For three years, I lived in a lovely five bedroom apartment with four friends. I was in my early twenties and absolutely thrilled that I’d found a place in my favorite neighborhood and in my budget… and the fact that it had washer/dryer in unit? Forget about it. I was in heaven.
That is, until my first winter there. You never really know what kind of New York City apartment experience you’re going to have until the first winter. With no control of the thermostat, will you have a place that maintains a reasonable temperature? Will the apartment run so hot that you leave the windows open when it snows? Or, will you have another experience: a winter with no heat.
The first few days when the temperature dropped below freezing, I loosely remember talking over the kitchen table with my roommates about how cold it has been. I remember the confusion when nobody had the same experience. Shortly after, I realized that every room in our apartment—each bedroom, both bathrooms, and the family room and kitchen space, had furnaces and heaters. My bedroom did not. And while that hardly seems like a major problem, when I’d close my bedroom door at night, or during the day when I was working remotely and taking calls, the temperature would plummet.
The first year, I just bundled up extra tight and complained. The second year, I bought an indoor thermometer and tracked the low temperatures. I reached out to the building management a time or two but when they were dismissive or made things difficult, I gave up. The third year I tried a little harder, but was more interested in other things and didn’t make it a priority.
That is until the year my cousin moved in with us. That winter, we decided to switch rooms in the apartment and I realized that he’d be dealing with the cold temperatures. Suddenly, it became priority #1. I called and emailed and wrote. I cited laws that protect New York City renters and was absolutely relentless until they fixed it a few weeks later, right before we switched bedrooms.
This story came to mind recently as I’ve discovered that my new New York apartment is one that runs warm in winter. Something that, after many cold months in the past, I almost don’t mind. But the juxtaposition between winters in jarring.
Just before sitting down to write tonight, I made a cup of tea. The tag on the tea bag reads, “Give to others and give to yourself the same attention.” While certainly there is a nuance to this that a small tea bag tag can't contain, it felt fitting to read that as I reflected on 3 winters without heat.
Clearly, I knew what I needed to do to fix the issue and I had it within me to have the problem resolved. So why had it taken an external factor—a protectiveness and care for my cousin—to really push me to push them to fix it?
Why hadn’t I cared to that level for 3 winters before?
Certainly, there is a level of priority, as I’ve previously mentioned. I can try to tell myself that the winter it finally was fixed was the winter I had the most free time and energy to devote to a renter vs. management company crusade. But perhaps there is something more to it… something that taps into the core of so many of our values: caring for ourselves can be hard.
Often, it feels easier to take care of the people we love than to devote that same time and energy to our own wellbeing. Perhaps there’s a part of the younger me that felt selfish for demanding the bare minimum of what was legally required for a renter. Perhaps there’s a part of me that was more interested in various activities and causes that left me too tired at the end of the day to make sure I was good.
Or perhaps it’s simply a case of—when I realized someone else would be living in that space—acknowledging that it was actually pretty miserable in the winter and wanting to do everything in my power to take care of them.
And it was, of course, within my power.
So perhaps, then, it’s always a little bit within my power. If we can make time for a loved one in need, perhaps we can train ourselves to do the same when it’s us that needs prioritizing. Perhaps this year, we can get a little better and give ourselves the love we so abundantly share with others.
Perhaps now, we can be relentless in the pursuit of our own wellbeing, no apologies necessary, no excuses accepted.