Emerging from my big-city, over-stimulated stupor

by Kristin on March 27, 2009

in Culture, ideas & paradigms

Photo by moriza

I’ve been in New York for the past four days. I’m at once overly stimulated and utterly exhausted.

Is there anything else in life that leaves you feeling quite that way—every fiber of your being is awake and hyper-alert, but also constantly on the verge of collapse? Parenting young children is the closest thing I can think of. If you’ve got any other analogies, I’d love to hear them.

I end up visiting New York a couple of times a year. I have some clients here, plus a long-time friend, Carmen (one of my favorite people) lives in Brooklyn. The bonus for this trip was finally meeting Karen, one of my Twitter friends (which I wrote about in A modern day penpal reunion).

Of course I love New York. The invigorating aspects of being here are obvious. I love the food and the people-watching—the intense variety and surprise recalibrate my expectations, stretching their boundaries. I love never knowing what I’m going to see or hear next, or what unexpected challenge will be thrown in my path.

If I have the right tools, I even love deciding what I want to do, where I want to go, and how to get myself there. It makes me feel adventurous and capable (and wondering how I ever survived before having Google maps on my phone).

But nothing beats me down quite like this city. My apologies to anyone who lives or has lived in New York, and has a different take on it. I’m not trying to start a debate, I’m just gathering up my own reactions, as an occasional visitor with her very own limited capacities for chaos.

At the end of each long day, as we crashed at our hotel, I tried to figure out why exactly I felt so pummeled. I was exhilarated, right? Being in the city was exciting. I ate well and used my mind, I walked and found moments to sit and rest. I should feel more alive than ever, not beat up.

I finally realized what I feel: a complete emotional-physical-mental exhaustion. At home, I might be physically exhausted one day, or mentally worn out, or emotionally spent. In New York, though, all of my resources seem to give out at once.

I grow tired of everyone around me acting rushed and impatient, and refusing to smile. I feel constantly disoriented. Every time I emerge from a subway station, I feel stranded, without a clue as to which way is north and which is south. I don’t know where to go to get wireless, or where my next bathroom break might be. I can’t miss a beat, or be absent-minded for a second.

Plus, there’s a sensory exhaustion that gets layered in, gradually building on everything else. Just finding pockets of silence, stillness and peace for an impromptu retreat and refueling takes effort. When I do find a place to settle my self and all my stuff—a table at a café or a conference room at a client’s office—I can’t settle my mind. I feel scattered and restless, like I’m missing something exciting or important. I planned to get a fair amount of writing done while in New York this week, but I just couldn’t make it happen.

Experiencing the city is always worth it, though. It’s like a raucous party that’s not to be missed, no matter how terrible it makes you feel for the next few days.

Ooh, maybe that’s a good analogy for New York! It’s like a Jager-bomb (or any more sophisticated drink that’s caffeinated and alcholic all at once—is there such a thing?). In that case, my first order of business, back in my small Midwestern town, will be coming down off this buzz. Then I can go about properly sleeping off my big city hangover.

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  • http://compostermom.blogspot.com Daisy

    Waking up in the city that never sleeps isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. At least, not for those of us who prefer a more relaxed living style. It’s a fantastic city, but wow! People who can handle the pace simply amaze me.

  • Carmen

    I can relate to every line in this post. In a few days it’ll be my 12th anniversary of living here. What’s the cumulative effect, I wonder.
    p.s. You’re one of my favorite people in this world, too!

  • Cobalt-Blue

    Thank you for the blog about NYC and its endless energy! Growing up just outside the city and visiting frequently to see family, it holds a special place in my heart from cement playgrounds, class trips, and first dates to last years Sex and the City Tour. Safe travels home : )

  • Kira Campo

    Even greater thanks to you, for getting back to me regarding my rate inquiry in the midst of big-city burnout : )

    I lived in NYC for a year while attending a design school. One evening I sat with my roommates looking out a gigantic window in our apt, watching the snow accumulate quietly and steadily in the empty lot across the street. We talked and laughed, and the city seemed so peaceful in that moment. I know on other blocks, in other neighborhoods, something entirely different was taking place in the same moment…making for one big snowy microcosm.

