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Free Therapy: Location Casualties Edition

Welcome back, Free Therapists.  I am so glad you guys don’t charge an hourly rate.  And you let me unload this crap from my head.

Over spring break, I went on a day trip to Salem with my sister and our families.  I wanted to see the House of Seven Gables, not realizing until we arrived that it was a formal tour vs. a do-it-yourself-old-fashioned-gawk.  I was very pro-gawk and not so into a formal tour, so we all used the bathrooms before hitting the road again. (My sister is very patient with me when I do shit such as drag everyone across the city to see the House of Seven Gables.  I am lucky to have her.)

As we waited for the last batch of our group to finish peeing, we were examining a sign of the top ten houses in America according to architects, counting off which ones we had seen.  They were Falling Water, the Gamble House, Monticello, Taliesen West, Biltmore, Mar-a-lago, the Breakers, Hearst Castle (San Simeon), The House of the Seven Gables, and the Glass House.

Falling Water.

It’s a gorgeous space and part of me would love to take the kids there, but we have never been back to the Deep Creek Lake area since it became a location casualty.  It’s up there with crickets, mayonnaise, and zombies — three things I absolutely can’t deal with.  I’m not sure if you also have these places, but there are two spaces on earth that have been ruined for me, and I can’t even think about them without getting a physical sensation of dread.  I would rather hang out with the snake than go to either of these places, and they’re the Deep Creek Lake area and Bucks County. (Apologies to people who live in either of these spaces.  It’s not the space itself — it’s what happened there.)

I have had to go back to Bucks County many times since and it’s always awful.  I spend the entire trip mentally back in the overwhelming depression I experienced when the place was ruined for me.  Therefore, I haven’t forced myself to confront Deep Creek Lake.  If I know that it upsets me to go to Bucks County, to feel the remnants of my depression again*, why would I choose to go to Deep Creek Lake? (To explain — we don’t choose to go to Bucks County.  We have to go in order to visit people who have started to go there years after the space was ruined for us.  I’m sure they have no idea the thoughts going through our heads while we’re there.)

And then I thought about the fact that my kids would grow up, just a short drive from these two incredible architectural feats and they would never see them due to my fears.  Which seemed silly when I put it in those terms.  Surely I could suck it up for a weekend and take them on the trip.  What’s the worst that would happen?  I’d feel crappy and stare out the window and cry?  It’s not like they haven’t seen that before.  And what’s the best that could happen?  Just like those marches that are meant to take back the night, I could wrest control of the space.  Reclaim it again in an “I Will Survive” moment.

But is it worth it?  And how do I determine worth?

I’ve written about this Real World episode before which I always mentally return to when I need to make a decision like this.

There was a Real World episode — Real World London (where people stop being polite and start getting real) — where the 7 roommates had to complete an Outward Bound-like course. One of the activities was jumping from a platform to catch a pole/branch: a trapeez-like move. It was a psychological thing because you were rigged up with ropes, and you wouldn’t actually fall to the ground. But it was nerve-wracking to jump forward off the platform, even knowing you couldn’t get hurt.

Person after person got up on the platform and jumped. Finally, it was Sharon’s turn and even though she had seen person after person jump and not get hurt (even when they missed the branch), she couldn’t do it. She got up there and cried, and they cut to all of the roommates talking about her behind her back in the “Confession” room and then back to them cheering her on and finally, after many minutes of screen time and cajoling, she jumped, missed the branch, was fine, and it was time for the next person to go.

Neil was sitting below the tree and looked up at the platform and said something to the effect of “Nah, I’m not going to do it. I don’t like heights and I gain nothing at the end of this activity except to say that I conquered a fear I didn’t need to conquer. Think I’ll sit this one out.”

And everyone was pissed at him, but he calmly shrugged in a way that said that he wasn’t going to budge or be bullied into trying something he didn’t want to do. And I have to admit that this Real World scene has played over and over again in my head since 1994, always there in the background when I am pushing myself to do something I don’t want to do “just because.”

