Justice and Advocacy · Personal reflections · Psychology and mental illness · Religion and Spirituality

What Happened

Content warnings: gaslighting, child abuse, mental illness, suicide, eating disorders, poverty

Now is as good a time as any to explain why exactly my blog was so choppy over the past four years.

I don’t trust people like I used to. I don’t believe the world is full of sunshine and roses, like my parents do. How wonderful it is to blissfully believe that God controls everything, and your personal fortune is something you deserve to have. I was shook by learning to find my footing in a universe without God, a world without family, a community without friends, and a fall from grace without allies.

But I had a mishmash of homes and people who welcomed me. There was the family who drove up with their old minivan in 2013, the day my sister and I were kicked out, and let us have their spare bedroom because most of their children were grown. They charged very little for rent, and what they saw as Christian charity was expected to be received with Christian-approved behavior, but the kindness was much appreciated as an alternative to, well, my other options. It was a short walk to my work as a web content writer. We shared a broken-down 7-passenger van that had been given to us, useless and on our parents’ insurance, because our savings had been gutted and we both had jobs, and I was in school.

My depression was awful in early 2014, and my concerned friends tried to get me drunk and drag me to events, or to sit in their classes. Even though I was a dropout and couldn’t afford to study what I loved, nor would I get to do what I love. I started seeing a “shrink,” a new word that Josh and Ducky of all people taught me at the age of 22.

My parents always saw me as “troubled” and “different,” but preferred essential oils and homeopathic remedies with bizarre diets that stunted my siblings’ and my growth, and never trusted “psychology” as the outside secular world would define or understand it. The psychiatric industry was all drug-seeking and welfare queens to my family, and I had shared that belief with them for many years: who needs to talk about self-esteem when you matter to Jesus?

Nevertheless they believed that counseling might help, and let me borrow their car to go to my sessions, but it did just the opposite in their eyes. My counselor, an old man who was amazed with my knowledge of philosophy, theology, and the inner self, got me from square 1 – I want to suffer and die so nobody else has to, and I want to hurt myself every day, to…other options besides just another square. He helped elicit some of the first tears I’d shed in years, and professionally held back from saying how he really felt about my family, and it didn’t give me complete answers, but I was learning to feel. And learning to feel, and beginning to express doubts that maybe my family wasn’t perfect, opened up more doors to the reality beyond the one they’d constructed.

All through the summer of 2014, I fought for my siblings. I’d work a shift, then visit my parents, trying to visit with all the kids because I could sense that the doors would be closed any day, but not wanting to let them get lost in a crowd. I took the twins and Priscilla out for milkshakes and fries at the local 50’s diner, and promised Josiah – my baby, who’d cried for me in the night, who was the most soothed by my favorite album of nursery songs, and always lit up when I let him talk with energetic fascination about Legos – that I would take him out, just him, someday soon.

I would not be allowed to keep that promise.

My last attempt to give individual, undivided attention to my kids was while I was out with the 4-year-old, buying him a McDonald’s happy meal and letting him play, by himself, for the first time in his life. We’d been gone an hour before my parents noticed (over the years it’s happened now and then that a neighbor brings a child home). My dad angrily texted and called, telling me to come home immediately, and that I was never to be around my siblings without being supervised by one of my parents. On those terms, I couldn’t develop a deep relationship with any of my siblings – not one that my parents would approve of, anyway.

By the fall, I’d been given an ultimatum: if I wanted to see my siblings again, I would have to seek reconciliation on my parents’ terms: with a Christian pastor, who wanted to talk to them first before inviting my sister and me into the room, and who wanted a letter from me detailing our “grievances” before even meeting us.

I requested a mediator who was not so biased in their favor. They refused. With nothing left to lose and my head spinning with rage and grief, I wrote long posts about my parents’ abuse and how it was possible to be so blind to it for so long. After my parents said I couldn’t see my siblings anymore, I publicly called them out for lying to the world about who they really are, and declared that I wouldn’t let them get away with it.

I’d also realized that I was an empath, and that I was bisexual and polyamorous. I’ve always been one to jump off the deep end, and my first experience was a drunken threesome shortly after deciding that virginity was a just another myth I’d believed all my life anyway. My worth was never in whether I’d abstained from a natural human experience like sexual pleasure, I finally knew. But as many concerned friends expressed to me, perhaps I was jumping from one extreme to the next, and my boyfriend and girlfriend broke up with me two weeks later. I then turned to a couple of friends who I didn’t have feelings for, and we became friends with benefits, but within months I’d lost both of them as friends as well – plus a whole legion of bridges that someone decide to set aflame with the embers of hers.

