Personal reflections

Birthday Post 5 (Or, Finally, An Actual Update)

So much to do, so little time. So much to emotionally process, as the hours of depression bore infinitely empty holes in the walls as the hours trickle by. So our lives inch by, sometimes with days feeling like weeks where you need seven naps. That’s the feeling I had when I looked back into my recovered archives and saved backups in my endless files of content, and realized I haven’t blogged on my birthday in four years.

I am 26 today. Never has my birthday felt so unimportant. I pulled on my thrift-store black professional suit with a skirt too conservative for my tastes these days, but it was what I could get when I last needed to dress up for proposing a project to a prospective new client. I pull on socks and shoes from Walmart, bright colors because I’ll change into the black heels I’m carrying along before I walk in. I remind my partner why I have to leave, and he expresses worry and reminds me to be safe between sleepy kisses four or five times. My phone ran out of service yesterday, but the call for this interview came through by a stroke of luck, so of course I scheduled it for as soon as possible, forgetting it was my birthday until I hung up the phone.

We share a bus pass, and though my destination would be a comfortable 18-minute drive if we owned a car, such an investment is out of the question for several months.

Recently someone was shocked when I told them this, and said, “I thought you were living in your car!”

Well, yes, I was living in a car. Two years ago. Cars don’t last that long when the maximum you can spend on one is $1000-$1500 on Craig’s list. I try not to think about expenses too much. It’s my birthday, and I want to look confident for my interview. Besides, I got birthday money, and that means real cigarettes. What I really need is to renew my driver’s license and cover our half of the utility bill for this month, but this is why the poor stay poor: life sucks so bad you just take what you can get. My next paycheck will be $8 short of what last month’s utility bill was. We’ll save, regroup, and cross that bridge when we come to it.

I will become instantly unemployable tomorrow. Except by remote clients who do not need proof that I am a legal adult allowed to work in this country, but to be honest the count on that is one. Though my physical and mental symptoms make work impossibly difficult, the line to be approved for disability benefits (which in the end would only provide a paper-thin safety net for my lack of savings) is years long. So far they’ve finally gotten me some in-depth x-rays and given me a medication, but are still digging for a diagnosis. They’ve ruled out cancers and other degenerative diagnoses, but this only serves to narrow the search. I’m technically just one of the 95 million Americans who have inexplicably stopped looking for work according to the government – when in fact I’m doing everything I possibly can to scrounge together the funds this system exacts from me as payment for acquiring my own means to survival.

So tell me again, why should I, whose entire livelihood is being reduced to traveling on foot to dig up pennies for people swimming in money that can afford to make food and shelter and medical care free for everyone, be crying on my birthday because my brain is so far gone from all this stress and overwork that I lost my pack of cigarettes on the transit?

I am not alone. People seem to be really upset that I’m so dedicated to my so-called victim mindset, but guys. Let me tell you why I haven’t been writing much new content since 2014.

Well, first of all. Um. I need to acknowledge my privilege here, which is something I didn’t really have the wherewithal to address four years ago. See, my parents were emotionally, spiritually, and ideologically abusive far more than they were physically abusive. To this day there are people who look me up, find my blog, and want to know more, but don’t want to hear the truth: it wasn’t all good. It wasn’t something to glorify as entertainment, as my parents and The Learning Channel did. It hindered me financially, educationally, emotionally, relationally. I not only lost my family – and let me set the record straight, they cut me off BEFORE I blogged about it – I lost all my friends, and to this day I have my reservations with a great many people who I know, consequentially, through my parents.

But oddly, as I have studied my own development of chronic pain symptoms and sought mental health treatment that revealed and have begun taking prescription medication for my depression, I’ve learned that C-PTSD has the “C” for a reason. Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder shows up in cases like myself even though I have a low ACE or Adverse Childhood Experiences score. My parents are still married – I never experienced the trauma of a parental divorce. I never saw anyone murdered in front of me, and though my family had guns, they were treated with disciplined respect. I have shown many signs of sexual abuse from an early, but to my knowledge none of my siblings have shown the same symptoms, so while my parents reacted to it in a religiously motivated way – and I had no healthy sex education with which to interpret it emotionally, I do not entirely blame them for that aspect of my trauma. I was not beaten mercilessly or even insulted with profanities incessantly, as many others have been – my view of spanking as violent remains controversial. I am white, and because my partner is not, he will never have the same instant privilege I do, which almost always means I make more than he does, even if we have the same job. At a glance, I am instantly trusted as a thin, smiling white girl with long brightly-colored hair (compliments of the boyfriend). By contrast, he is instantly distrusted for his appearance, and it makes all the difference with small inconveniences like poverty.

He’s helped me emotionally process a side of the world I never saw. Growing up, I thought, as all my siblings still do, that homelessness and poverty is a choice, not mere lack of privilege. Eight of us are adults now, and my parents are pretty accepting of our various perspectives on religion or lack thereof, but capitalism and conservative ideology is king. I was unprepared to drop from the relatively comfortable life I had growing up. My father has two college degrees, but I had to drop out of college with an abysmal GPA when he told me I had to pay for it myself – though all he’d “paid” for up until then was his tax number for the grants I was well qualified to receive, as long as I only took a few classes at a time, because he had so many children. Though I was worked to the bone and was tired from years of being up in the night to take care of children, I didn’t worry each month how I would make rent, like I do now.

