General Snobbery
« The Snob To Talk Mental Illness on MSNBC's "Melissa Harris-Perry" Sunday | Main | BET's "Don't Sleep," hosted by T. J. Holmes (Co-Written By Moi) Premiere's Tonight! »

Three Weeks Down, Still Haven't Run From NYC Screaming

Photo Credit, Danielle Belton, Manhattan 2009Some people dream their whole lives of coming to New York City. I dreaded it. Oh sure. I love the diversity. The scene. The music. The industry. The history. The art. The media. The life. But New York City? No. I never loved it. I have more romantic feelings towards Bakersfield, Calif., with its -5 percent black population and Republican stronghold because it had the right geography for my illness.

Easy to learn. Quick to get around.

It was small. And I do small well. This is why when in 2009 when I did my big Snob tour from Boston to NYC to D.C. I wound up making Washington, D.C. my home for three years. Sure, there was a huge black professional class, politics, the Obamas and tons of history, but D.C.'s best feature was that it had everything a big city had, but it was as small as Bakersfield. I mastered the Metro, the buses, the cabs, the streets in a matter of a few months.

New York seemed to always trigger the worst of my illness due to the overwhelmingness of the EVERYTHING that makes New York... New York. The noise. Tons of people living on top of each other. The crowds. The subway. The ten-thousand year old, now blackened chewing gum on the sidewalk. How every day seemed like garbage pick up day from the amount of black bags piled on the street corners. The lights. The colors. The concrete. I couldn't turn it off. My OCD is the least strongest feature in my illness, but it comes full force in New York. And because I have the least practical exprience with my OCD, it's the one I handle the worst. It's the sort of thing that makes me fly into a rage because no matter how much you clean you can't get rid of dirt older than you on a NYC pre-war apartment floor short of blowing it all up and starting all over again. It's the sort of thing where I'm so exhausted by the end of the day that if my friends -- first Hopi and later, Jada -- can't come get me I just devolve into tears and dysfunction.

I wasn't built for this place.

So I do a lot of planning. Every route (and its alternatives) are mapped out in advance. And I had a rule that while I could move anywhere and survive if all my jobs fell through and ended up broke, NYC was not a place I ever wanted to be while poor. I wasn't moving here unless I had the sort of job that could afford me enough to avoid most of the inconveinces and ... on those days when I no longer had the mental capacity to ignore black spots of 10,000 year old gum on the subway concrete ... cab fare.

It feels weird to be so frustrated and unhappy in NYC, when "in theory" I should love the place. Every town I've lived in I've wanted to live downtown where "life" was. I detested the very suburbs that had spawned me in North St. Louis County. I have a job I always wanted, writing for TV. The job feels very much meant to be because of the awesomeness of the principles involved. But then there's New York with all its New Yorkness threatening my retreat at every turn. Careerwise, it's the best city ever. Mental health-wise, short of moving to a new country altogether and experiencing Culture Shock, it's pretty bad.

The person who, bless his heart, is on the frontlines of me just being emotionally raw at the end of the day is my closest friend of what feels like forever, but is probably just five years, Jada Prather. I'm not exactly known for having things such as A) a temper, B) emotional unstability, C) irrationability, D) low self-esteem, E) irritability and F) overwhelming saddness, but that's what happens to me when I'm in New York at the end of the day. Pretty much anything can set it off. Right now my biggest triggers are "Got lost trying to navigate the subway" and "I miss Washington, D.C./St. Louis." I'm sure he's wondering what did he do to inherint someone who, typically, is the "grown-up" one, and now, at least once a day, goes to a place of pure irrationality simply because I mentally can't keep it together anymore. I'm just too tired and angry. I don't like getting sweaty. I don't like people touching me. I don't like having to be on guard. I don't know what to tune out and what to pay attention to. So I just walk around on 10 all the time, trying not to pop off. By the end of the day all I want to do is go to sleep or cry, then go to sleep. 

The crazy part is if I can survive this first month, it will be like it never happened. Because it usually takes me about two to four weeks to create coping mechanism and "accept" my situation, finding viable solutions. I dealt with confusion, sadness, frustration, OCD and depression in every city I've ever moved to those first few months. I only remember D.C. fondly because I no longer remember those first three months when I struggled, or how six months in I started losing my sense of taste and smell from stress after I was laid off. Now I just remember how much fun I had and all my friends and how the Metro was cleaner than NYC's subway. And I'll eventually forget this -- hating the subway and New York. There's a chance that if I'm here longer than six months to a year, I'll love it. But it is a bigger adjustment than any of those other places. Or maybe it isn't. I do recall being frustrated as I drove around Bakersfield, Calif. those first few months wondering why-oh-why did I keep getting lost? It's all a process. And the only way to get over anxiety and fear is to keep confronting it over and over until you learn. 

Sure, I'll still probably burst into tears a few more times after work between now and Christmas, but if I didn't do that I wouldn't be me. I'm a sensitive creature. But even in all that, shit, I still want to be here. I chose to be here. I want this, professionally, so the part of me who hates it will just have to deal.

EmailEmail Article to Friend

Reader Comments (14)

NYC is a massive creature to get your hands around--to fully embrace. I hope you find a sweet spot in the rawness of the big apple...just chew it one bite at a time.

