Obliviously Obvious

After Facebook went down last week, I’ve been exchanging numbers with a lot of you, and I’ve been amazed at how many of you are still reading this blog. I feel that I have a lot to explain. Like I said in my last post, a lot of these things were obvious to my friends, but not to me. I was oblivious to many of the signs of trouble with my relationships. Letting go and moving on has meant looking back with improved clarity, but in doing so, I’ve managed to repeat my own trauma patterns, too. More than one person has reached out to me and said I need to break the cycle.

I was shocked this morning to see my own pattern of slipping into deep waters at the beginning of every October for the past eight years. October 2013, my parents kicked my sibling and me out. October 2014, I came forward here about my parents’ abuse. It’s October 2021, and as if on cue, there’s a new post on this site talking about how I’ve just escaped another bad situation. I’m amazed that so many of you have been so kind and understanding when I reached out. I feel that I’m hanging on by a thread of trust, though. I spent so long justifying my last relationship, and now I’ve taken time away from it, and my whole perspective has changed. Again.

We repeat the same patterns in our lives, and breaking the cycle is never easy. At the height of our fight, a friend even tried to mediate by appealing to this fact with me. I understand that trauma is playing a role, and I am not an innocent hero up against a villain. At the same time, looking back, I realized that there was nothing left between us to fight for. Unfortunately, outgrowing someone means loss on both ends. The blowup was so classic, so textbook, that a lot of people saw it coming. The two of us were too busy spinning into each other, too busy picking up speed. I was too deeply codependent to hear the warnings that I was collapsing into trying to care for others at the expense of myself.

I cannot thank you all enough for hanging in there with me. It means my survival and livelihood. Thank you for your continued support, care, and kindness. I don’t know where I would be without it.

I need to step away from the blog for a while. I will try to post again next month, and keep my Patreon patrons updated. But I need to break this cycle for myself, and part of that is recognizing what my own baggage and trauma did to this relationship and the decisions I made surrounding it. For now, I’m reaching out to people again who I fell out of contact with over the past five years.

I’m also taking precautions not to fall for this kind of thing again. Part of that means I need to stop talking about all of this on my blog immediately when it happens. That’s an old habit I picked up from my dad, if we’re being really honest here. I grew up thinking my life was a spectacle, so I made it more so, and now I am living with the consequences. Thank you all for reading along, and for your patience as I work on other things.

Groomed

You take my hand
And you say you’ve changed
But boy you know your begging don’t fool me
Because to you it’s just a game
(You know it’s just too little too late)

I was young
And in love
I gave you everything
But it wasn’t enough
And now you wanna communicate
(You know it’s just too little too late)

Go find someone else
I’m letting you go
I’m loving myself
You got a problem
But don’t come asking me for help
I can love with all of my heart, baby
I know I have so much to give
With a player like you I don’t have a prayer

JoJo

Many people have sensed for a long time that something was very wrong with my life. I was convinced that I was taking care of a very ill person, and that was true in a sense, but the past week has been highly informative. I broke up with my partner of five years after months of fighting in which I shut down while they unleashed verbal abuse. I thought I was in a trusting, caring relationship. It turns out that only one of us cared for the needs of the other person.

After our breakup, I tried to say that maybe my ex-partner who has been dealing with a whole list of changing symptoms should seek out a care team. This opened the floodgates to a whole barrage of abusive rage, so frightening to me that I stopped responding.

Up until this point, I’ve been keeping my second relationship quiet by referring to Ryann as my roommate. The truth is that Ryann has revealed to me how someone can be both disabled and independent. I am also disabled, and I am learning what it means to be codependent so I can free myself, too. We are moving forward with the help of a professional team to lighten my load and communicating with the help of a therapist.

On the other hand, the partner I was with for years longer was someone who entered my life shortly after I escaped the Quiverfull cult. I trusted too quickly, and fell fast, not seeing that my homelessness was not something this person was helping me cope with, but something they continually caused by alienating everyone around me. When, thanks to my generous supporters, we finally had some stability in housing, my life got mysteriously harder.