It is, of course, cowardly. We’re taught brave is good and cowardly is bad. But why? Really — do we need to always push ourselves and work through fears? It would be great if we could all grab life by the balls and never let fear get in our way, but so many other things get in our way, why not fear too?

It’s not a decision I need to make immediately.  I could sit on it for a year.  Or eight.  Or I could just suck it up and throw them in the car and let them see the house that architects have determined is the most influential space on architectural creativity in America.  It’s a low-stakes fear, one that I don’t need to get over because the stimuli is highly avoidable.  And I miserably suck-it-up and visit Bucks County once a year, though the lead-up to it is always terrible.  So I can do it, if push comes to shove.

But how many of our fears do we really need to get over?  It’s sad that I won’t take my kids there, but it’s not a tragedy.  I’m not keeping them from their passion.  I’m just keeping them from a really cool experience.

*I’m obviously whitewashing the extent of how I felt when I label it “depression.”  I was sad all over the place during infertility.  I was in emotional hell when I was in Deep Creek Lake and Bucks County.  But for the sake of the twins possibly reading this in the future, let’s just label my emotional state at that time ambiguous “depression.”


1 JDragonfly { 07.06.11 at 7:09 pm }

Thanks, Mel. This is a great post. I’d like to preface my response with an acknowledgment that sometimes we’re just *not ready* yet to face our fears. (Timing is key for conquering our fears. Just because you can’t/ don’t want to today doesn’t mean that will always be the case…) If you’re not ready to pack your bags and head to one of your Location Casualties now, sitting on the decision for a year – or eight – isn’t such a bad idea…

But, generally, I feel like it’s good to face our fears. I was raised by a mom who – although she had many wonderful attributes – was an example of fearfulness. She’s trapped in so many little prisons of fear and as a result has led a more limited life than may have been possible otherwise. I don’t blame her for her fears – they’re deeply rooted and some have causes I can only guess about… But, a mother’s fears can also paralyze her kids. Early on, I remember being scared of so much. But, as a young teenager, I consciously decided to challenge my fears. Rather than choosing courses in school that came easily, I challenged myself; rather than choose a nearby university, I went out of state; rather than abandoning my spouse when life came crashing down, I clung to him and loved him courageously… I moved to a big city despite having been raised on a farm. I moved to San Francisco despite a phobia of earthquakes (although – honestly – this one still gets to me a little)… I’m not imprisoned by anything – and whenever my fear starts to make me think small, I challenge myself to see beyond the fear to the possibilities. Saying “no” to my fears and not letting them control my decisions has brought me immeasurable joy – especially, it seems, when the decision to do so is the hardest.

Painful things happened for you in Deep Creek Lake and Buck County in the past. But, there may be beautiful times there for your family in the future – and more importantly, there may be healing. I’m certain that when you’re ready, you can reclaim these places and all the wonderful experiences waiting in them for you.

Kids need models of courage – and whether you plan a family trip into one of these Location Casualties – I encourage you to always face for fears for your kids’ sake. Much love to you, and thanks for all your thought provoking, inspiring writing.

2 a { 07.06.11 at 7:32 pm }

While I agree it’s good to face your fears, and model courage, etc, I also think it’s fine to let the kids discover some things on their own. We lived a few miles from Frank Lloyd Wright’s studio in Oak Park, IL, and 3 hours from one of his gorgeous (and intact) houses, and I’ve never been to the first, and I went to the second in my 30s.

I’d say you’ve overcome that “depression” and avoidance of a place that holds bad memories isn’t really fear. I mean, providing that you don’t think the place can do bad things to you or force you back into the “depression.” If it’s just a place that reminds you of a time of your life that you’d rather not remember, why go back?

*Keep in mind – I am a path of least resistance kind of gal.

