Mentally Healthier Part II: Rocky Mountain Low Edition
Sometimes you feel like the most miserable person in one of the statistically happiest places in the country, and you realize that’s more than okay.
When I last posted about my mental health (or lack thereof), I had just relocated to Boulder, CO to begin pursuing my doctorate in media studies. I moved to Boulder with my husband sight unseen, and I knew the risk involved. Despite this, I wasn’t too nervous because I had heard only amazing things about Boulder.
“It’s so beautiful!”
“Everyone loves it!”
“It’s sooo much better than Buffalo!”
And yes, upon arrival, I did notice that the Rocky Mountains create a lovely backdrop. In fact, the mountains and the Colorado sky are two of my favorite things. However, I never considered that the seemingly beloved city of Boulder might not be the place for me. To provide a little bit of background: I’m from Buffalo, and I love my Rust Belt paradise. It’s true that the lack of sun in the winter is soul crushing. I have had many a dark day in Buffalo in January. (Wait! Is that the sun??!!!) I’m also acutely aware that my assessment is inherently biased because Buffalo is home (cue Dorothy in the ruby slippers). I also relocated because my husband and I were running out of economic opportunities, and Boulder was the only place in the country where we both could secure funding for doctoral programs in our specific fields. I’m incredibly grateful that we both were presented with these opportunities, and I’m in no way bemoaning what brought us to Boulder. If anything, my work is one of the better things I have going for me, aside from my physical health (***knock on wood***). And Netflix. Damn that shit never gets old! Can you believe how affordable and convenient it is?! It makes my area of study a hell of a lot easier as well. But I digress…why did I have such a hard time acclimating to a place where it’s sunny 300 days per year? Shit, I just learned that claim is a myth too.
In essence, I arrived in Boulder to see a lot of corporate aesthetics (plazas, plazas, and more plazas!), and a sort of suffocating conformity I can’t really put my finger on. Because CO legalized recreational marijuana use this past January—a measure I completely and unabashedly support—one might assume that Boulder is “liberal” and “open-minded.” I don’t want to rant about all the things that irritate me about Boulder because honestly, no one likes reading someone else’s bitching. But I will say that it’s incredibly expensive with the median home price hovering around $500,000. Furthermore, to say that Boulder “lacks diversity” is an understatement. I don’t just stress the importance of diversity in all forms (not only racially and ethnically) as a sort of mindless platitude. In all sincerity, I think it’s essential to be exposed to all different types of people to build empathy and compassion for those who are unlike oneself. It’s also a hell of a lot less boring.
In short, Boulder is a college town with very affluent and mostly white students who like to ski. And smoke weed. And yuppies with kids who also like to ski and smoke weed. Again, not that there is anything wrong with those two activities. I sincerely hope recreational marijuana use becomes legal everywhere. Seriously, skiing is FAR MORE DANGEROUS. And yet no one gets thrown in prison for skiing…
So yes, it can be a tough place to live if you lack economic privilege and don’t embody the standard Boulder characteristics (see definition of Trustafarian). I also have never skied. We had no money for such things when I was a wee one. I suppose I could have started as an adult, but that shit is fucking terrifying. Plain and simple: I find life perilous enough without hurling myself down a mountain (or even a more modest hill). It’s not that anyone is outright hostile in Boulder…it’s actually the sort of faux friendliness that gets to me. Albeit I’m a little more cantankerous than most. I’m more than willing to admit that I’m a large part of the problem in terms of my discontent, but I think there’s more to it in terms of the culture in Boulder. In other words, what is fundamentally exclusionary about Boulder?
When you were born and raised in the City of No Illusions, Boulder can just rub you the wrong way. For example, one night I was at a local pub, bemoaning the aggressive enforcement of last call, as the staff began pulling drinks at 1:45. In defense of the bars, I guess the alcohol regulations are pretty draconian. I was talking to a girl from Boulder, and I began regaling her with tales of Buffalo’s notorious 4 am last call. She then responded with one of the more bizarre, nonsensical comments I have ever heard: “Well, if they kept the bars open here till 4 am, then all the homeless people would try to come in and drink.” I paused for a few seconds. I talk a lot and fast, so this was unusual. I truly didn’t know how to reply to that. Boulder’s “bourgeois utopia” façade is occasionally disrupted by the presence of homeless people. Would Boulder’s homeless suddenly try to come in for a drink if the bars remained open passed 2 am? And more important, so the fuck what if they did? Because I hail from the third poorest city in the country, her comment was all the more disquieting. Does she think the homeless will overrun the bars like mindless beer zombies? I’m pretty sure most bar patrons are already mindless beer zombies—myself included on occasion. I won’t recount the remainder of the conversation because it just isn’t worth retelling. This is just one anecdote, but I think it speaks volumes about the culture in Boulder.
Now, before anyone jumps down my throat as a Boulder-hater, I’m just expressing that Boulder is not the place for me. I know the kind of IRE people direct at Buffalo…even people who have never been there. Buffalo has its fair share of problems, including its poverty rate and that it remains one of the nation’s most racially segregated cities. Maybe I just prefer that Buffalo leaves its skeletons on the front lawn, whereas Boulder keeps them neatly tucked away for PR purposes.
To be clear, it wasn’t just Boulder itself that caused me to have marked increases in depression and anxiety. I moved nearly 1,500 miles away from my home and support network. It’s just not easy for anyone, especially if you already struggle with anxiety and depression. It just adds insult to injury when you feel like you’re in a place where you don’t fit. So rather than panic (well, I have panic attacks pretty frequently anyway), I simply realized that this is all temporary. It sucks, but it’s temporary. There are times when I will be anxious, miserable, and depressed. There are times when I will be relatively content, and dare I say, “happy”. My only hope is that the latter condition becomes more common. I’m working on it.
But I think it’s also important to think about the kinds of environments where we can reside that can help lessen the existential angst and plain old drudgery of everyday life. Boulder isn’t for me, so I’m fortunate that Denver is more affordable and only 35 minutes away. I acknowledge that I’m truly lucky to even have the ability to relocate. Denver certainly ain’t perfect either, but it’s definitely more perfect for me and my husband. I’ll also be a little more used to things this time around, as I was lucky enough to journey home this summer to recharge with family and friends.
I’m just glad that like my hometown, I have no illusions…at least about what it takes to be mentally healthier.