This post was amended on February 29, 2020. Please read all the way to the end to hear a more thoughtful perspective.
“Some things need to be boiled in order to release their flavor.“
Last spring, I glowingly reported on my move to the Bay Area but things got weird and I moved back to Austin after just 7 months. I’m opening up about why.
I gave up The Peahen (at least temporarily) to head up public relations at Fair Trade USA. For context, this little side gig of mine had evolved well beyond web real estate. In 6 years, what started as writing and investigating fashion, morphed into all kinds of creative consulting services. I was landing speaking gigs regularly, giving ethical style tours of Austin, styling editorial shoots, curating and selling vintage, modeling, and co-leading a community for conscious brands.
I was hustling, sure, but I held down my day job in marketing because I wasn’t bringing in enough money to cover overhead and pay myself a salary (unless you count a burgeoning vintage collection a livelihood). Nevertheless, I was immensely fulfilled and energized because I was helping re-shape fashion through my work. It never felt extra on top of my regular gig and eventually, it came to define me.
Kasi’s the girl who “knows everything about sustainable fashion,” as one MC put it. So stepping away from this was m.o.n.u.m.e.n.t.a.l. But after 6 years, I hit a wall. I was an early adopter of sustainable fashion and then I sort of plateaued, or burnt out on influencing. Honestly, I’m not sure why yet but it increasingly felt like winning in the blogosphere meant operating like a Dillard’s — with lots of 75% off racks.
All I knew was I was ready for a more tangible mission outside of me, ready to step back from the mic and camera and into a dedicated cause, so I made the gamble and all of this happened.
Unfortunate Bay Area Events: Numbered
- I mobilized my crew, packed everything in two weeks, and moved cross country from Austin to Oakland for the new gig.
- Landed on Monday. Started work on Wednesday. Got mugged at gunpoint by two men on Saturday. It was my first solo night out in the city. This happened steps from my new apartment.
- I navigated a week with no money, no keys, no phone, no homies, and showed up — repressed emotions and all — to work. Every day.
- I came home every night to screaming neighbors and an air mattress.
- I packed and moved again to San Francisco, thinking it’d be safer than East Bay. I’d just commute on Bart (the rail line there) to work.
- *I scored what I thought was a shared pad in a hot neighborhood (The Mission) and after unloading, decorating, and hosting a housewarming party, I realized where I actually was: a shitty (keep reading) neighborhood with needles and feces on the street* (human, more than dog), a severe homelessness problem, and ceaseless debauchery Mon-Sun. I bleached piss off our (gated!) steps weekly. Most nights I lulled myself to sleep by blasting white noise to drown out the sound cocktail of partying and my roommate’s sex-positive fueled habits (no shame on her, but not fun for my circadian rhythm). Meditation on Sundays was never more necessary, and also never happened. I’m aware this is written from a privileged bias, and my thoughts around that aren’t fully formed yet, but it doesn’t negate the stress I experienced. (*please scroll to the end)
- I canceled a trip to Malawi I won in recognition for my advocacy work.
- I sat in pee on Bart en route to work in a silk dress. Good news is: I blended right into the smells of my neighborhood when I returned home to shower.
- I moved AGAIN. This time back to East Bay when a friend, knowing my maladjustment issues, offered to have me house sit for a lovely family he knew (thank you!). I thought this would be a place to heal and give me time to find a better apartment back in the relaxed part of East Bay (Berkeley, Rockridge) that friends had recommended.
- On my first night there, my saintly friend and I got locked out of the house. It was really stressful but my friend managed to use a website like https://www.locksmithbaltimorearea.com/commercial-locksmith to find a locksmith who was able to help us. We then woke up the next day only to figure out we weren’t actually locked out and we had re-keyed the house for no reason other than our sanity. It’s a funny situation now looking back at it, and the locksmith was so lovely!