3 HereWeGoAJen { 07.06.11 at 7:53 pm }

Eh, I read somewhere that Falling Water is all damp and full of mold. 😉

Sometimes it is good to face your fears. But if you don’t gain much from it, it isn’t worth it. I give you total permission to never go there and never worry about it again. I’ve never been there and I am still awesome.

4 Chickenpig { 07.06.11 at 7:59 pm }

What Jdragonfly said is very true. Sometimes you have to make a conscious decision to tackle your fear. I was kicked terribly by a horse I was grooming, rather than walk away I decided to finish grooming that son of a bitch, in spite of the fact that I was in agony and quite terrified. I whacked him with the dandy brush right in the muzzle (gently), finished the job, and then walked the two miles back home in agony. I was NOT going to let that horse think he get away with kicking me, and I was certainly not going to let myself become afraid of that horse or any other. When infertility kicked me with a non viable pregnancy, I made a decision to leave that fear, rage, and helplessness right there in that little examination room. Sure, there would be depression when I left, but the paralyzing feelings were staying behind. I had no choice but to face them again…and again…and again with every cycle, but at least the city, the drive, and my home had not been spoiled. Thankfully, I only had to go back to that same examination room one more time, and it was for something minor like a routine ultrasound.

It would be the most terrible shame if you allowed your fear and pain from infertility to keep you from ever seeing Falling Water again…or anything beautiful and worth while for that matter. Is it possible to focus your fear and sadness to the bathroom on the highway? Maybe with time and visualization you could leave your pain in that bathroom, shut the door, and never go back, leaving Falling Water a phobia free zone. It takes effort, I won’t kid you, but it feels so wonderful to beat the fear and stand tall. When I had my chemical pregnancy it didn’t touch me at all. Take that infertility. Go suck it. I will see Falling Water whenever I please 🙂

5 Justine { 07.06.11 at 8:30 pm }

In some respects, I agree with the above commenters. It’s great to face your fears, and have your kids see that. But are your kids really going to understand why you hate those places? Don’t you face other fears with them, too? We already know they think you’re a rock star (and you are). I like the idea of kids discovering things on their own, too … after all, don’t we all complain at some point that our parents “never took us to place X”? Or marvel at “how close we were to Y”? You don’t want to deprive them of that experience, either. 😉

6 Elizabeth { 07.06.11 at 10:06 pm }

Why re- traumatize yourself? Let them discover those places on their own when they’re old enough to go without you. You’re not depriving them, just postponing something. Be patient with yourself.

7 Barb { 07.06.11 at 10:36 pm }

I feel like if it’s really true that pushing through that fear helps not at all, then no it’s not worth it. So if Neill wasn’t pretending, and he really was that calm that it was a fear not worth conquering, then he’s right in that instance. But if it’s a fear that gnaws at you, that causes conundrums like this one, that makes you feel like it’s somehow wrong to have, then perhaps it is worth conquering if only to have that peace of mind.. not to mention that we usually grow a LOT when moving through this sort of experience. But be nice to yourself whichever you choose and know that you are pretty awesome.

8 Baby Smiling In Back Seat { 07.06.11 at 11:12 pm }

Maybe they’ll go on a school field trip someday. Maybe they don’t even want to see the buildings. But if one of them gets really into architecture and asks to see it, and you say no because of fear, I think that’s the time to insist on overcoming it. Short of that, it becomes a question of whether you want to experience short-lived intense unpleasantness (which might quickly stop being unpleasant) or long-term nagging unpleasantness.

Also I will point out that it’s not like these buildings themselves were epicenters of your depression, but the general regions. These buildings hold no special power and no special significance… yet. But you can make wonderful new memories there which could override the old memories, if you let yourself.

Personally I prefer to face and overcome. I’d rather be someone who was scared and then kicked ass, than someone who lives in fear. That guy from the Real World is remembered by many as the Guy Who Wouldn’t Jump.

