolded a year ago. I sent updates every Monday. I recovered over the next months after these dramatic weeks at the beginning of 2016. But I was also, in some sense, completely unmoored; no home to come back to and just the promise of a job and the desire to continue healing when I came back to Minneapolis in June.