Saturday, June 17, 2023

Real Estate, PTSD, and Your Amygdala

I've got some PTSD. While a bunch of it, yeah, is from Chowhound, some precedes that adventure (mostly to do with housing insecurity).

It's all nearly vanished, having been unclenched via ample meditation, yoga, self-inquiry, reframing, etc.. But an iota remains, and I'm stuck with it. It's never going away. The iota must be addressed, and here's the routine:

Every day, or couple of days, I get a visceral sense that The Bad Thing might be happening. What "bad thing"? I could always offer some current beef or concern, but what I'm describing is the very definition of indefiniteness. Indeterminate dread and false urgency. It's like the gut punch kids feel when teachers tell them something's going on their "permanent record." Urk.

Despite my ability to meditate myself into a state of bulletproofness, this lightly insidious wind still cranks up from time to time, and I need to do a thing. A tiny thing, totally internal. I tell myself "It's okay". That's all.

But I need to mean it. I remember to look around, noticing that I'm surrounded by life-giving oxygen and free sunlight, and acknowledging, via my perceptions ("come back to your senses!!") that I'm literally safe. I can relax. I'm okay.

No biggie. I'm not wildly sputtering like an asphyxiating turbot. I don't need to unbutton my collar and sip cooling drinks to unclench my fists and un-grind my jaw. I don't let it get that far! At the first sign of grippiness, I tell myself "it's okay", and I mean it, and it's back to the flow, baby.

After decades of doing this move, I can't shrink it further. I can't save this password to my keychain, or make it some sort of macro routine. It's a thing I've got to do. A minuscule flick of perspective to stave off a process that might otherwise eventually consume me. Caught early, at the point of incipience, it's laughably non-daunting.

The move works wherever I am, including places I'd rather not be. Whatever I'm indefinitely dreading is way worse than being stuck at the DMV, or saddled with a rude waiter, or being caught in the sweltering subway car with broken air conditioning. I can remind myself I'm okay in such backdrops because it isn't about disgust over imperfection. It's about visceral horror. I'm reassuring myself re: trepidations far grimmer than the daily shit we put up with.

But you know what helps? Being somewhere "nice".

Again, that damned word! I've been wrestling with it lately (first here, then here). It's phenomenally easily-misunderstood, to the point where it's barely a real word at all. For plenty of people "nice" means when there's no poor people around. Or people that don't look/act/think/eat like them. It most often means "exclusive", in either the distasteful or the deplorable sense. But all that icky cruft aside, it can also evoke something else - something stoking tender open-heartedness. That puppy is awfully nice to your great grandfather!

So here's where I'm going with this. I've been self-mystified by my pattern of buying/renting homes more substantial and grown-up than I need. Not to impress anyone, but because when I tell myself "It's ok", it helps if I'm in (or can easily return to) a home that feels as comfortable as the substantial lower-middle-class house I grew up in.

That house boasted no pool or tennis court, and was the last on its block to get color TV, but the carpeting was soft and clean, the furniture was better than Ikea, and there was unnecessary extra space, even a whole extra room (60s suburban living rooms were the weirdest thing). Plus decent views from the kitchen window.

I can tell myself "it's ok", and mean it, without any of that stuff. But if my domecile seems stable and comfortable and grown-up, it's marginally easier to make the case to myself. When I look around at my immediate surroundings, my amygdala are more easily soothed. I could calm myself amid curling linoleum and a faint scent of mold, but there would be more asterisks in the process. More to explain and transcend.

So what's that worth? For my first 42 years I was too poor to consider the question. But now I have savings, which I dole out to myself sparingly. While I don't desperately dump every available sheckle into homes with impeccable crown moldings, I do live in slightly "nicer" places (not fancier, not more expensive....just nicer) than someone like me would ordinarily live.

I just thought of something, and I'll share even though it makes me look douchey, undermining this whole posting:

If you subtract everyone with a distasteful or deplorable sense of "nice", and everyone trying to impress others with their home, I wonder if the rest, too, are all just trying to soothe their amygdalae. Mr. and Mrs. Howell, who grew up with polo and servants and formal gardens, might need all that to feel "nice".

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