Northern Diaries: One Year in NWO

This post is a bit delayed, I haven’t really figured out yet how I want to go about it. I also don’t really know how I feel about this past year.

I arrived in Sioux Lookout on March 14th, last year. There was no snow on the ground, and it was pretty consistently above 0 until October of last year. That might seem boring, but given how (rightfully) nervous I was about the weather up here, it was a big deal to me. Also, if you’ve never moved furniture in the snow, consider yourself very lucky.

I think I’m going to break this up into sections; work, money, social, and personal.

Work

I moved here for a job, I would have never moved even to Thunder Bay or Winnipeg without a job. This area isn’t somewhere that calls to me, it does to some, but I’m not one of those people. I was extraordinarily nervous to start this job, I knew someone who had gotten a job here straight out of grad school and had a terrible experience, and they weren’t even contending with the pandemic. So, someone I really trust telling me how bad a time they had, and entering public health thirteen months into a pandemic were terrifying.

I really love my job, I am very content in it, if a bit burnt out. I like that the work that we do seems very tangible. That we get to work with a bunch of different communities and different target audiences. I am very ready for COVID to not be the focus of our work and to be able to work on our program and the needs we were hired to address, which could also help with overall health and therefore reduce the impacts COVID has on these communities, but I digress not the point. None of the things my friend warned me about have transpired, although I do wonder if that is because of what I was told I started this job with hard boundaries in place, which may have prevented what happened to them from happening to me. It’s impossible to know without going back in time and starting the job without those boundaries.

I have also gotten to see parts of Ontario that I would have never even imagined seeing and gotten to meet people and learn about cultures that I didn’t even know where to start with how to learn about. And I am super grateful for all of these opportunities.

I don’t know how working in the office would have changed this also, I have worked 4 days in the office since March 15, 2021 when I started. I kind of love work-from-home and travel most of the time, but there are times where I think about how work must have been pre-laptop. You closed your computer at work and you had to leave all your work at the office. You were physically incapable of bring work home with you, and now work is home with you. Just something that keeps me up at night.

Money

Listen, entry-level public health will not make anyone rich. The number of people in my level of my org who have another job or some kind of side hustle is, in my opinion, way too high. Rent is really pricey in this town and the rental market is insane here. Just like many other places in Ontario there is not enough housing, driving up the rental prices. Food and fuel are also super expensive up here, even last summer when people down south were complaining about gas being $1.20ish a litre, here it was $1.50-1.60/L. That and moving here was super expensive, I have spent most of the last year in near constant over-draft and making credit card payments just to have it get back up to its limit again, and taking out a car loan when my car died last year. 2021 was just a year of things coming up and not having any savings as a buffer.

Really, until this month I did not have a buffer. And what is interesting about it, was it took working insane overtime for three weeks straight, and four pet sitting jobs in a row, meaning that I was home for 3.5 days a couple weeks ago and that was the longest stretch I’ve been home since February 14th. Otherwise, I’ve had a pet sitter or gone home for an hour each day to check in on my cat. Which I think lead to the week of panic attacks in another person’s house and me taking three days off, also in another person’s house.

In December, I googled, how do people get ahead, and the only answers were the terrifying r/frugality on Reddit, luck, inheritance, and nearly killing yourself working. And I’m not ahead, I still have a credit card balance, I don’t have a fully funded emergency fund or sinking fund or a mortgage savings account, but I have a small amount in savings, my bank account isn’t in overdraft and to me that feels ahead. Which I can’t figure out how to feel about. But I am glad to be at this point, I am grateful to have $500 in my savings account, to not go into the red after paying my rent in a few days, there is a security there that I haven’t been accustomed to in a while.

Social

Moving during a pandemic (we literally went into lockdown at midnight the day I moved here), was the most miserable, lonely, experience I have ever had. You arrive to a new town, and not only is it a super small town without a lot of social venues, but everything is closed and people are scared to interact with people they don’t know. It made unpacking and getting settled in my apartment really easy, because I had to quarantine for two weeks (work rule) when I got here. But moving somewhere and not even being able to go to your new grocery store, coffee shop, post office, was miserable.

And then when you get let out, you don’t know anyone, and you don’t know where to go and the isolation becomes a self-perpetuating cycle. My first social thing was Thanksgiving, seven months after I had moved here. There was a TikTok at some point last summer where the person was lamenting about how to make friends without an institution, without school, without a team or a club.

I also think that Sioux Lookout, and other small towns, are unique in that they are still super analogue. The things that do have websites, don’t seem to have an active, monitored, or maintained email addresses or other contact information. For example, supposedly there are horseback riding lessons at one of the community centres (there is a barn and there are horses), but I cannot get hold of anyone, anywhere. I’ve never even seen a human there, just horses and trucks. So it’s not like I can do a google search for clubs and activities in town to join. You have to know someone who knows about it.

Personal

To me, this is the section that is like, “Would I recommend moving here?” and the short answer is no. I want to live somewhere with multiple restaurants, museums, concert venues, shopping, bars and clubs. And living here during the pandemic, as much as it has stunted me socially, did help with missing those things. They were closed anyways, so I wasn’t missing out. I want thrift shops and antique stores and Peloton to deliver to me. I want UberEats, sushi, ramen, good Italian food, and espresso martinis. I am a Material Girl (TT). I want bookstores. And I don’t want to have to drive four to six hours to experience these things.

Also, as you probably gathered from the Social section, this was definitely the loneliest year of my life. I considered going to church just to build a community (and then I remembered that I didn’t want the church to be my community). I am great at being alone, I love being alone, I love silence, and I am very good at entertaining myself but we are social creatures and we are not meant to spend that much time alone.

And then there is winter, I am not a winter person, I hate the cold, I hate the dark. I get very sad, and I retreat further inward than I normally am and it is not good. And the things I relied on when I lived in Southern Ontario, coffee shops, book stores, board games bars, don’t exist here. So, it got dark this winter. And honestly, I don’t know if I have another in me. And that’s really depressing sounding.

Anyways, that’s what I have to say about my first year here. It’s been a mixed bag for sure. Thanks for being here for it!

Laura

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