9 Esperanza { 07.06.11 at 11:47 pm }

Hmmm, I’m not so sure how to respond to this. I guess I’m not sure how I feel about facing my fears. And I’m kind of surprised by that. Reading your explanation of the Real World episode I was kind of startled that my reaction to his choice was more respect for his personal empowerment than disappointment that he didn’t sack up and give it a try. I guess I expected to be disappointed that he didn’t sack up and try it. I know I’d be disappointed in myself if I didn’t give it a try.

When I was TTC after my loss I was dealing with some really intense anxiety. I was fearful that I would never achieve a healthy pregnancy. I was terrified I’d have to suffer more loss and that I wouldn’t survive it. I was worried that the simple act of TTC might drive me insane.

I ended up in an anxiety class at Kaiser. Most of the people there had really intense social phobias. For many of them just being there, at the group, was way too much for them. Some of them just rocked back and forth the entire time, rarely saying anything. Many would get up and leave in the middle of a discussion, without ever uttering a word.

Every week we had homework. Our homework was to face our fears in controlled settings. The idea was that if you could face your fears and realize that they wouldn’t actually kill you, you’d eventually over come them. I remember one woman was supposed to go to Starbucks and just sit there for as long as should could, up to 30 minutes if possible. I remember how she would wring her hands discussing it with the group leader. I remember being pretty darned sure she wasn’t going to make it to Starbucks that week, or ever.

I was in a difficult situation because there wasn’t any specific thing I could go do to face my fear. Sitting in Starbucks wouldn’t help me overcome my fear of losing another child or never getting pregnant.

I didn’t stay in that class for very long. I realized quickly that my fears were different than the fears my peers faced. While both were irrational, mine were not situational nor were they reproducible.

Before I left the class a woman joined, a mother. She was terrified something would happen to her children. She was paralyzed with the fear that they would be kidnapped or injured or killed. Her fear had started dictating everything she did. She stopped letting them go to parties or sleep overs of field trips if she couldn’t accompany them. Some days she wouldn’t let them go to school.

I remember listening to that woman and thinking, this could be me. I could become this person, totally paralyzed by irrational fears, so afraid of losing my children than I can’t even enjoy them when they are with me. Scared every minute of every day of losing them when I haven’t yet.

I left that group not long after but I brought that woman with me. Whenever I feel my anxiety building I remember her.

But maybe these are different kinds of fears than the ones you’re talking about. I was always the person who pushed herself to do something she was afraid of. I made myself jump off the 35 meter tower at the pool when I was 10, I taught myself to back flip and front flip even though I frequently belly flopped. If I really wanted to do something, I pushed through my fears to do it.

I have one thing I’m deathly afraid of it and it’s flying bugs. I HATE them. Even if it’s a fly that I know won’t hurt me if it buzzes past my ear I will freak out. I will throw my arms around and screech and respond in a totally irrational way. It’s not good. I am so afraid of flying bugs that I would NEVER intentionally put myself in a situation in which I had to endure them. Unlike the feeling of being victorious that I get when I do something “brave” like jumping off a cliff or attempting a jump on my snowboard, experiencing flying bugs just makes me feel horrible. At the end I don’t feel that I’ve done anything brave, I just feel exhausted and upset. I went once to Tikal in Guatemala and being in the middle of a rainforest it was filled with MASSIVE flying bugs. It was horrible. The entire time I stood there stiff as a rod, just waiting for something awful to fly by my face. While I was happy to have seen the amazing ruins I would NEVER, EVER go there again. It was definitely not worth it for me. In the future, pictures will suffice just fine, thankyouverymuch.

So yeah, I guess in the end the girl who didn’t know how to respond wrote a novel. I hope there was something worth reading in there.

10 Queenie { 07.07.11 at 1:07 am }

I think you have to decide for yourself whether you’re ready to move past what happened and create new memories in those spaces. If you’re not ready, don’t go. There are plenty of other places out there that don’t hold pain for you.

