Last summer I made a habit of driving south to the coast on my days off from work. Like others who are drawn to the sea, I think the air is fresher there — like inhaling is somehow more satisfying when there’s a little bit of salt in the breeze. On some trips I’d take off my shoes and walk along the rocky shoreline, savoring the coolness of the tide rhythmically sweeping over my feet. Other times I’d camp out with a book and escape to someone else’s world. But at some point on every visit, I would find myself just watching the ocean. I watched it change colors and moods: from green to gray, mild to malevolent. I studied it, the beauty of it, the immensity of it, and I would think: “What in the world have I done?”

You see, nearly a year ago I did something kind of crazy. Five days after graduating from college, I said goodbye to my friends, family and a city that I loved and moved 1,330 miles away, to begin a new life and career in Maine. I’d never been this far east, and I didn’t know anyone in the state. But before I moved, I told everybody who had asked, that I was ready to get out of the Midwest. I said that I was ready to trade the familiar for the foreign, to go to a place where no one knew my name, to be someone different, to be someone better. I told anyone who would listen that I was ready for a new adventure.

I convinced them, and I convinced myself.

But when I arrived in Waterville, I realized that it is not exactly overflowing with the amenities that a 22-year-old college grad looks for in a city. The few bars felt like cozy places for regulars to hang out, not for newbies to mingle. But most of all, there weren’t any other 20-somethings around. In fact, I seemed to be the youngest person anywhere I went: my work, my neighborhood, the grocery store … the other grocery store. Where would I meet people? How would I make friends?

I felt deflated, and exploring my new home didn’t seem that exciting anymore. It seemed there were few adventures to be had in this rural region of America.

When I did meet new people — a neighbor, a co-worker, the cashier at an antique store — I would tell them where I was from and the circumstances under which I moved here; and they would usually say that I was gutsy or brave, but I just felt kind of stupid. Not for moving here, but rather for being mentally and emotionally ill-prepared to deal with the reality of a cross-country relocation.

I don’t want to sound like a naive little girl who didn’t expect being out on her own would be hard, but it is hard — though not for the cliché reasons that adults throw at teenagers during lectures about responsibility. I know how to live within my budget, and missing a rent payment is nearly impossible, thanks to the internet. What I didn’t count on, what I didn’t realize while I evangelized to my peers about getting the hell out of our hometowns, was how incredibly lonely it can be. There were days when I would just sit in my apartment, everything was still and the only sound came from the hum of my fan, and it would hit me: I am alone … completely alone. I’d created a sphere of solitude 1,000 miles wide.

And I started to miss things that used to come easy. I missed: living down the hall from my best friends; watching Bears games with my dad; staying at the table, talking with friends, long after we were done eating, long after the check has been paid; my visits home from college, when I’d climb into my old bed, and my mom would come in, smooth down my hair, pull my covers tight around me and kiss my face, as if I were still a little kid. I missed how safe that made me feel.

But time drifts, as it does, and I bought a couch, and then a coffee table. I got better at my job and started to be more like myself at work. I joined a writers’ group. I made a friend.

Soon the summer turned to fall. As I drove down the highway, I’d ease off the gas so I could watch the leaves, like fireworks, burst from yellow to orange to pink. And then the snow fell, and kept falling. Late one night I walked alone through The Concourse, marveling at the 20 inches of pure, white powder piled high along the streets, forming a crystal fortress to keep me safe as I made the trek home.

Now the snow is gone, the earth has thawed, and I understand that Maine is the kind of place where you have to make your own adventure. It’s out there if you look for it, but you can’t wait for it to come to you — you have to seize it. You have to get lost and take Old Canada Road all the way to Jackman, to see the 75-mile stretch of frosted pine trees, so idyllic that you’ll swear it was snatched from a Bob Ross painting. You have to walk across the Two Cent Bridge in the middle of the night and look up at the stars. You have to go to Portland and laugh and dance with 100 strangers you’ll never see again.

You have to not be so afraid.

The temperature has started to rise and I know this summer will be different. I’ll take a tip from my fellow Mainers and learn to take it easy. I’ll head back to the ocean and dive right in. And I will be writing about how it seems, at least for me, that the tides are changing.

Emily Higginbotham, originally from Illinois, is a copy editor at the Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel. You can follow her on Twitter: @EmilyHigg.