The House Becomes a Home

In many ways, it’s a blessing to be a homeowner and I feel fortunate that my husband and I are in a position to do so. That said, our house was erected in the 1850s and appears to lack any sort of cosmetic and functional updates since the 1970s. It’s undeniably a fixer-upper, yet we lack the financial and physical resources to do so. Consequently, it’s a bit of a dump, but it’s our dump. Having our own freestanding home is still by and large an improvement from the NYC apartment living that our relationship began with. Especially with my extreme sensory sensitivities, apartments are fraught with sensory assaults that tenants are powerless over: stinky food that neighbors are cooking, late night door slams, the infamous ceiling stompers, the inability to control your unit’s temperature, banging ancient radiators blasting out steam heat, and the off-putting odors wafting out of the hoarders’ units. We have full control over the internal environment of our home. I’m sure Ben is just as pleased that there’s no one living above my bed at night as the bane of my sleep comfort (and consequently, his sanity!) in all of our apartments was my woeful sleepy cries of “ceiling, ceiling!” at night when any sort of footstep above me registered in my sensory-disordered brain as dropping boulders off a mountain top onto the thin ceiling above me.

Our home also has a lovely deck and yard so we can enjoy outdoor space and since we are at the end of a small dead-end street, it feels relatively private and peaceful. We also have a huge four-car garage that we converted to a gym. We are also located right in the center of town, which makes accomplishing errands on foot a viable option and omitting the need for me to drive to many of my daily haunts. It’s also essentially located on the bike path, which is so convenient for enjoyable walks and runs. Overall, it’s a great setup.

Although I sound mostly positive about our situation, for me, our house actually holds a dark secret and consequently, my appreciation of it is often clouded over to some degree by a looming feeling of regret, shame, and sadness that lingers like smog over the San Joaquin Valley .

We bought this home rather hastily at my stubborn insistence in my desperate, psychologically broken days shortly after the attack. Because my attack was a home invasion in our apartment, I was delusionally fixated on the idea that it wouldn’t have happened had I lived in a freestanding home so that if I had my own home, far away from NYC, I’d be safe from ever suffering such a trauma again.

When my rational mind returned as I started healing, the crazy illogical nature of such a flawed argument were all too apparent and I felt guilty that I saddled us with a huge financial burden of an old house falling apart at the seams (and middle!). To my credit, I’m a very frugally-minded individual, and the financials of the house in terms of the purchase costs and mortgage are actually far more affordable for us that prior dwellings had been. I’m a seasoned deal-finder and almost all of the research I put in to pre-house purchasing were about mortgage rates, real estate prices in the towns we were interested in, and estimated upkeep costs. Of course, that last one assumes that you’re either very handy and can fix everything yourself or that your home improvement investments are minimal. We fall into that latter category by know-how and lack-of-funding necessity. Every time something breaks or needs repair, my stomach churns out a bolus of guilty and anxious acid, painfully reminding me that I got us into this mess and saddled us with a house in desperate need of maintenance that we can’t afford. I’m reminded of the panic post-trauma that fueled my harried and stupid decisions, which fills me with shame. I always want to be one who makes smart, calculated decisions that improve our lives and align with our core values and morals. I feel deeply embarrassed and less worthy when I make mistakes that contradict these goals; the house was one of these.

Of course, it’s not a tragedy as it does provide a sound, safe roof over our head, and it’s far from immoral or harmful others in the world (one of my top guiding principles is to do no harm to others). However, while its location is ideal in the town in which we live, the location of town itself is not especially ideal for me as its proximity to our families is far closer than we’ve lived in years yet still out of the radius of my driving capabilities, so I’m still rather isolated from my family. I don’t see my parents or siblings nearly as frequently as I’d like, because in an ideal world, I’d have very frequent but brief visits, perhaps daily for 30-60 minutes. Since the drive is too far for me to make independently, I’m relegated to waiting for one of them to visit me if and when (and fit how long) it suits them. Being a lonely and emotionally needy person who derives much of my support from my family, I wish these visits could occur more often. The socially-exhaustible and regimented part of me wishes they could be more regular and short. Since the drive takes a good 30-45 minutes each way, a visit needs to be at least a couple hours or so to make it worth their time. I always enjoy the visits more than I anticipate I will and they’re always worth the sacrifice in cutting back work hours, though I’d be donning rose colored glasses if I were to omit the observation that it always does exhaust me. Even with family, social time for a highly introverted (and autistic) person can be incredibly tiring.

When we first moved in, things around the house were difficult for me. It was winter, a season that’s now notoriously challenging for me, but more significant was the fact that I was home alone all day in an unfamiliar town without a job. I was constantly plagued with horrendously vivid flashbacks and was consumed by generalized anxiety with PTSD. I was afraid of EVERYTHING. I didn’t want to go out; I was afraid of all people, fearful someone would hurt me, and terrified something would happen that would cause me to bleed to death. I filled my entire days lying on the couch watching Food Network shows and trying to trick myself into thinking I felt safe and like I was doing better. A “win” was a day I didn’t hide underneath my bed in what I called my “bunker”, trembling and crying. My days were devoid of companionship, company, laughs, and equally important for me, purpose. I felt aimless and broken and confident that I would have been better off not surviving the attack. By spring, things improved psychologically enough that I found the motivation to apply for graduate school. I was accepted and was eager to start in June. Looking back, again this decision was perhaps made somewhat hastily as I am unable to work in the field in which I so rigorously studied and trained for due to my sensory processing disorder and health issues (that we didn’t know about at the time), which are incompatible with the demands and environment dictated for the job. That said, it would be short sighted to call the decision to attend prosthetics school a mistake or a waste. I truly believe it saved me.

So essentially, after we bought the house, we lived in it for less than a year before relocating to Connecticut for two years while I was in grad school. We rented out our home so financially, this was actually a favorable move, but it was a bit of a strange situation for most new homeowners.

The first word that springs to mind when I consider my home is still often “mistake”, or at least that’s what my overly self-critical brain is aware of. However, I had an interesting dream the other night where we listed our house and it was purchased the next day. As we were packing to in preparation to move, I was devastated. I didn’t want to leave and wasn’t ready to say goodbye to the good memories we’ve already made here in the home we’ve built in this old house. When I woke up, I was so relieved that it was only a dream and that the house was still in our name. I opened my eyes in my dark and quiet room and felt, for the first time, a weight was lifted: not only was I so grateful for our home, but my guilt smog seemed to lift upward, allowing sunshine to come in and some of the blame and self-inflicted punishment to be put to rest.

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