Author & Teacher

Losing and Finding


The second time I went to New York, in 2012, I got lost with a map in my hands. I came up out of the 23rd Street station certain I knew exactly where to go to get to Rockefeller Centre. North on 23rd Street, then west on 5th, passing the Empire State Building on the way. The ESB – tallest in Manhattan at the time, should be the perfect landmark. All wrong.

It didn’t take long before I realized I was turned around – some how I had flipped Manhattan east to west. I stood on the corner and tried to orient myself on the map, which was impossible because all of the buildings in NYC are tall, and the ESB was nowhere in sight.

A kind man in an expensive suit and shoes, seeing the utter confusion on my face (or just trying to get the idiot standing, staring upwards, in the middle of the sidewalk to move) pointed me in the right direction – I’d been heading southwest, when I wanted to be heading northeast.”The ESB’s that way.”  Mortified, I carried on.

I was in New York at the beginning of this month, and once again, found myself disoriented. I had much better luck with the map – this time I used the (sometimes) foolproof strategy of walking to the next intersection, then plotting my route. At worst, I’d walk one block the wrong way, retrace my steps, and go the right way. Got it.

But the big revelation for me on this third, most recent trip, which will seem obvious to most, is that in NYC, avenues run north/south, streets east/west. This cleared up why I was lost that day the New York businessman helped me out.

In my defense, I grew up in Regina, where it’s the opposite, and live in Calgary, where avenues also run east/west, so in New York, my brain flipped something between what I was seeing on the map, and where I thought I was going when the map was put away. And let’s not talk about the path that Broadway takes through the city…

All this to say, you can see something right in front of you, logic can tell you the right way to go, but when your innate compass is calibrated to a prairiescape where the sun doesn’t hide behind buildings, where every road is laid out in a grid–well, sometimes that compass can lead you astray.

I think a similar internal compass works to keep a person on track emotionally. The Bloggess, on her twitter, recently spoke about how depression lies, how it convinces you that everything is shit and you can’t handle it. In a similar way, I’ve found my own internal place-finding mechanism can go awry, convincing me I’m in one place, when in fact, I’m somewhere else entirely.

I lost myself over the Christmas break. Negativity was getting me down, it was a hard year teaching, I’d made emotional investments with a poor rate of return. It’s was only after checking with people who know how to read the map I’d been following, or people who know me, and where I’m supposed to be, that my sense of direction was re-set. My goals were clear, and I re-doubled my efforts to do better. It wasn’t easy, but things improved.

But not long ago, I felt the familiar slide, the one where solid ground tilts. The grid was twisting again — I was isolating myself, I wasn’t writing, and I was wandering with that pre-occupied feeling I remembered so well from my postpartum. This time, I was nowhere near the place I was in at Christmas — back then, there were a lot of obstacles between me and the sun, and I truly never believed it would show its face again.

This time I felt  an overwhelming sense of failure, that even with all I was doing to stay on track, all the changes I’d made since the holidays, and the kind and helpful and necessary things I thought I was doing, I was still not good enough. Every day the belief that I was creating this mess was reinforced; there were days I was ready to burn the map and go find a place where I could be alone.

I’m grateful to those who stopped me after Christmas, took the map I was using and rotated it a quarter-turn and said “There. Now go.” Those same people who, this time, recognized where I was headed and, not in concert, as they don’t know each other, showed up.

Because of them, I looked down at the list of directions in my hand and, like the day I realized avenues run the opposite way in Manhattan, I realized I was looking at things all wrong.

The lack of focus, the self-blame, the push and pull of the way I was behaving – lots of anger and frustration, buckets of anxiety mixed with love and concern for those I care about – I knew I was not myself, and could see where I wanted to go. My inability to find my way was causing the issue, not depression. All of these behaviours were symptoms of me working to re-orient myself, to get myself headed the right way. I wasn’t just sitting on some dirty stoop in the big, bad city, wallowing, waiting for someone to save me, or worse.

I am fighting the slide. The tilt. The twist of the grid.

It’s as though I’ve been walking blocks and blocks in all directions, trying to find my way back to a place I’m safe and comfortable, a place where I am valued.

A place where I can lay everything down and write. Where I can teach the way I want to. Where I can be me.

I’m not quite there yet. But there’s a lot to be said for realizing that the unsettled feelings are because I am not, in fact, settling. It makes it a lot easier to trust myself to know that I am not listening to a liar like that asshole, Depression. That my inner compass is actually working just fine, I just need to be okay with following where it’s sending me.

It’s exhausting, and I’ve found I have very little space for anything but good right now. If it’s not good, it’s got to go, because I need all my energy for this journey.

Eventually, I’ll get there. Just knowing that this feeling is strength not weakness, this has allowed me to take a breath. I am trying to take the advice of friends and be kind to myself.

Already I’ve found that, like I did on this last trip to New York, I can pay a little more attention to just landmarks – I’m able to peek into those little side shops and delis and bakeries and salons and bead stores and office towers and theatres and piano stores and bars and all the amazing little bits of humanness I pass on my way to wherever it is I’m going.

(Also, look! I wrote!)


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