I’m in the midst of what has often been described as one of the most stressful things many people go through. I’m moving. Now, this isn’t just any ordinary move. I’ve lived in my house for the last 42 of 46 years. For what it’s worth, this is truly the only home I’ve ever known. Mind you, I have lived away in other places here and there, but they were simply minor way stations on my journey back to where I belong.
My parents and I moved into our 4-bedroom house in 1975. It’s roomy and spacious. The early years there were marked with moments of pleasure and pain. We had plenty of backyard barbecues and the wood burning fireplace in our family rom made for many a memorable winter evening. Those years also found my father battling a drinking problem (which he overcame in 1985 subsequent to my mother’s breast cancer diagnosis and my mental health challenges). I also spent many days playing pool in the basement with my friend Mike, who lived down the street.
When I returned home from college in February 1981 after my first major psychotic episode, the atmosphere of our home changed. There were many chaotic days which included me cycling out of control with my bipolar diagnosis and drug use. My mother and I had many battles over my behavior and I’ll be the first to admit that I was usually to blame.
But when I got clean at 25, there was another shift. The tension in our house melted away and eventually things were quite good as I progressed in my 12 Step recovery and mental health journey.
I eventually gained employment in 1992 at Buffalo General Hospital which was the moment I’d been waiting for. I was able to afford to move out and get my own apartment. I also met my wife, Suzy, at the same time and a year later we moved in together in a flat above our friends, Chris and Dane, in North Buffalo. But something very interesting happened while we were there. I experienced what was (I hope) my last manic episode. I signed myself out of a local institution AMA (against medical advice) and insisted to my wife Suzy that we go back to my childhood home, which we did. We stayed there for how long, I don’t remember, but I was able to regain some semblance of sanity while I was here.
Then in May 1996, my mother died at home of cardiorespiratory failure. She was resuscitated by EMTs however she lost all brain stem functioning. She was placed on a ventilator at the VA near our home (it was the nearest hospital). She died there, alone, three days later. It was a tremendous loss for me and my father.
As a result, my father found himself in a four bedroom house – alone. So, he invited me and Suzy, with our first daughter, Sarah, to move in with him. And we did. And thus, the happiest years of my life began.
Since that time, there have been countless memories that will last forever. Laughing, tears, challenges and even fears. But above all, there has always been love. When I think about my own mental health and how much this house has been one of the constants on my journey, I am left feeling amazed. I mean, this is my sanctuary, where I go unfiltered and let it all hang out. My family gets the best and worst of me here, and yet I have always felt supported.
But like everything in life things change, and like I said earlier we’re moving. Into a two-bedroom condo, nonetheless. It is considerably smaller than where we live now, and yes, the upkeep will be significantly less (no more mowing grass, raking leaves, or shoveling snow!). And while there is going to be a physical relocation, it will still be home. Because ultimately, as the old saying goes, “Home is where the heart is.”
David Byrne, of Talking Heads, had it right. “Home is where I want to be, but I guess I’m already here.”