  • http://www.jenx67.com jenx67

    Thankful for your traveling mercies, KT. All travel is exhausting – esp. to the Big Ap.

  • http://www.halfwaytonormal.com/ Kristin T.

    Daisy, I agree—I’m amazed by people who can live in NY and handle the pace. At the same time, though, while I was in the city I was thinking how having a home base—a place that’s yours filled with things that you love—would make a huge difference. IF you ever have any waking time to actually spend relaxing there, that is.

    Carmen, I have always admired both your gusto for the city and your honesty about how it wears on you, and what you miss about the good ol’ Midwest. :) Your approach to life there seems very real. Also, I realized again, on this trip, how much more I enjoy NY when I get to stay in Brooklyn, and poke around your neighborhood. It feels like the perfect balance of big-city-exotic and comfortable familiarity. (So glad I got to see you twice on this trip, though!)

    Cobalt-Blue, I have never wished I grew up in a big city, but growing up outside of one, like you did, would have been fun. I can just picture the class trips and first date adventures. :)

    Kira, you are very welcome! I did manage to get a few things done in NY, in between subway rides, people-watching, and the search for the next bathroom. :) I love your snowy memory with your roommates, and how you imagined all the many things happening simultaneously in one big snowy city. A beautiful look at NY.

    jenx67, yes, I’m thankful for traveling mercies, too. Most of this past week, the five people in my immediate family were in four different cities (in three different states). It was fun, but also disconcerting, and it feels good to have everyone home together, again. Your comment about travel being exhausting made me think about how much I tend to romanticize my travels and explorations in my mind, especially when I’m planning and anticipating. Some day I’ll figure out how to get my expectations more in line with reality.

  • karendaisy17

    KT, I hope you’re recovering! I feel badly (and perhaps partially responsible?) that you’re so wiped out from it. I have similar feelings any time I’m in a big city that’s not my own – pounding the pavement, figuring out where you are and where you’re going, and negotiating crowds takes its toll. You are so right about the home base thing – having an apartment to come back to that’s all mine and quiet recharges me and gives me the energy to go back out there. It is surely not an easy place to live at times.

    Next time you’re here, Brooklyn over Times Square, and we’ll get you a compass. Knowing where all the public restrooms are helps too. I’m just a text message away :)

  • http://politicoholic.com Nisha

    I love New York City. The org. I work for is based there so I usually visit 2-3 times a year for quarterly meetings or whatever other work stuff they need me for. I sometimes think I could never get tired of the place just because there is always something going on, so many new things and new places to discover, and its just sort of endless. I like that you could live there your whole life and still be learning new things about the city everyday. But then again, I say that only as an occasional visitor. I’m not sure how my perspective would change if I lived there for a long time.

    On another note: for a slightly more classy drink that’s caffeinated and alcoholic…try a fireball: champagne and red bull :)

  • http://www.halfwaytonormal.com/ Kristin T.

    karendaisy17, girl, you aren’t responsible for my exhaustion, in the least! You completely made my trip. Not only did I get to meet you in person and hang out twice, but you were my personal concierge, directing me to great bookstores, wireless networks, and the best cocktails in the city! (I can’t believe you let my Jager bomb reference go by without a horrified response!)

    Nisha, I can completely picture you loving New York. I really get the attraction to the endless possibility that comes with having so much to do and see. It’s that very push and pull that gets to me—the very things I love most about the city are the very things that exhaust me. Life is often like that, isn’t it? (Thanks for enlightening me about the fireball!)

  • http://delightedscribbler.blogspot.com Delighted Scribbler

    Meeting twitter friends seems so surreal to me. There are some I actually knew personally before twitter, but the others… well they’re 1 sq cm. I wonder if meeting in person would mean we would tweet more or less.

    Anyway, I’m originally from a large city. It sounds odd, but I actually miss the sensory overdose from time to time. It may be exhausting sometimes–a lot of that is just what you’re used to–, but for me, writer’s block in such a busy place just doesn’t happen. And that’s a huge plus.

  • http://toxic-brit.blogspot.com Toxic Brit

    New York is one of the best places to live in the world, but it certainly wears you down. You definitely need more coffee, ginseng etc to get by. It’s definitely worth it with everything at your finger tips and plus it makes going anywhere else feel like a rest.