Monday, October 16, 2006

Barriers and Windows

(Note: This was originally posted at Geocities on October 2nd, but I have decided to relocate Raven's Nest so that I can include photos along with my words.)

Greetings friends and relatives. It is now a year since my Agoraphobia column was taken away from me, 11 months since I was forced out of my apartment, 10 months since my sweet little house became mine. It is also 18 years since my older sister was senselessly murdered by a troubled 16-year old. It seems like another life-time and it seems like yesterday.

I like to do something life-affirming on the anniversary of Carole’s death and starting this blog - starting it for real (I tried once before in May) - seemed like a good way to honor someone I loved and still miss. My sister was the person in my family who encouraged my dreams and my writing, so I will dedicate this blog - whatever it turns out to be - to her. Also inspiring me to finally put fingers to the keyboard is that two people in the past few days have said that they miss my column. Well, one said she missed it; the other asked me if I missed it. I do. I like writing.

My problem is what to write about. I think I have done with writing about agoraphobia. I had actually drifted pretty far afield from agoraphobia in my column over the three years of writing it. So I guess I will write about myself or whatever happens to come into my head. I will gladly take requests for topics. I am not one of those self-motivated people. Ask me to write about something and I will joyfully (mostly) dig in and give it a go. Ask me to think of something to write about and I tend to sit with a blank stare on my face and not a thought in my head except “eeek!”

Mercifully, my friends Paul and Nancy visited me last weekend. I met Paul and Nancy in a writing class led by Elizabeth Ayers (a gifted poet and writer and a great teacher). You can find out more about her at: Creative Writing Center. Paul works for Elizabeth as co-director of her Center. He’s leading a workshop this coming weekend and the theme there is going to be “Barriers.” Yippee. A topic I can sink my teeth into. Few things resonate more with an agoraphobic than barriers. Barriers are my life, so to speak.

That my personal barriers are mostly in my head seems to make them all the stronger. My brain is as sneaky and clever as they come and the barriers I have created to living in the real world shift and drift like sands in the desert. Just when I think I have a handle on the landscape, a wind blows and the trail has once again disappeared. To be honest, though, I have stopped looking for a path. Wise or foolish, I have been out of the world so long that I feel ill-equipped to find my footing there again. I have begun to make peace with myself. I am happy in my sweet little house with my two kitty children. We are settling in, making it our own.

I think my house is healing deep wounds in my psyche. Maybe something new has been birthed in me in this process. It took nine months to the day from when Crazy Diane evicted me from my apartment to moving into my house. I love saying that. My house. How cool. But I digress. The whole process of enduring the discomfort of staying put while I searched for my new home, of allowing myself to accept and receive my niece’s incredible generosity to me and opening to assistance from many friends and sources, of allowing myself to consider the possibility of such a grown-up thing as owning my own home, has, it seems, changed me.

My house seems especially blessed. It sits between two much bigger houses which (in my imagination anyway) sort of shelter it. In winter the sun shines right on my desk and warms me and in summer I am shaded by two big trees. Across the street there’s a big tree and the lawn of one of the big houses on the block. I can watch hawks and crows fly high in the sky.This allows me a wonderful feeling of privacy and the beauty of nature at the same time as it lets me know that I am not alone.

This summer, after much inner turmoil, I allowed myself to splurge on painting the house, partly because the trim was in serious need of help - it was literally peeling off - and because I wanted to make the house “mine.” I had no idea what a difference it would make. I used to describe it as “the shacky looking place.” Not anymore. It is my sweet little green (dried thyme, to be precise) house. The change is nothing short of amazing. It gives me such joy to see my house blossom into her best self.

Now I’m taking a huge leap of faith and finance and getting new windows. The miracle of this decision (and what made it possible) is that the window company helped me to refinance my existing debt so that although my debt is virtually doubled, my monthly payments are about the same. Amazing.

