San Francisco is a perfect city for self reflection.
A perfect city to create dreams, and see them come true.
San Francisco is a perfect city to be alone in your thoughts.
In your feelings. Your sadness. Your joy.
It’s a perfect city to be alone.
And then, to find your people.
I lived in San Francisco for four and half years. Having spent 3 years prior in San Diego.
The day I arrived in San Francisco. I remember it vividly. The drive over the bay bridge. Foggy, rainy…. my parents playing oldies on the radio. “This is your new home, kid”… My Dad so excited that I’d be living closer to him and my Mom again. He’s had a love for San Francisco for over 50 years.
They dropped me off and… that was it. I was on my own now.
I called my ex. A guy I had been with for 2 years and left. He was a good man, but we weren’t good for each other. If I didn’t get out then, I was never going to get out.
“Katey… are you okay?” I had broke his heart and yet still he cared. I cried. Pulled myself together. Cried again.
“It’s going to be hard for you, you have a lot to pull yourself out of. But you’re going to do it.”
Am I? I asked him. “You are.”
I had arrived to San Francisco in one of my most broken states. Having just left a life of (secret) addiction. A life of falling back into demons that kept me sinking further and further as time went on. Wearing a smile for a world I appeared to thrive in, but was miserable in. Not myself. Not alive, not happy.
A life I had come to known as one that I wanted to leave. I wanted to die. I’d pray for relief. Just take me, Lord. My reality.
I laid down on my couch and examined my arms. Bruised. Examined my legs. Bruised.
Got up and looked in the mirror. Damn my hair is thin.
Damn my face is sunken.
My nails… split.
My heart with this jabbing pang I had developed over the last few years.
Pills. Starving myself. Numbing the pain however I could.
No more. I can’t do this.
I sunk to the ground. My back against my bed. A rug I had just bought and suddenly decided was not for me. Boxes to my left and right. This is it. This is going to be the start.
This time I called my Grandmother.
“Grandma” I said, unsuccessfully covering up my sobs.
“Honey– how is the move?”
We talked for a long time. My Grandma knew my secrets. My hardships. I told her, my life here is going to be different. I’m going to be happy. I’m going to be healthy.
“Damn right you are. Don’t be a cream puff, be a tough cookie!” It made me smile. I ended up writing that down in my journal. Nearly everything she said that day. My best friend. A woman nearly 60 years older than me, and more like me than anyone I had ever known.
I spent the coming weeks in coffee shops, alone, writing and observing. Something about the energy in San Francisco electrified me. Awakened my broken soul and recalibrated my lost mind.
I was witnessing people with these huge career dreams. Fervently typing on their laptops. Smiling as the barista brought them their latte. And when they left, a pep in their step.
What is it about this city?
By my birthday, five months in, I was looking like a new person. Color in my cheeks. Curve back in my body. Able to make it up not just flights of stairs, but the hills of the city, without nearly collapsing. I was feeling stronger. Not only physically but emotionally. I had become obsessed with health and wellness. Research every night before I went to bed. Suddenly I had this strong desire to be my very best self.
There were ups and downs. In those months I had gone through withdrawls, disappointment from a love that didn’t work, the rejection of my first crush since my last relationship, and, on the other side– moments that were so intensely blissful that my eyes had teared. Had it been so long since I felt true happiness?
I loved the city parks. I loved the bay. I loved being near my best friends again (Michelle and Kerrie). I loved the food. The cozy bars and the various cultures of the different neighborhoods. My head was spinning in love. In love with a city.
I love you, San Francisco.
Six months in, my Grandmother passed away. I envisioned the last time I saw her; holding her hand and describing what it looked like outside my window in the city. I told her about the boys I was going on dates with, friends I was making and how my style was evolving. She sat up a little straighter, as if to really grab my attention, and told me- don’t go backwards. Keep going forward. You’ve never looked better. Keep going forward. And I promised her I would.
When I returned to the city after her funeral, my heart was so broken I physically felt heavy. A part of me missing. One of the most influential and present people in my life, my best friend – gone.
I pulled out a shoebox from behind my couch and felt myself falling backwards. All my old pills from a prior life. I just wanted to be numb. But I pictured her, I pictured her seeing me so healthy and happy and how much joy that brought her. I remembered my promise, keep moving forward. I dumped the box in a neighbors trash outside and went walking. I walked for miles that night.