I told my boyfriend that it’s been five years since I’d had a birthday where I didn’t worry about where I was going to live. He laughed, and thought back, finally figuring that for him, he hadn’t felt that way since his 15th birthday. I know that my experience is not everyone’s experience, and have decided not to include any up-to-date information on any of my siblings in any of my writings henceforth. I tell my story for a myriad of reasons – to help people, and to connect on important issues that my generation is vastly ignorant about due to people like my parents. But if you want to know who’s getting married and who’s having kids and who’s coming out, you won’t find that here. Such things are not necessary to discuss the many topics I can write about.

When I started blogging about my family’s abuse, I was still working a job I had gotten through my parents. My productivity fell dramatically and I nearly lost that job in October 2014, the same month my blog had its largest-ever influx of visitors. I still have references with that company, and they were incredibly gracious and understanding about my need to take less pay for a job on a farm where I could have more time to recover. I saw a therapist at least once a week, slept a lot, got into meditation, obsessed over 30 Seconds to Mars and Russell Brand, and realized the nannying job I’d taken was far more work and far less compensation than I’d signed up for – I’d moved in with the family because I couldn’t afford to rent anywhere, and tensions were building with my boss, who would be in prison the following year murder and substance abuse. I stayed for most of the school year, but once I knew his children were safe, I got out, and, having nowhere to live, figured I could have a place to sleep if I worked at a summer camp.

This was around the time I lost my faith. I had a discussion about that on Facebook recently, and I really liked how I wrote this, so here is my answer I get asked a lot – why I’m not a Christian anymore:

It was indeed an incredibly disorienting experience, and one that took several years. It wasn’t until I had been cut off from my family for questioning the faith, that I was finally alone to wrestle with it for myself, no strings attached. I felt grief and anger – feelings I at first directed toward God, before realizing I was not being answered as I had once thought. But answers, bigger answers, lingered beyond any of the questions I’d asked before. Which brings me to the second question you asked – has life improved? Yes. I am more honest, more self-aware, more able to help the people around me, and would never have found a partner who understands me as deeply unless I grew past believing that my life belonged to the will of my creator, and his displeasure with choosing sin or lack of devotion. My perspective has improved, as I have known nature better than I ever did when I thought it was the handiwork of a creator, not billions of years of star-bred systems falling into place beautifully. When I no longer saw an imaginary friend who held the stars in place, I was finally able to appreciate what we know about the cosmos, and how little we know after all of our scientific study. The wonder of life, and the depths of mystery, the appreciation for mythology – all of these have become exponentially more vibrant since I left Christianity. It is, ultimately, a story of the same redemptive qualities that the myth of Christianity is about – the death of the self, the ego, the identity, and the depths of depression, hell, and solitude, leads to new awakenings. But it did not begin with a man on a cross. It has been proven true, after being a resonant story for many thousands of years.

I have never known someone who gave their troubles to God, instead of processing the pain of being human, infinitely small in vast, random space, who had truly known what it is to be “born again.” Yet Christians have taken that term and made it into something as easy as saying a prayer, cherrypicking what you want to believe about things, and continuing to live a privileged life where you go to church sometimes.

However, please note that it was not a decision. I did not “choose” to stop believing in God, nor is it possible for me to make the “decision” to believe again. I sorted through the evidence until I couldn’t argue with it anymore, and had to accept reality, regardless of how I felt about it.

As for why I think Yeshua existed and was crucified, several reasons. I can’t just ignore that most religious people in the world are Christians, and this story has been passed down, flawed and mythological as it may be. Historians generally agree it was one person or perhaps multiple people that the myth was based on – and I agree with the evidence (which is multiple mentionings of this man in other documents). I think he was crucified because (a) the probability of getting crucified if you were a foreigner with followers was really high at the time and (b) Islam makes a big deal out of denying point (a) to the point that I think they protest too much, adding credence to the possibility. I ultimately don’t know, that’s just my answer when people ask me what I think about Jesus – the historical evidence and mythological writings point to a pretty good probability that at least his existence and execution happened.

Seems kinda disjointed to go off on a tangent about religion, though, huh? It’s my birthday and I can do what I want, but I’m getting picked up by a friend who’s taking me out to sushi in a few minutes, so I have to go soon. Here’s the rest of the update:

In 2015, I was working at a summer camp, and had no way to blog because I had no internet. I was high up in the mountains, and my other trip leader, Bo, had insisted that I not even write in my journal, because I shouldn’t have to do anything on my birthday. We hiked to the top of a mountain, and another counselor revealed my birthday gift: a handful of king-size non-chocolate candies that could be easily hidden in one of the backpacks.

In 2016, I was being kicked out because my roommates weren’t happy about me letting my homeless boyfriend sleep over so often. I started smoking Swisher Sweets cigars, but I can’t stand them now.

In 2017, I was in the miserable state of living with ex-friends in an unfriendly desert town. They were able to help but stopped and kicked us out, leaving us to get back to our home state by ourselves without a word.

Now it’s 2018, and I’m back in the Pacific Northwest. I have no idea how I’m going to make rent for August (My Patreon supporters are amazing, but that doesn’t come in until after rent is due), but I know I’m not alone, and I’ve been free of that particular terror for most of my life.

As much as I hate injustice and want to do everything I can to use my experience and my abilities to end all oppression of all kinds, that is life. I am grieving and growing with my eyes open to what is and what should never be. Soon enough I will write about the many facets of what that has looked like, in my tiny corner of conscious experience.