Best 2 U

October 1, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterH2theG

Hang in there. Even folks who don't have any diagnosed issues get exhausted, frustrated, and downright angry with trying to deal with New York.

There is the getting lost. Every time someone tells me "it's on a grid - it's easy!" I ask about Broadway/7th Street. Because it isn't enough for it to be a giant curvy thing that intersects every other street, it has to have multiple names. When I bring that up, I get some half-baked response and fight the urge to hit someone with a rock.

And who knew you had to "fight" for sidewalk space? It took me a decade before I didn't spend some time in the gutter because of my southerner's instinct to yield when someone is barreling by me.

That doesn't begin to deal with the filth. I feel like I need one of those chemical showers from Silkwood to get clean. Instead, I just use my $15 dollar a bar generic soap, because New York is like perpetually shopping in the airport - the prices of everything (other than a dubious bit of meat on a stick from a food cart) are bananas.

Now, I just put my head down, barrel through, use the pedestrian map on my phone if I need, and carry a lot of hand sanitizer that I buy in the burbs.

This must be why Frank Sinatra said that if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere.

October 1, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPoppyseed


Congrats on making the big leap to the Big Apple. As someone who grew up in a small town and now living in Center City Philly I can tell you that the most important thing is to make your apartment an urban oasis complete with nice teas, incense, candles and soft music. With the hustle and bustle of the city, it's nice to come home to a calming, peaceful space. Second, you may want to check out free yoga classes around the city. The breathing exercises will help you deal with any anxiety.

October 1, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMonica

I didn't come here to tear up, Danielle. Dang! I want to give you a "virtual hug" and tell you that if you take it one day at a time, everything will be all right. You know why? Because it will! (It's all that any of us can do.) Read Psalm 138: "God will perfect that which concerns Danielle Belton." (Assuming your OCD manifests in this way, use it to your benefit by repeating God's words; they're the only ones with any power.)

October 1, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterHolliday Vann

What! You're in the best city in the whole wide world........drink it in and have a ball.....know that if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere........Bite that Apple, woman

October 1, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterkhrish

Danielle, I share the same emotions concerning NYC, while everyone else seems to love the very things that make the city what it is.... The people, the tall buildings, the lights, the culture.... I would rather do without it. HOWEVER, considering the opportunities that are in such a city as New York I force myself to push past the crowded loud streets. I'm so proud of your accomplishments and I wish you nothing but the best! I'm sure you will get through this successfully, only to look back on it and laugh (or cry some more), which ever makes you feel better! : )

October 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKimora Cochran

I'm so happy for you! You're so resilient, you'll make it through this as well. Glad to hear from you!

October 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterErika

Welcome to NYC! I've found that after a little while there is a balance. Whenever I am frustrated and fed up with the city something happens to make me love it again. Hopefully, you will find these times and spaces where you can feel in control and more calm. Also, I agree with poster Monica about making your home an oasis. On top of that, if you want to be at home, just be at home. I know folks can make you feel like you need to be out all of the time but rejuvenation is key.

October 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDayDayne

As a NYer who has been here half my life I can tell you--it does NOT get better. I'm a nice person, but find myself plotting ways to accidentally spill my water on the chick who is oblivious to her right angled elbow digging into my shoulder for about 3 subway stops now. Once she retrieved her Kindle that she balances on her raised leg with the foot that keeps hitting my knee, I wonder how to maneuver my pointy umbrella towards her midsection and make that an accident, also. I HATE feelings like this, so I know your pain.

October 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBluTopaz

As a fellow St. Louisan, I can say with certainty that you are doing a lot better than I would. I've always admired people who grab the proverbial bull by the horns and follow their passion. I always figured New York was not all Carry Bradshaw-ish, but still, it's a mecca for those on a career trajectory. And for that reason alone, you're in the right place. Nevertheless, I can certainly understand your anxiety. I hope your apartment isn't a closet facing a brick wall with a rodent issue (think "Coming to America"). If not, consider the incense and candle suggestion. Make your apartment your refuge. You may not live in a penthouse in Trump Plaza, but you can at least feel like you do. Like you said, you may just need some time.

P.S. I don't know you, but I'm proud of you.

October 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterNestafan2

Find your Oasis within that city; hoping you find your favorite eating spots close to your living quarters. Take time and fix your place up just the way you want it, so you can relax at the end of the day. See the smallness with in the big city; it is there if you look for it. I found that in cities like NY once you get your favorite spots together and frequent them, you form your own little city paths that work for you. Invite others to your favorite spots; don't feel like you have to go to theirs. That's the mystery of NY; keeping a small piece of it for yourself. Wishing you the best.

October 5, 2012 | Unregistered Commentersandy


I know just what you mean, and I have not ever considered moving to NYC for these reasons. That said, I want to encourage you--you can get through this time! Stick it out and you will be the happier for it; do what you need to do to make it yours. God bless.

October 18, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRachel

I used to live in NY, but in the burbs.. have you considered living near but not in NYC?

October 29, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterOnceuponatime

I hope you find your happiness here in NYC and not let your OCD overwhelm you. I moved here from DC three years ago and I love it. It is where I want to be and stay. I love my morning runs in Central Park when it is cold.I periodically go back to DC for work and I find it to be a depressing backwater with nothing going on.

November 10, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMark
Editor Permission Required
You must have editing permission for this entry in order to post comments.