Today I was thinking to myself how grateful I am that I can afford the extra $10 or so a month on my electric bill to keep my apartment at seventy degrees in the winter. I have adequate shelter and the ability to keep it comfortable for myself. I feel so fortunate.
I was thinking about this and wondering why 70 degrees is the perfect indoor temperature for me. I am sensitive to extreme heat and extreme cold, and my mood is affected by both. But I know it’s more than that. When my dad remarried, I was newly thirteen and had been dealing with preteen angst and emotional abuse and neglect from my father for three years, since my mom and dad divorced (he won primary custody, and my mom left the country). When he remarried, the abuse and neglect of myself and my two full siblings got exponentially worse. My dad and stepmother had and have severe [but undiagnosed] anxiety disorders, and their way of handling that anxiety was to exert control over every little thing in our lives—my two siblings and I were once grounded for a week because I forgot to put a basic, cheap Bic pen back in the drawer where I found it. My stepmom’s anxiety would be so severe that it sometimes bordered on psychosis.
Another way they exerted control was over basic comforts. The temperature indoors was at sixty-two degrees from 10 p.m. until 6 p.m. the following day, when one of them got home from work. We were absolutely forbidden from ever touching the thermostat, even though we got home from school around 3:30 most days. When they arrived home, one of my parents would adjust the heat up to sixty-eight degrees. It absolutely never got warmer than that in our house, except in summer when it happened naturally.
To be clear: I understand this need for people who can’t afford the extra two degrees every month. Electric bills are high in a house of six people. The thing is: when my dad married my stepmom, we moved into the first double-income household we had ever lived in, and we moved six months after their wedding into a housing development. My stepmom made excellent money in her government job, and my dad managed an entire department in the school district—on his own, that wasn’t much money, but combined with my stepmom’s salary, they were more than comfortable. I say “they” because we were not allowed to ask for money and had to pay most school and activity fees ourselves with our $5/week allowance. We were to be grateful that they fed us and let us buy clothes once a year. My parents could easily have afforded to at least let us turn the thermostat up to sixty-eight when we got home from school. But if one of them got home and the thermostat had been adjusted…there would be hell to pay.
Even at the time, the cold was symbolic to me. It was the bare minimum, keeping us warm, the same way we were provided for. My sibs and I used to joke about keeping our future houses extra warm, just because we could. We’d be adults and have control over our bodies and homes and comfort.
My relationship with my father and stepmom improved significantly throughout my twenties, and despite no reckoning about the past, we get along very well today. As he’s gotten older, my dad has slowly realized how severe his anxiety has been his entire life. He recently offered me a small, private apology for “the effect” his anxiety had on me when we were growing up.
Anyway, sometimes it’s hard for me to love myself. Depression and PTSD and the hypersensitivity that comes with autism make that very difficult. But I’m glad I’ve found a way to be kind to myself, by keeping myself warm and comfortable in the cold winter.