The entry to the Wisconsin farmhouse of my 1950’s childhood was small and windowless. My dad’s barn overalls and our coats and jackets hung from wall hooks to the right and left. A door on the right opened into the kitchen. An assortment of boots lined the floorboards, where the edges of the linoleum were ragged: When Mom let Cookie, our black cocker spaniel, in during thunderstorms, the poor dog gnawed at the floor like a nail biter chews to the quick.
But anybody flapping through the screen door from outside couldn’t miss the huge map of the world on the wall straight ahead. My mother tacked the thing there, above a trunk—she, whose 1940 “normal school” yearbook proclaimed her goal to teach in Alaska; who, despite three kids and meager means, would earn a masters degree in education; who forever warbled “Those far-away places with the strange-sounding names/ are calling, calling me” as she cooked and washed and gardened.
Mom never went to Alaska. Instead, she settled down with my dad on a small dairy farm and raised three daughters. Rarely venturing far from home, she taught in public schools nearby for forty years. The traveling was left to me. Today, our home office space is plastered with maps of the countries where my husband and I have lived.
My parents did well by their three daughters, providing us with pets, piano lessons, the opportunity to go to college, and the example of a steadfast relationship. The benefits have accompanied me through the years.
But less favorable elements of my Midwest upbringing have also traveled with me. My folks’ need to beat back the Depression with hard work and little play; Mom’s efforts to control and perfect everything, especially me, her first-born—and thus my fear that I never could do well enough. These became burdens I hauled along like unwieldy bags whose contents, when unpacked, attacked me as anxiety. My guts churned; my teeth clenched; my shoulders sat high and tight. Hypochondria plagued me. My fear of flying worsened with each flight.
I spent a decade self-medicating with alcohol, drugs, and sex before jumping off the continent. Eventually, in Africa, I met the man with whom I would enter a lasting relationship. We lived and worked together in exotic foreign places; we adopted a son from India, then a daughter from Madagascar.
Through it all my angst persisted. After twenty years abroad, settled with my husband and kids in Arizona, I still longed for release from some vague perennial distress I could not name.
For ten years more I squelched disquietude, until in 2009, a crisis threatened my sanity. Someone suggested a path, and in desperation, I took it.