How do I survive a year or two in a small town after years in the city?
July 31, 2012 4:22 PM   Subscribe

How do I survive a year or two in a small town after years in the city?

I'm originally from a very small town of <1000 people in mid-northern Minnesota. I went away to college in a major U.S. city for four years. I've just graduated and moved back home so that I could see my close-knit family for awhile (and make some money, pay off loans) before the "next big step," which isn't yet planned, but will most likely be grad school.

The thing is, I'm glad to see my family, but I forgot that I abso-fucking-lutely hate it here. I've been looking for a job-- even the shittiest of jobs-- for over a month with no results, and I'm getting closer and closer to having to pay student loans back. (I'm in the classic under-/over-qualified dilemma of those with humanities degrees.) I have a driver's license, but the nearest taste of civilization (a mid-smallish port city, MN residents will know where I'm talking about) is 20 miles away, and I have a relatively bad anxiety disorder that makes driving really difficult for me. (I'm working on it, but it's been a lifetime issue, so it's not going to magically resolve itself any time soon IMO). There's no public transit, a taxi ride would cost $40 one way, and the only public shuttles are extremely unreliable and need-based. I've gotten two job opportunities in this slightly larger city, but the prospect of commuting every day is scary and even maybe impossible, due to my shaky driving skills.

I'm starting to get quite depressed. I have only one remaining friend around here. I've started smoking again. I want to see a therapist (used to be on medication until my student insurance expired), but I know once I get a job my health insurance will disappear, and everything feels like an uphill battle (hello again, poverty). I love my family but there are currently about five of us living in a tiny house, and I'm going crazy-- I don't have a dresser or a closet for my things and I've been living out of a suitcase, plus there's a spirit of negativity here ("why'd you even go to college if you can't find a job now?") that makes me want to scream when I'm already in this stressed and frustrated state. My dad has been trying to help out all his kids financially for the last few years, thus there's not a lot left over for me (I was very self-sufficient in college). In a lot of ways I feel like I'm reverting to my teenage years, thanks to living in my childhood home and feeling generally overloaded. Basically I feel like a child and have started regressing to the "learned helplessness" state that I thought I grew out of.

I had a job in the major city where I went to college, plus I had friends, and the excitement of living in a constantly changing environment. There were cheap, entertaining things to do all the time. Public transit was the most beautiful boon to me-- I could go anywhere nearly anytime without the stress of operating a vehicle, and I was no longer limited by my difficulties with driving. I'm genuinely an adventurous person when I don't have to rely on a car. I desperately want to live in the city again. But everyone knows how hard it is for college grads to find jobs these days, so I'm not counting on being able to go back soon. In all likelihood I'll be stuck here at home for at least a year (my loans are so small I'd really like to pay them back before embarking on a new endeavor) and I just need some coping strategies ASAP.

I've thought about moving out of the house, but since I don't have a job (or a car, or insurance...) it's going to be awhile. How do I handle this? And maybe even make it into a positive? I thrive on independence, and it's so hard to feel independent in this environment. I also forgot how different I feel from most people at home; I felt like I genuinely belonged at university. Here, I don't have the skills my family values, and they have almost no interest in my skills or talents (I was just notified that I got honors on my degree and the apathy was palpable). I feel pretty useless and upside-down most of the time.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (18 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I've gotten two job opportunities in this slightly larger city, but the prospect of commuting every day is scary and even maybe impossible, due to my shaky driving skills.

Can you rent a room in a house in the slightly larger city 20 minutes from your family and walk/ride to work? Then you could do the reverse commute once or twice a week for family things like meals or the occasional weekend.
posted by headnsouth at 4:33 PM on July 31, 2012 [7 favorites]

Now is the time to practice driving. Seriously... the more you practice the easier it will get. Have a family member go out with you in the beginning and just drive.
posted by kimdog at 4:42 PM on July 31, 2012 [9 favorites]

I grew up in a little town and moved to a big city for university too, and I'd argue you're experiencing culture shock. Be gentle with yourself. It takes time to re-adjust.

