Monday, May 11, 2009

How It All Began

I thought I'd start off our journal with a summary of who we are and how we came to decide living "at the end of the road" in Alaska was our dream.

My husband and I met in 2003 while working at an international software development company based outside Seattle (you know the one). We married in December 2004 -- my third, his second. The following Spring, I started experiencing debilitating panic attacks, especially at work, and had to go on short-term disability leave. During this time I sought medical and psychological treatment for my extreme anxiety disorder; but, unfortunately, neither medication nor talk therapy seemed to abate my symptoms. After several attempts, we finally decided that I could not return to work even though my husband (a UK citizen) was still in the immigration process. I tried going back to school, but that only exacerbated my symptoms.

However, while I was at school, I had a lengthy discussion with one of the counselors who mentioned that I displayed quite a few traits of Asperger's Syndrome, a high functioning condition on the autism spectrum. I had never heard of it, but I had been diagnosed by several different therapists, psychologists and doctors as having any number of different psychological issues -- none of which exactly fit my symptoms. I went home, did some research and found the information eerily familiar. I brought this up with my therapist, who dismissed it because it was a "developmental disorder" only found in children and she didn't think I displayed any austistic behaviors. I let it go for a while, but my mind kept returning to it and I talked with more people (teens and adults) who were diagnosed. At this point, I circumvented my therapist and went to get a professional evaluation with a psychologist who specializes in AS and autism.

After a full evaluation and review of my history, I was officially diagnosed with AS at the ripe age of 36 (I guess children grow up!). This came as a shock to me in a way, but mostly because I was amazed that no one in all the years of my depression and therapies ever noticed some of the very obvious symptoms. Granted, I am a bit of a complicated case because I'm not a typical Aspie, and I also have Complex PTSD and some distinctly Schizoid traits as well. It took us a while to sort out this information and determine how it affected me and our relationship. Luckily, DH is also introverted and partially Schizoid, so we could adapt to the quirks now that we finally knew what was causing them. One thing was certain though, I wasn't going to be able to return to work... probably not ever. So, with the help of my new psychologist, I filed for SSDI Benefits.

Once we knew I couldn't return to work, and that we didn't know how long it would take for Social Security to approve my claim (if ever); we really started thinking about the life we were living, whether it was fulfilling, and whether it was conducive to my condition. The short answer was "NO". But then we needed to determine what type of life and living situation we wanted and whether that would work for both of us. Neither of us are particularly socially-oriented; but, due to my hypersensitivity, social interaction and environmental stimulus cause me to have panic attacks... so we evidentally needed to live with less money and a lot farther away from other people. After much soul-searching, we decided that we wanted to adopt a more self-sufficient lifestyle and embrace Voluntary Simplicity in a modern homestead situation.

Once we'd figured that out, we just had to figure out where to do this. Neither of us are attached to the Puget Sound area, or any other part of Washington or the Pacific Northwest for that matter. I grew up military, so I really wasn't attached to any particular place. He's English, so he wasn't particularly attached to any particular place, as long as it wasn't back in the UK. I had spent quite a bit of time east of the Mississippi River and really liked the East Coast. We both love cold weather and hate hot and humid, which pretty much put us north of the Potomac River. Wanting to avoid large metroplolitan areas put us in northern New England, so we started looking at property in Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine... and quickly learned that it is EXPENSIVE to live there! Land is spendy and property taxes are high. If we were going to live simply, we couldn't take on a permanent financial hit like that. Also, some of the politics in the states were getting a little, um, weird for our tastes. We knew we had to look somewhere else.

I'd lived in Alaska before and I loved it. In Spring of 2008, during the Discovery Channel's "Alaska Week" specials, my husband mentioned that he'd always wanted to take an extended trip up there. Things got really silent as we looked at each other with big, bright light bulbs going off in our heads. I knew that property taxes were rare and only high in a very select few areas... places that had too many people anyway. We knew there were plenty of places to live in the vast state where social interaction and other people's noise and commotion were miles and miles away. The state politics were acceptable, and the parts that weren't wouldn't really affect us if we were out far enough. So that just meant that we had to find enough land to start a homestead, where the climate wouldn't completely negate farming, and it all had to be affordable short-term and long-term.

I hopped online and researched everything I could find about farming in Alaska, available properties, climates in the various regions and just about everything else I could dig up on living in the Far North. I was lucky enough to stumble across a gent on City-Data forums who had just bought a good chunk of land from the State's DNR Over-the-Counter Land Sales. We checked a few of the subdivisions, did some more online research, and then decided to visit the property we wanted to purchase. We went up that summer, walked the lot lines, found all the property markers and made friends in the village down the road. We entered a sales contract on the land immediately. We just had to figure out when we were going to make the big move.

We were totally psyched and wanted to go up that Fall; but that really wouldn't work for us financially, and I needed surgery. I got an inheritance from my grandmother which allowed us to pay off the land in total, and we thought maybe this Spring... nope, health issues again. So we decided it was going to be this Fall, probably September before Winter came in. But with all the crazy stuff going on with the economy and pandemics and layoffs, and DH starting to develop anxiety disorder, we decided to bail this Summer instead. With any luck, we'll be there for my birthday. Until then, we're just getting ready... but that's another an entry for another day :)

1 comment:

Urbancowgrrl said...

I don't know if you will notice a comment this far back in your blog - but oh my god! I can totally relate to your experience and understand much more your desire to live in the wilds of Alaska. I have had a history of debilitating panic attacks myself and although I am functioning very well right now in the city what brings me peace and "cures" my panic attacks is being out in nature. Which is why I want so much to live "off the grid". I don't do cold well though so once I convince my husband to come with me (or sadly possibly have to leave on my own ... blah) it won't be to Alaska. Also, my dad has Aspergers and we did not know that until he was in his 70's. I am - what a counselor once described as - "touched by Asperbergers" as in I can not tell the difference between a "typical" person and someone with Aspbergers because to me it is very normal. I also have problems looking people in the eye (since I was brought up never being looked in the eye) and other little quirk like that. Anyway, even more reason to keep reading your blog and following your adventures!