To this day, my dad blogs and pretends as if I do not exist, continuing to claim that I am nothing more than a misled prodigal child, a freeloading bleeding-heart liberal who doesn’t love Jesus and wants to blame hardworking taxpayers for my well-deserved and prayed-for misfortune, who’s addicted to hard drugs and is constantly getting into her head that it’s appropriate to blast her parents’ reputation online, when all they ever did was protect their good Christian family from my Satanic and negative influence.

At the birthday bash in September 2014, I’m sure several people asked about my whereabouts. The truth was, I was in the hospital for a self-inflicted injury, and later had my friends keeping an eye on me. I got a new therapist, a military vet and also a no-nonsense lesbian who believed a little too much in pyramid scheme sales commissions and The Secret, but knew how to keep me from dissociating, and to guide me toward processing and managing my feelings.

My landlord, the same man who’d allowed my sister and me to live in his family’s basement for little rent, raised the rent so as “not to do me a disservice in having false expectations about the cost of living.” The low rent was my only reason to deal with that gloomy basement and the awkward conversations in a kitchen where I had to bite my tongue every time a racist remark was made by the upper-middle class couple from the dining room. I lived there quietly and wrote a book I’ll never publish, and became a minimalist to mask my depression and loss of control in my newfound place in the world. I couldn’t go back there after one terrible night when I went into a suicidal spiral, triggered and panicked, and left the house behind – it brought back that first night, when my sister and I had our foundation uprooted. A friend offered for me to take a bedroom in her house, but I loved the reclusive sense of the room under the stairs, so I took it instead of a normal four-walled white room. My recovery cat, Serafina, would knead my back gently whenever she sensed how troubled I was, and I would hang a reading lamp up in my little loft to read science fiction books that made me cry, because every sibling and family relationship in the stories felt like they were mine.

I was not able to keep Serafina when I moved to become a nanny. This has made me feel extremely guilty for many years – many people will passionately say, “If you can’t keep a pet, don’t adopt one!” But they do not know what it is to desperately need a support animal but to never know whether you’ll always have the good fortune to keep it. Service animals are awesome, but that’s another thing I’ve learned that I didn’t know four years ago: sometimes you’re just so broke you don’t get to have anything, even food and shelter. Nobody gives a shit about you once you’re an adult, but all I’d ever known how to do was write, cook, and take care of children.

I moved to Durango, where I made some new friends, but though being nonreligious and progressive, they were a bunch of (mostly) white, privileged people who still have functioning parents, and have no idea how to deal with my apostasy and anarchy, much less my poverty and passion. When the campers in my cabin asked where I lived, I would reply, “I live here right now. This is where I live. This bed is the only bed I have, here in this cabin. I don’t know where I will live after, and I lived somewhere else before.” Because I was working with privileged children – and some children from completely different worlds who’d been given scholarships to the camps – I wanted to be honest with them about adulthood. No adult had been honest with me about it when I was in their shoes.

Then I moved to Seattle, and quickly stopped having any spare money, and could afford less and less. I worked as a dishwasher and prep cook, then as a deli clerk, then as a lead hot side line cook. After breaking up with my boyfriend and girlfriend, I got a room, but soon afterward met the love of my life, and the people I lived with didn’t appreciate him being around. I couldn’t save enough to put down another deposit to get another room, so I lived in with my boyfriend in his car. We both worked while homeless – nursing that little car slowly over the back roads that connected Burien to West Seattle, switching shifts, showering at a local gym, and changing into our work uniforms in grocery store bathrooms, where we slept in the parking lots. That was a miserable month, and we were constantly exhausted, depressed as hell, anxious to the point of vomiting up our attempts to feed ourselves with food stamps but no way to heat up anything or buy hot food, wanting to go get fucked up instead of saving for a possible deposit and first month’s rent so we could sleep on a floor instead of a cramped little car – a mattress would have to come later on.