It sounds like other people living in your town probably work in the port city. Is there a chance you could carpool to one of the two job opportunities you've gotten there? As you remember from growing up, the rural version of public transit is networking and finding friends to carpool with. You have family and acquaintances, and you need to reach out in order to access that resource.

It also sounds like you need to be out of the house more to get some of your confidence back. Can you volunteer somewhere? For example: summer camps, communities in bloom, Women's Institute, the summer fair, a kids sports league, something? Demonstrate that you are useful and update your connections to the people who could help you find local work.

Given your anxiety about driving, I would strongly consider moving to a place where you can either walk or take public transit. It is completely reasonable to take your anxiety into consideration when making these decisions. Living at home is not automatically saving you money if you can't find work while the bills come in.

And congratulations on your honours on your degree! I don't think many of my family members there know what that means either so they didn't react much when I got honours, but you deserve kudos for that. :)
posted by heatherann at 4:43 PM on July 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

Life is short. Why continue living where your are not happy and you cannot find a job? Paying off loans is an admirable goal, but many of us took a few years to do it. It's fine.

Contact some of your friends from college and couch surf until you find a job in a city. Cities have the type of transportation services you need to make it to work consistently. I know it's risky and there's no reason you need to tell your folks that you're making some big change. You position it as "I'm going to visit a friend for a few weeks". While you're there you find a job - any job to get money flowing in.
posted by 26.2 at 4:47 PM on July 31, 2012 [6 favorites]

Have you considered doing TEFL? Most employers will pay for your flight over there and arrange room and board for you. If anything it would be a job, and living somewhere more interesting than northern Minnesota.
posted by dunkadunc at 4:49 PM on July 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

I think you should scrape up enough money to move back to the bigger city--you'll have more chances to make money there than at home. If you can find a group house, live really frugally, you have a better chance of making more money than in a small town.
posted by Ideefixe at 4:50 PM on July 31, 2012 [3 favorites]

I'm guessing you're talking about Duluth as the smallish city? Try finding a room there once you find a job, within a decent distance from the job. Rentals there are super cheap.
posted by the young rope-rider at 4:55 PM on July 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh and look into Americorps.
posted by the young rope-rider at 4:56 PM on July 31, 2012

Take a little longer on your loan and move to duluth or where ever you are thinking! Loneliness and frustraition multiplies as time goes on.

For now, find places to hang out where there are people near your age, even if they aren't your speed. Finding some people to car share with to the bigger city may be worth the trouble.
posted by Blisterlips at 4:56 PM on July 31, 2012 [3 favorites]

I have been in a similar situation before (coming back from college, and living in a desperately depressing environment with my family). I went to a therapist about it, and the general consensus was MOVE OUT, get away from that. I love my family, but they were causing me too much stress. I know you have limited options with no job, but I would definitely keep an eye out for something that could get you out. Maybe even a roommate.

I agree with what others have said, I would probably start looking and applying for jobs in the city you went to University. You can always ask for a phone interview, or make a weekend trip up and stay with a friend for the interview. If you could land a job there, and get out of your home town, you could pay back your student loans without the depression of living at home.

If getting out isn't an option, what I did when I moved back to my home town and had few friends left? Online dating... (keeps you entertained at home, and gets you out every now and then) and secondly... working at a bar. I realize that may not be feasible, but it got be back out and around people and I started making new friends and even while living in the depressing situation with my parents, I was able to maintain a level of contentment.

Good luck with all your endeavors!!
posted by Quincy at 5:02 PM on July 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

I had terrible driving anxiety that would leave me trembling and panicked (while driving in an empty parking lot!) and I didn't get a driver's license until I was 27. The suggestion to practice driving is an excellent one. I finally had no choice but to get a license because I got a job that required I commute by car. Surprisingly, getting over the extreme fear of driving was relatively quick though I still find driving stressful. Keep practicing and get used to being behind the wheel.

Your feelings about moving back are understable, but your situation will eventually change. Find any and every opportunity for making money so you can save up. If your college loans aren't huge, consider deferment due to economic hardship. It might be better for you to save up, move elsewhere and find a job that will help you start making payments. You can choose income based repayment, which will be helpful if you aren't making a lot.

