To The Ones That “Didn’t Make It”

Frank Sinatra said it best when he first sang “New York, New York”. If you can make it there, you’ll make it anywhere. It takes heart, stamina, courage, and determination. Living in a big city, you will work harder than anyone else you’ve ever met to make a name for yourself. When you finally do make it, there’s no greater feeling of accomplishment. Revel in it. Because when it’s gone, reality hits you like a freight train.

Nobody talks about what happens to the people that don’t make it. Poverty, mental illness, addiction, regret. Many take the journey to the city that never sleeps, from all corners of the world, with bright eyes and hopeful smiles. Children who dream of Christmas morning. They imagine having all of their wishes granted, from the careers they’ve been pining over when they were growing up, to the businesses that they’ve poured blood, sweat, and tears into. But sometimes, no matter how hard you work or try or sacrifice or cry or plead to whatever higher power that you believe in for help, you don’t make it.

The City is a well-oiled machine that lives on consuming the fantasies of happy transplants. Sometimes I like to personify it as the mechanical robot shark from ‘James & the Giant Peach’. Sanguine new residents of the hungry beast are rarely left unscathed. It’s as if by moving here, we are unknowingly sacrificing ourselves to be broken down and left to survive in the most uninhabitable personal conditions. We’re underpaid and overwhelmed. Our once clear vision of a future becomes clouded in a heavy fog of uncertainty and broken dreams.

Like a caged animal, you switch into crisis mode. You’re willing to do anything just to make ends meet. You tighten your belt and slash your budget. You work longer, harder, faster. Every time you start to see the light, it moves a little bit farther away. You’ve spread yourself too thin. Soon you’re living on coffee and adrenaline and too little sleep. Your bills start piling up and you owe too many people money, most of which you’ve used just to keep a roof over your head. Losing hope, still you persist.

But just when you think that your crushing debt, malnourished body, and lack of self care was the worst of your problems, add a festering mental illness without the proper resources to manage it. Now it’s a party. Every day that you wake up, your mind is a battlefield. A constant stream of the darkest, most self-deprecating thoughts grind away at your confidence and motivation. Overpowering your normal inner voice, it grows louder, more vicious. You question your sanity and wonder if the noise will ever fade away or if you will ever be kind to yourself again.

All the motivation you once had is nowhere to be found. There are some days when you can’t even muster the strength to get out of bed. You can’t remember the last time you experienced real joy from hobbies that once made you smile. Defeated, you search for asylum. In what little free time that’s available, you drown out your problems in the mindlessness of playing games on your phone and bingeing tv shows. You put off important tasks like cleaning, your home and yourself, because you think so lowly of yourself that you’re convinced that you deserve to live in these conditions.

These coping mechanisms eventually become dull. The search for escape becomes the most important goal at hand. You turn to your impulses. Drugs, booze, sex. Even the smallest shot of endorphins is better than living your life the way it is now. Your mind fetishizes the darkness and you willingly get into dangerous situations just to get high off the thrill of close encounters with the angel of death. You ask yourself, “How did it come to this?”

There is a beauty about living in a big city too. Even at your wits end, when you feel alone and trapped in an endless cycle of pain, you’re surrounded by thousands of people experiencing the exact same agony. Friends, coworkers, strangers on the subway. Each experiencing the harshest cruelty of the urban beast in their own ways. It’s not a competition of who can withstand the most terrifying living nightmare and the happiest of faces could be surviving a hale storm of burdens that you know nothing about.

So I ask of you, the ones who didn’t make it, please hang on. Ask for help if you need it and don’t let your pride take away your chance at starting over. It’s never too late to reach out to the family or friends that you’ve left on ‘read’. The ones who love you most will be thankful for the opportunity. And there are people that love you and care about you, even if you don’t realize it. Take satisfaction in daily victories, no matter how small. It’s okay to say no if you have a lot on your plate because the most important person to take care of is you. Give yourself the time you need before taking on the world again. Remember, the city isn’t out to get you. It’s just a place you live.