But we made a charming little home out of that hobbit-hole of a basement apartment. It was a tiny room in Burien, and the landlord and his wife came downstairs only to do laundry and collect rent. I got a better job that paid well, and because I was motivated to work hard so as to avoid being homeless again, I took a position that taxed me psychologically, emotionally, and physically. I woke up at 4:30 every day, and took a two-hour bus ride in the freezing cold, smoking cheap swisher sweet cigars, half at a time. My boss was cruel, heaping more work on me than is possible for one person to do, and when I complained to management about it, my every move was criticized and written up for, until they fired me. I hope I never have to work in a kitchen again, as it still gives me horrible flashbacks to work in the kitchen I pay rent to share.

It was then that I became very ill, and began losing weight, the stress of work draining my last bit of both energy and hope. I was still at that job in December 2016, when I wrote a Facebook post that I felt guilty to write: I was at such a low point, I couldn’t find the hope to make it another day. I said if my laptop hadn’t been stolen six months prior, at least I could write. If I could afford new glasses, perhaps I could work better, without squinting and headaches. If I could sleep on a mattress instead of a hard floor, I might have an easier time finding the motivation to get up in the morning.

Much to my surprise, three gifts were extended to me: one friend sent money for me to replace my glasses. I wasn’t squinting at the recipes in the kitchen anymore, and my managers noticed the improvement, but too much damage had been done in standing up for myself – I still lost the job, and it was a relief. Another friend bought me a laptop, and had it delivered – and several others offered to send me their old laptops. Someone else ordered a mattress for us, and my partner filmed me sinking into the mattress and bursting into tears, and sent it to her as a thank-you.

This kindness told me some truths I hadn’t integrated into my truth before, even though I’d read Amanda Palmer’s The Art of Asking. I realized that people are kind, the hard part is asking…and knowing that asking doesn’t mean I deserve or can expect that someone is obligated to help me. And that the people closest to me, because we’d shared trauma together, my sisters, were still locked in the mentality that wealth reflects contribution, and my poverty was my own fault.

After the job, I worked with a therapist, doctors, and a professional nutritionist to learn about how to take control of my diet again, and the nice thing about getting fired is that it means an unemployment check, and for a short time I had a bit extra to get by on. I still wasn’t ready to return to the blog in full force, as there was so much to recover from – both in childhood and adulthood – and I am still far from recovered. My weight got back up to a healthy level, and my partner and I practiced several tricks to keep life bearable. A beach opening to a bay along the Pacific was close enough for us to get a ride to from friends. Our landlords didn’t approve of smoking, so we walked a few blocks for every break, ensuring they didn’t know, and our anxiety relief was provided. I grew eighteen beautiful pea plants in jars, and the sun that peaked around the garage into our basement window helped their vines grab onto the screen and blinds with little fists.

I would end up giving those peas to my landlady, and I hope she had a good harvest of them, as she also had a green thumb. We had to move yet again, because the rent had increased, and there was no way, after my job loss, relying uncomfortably heavily on the only reliable source of income: my Patreon supporters. For his part, my partner still works whatever he can, as he was then – but his retail job was quickly proving to be too taxing for his body, which is also wracked with chronic pain and the impact of a traumatic childhood, quite different from mine.

We moved to Texas. Someone said they’d take us in and help us get on our feet, so we left everything we knew and everyone we loved for the chance to start over, save a little, and return to the place of our community. Unfortunately, El Paso Texas turned out to be as hot and miserable as the temper of the woman who I’d trusted as a friend to take us in. She attacked me for sleeping too much, for not working hard enough, for not saving enough, and above all, for making her livid. I was crushed, but had to recognize that I was not responsible for the anger my existence brought to the surface for her. Ever since, I have strongly encouraged people to only help if they are willing, able, and have the self-awareness to take on such a responsibility. An old friend in Waco is doing just that, as are some of my friends in California. Ten months of misery began: four month of passive-aggressive treatment at “home” with a couple our age who treated us as their inferiors, followed by six months living in a tiny apartment in a gridlocked, overpopulated town in the middle of nowhere, and we knew nobody.

The cabin fever was awful. The depression was awful. We’d been denied both food stamps and medical care, and my partner was tormented with horrible allergies from the dusty, polluted air. In the last months, this winter, someone sent me an email saying I could ask for help. I asked for Greyhound tickets. We took a long trip back, and the whole thing felt like one long, miserable bus trip. It was one that taught us people are kind, but some people think they are kinder than they really are.

And that brings me up to date. For what happened next, start with this story: “Working from Home” While Homeless