In the meantime, are there not people your age in your small town to befriend or places you can volunteer at to keep you occupied and opportunities to network a bit? I find that jobs are best found through connections. Go out there and start making some!
posted by loquat at 5:09 PM on July 31, 2012

Are you financially capable, either through your own means or parent help, to get to the big city for interviews if necessary? One trick a lot of people use with resumes is to list their address as one in the city they're applying to -- usually a friend's. I moved back home (also a small Midwestern town) for a brief period and did this, appearing to live in Chicago or New York or wherever the job I was applying to was located. Employers tend to take you more seriously if they see you already live in the city. If it comes up and you feel uncomfortable, you can always say something like "I'm in the process of moving." This allows you to sit pretty in the small town and churn out applications while appearing to be right around the corner. It works especially well if you can get to the big city in question by train for interviews -- my Amtrak tickets averaged $30-50. In the meantime, I spat out applications like it was my job (ha).

I understand getting stir-crazy after doing the big city/small town leap back. Something I've noticed over the years, though, going back and forth again and again (I live and work in the big city now), is that the small town really has some charms the big city lacks. They're safe, they're mellow, they're cheap, they've got a wondrous abundance of nature that the city can't shake a stick at. Experiment and see if you can't appreciate the place you're at, knowing that it's temporary for you (that's sort of the key that lets you do it, IMO). Apply like a maniac each day, but then go for walks in the forest, sit on the roof and look at the stars, swim in the nearly empty, sun-warmed lake. This will have the dual benefit of giving you some space from your parents and maybe helping out with the anxiety.

Oh, and read a ton of books!
posted by aintthattheway at 5:12 PM on July 31, 2012 [4 favorites]

loquat: "In the meantime, are there not people your age in your small town to befriend or places you can volunteer at to keep you occupied and opportunities to network a bit?"

I was in the OP's situation for the past two years living in a town with less than 1000 residents. There were people my age, but there was nothing in common. I like Boards of Canada, they like Toby Keith. I want to be a language professor, they have 3 kids already and think a really fun time is parking their truck in the road and burning their tires.

The OP needs to get out, and fast. Staying for any longer than necessary is incredibly depressing.

For more info on the TEFL front, A basic start would be the TEFL Job Database but the man you really, really want to talk to is Mefi's own Meatbomb, but he's on hiatus right now so you might want to send him an actual email. You might not really want to be teaching English forever, but I think for right now, it's the most fulfilling gig out there for overqualified humanities majors like you or me.
posted by dunkadunc at 5:31 PM on July 31, 2012 [3 favorites]

You can't achieve your stated goals of making some money and paying off your loans while living in a town with no jobs. And the family that knits too closely together will end up with a lot of elbowing and poking each other through the eye with their needles.

You need to get out, get to a city with jobs and public transport, and start living life. THAT is your next big step.
posted by Catch at 5:40 PM on July 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

You need to get out. Living there in a cramped house with not even a bureau for your stuff is not mentally healthy.

Trust me on this. It's more important for you to be in a positive environment than it is for you to get those loans wiped out this year.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 5:57 PM on July 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

You survive by getting out. Borrow money and get out. You might be unhappy borrowing money, but you will be far, far unhappier unemployed and living at home.

I made a mistake coming back to Canada after spending a year and a half in Japan just after I graduated from university. I came back to my small home town, which was in the midst of a recession, and was stuck - I had used all my money to get there, and the only jobs I could find were working in kitchens.

I spent about 8 months at home, borrowed some money, and went back to Japan, where I easily made the money to pay off the loan.

I don't think it will be easy to pay off a loan, but if you can swing it, get out as soon as you can.
posted by KokuRyu at 6:10 PM on July 31, 2012 [4 favorites]

If you're under 26 and either of your parents gets health insurance through their jobs, they can put you on their plan.
posted by rtha at 6:38 PM on July 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

I don't understand. Why are you home?

You have job leads/opportunities in Duluth. You can't commute there. You should live there.

You had a job and have friends in Chicago or wherever it was. You should live there, even more so.

You need to live your life in a way that doesn't make you a miserable stressball.
posted by J. Wilson at 9:22 PM on July 31, 2012 [4 favorites]

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