- A week later, the Kincade fires happened. I learned the Bay Area flexes a big tech-forward game but doesn’t back it up with a progressive power-grid. I mean the power lines are still above ground even though they’re immensely susceptible to fires? WUT. During the fires, I lost power and cell reception and had to walk into town each day with my gas mask on to charge my phone and let my family know I was, indeed, alive. At night, I was scared someone would break in, smelling my vulnerability (or scented candles?). Oh, and yes, I was still holding down my job during this fiasco. Dreamscape, right? Imagine how all the firefighters felt.
- Then, PTSD from the mugging caught up to me. I had TWO panic attacks driving across the Bay Bridge where I lost feeling in my arms and legs. I mistook the first for a heart attack. It is a miracle I made it across the 4.35 miles of the bridge because I almost lost consciousness by the end each time. By the end of November, I cut my trips into the city entirely until I got my PTSD under wraps. I made this decision based on safety, but it was gut-wrenching. Who was this person who let a stupid bridge get in the way of living? I would look at myself in the mirror and feel so defeated for letting fear stop me for the first time in my life. Nothing, not even illness, had handicapped me like this before.
- In the meantime, I continued to hunt for an apartment. This became my second job and I was determined to find something stable and permanent. I bought a commuter bike to hold me over until I signed a lease and knew I could buy a car. I planned to ride it daily, so I got a swanky Italian Bianchi with commuter pedals, basket, the whole shebang. I averaged one viewing a night and learned to walk away when there was a foam wall diving the living room into bedrooms.
- My childhood dog died. Unrelated, but STILL.
- I finally found a perfect/affordable (really, I can’t believe I just typed that) apartment all to myself in Rockridge. I signed a lease and dished out a 4 grand deposit. I lost it two days later when the landlord backed out with a family emergency.
- TWO HOURS LATER after I test drove a car someone sawed the U-lock off my $800 bike. It’s probably listed it Craiglist for $100. I rode it for 6 days. You do the math.
- After a bout of hysteria, I realized all this fighting just to stay afloat wasn’t worth it. Even if I found a place for a year, working at a nonprofit in the Bay Area would set me back drastically. Plus, I couldn’t even justify the living expense as I could in NYC. There was no fashion scene, I was scared to walk out my front door, it was dreary most days, and I was going broke. What was the point?! Time is too precious to occupy space you don’t love, my friends.
- I asked to work remotely in November which was approved (this isn’t negative, mic drop!!) but I had to extend my stay until the end of January.
- I moved two more times in East Bay into temporary Airbnb. Live out of two suitcases for my remaining two months with all my precious vintage in storage. This brings my move tally to a whopping 5 times in 7 months.
Unfortunate Bay Area Events: Unnumbered
I’ve included this section because life is chaotic and not always meant to be numbered. So let the official record show that this stuff also went down.
All the above while holding my job, planning a pop-up shop, flying to NYC, handling crisis communications, attending training sessions, facilitating media coaching, and writing A LOT.
Almost all of the liquid assets I saved to use as a down payment on a home. That, plus money my parents graciously gifted me in crisis mode.
Doing things that brought me joy, like exercise, reading, and writing. I even stopped seeking as much social interaction, which is a big red flag for my sanity.
Intense spikes in my thyroid disorder without healthcare and blood testing for two months. Then it got intenser due to stress. I went through brain fog, withdrawals, mood swings, migraines and insomnia. I gained weight in the process but this also helped me kick a borderline eating disorder I was never honest with myself or anyone about. I no longer had the time or brain space to mentally log what I was eating. I needed calories (and a lot from sugar) to battle stress and the “who gives a fuck attitude” helped me get back to living beyond orthorexia.
Sure, when I have to donate my old clothes or I look back at my modeling photos I have the same insecurities as many women. I have to remind myself not to strive for that again, that my body shouldn’t and never will look like that again. I’m leaning into woman bod! I have energy, I am stronger, and I’m more focused on enjoying life and giving, instead of intermittent fasting and burpees.