Ironically, the name of the company is Barrier Windows. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing or no thing at all, but I’m choosing to see it as a cosmic pun on the shifting of my personal barriers. Right now the windows in my house are installed quite high (even standing up I can’t see very much). They are also old, not very well sealed. If I’m to have fresh air in the summer and warmth in the winter, I need either to take advantage of friends or hire someone to insert screens and then replace them with winter glass at the change of seasons. This year I only had the front door and the kitchen window done. So besides promising to save me up to 40% on my heating costs, my new windows have built-in screens so I can look after myself in this area and have fresh air in any room in the house if I want it. Yippee! I’m enlarging the window in the living room so that I will be able to see the world around me as I sit at my desk. I will be more exposed, more open to the world, even if I remain inside. Perhaps something in me is ready to at least peek a nose out of hiding. Hmm.

The decision to give myself this gift has not been without angst. But then very little passes through my psyche without a hefty dose of self-induced anxiety. None-the-less, I think I have broken through some inner barriers too. The crazy people - sometimes known as Demonalians (see )- who inhabit my unconscious have been hard at work. They have a very strange world view. “How selfish can you get,” they whisper, “painting your house?” “What will the neighbors think? They will resent you and think you are rich and evil.” (They actually say this. I’m not kidding.) “You are living off the government.” (Their opinion about disability). “You have no right to anything good. Everyone will hate you for your selfishness. They will resent you for having windows, for having a house, for buying a book. They will see the UPS truck and deem you greedy and reckless. Who do you think you are, you useless bitch?” (Considering that I’m so nice, my voices are incredibly nasty.)

But last week when the UPS truck went up the block to someone else’s house, as it often does, something astonishing happened. It somehow registered in my brain on a deeper than usual level that I don’t think ill of my neighbors when they get a package. I don’t think it means they are rich or evil or spending money they shouldn’t. I don’t think much about it at all. Could it be that the neighbors don’t care a bit whether I get a package or not? It isn’t that I haven’t known that all along, it’s just that I can feel that something is different, that I know it from a different place in my being. Another barrier to happiness has been pushed aside as gently as a curtain and suddenly I know that it’s ok for me to receive. Whether this will last or not, I don’t know, but I intend to enjoy it while it does.

I could ramble on, but I have probably written too much already. It feels terribly self indulgent to write about myself but it seems to be what I do. And I suppose (or hope is perhaps a better word) that in writing about myself, I am writing about everyone in one way or another. We may have different demons, different barriers we put up to ward off happiness or our own greatness, but most of us have at least one or two ways in which we sabotage ourselves.. I guess my hope, my dream, is that by sharing what it has taken me 59 years to figure out, I can save others a little time, save them a life lived hiding inside their houses or their hearts.

That’s my wish. Today is Gandhi’s birthday and my sister’s “death/rebirth day.” Thank you, Carole, for the being such a good big sister, for being a wonderful mother, for being such a good human being. You live on in your incredible son, your amazing daughters and in your wondrous grandchildren. I guess you even live on in me. Thank you. I love you. Welcome to my blog everyone and thank you for coming.


Debbie said...


I just came from Everything In Particular and started reading at the beginning of your blog because you mentioned you are agoraphobic. I had panic disorder from age 25 and eventually got to the point of not being able to do anything. Long story short...Paxil saved my life and I function okay now. If no meds, it would still be there.

I'm sure you've tried everything, but wanted you to know I know exactly how you feel and I'm going to be reading the rest of your blog :)

Your writing is from the heart and soul and I am really relating here.
Thank you for that.

I'll be back often :)

Anonymous said...

Hi Raven.
İt's amazing that someone can touch another's heart and soul even life, even if they don't know each other and they never met. I just surfing between blogs, than i see your blog. I read ypur profile and i decided to read from the beginning.
İ'm from Istanbul/Turkiye and you're from NY but you have things to say to me just like i do.
I think you're very brave because you can open your heart sincerely. I can't do that like you do. Because i have barriers too. I can go where ever i want but my barriers are always with me in my heart and mind.
And writing is ypur way out, that's why you don't have to go out. You just reach from NY to İstanbul. I'm proud of you. I just want to say that to you.

I don't know if i can express myself clear because of my poor English. It's enough for a little chat but not enough for a long conversations. But i tried :) I need practice. But thank god ı'm better at understanding, so i can read and listen :)

God bless you.

With best wishes and love,