Marilyn Paul, PhD

The Struggle for Home


The Struggle for Home

I just read Roger Cohen’s essay on depression and immigration called “The Battle to Belong” in the New York Times, 1/18/15.  It is part of his beautifully written memoir of his mother’s ordeal with depression and her struggle to become English after her girlhood in sunny South Africa.  She was an immigrant to a new country where she never felt quite at home.

Many of us come from an immigrant past.  I myself am a second generation American.  My grandparents fled persecution in the Ukraine and they too never felt quite at home here.

I began to see that I, too, have a hard time feeling at home in this world.  This stems partly from my own family’s immigrant heritage, perhaps partly from the history of mental illness in my family.  I also see that in the past I perpetuated my own sense of homelessness by creating such disorder that I couldn’t rest.  I piled my furniture with belongings and I couldn’t sit.  I cluttered the spaces so I couldn’t enjoy peace and beauty in my own home.  I was on edge, on the move, vigilant.

Many years ago, before I embarked on this healing path of organizing, I would leave my mail in the mailbox until it was jam-packed.  Reluctantly I would remove the mail from the mailbox only to stuff it in paper bags and just look at it rarely when I desperately needed to pay bills.  As a sort-of joke, I would tell people that, “I have The-Cossack-in-the-Mailbox-Syndrome.  I’m afraid to discover something terrifying in my mail, so I run.”

Yet, it was true, in a way.  The trauma of being a refugee seeped down through the generations in my family.  There is no doubt that I am materially far more comfortable and far more secure than my grandparents.  They ran from real Cossacks.  I created a fearful life for myself.  Terrified of bills and tax collectors I was also very anxious.  Does it not seem odd, though, to talk about getting organized in the same piece as immigration and depression?  But we are complex creatures and we often don’t know the roots of our own challenges.  I do know that how we organize our space deeply impacts our own sense of home and belonging.

Organizing is a journey, and as I say in the last line of my book,  “I wish you strength, courage and companionship on this journey, and may it lead you many interesting places, including truly home.”

One Response to "The Struggle for Home"
  1. Marilyn, I’ve found your words to be so true.
    I enjoy coming home to a place where I am able to walk in the door and there is peace and order. This means a great deal to me. It opens up room in my mind and my life. Room to think new thoughts and create new possibilities. Room for others to join me.

    And, I agree that immigrant trauma travels down through the generations, haunting us in ways we don’t know.
    Thank you for showing the links, Joan

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