I had so much to do and I couldn’t keep up. I had to make their phone calls, keep the apartment clean to their standards, plus handle preserving all the many pieces of art they created. The art medium was Perler beads, a more expensive and detailed medium than paint, and it was so much work for me to keep up with taping, ironing, and carefully preserving each piece. When I managed to keep up somewhat, their depression symptoms seemed to worsen, and it became my responsibility to entertain them in their boredom and keep them from the edge with my emotional work.

Things weren’t adding up. They needed me to fetch their phone charger from across the apartment because it was too painful to move from room to room yet could spend hours playing and creating. They were constantly worried about their blood pressure irregularity. Yet had no problem yelling at me for hours after I suggested maybe someone else should help take care of them.

Ryann and I left in the early morning while they were asleep because we felt unsafe. After this, we spent an entire week waiting for them to get out of the apartment we’d always paid for. I had been convinced that my ex was incapable of contributing financially due to their many symptoms. I bought them whatever they wanted because it wasn’t worth it to fight about it. I was always wrong in the end when we fought anyway.

Like I said, something was very wrong. Nothing confirmed this for me more than the apologize-and-butter-up phase, a common pattern for abusers. You see, they did the dishes. To try and win me back, they did all the dishes. I didn’t know this was possible for them to do at all, which is why I had been doing it all myself. I was devastated to learn I had given this person everything when they were taking advantage of my trusting, giving nature.

I feel ashamed to admit that I didn’t recognize the patterns. I am ashamed to write here that I fell for it. Some people will read this and think I’m just on to the next self-victimizing drama. The truth is, I spent my twenties learning what most kids learn in their teens about relationships. The song I opened with was written by a teenager. Many friends and even my sisters tried to warn me that I was making poor choices, but I couldn’t see it. My relationship mirrored the total obedience I was expected to show toward my parents growing up.

Like many abused partners, I thought I was seeing what nobody else could. They needed the help only I could offer. I wanted so badly to believe that there was lighthearted joking behind the cruelty, I couldn’t see it as constant abuse. When I realized what was happening, I was able to look back on every conversation we’d had and see the way they would shrug off insults and urges to move faster as merely jokes I didn’t get.

In five years of us being together, they had never done a single dish. It was too hard, too triggering for them, they established years ago. Suddenly, to win me back after I left, they were willing to demonstrate change…by demonstrating the capacity to do the things they always claimed were impossible. “I’m killing myself to do this,” they said, but what was I to believe after that? Their actions simply didn’t match their words.

Escaping gaslighting is a feeling I don’t want to experience ever again. I was groomed for this. I was taught that if I just did all the work, cooking well and doing all that was asked of me, I would be rewarded with a good, lasting relationship. This is what patriarchy teaches people who are assigned female. It is heavily reinforced within extreme Christian groups, like the one I grew up in.

All this time, I was thinking that at least my load was lighter than it was for me as a child. It was better than trying to live up to every expectation my parents had. It was easier than trying to keep track of and care for thirteen younger siblings. This is what my abuser counted on. I had been pushed around so much that I couldn’t recognize a different flavor of the same thing. In all honesty, I didn’t want to – I thought I’d found someone who understood me better than anyone. I had hoped to avoid this kind of problem by never getting married, but I lost five years to a committed relationship nevertheless. I just didn’t have the skills to recognize the bullies around me, convincing me that their vague affection combined with demeaning actions was all I could ask for.

This song, Question Existing by Rihanna, brought back a lesson I thought I had already learned:

I put in work
Did more than called upon, more than deserved
When it was over, did I wind up hurt? (Yes)
But it taught me, before a decision, ask this question first:

Who am I livin’ for?
Is this my limit?
Can I endure some more?
Chances are given, question existing

Dear diary, it’s Robyn
Entertain is something I do for a living
It’s not who I am, I’d like to think that I’m pretty normal
I laugh, I get mad, I hurt, I think I suck sometimes
But when you’re in the spotlight, everything seems good
Sometimes I feel like I have it worst
‘Cause I have to always keep my guard up
I don’t know who to trust
I don’t know who wants to date me for who I am
Or who wants to be my friend for who I really am

Rihanna’s words ring so clear to me now. Who can I trust in this world, when I’ve been watched so intently with morbid curiosity about what I went through? How much can I write about this experience, without coming across like I just victimize myself in every situation I encounter? Why did I laugh at all the non-jokes, only to look back in horror at the threats of violence I didn’t recognize? Why didn’t I establish better boundaries?

