Summer in a Suitcase

October 1, 2011

I spent two weeks in New York this month. It turned out to be the most challenging period of my travels so far.

After a few days there, I started to get a little depressed. I’ve always said that I could never live in New York, but I’d never really give much thought to the exact “why.” This trip gave me plenty of time to figure it out. It’s not just the hustle and bustle, the hoards of humanity, or the heavy summertime humidity.

It’s the lack of nature. New York is just too much concentrated urbanity for me. As I detailed in my list of ideal habitat qualities, nature is high on my list of priorities. Turns out it’s key to my happiness and sanity.

There are a number of studies showing that being outdoors is good for us, emotionally, physically and mentally:

A Japanese study published in the journal Public Health this year found scientific evidence of the mental and physical effects of what the Japanese call “forest bathing.” In 12 subjects, researchers carefully studied the effects of being out in nature versus being in an urban commercial setting. They found that being in green space had a positive and measurable effect on both the nervous system and the level of the stress hormone cortisol in the saliva of subjects.

How can trees and sunsets de-stress us? “It is not only modern work itself that taxes the brain, it is the massive effort required to block out or inhibit the distractions that can take us off point,” explains Dr. Logan. “In nature, the involuntary focus takes over. It is fascinating yet requires little effort, the inhibitory centres of the brain can take a break and the effort required to block out distractions is minimized.” [Full article here].

New York is certainly a city of distractions. I finally started feeling better a week and a half into my trip when I began going to Central Park every day. I also walked along the Hudson river up to the Cloisters, which was incredibly beautiful and serene. The High Line park is another peaceful spot I visited a number of times (NPR has a free guided walking tour here).

Another reason my time in NY was so challenging was that I completely ran out of money. This brought me face to face with how uncomfortable I am with asking for help. I have many loving and supportive friends and family, but I hate seeming or feeling needy. The challenges I faced in New York (and a cheesy romantic comedy I watched with a friend) helped me recognize that I have a deep seated belief that says: If you need help, it means you’ve failed. Now that I’m aware of that one, I can work on healing more of the vulnerability/intimacy issues that have gotten in the way of some of my closest relationships.

Back to the City. Favorite things about NY? People and food [Food will be discussed in detail in my next post!].

NY has some of the world’s best people watching. The sheer variety of humans you see flashing past through subway windows is astounding. I saw some incredibly beautiful men and women. I also met Valerie of the song “Valerie” by the Zutons, covered by the late Amy Winehouse. She is the hilariously entertaining roommate of one of the friends I stayed with, Rich. Valerie is funnier than most comedians – she regaled me with tales of being doused in bird crap, doing makeup for Hasidic “lingerie” photo shoots (think burkas), and stories of her current boyfriend, a Turkish billionaire with alopecia (which means: he’s completely hairless. No eyelashes, no nothing).

So despite my nature withdrawal I had a wonderful time with some dear friends (Rich, Jason, Shawnte), and also made some new ones.

Here’s a gallery of random shots from New York. Click on an image to see it larger. Enjoy!

 

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8 Responses to “Summer in a Suitcase”

  1. Really interesting – thanks for sharing!

  2. Sara San said

    “If you need help, it means you’ve failed. Now that I’m aware of that one, I can work on healing more of the vulnerability/intimacy issues that have gotten in the way of some of my closest relationships.”

    I’m working my way through this one as we speak. It’s a tough and often painful journey, but aren’t those the ones we live for anyway?!! 🙂

  3. Shelli Stapp said

    Amazing photographs Michelle

  4. “Hoards of humanity,” ha ha ha ha. I love your writing! I also love how you found a free NPR tour. You are so adventuresome and active like that. It’s why (one reason of many) I love and admire you so! I head for the island in 10 days. After that, the 10 day meditation (breathes sigh of relief).

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