Somehow in the midst of all this. This section probably deserves its own hyperlink but because I like privacy in the personal realm, what I will say is that ALL the emotions of the heart were had in this period. And felt hard. The sting and sleeplessness of rejection, the ‘what if’ of a first spark, the bitter pill of an early red flag, the grounding acceptance of settling for a friendship that eventually fizzles.
I’ve been single-ish for over 2 years now and I’m comfortable with it. I love it, actually. I’m even starting to think about alternative forms of parenting and building family through friendships. But the fast and hard pain of this experience was grounding and it made me more self-aware of what I wanted and was ready for: something serious and committed, however that plays out in today’s modern love.
By the middle of my stint in the Bay Area, I was searching with more intention than ever before…only to figure out my efforts were futile because I was moving. TL:DR: Love in Austin, here I come!
Then balled in 5 different Ubers. Pretty sure I have three stars now.
Some time off my life from stress. Nothing that can’t be remedied with Turmeric, right!?
I’M **HELLA** OUT OF THE BAY AREA. And if you know what’s good for you, maybe don’t come near me, especially with hot or sharp objects.
Naw, I jest. It took me a while to get comfortable enough to publish this piece and realize none of this was my fault. I needed to finish writing it when I landed in Austin and felt more grounded. My hope in sharing my story is that the tears that went into my yesterday will make you laugh today. Because humor is a major way to survive trauma. The strongest people I know laugh the hardest.
So what did I learn from this? Okay, let’s get back to the numbers!
- It’s all about attitude. I’m still alive. I’m a survivor. I’m relatively healthy and in the grand scheme of things, 7 months really isn’t a long time. I’m gonna take it a little easier on myself knowing that my recovery can and will be slower than usual and I’m going to smile through it.
- Let the universe guide you, not your planner. The world a clever wrecker of plans and sometimes you just gotta listen to that. I’m sure this will unfold for me soon but I believe the garbage that was these 7 months was pointing me in a different direction. That’s why I came back to Austin. It’s my Goldilocks zone. The perfect balance of city, nature, open-mindedness, and the best crew in the world.
- No matter what happens, there are still good people. I got mugged, and my random neighbors mobilized to help me. I was stressed, and my co-workers picked up some slack and offered genuine empathy and unexpected friendship. I work with amazing people motivated by making the world better instead of chasing attention or money. I am lucky I have this job and they let me work remotely. All this is the yin and yang of life.
It’s nuts, really. I thought a situation like this would make me bitter and angry but it expanded my heart. The shock was like hitting reset on my good people radar. I see strength in people’s eyes, I recognize struggle, I’m choosier and, ultimately, I have more energy to give to the right people. This expansion of love will guide me and shape me moving into my 30s – even if it means scaling back on my own productivity.
“In order to love who you are, you cannot hate the experiences that have shaped you.”Andréa Dykstra
Have you been through something similar? How did you cope with change or trauma?
Okay so I’m coming back to you deeply humbled and re-framing this piece. My stance on living in The Mission and the Bay area, in general, was insensitive and problematic and I got called out for it, rightfully so (see comments). I chose not to amend the post because I want to treat this as a learning experience, to show you where I was wrong and course correct from there.
While I acknowledged that my perspective on The Mission was told from a privileged bias, I still proceeded to fuel that bias by describing the neighborhood as “shitty” and more. I believe words matter and even though I was aiming at humor here and quite frankly, just venting, mine were not funny in this context.
Why? Because they inflicted more harm on a marginalized community. Because they lacked awareness for the root of the homelessness and social issues I was living within and contributing to. Because I made this post more about me and my pain rather than the community and social change. For that, readers, residents, citizens, I am deeply sorry.
You have my word that I will grow from this experience. I will begin a journey to discover, deconstruct, and to root out my own biases so I can become a better ally and I will keep my mouth shut where I don’t know what I don’t know. To the strong women who brought this to my attention, thank you. I’m open to hearing your perspective on The Peahen, always.
My journey of unlearning begins with reading Me and White Supremacy. Join me and tell me what other resources have helped you overcome biases and blind spots?