11 Mali { 07.07.11 at 2:04 am }

Sometimes you’re ready to face fears, sometimes you’re not. Sometimes you should, sometimes it doesn’t help anyone. For some years I didn’t like returning to the section of town with the hospital, reminding me of my two ectopic pregnancies. Couldn’t watch Mr Bean, because it was playing as my first pregnancy was ended (and potentially my life saved). But I know now I’m okay, and I can go back there and the memories might come back but the feelings don’t. I think that’s the mark of healing – when we can remember, without feeling it all over again. (Isn’t that a symptom of PTSD? Not being able to stop feeling it as if it’s happening again?)

As for facing your fears – well, I’m in two minds. If I ask “what’s the worst that can happen?” I can usually face the fear. Except for heights. “What’s the worst that can happen?” is usually answered by me with “fall to a brutal and terrifying death.” I’ve tried conquering this fear, and just ended up in tears of disgust at my inability to do so. But I have committed to taking a balloon trip in Cappadocia. I don’t know how I will cope – I am a real wimp when it comes to heights. Trying things and failing isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Destroys confidence. And so I know not to ever contemplate bungy jumping or sky diving, nope, no way. Not something I could do. And I will never try. Failure is certain, and shame and despair is inevitable. But ballooning is something I’ve always wanted to do, and dang it I’m trying. I’m hoping I will have a new happy memory about heights that might overcome the shame I feel about them now. I’ll report back in about three months!

I guess I’m saying that it’s worth trying, because maybe you will get a new, happy memory with the twins that will replace the bad memories you have. Or give you confidence that this place has no power over you anymore. What’s the worst that can happen? And simply deciding to go, willingly, is a victory in itself. It means you’re saying “you’re only a place, and you don’t control what I feel.” So my advice is go … but only when you’re ready.

12 Bea { 07.07.11 at 10:13 am }

Oh… well, this is awkward, because my bill’s actually in the mail as we speak. And you have clocked up a lot of hours ;P

It won’t break the bank because, lucky for you, I only charge what my advice is worth, and in this case, I’ve got absolutely nothing for you. I think you’re right both ways. I see no real need to make yourself go through something like this if it’s so horrible, but at the same time I’m pretty sure you can do it and it might even be freeing to find the place had less hold on you than you imagined. Anyway, at the end of the day, it’s not the place that has a hold on you, it’s your current perspective on those experiences. If you could find a way to put it all behind you once and for all – and I’m not saying you should – you could trip there every weekend for kicks, no worries.

I’m reminded of my Grandfather. For years, he turned down opportunities to visit places where he had served during WWII. Said he just couldn’t go back. Only a couple of years ago he suddenly surprised everyone by saying he wanted to go back, just once, before he died. He claims it was a wonderful experience. I try to imagine what it must have been like for him. I’m not sure whether it was a case of being ready or if he made himself “ready” before he ran out of time and ended up being glad of the peace it brought him.

Good luck deciding what to do about visiting your war zones.


13 Gail { 07.07.11 at 10:13 am }

Why does an entire town or county have to inspire fear? Could you narrow that fear down to one location within the town/county where you felt the worst and just avoid that one spot? Maybe the hotel that you stayed in when you were at your worst would be the place to avoid. Or, maybe it is a restaurant or a park. But to label an entire geographic area as fear-inducing is not healthy. Eventually, you may have to travel through that area on the way somewhere else (if you were going to West Virginia or other points west) and what would happen if one of the kids had to go to the bathroom as you were passing the Deep Creek Lake exit? I’m sure that you wouldn’t make him/her hold it and wait until the next town (which is a good 10-15 minutes away).
I don’t mean to be a meanie, but my advice is to just suck it up and go. Get it over with and make a good memory there to override the bad ones that haunt you. Nothing there can harm you (unless you come across a bear while hiking the Appalachian Trail) and it is all in your head.