Fisherman’s Wharf. I knew that was a place where I could go… red, teary face, and no one would see me. Only “tourists” visited Fisherman’s Wharf. I came to love that neighborhood, one that most SFers abhor. The history, the escape, the smells (sourdough!), the views of golden gate. It became a sanctuary for me. Where I would go when I felt depressed, but needed to be out with the world.
The thing about San Francisco is you can be depressed, sad, broken… and not be isolated. You can be surrounded by a lively city but alone in your thoughts. You can find beauty all around you to help keep you afloat. Keep you dreaming and most importantly, keep moving forward.
I learned that San Francisco is a healing city. The energy around you, you might get down but it’s hard to stay there with all that buzzing around you. It’s like a shock to the system that you didn’t ask for, but appreciate.
When I launched The Violet Fog- I prayed for a place on the internet that would bring some spark and happiness to the women of San Francisco. There was not yet a site that was just for women that covered city life. It’s evolved so much since then (health, wellness, beauty to add), but it’s roots were really about life in the city.
The belief that I could really create something new felt in my grasp in San Francisco. Because I saw so many others doing it. That drive– I don’t know how much it started in me rather than something I truly pulled from the people around me. My peers and mentors and friends. The readers of Violet Fog. I owe that city so much.
The Violet Fog community grew into something intimate. These women coming to VF events- so welcoming. So inspiring. Making connections left and right and standing in their truths. I knew there was something special there. How could I better serve them? What more could I give?
My third year in San Francisco, I started publishing my more vulnerable pieces. Depression. Sadness. Something I had started to get a grip on but realized- I was doing a disservice having this “gift” for writing but not really sharing a part of me that…. could help others. Just in them knowing they’re not alone.
I had always felt alone. Until San Francisco.
SF has this culture of living out loud WHO you are. Proudly. And cheering others on for doing the same.
When I published those vulnerable pieces, they were received in a way of– what took you so long? I needed this.
I… I needed this. I was grateful for a community who would get into the trenches with me, craving someone to relate to (myself included) and then ended the read by closing their browser, knowing they were going to do something about it. Or could.
It was in San Francisco that I found my purpose. My strength to keep moving forward. San Francisco is where I finally believed I could make a lifelong career of writing. The support of Violet Fog- it’s worth more than gold to me. And all I want to do, all I’ve wanted to do, is create something useful for these women. Valuable. These women who help me.
My four and half years in San Francisco were magical in so many ways. Sure, excitement ebbed and flowed and sometimes drifted into comfort, but that spark would always return. Month after month. Year after year.
I had made friends with women who were climbing to incredible heights in their career. You see that a lot in SF- women taking charge, asking for what they deserve, coming in hot with these tactfully beautiful “challenger” mindsets.
In San Francisco, you see women in Tech and science and engineering making noise. Paving the way for future females to also join the ranks. To see that it is possible and there is a place for them.
You see creatives working day in and day out on their craft. In a city they can barely afford yet make it work because the inspiration there- they can’t leave it. Slowly chipping away to make their dream a reality. And it can be, in San Francisco.
You see a lot of women helping other women in SF. As my friend Margaux (creator of Well + Away Travel Guides) stated on a panel at a VF event, “San Francisco has this beautiful ecosystem of females asking each other- what can I do for you? What can I give? Not… what can you do for me? This is different, and through that, we will all get ahead.”
I loved having visitors in San Francisco. Come see my city. Come sit at the parks, let me take you to Souvla (a sure choice, knowing they’d love it.) Let me take you to Bernal Heights hill. Best view of the city! Let’s get gelato in North Beach. Tacos in the Mission.
San Francisco isn’t perfect. The astronomical rent. The gentrification. The traffic, etc. But man is it a phenomenal city to live in at least once. To find a tribe in. To find your inspiration. To explore and climb your own personal ladders. A city where you can, and will, keep moving forward.
I owe that city so much. I am leaving as a person entirely different and grown from when I arrived. Happy, driven, healthy.
I may be in Austin now, but that spirit, that quirky, hustlin’ San Francisco spirit– it’ll always be with me. I love you, SF.
Katey || INFP || Founder/Director of Violet Fog ||