14 serenity { 07.07.11 at 11:16 am }

My therapist would tell you that revisiting dark places in your past would help you emote, get it out, and start the process of moving on from that painful time. Lancing the wound, so to speak. Because her thought is that facing your fear and realizing it’s not as deep and wide and all encompassing as it once was is very empowering.

But that’s also me, and I tend to not acknowledge my emotions in the first place, so she might just be tailoring to my specific kind of Crazy. 🙂

Either way? Only you can decide if it’s worth going there for any reason at all. Guilt over believing that you’re causing your kids to miss out isn’t really the best reason to go.

Deciding to go because you’re finally in a place where that dark painful time has led you to a place where you’re happy in the now? That’s a good reason to go, I think.

Either way, I think you should let yourself off the hook. The other commenters are right – you are a rockstar mom and your kids kow that. And not taking them to see two architectural marvels because, well, you just don’t want to go there, isn’t a failure by any stretch of the imagination.


15 Julie { 07.07.11 at 3:27 pm }

Let Josh take them and you get a massage instead.

Or let them go with your parents/sister/brother/godmother/other trusted friend, all of whom would love to take them.

Or let them go on their own when they express a desire and can drive themselves.

You are an incredible mother. Don’t beat yourself up for not taking them somewhere that will make you miserable, especially if you have the choice not to go. If you’re going to spend a weekend away with your kids, go somewhere that brings you joy. If you feel like YOU are missing out on something and want to go through the process to reclaim the space, that’s another story.

16 JDragonfly { 07.07.11 at 4:49 pm }

Two last thoughts from me, Mel…

First: Just by asking the question, I think you’ve proved that you’re closer to ready than you might think to revisit these places. If they had the same hold on you that they once did, you wouldn’t have even considered a trip no matter what landmarks you (or your kids) may be missing out on…

Second, if you do decide to go and then (halfway there) it doesn’t feel like you’re ready, you can always turn the car around… So either way, these places only have so much power.

Good luck as you decide!

17 jjiraffe { 07.08.11 at 2:23 am }

Great post. Darcy and I were talking about how memory can be a dangerous thing: he is worried that I am living in the past too much, then he asked me if I was going to right a post about it. (Uh, yeah!). Memories can be land mines. It’s hard for me to avoid some of them. And yes, my infertility memories are tied to places too: specifically, the local pharmacy and a grocery store. I tried to go to these places triumphantly after the kids were born, but it didn’t work. Those places make me sweat.

I don’t think you need to feel badly about not bringing your children to your Bad Places. There are so many places to visit! Sometimes I feel guilty that I’m not covering enough ground with my kids: they’re not seeing enough. But memory is funny: I mostly remember the most mundane things and Darcy doesn’t remember when his parents took him to Paris when he was a kid. I think what they’ll remember is the way you took them to the beach to search for driftwood and shells, the time you let them eat ice cream for dinner or their local Italian restaurant. At least, that’s what I remember 🙂

18 tash { 07.09.11 at 9:24 pm }

I find this interesting because I tend to hate locations because, well, because I hate them (like, forgive me comment readers, Florida), not because something specific happened to me there. If that were the case, I’d hate this city I live in and truth be known, I absolutely adore it. I’d fucking hate the block that Children’s is on, except that my son was born literally a few feet away, right next door. I’d avoid it, except that my therapist was there, and there’s a right decent Mexican restaurant a few blocks away, and I see it from the highway on my way to the airport or sporting events. So I guess it’s just a part of where I live. I’ll spare you what I think about Florida, but I hate visiting relatives there. I also hate AZ where I grew up. My husband and I once had a “fuck or die” sort of conversation about where we’d rather live if they were the last two places on earth, and it was a very heated three-hour conversation (AZ won).

But who am I to judge what you feel? If you get queasy going there, why touch the hot pot? Maybe your kids can see the 10 best beaches of the world, or the 10 best sky scrapers or the 10 best bakeries. I get the reclaiming thing, but really, that’s for you — not your kids, IMHO.

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