I was trapped in what I thought was love, but it was someone trying to drag me down to their drowning depths. They constantly said they hated me for how much people loved and supported me, unlike them. They constantly gave me shit, and I took it, laughing, because I thought we were sharing a joke. I thought we were playing consensually, but they had a habit of testing my limits to see when I’d draw a line instead of asking for my consent beforehand. It was abuse and it was not okay, and I see that now, and I’m looking back at the last five years with incredible regret.

I always knew I wasn’t old enough to write a memoir leading up to this. I didn’t have the life experience. I turn 30 next year and I have a lot more free time now to focus on writing. There will no longer be a violent, demanding, demeaning presence in the apartment to thwart my every attempt to take time for myself and prioritize my own work. I have learned a great deal about what not to do anymore, and I’ve gained a long list of red flags not to ignore in the future. That is all I can do: learn and move on.

The last song I want to reference in this post is I Went Too Far by Aurora. According to this live version, “it’s about not forgetting that you deserve to be loved as much as you love someone else.”

I went too far when I was begging on my knees
Begging for your arms, for you to hold them around me
I went too far and kissed the ground beneath your feet
Waiting for your love, waiting for our eyes to meet

Crying, give me some love, give me some love and hold me
Give me some love and hold me tight

Why can’t I turn around and walk away?
Go back in time?
I had to turn around and walk away
I couldn’t stay, I had to walk away

I’m left behind with an empty hole
And everything I am is gone
I tried to reach for another soul
So I can feel whole

The truth is that we cannot find happiness in other people, and it is ridiculous and wrong to expect someone to do that for you. I was a human antidepressant for someone who refused to go to therapy. We must do the hard work of finding something deeper within ourselves than codependency. I have been seeing a therapist to make sure I’m not carrying unhealthy habits into my other relationships.

In the end, my ex demonstrated that they would take everything from me and more. They wanted me to set myself on fire to keep them warm, and I tried, and it was futile. They isolated me and I didn’t see it, because I was wrapped up in trying to resolve the instability singlehandedly. The pandemic made everything worse. We were stuck inside for almost two years, and I was sacrificing my sleep schedule to bring them their meds three times a day. I was working from home, which meant my work was optional to them, except when they wanted me to make more money.

I want to apologize to everyone who has been standing by, offering support and kindness while seeing signs of trouble, and backing off when I defended my relationship. Thank you for being there when I escaped, offering help and safety in navigating this situation. I couldn’t have done it alone. There remains so much to learn. Things are changing for the better, and I want to establish firm, clear boundaries in my relationships going forward.

Heartlessness and Hate, Part 2

In Christian homeschool speech and debate, we were told that we were learning logic and critical thinking. What we learned was a kind of feigned intellectualism, one that behaves under the pretense that the most reasonable reaction to anything is no reaction at all. Almost without fail, the winning competitors were charismatic and attractive, smooth and composed. We were masters of taking literally that it’s possible to kill with kindness, and our interactions were icy, yet diplomatic. We were generally expected to make friends with our rivals, so we relied on a competitive environment to form friendships with other kids who were being raised in the same isolated conservative world.

For many of us, debate tournaments were the highlights of our lives. At the time, I thought it was the best it could get. I looked forward to being able to see the other competitors. I realize now that this is because it was my only social life. Well, there were other things, but that was usually VBS, AWANA, or another Christian-led event. In our other activities, I was usually the oldest one there and was expected to help with younger kids. That was true of Christian homeschool PE, music lessons, co-op, gymnastics, AWANA, and the horse vaulting day camp we did in the summer. In debate, I had friends who were closer to my age. We could discuss our interests through our speeches, as long as they were political and Christian enough. Tournaments meant a taste of freedom. Home life was something we didn’t talk to each other about – that was disrespectful to our parents. But it was a relief from being home with our families all the time.

Speech and debate were two distinct categories, which is why I refer to them separately. All involved performance, but with speech, the competition was based on rankings from multiple judges, rather than a win or loss between debaters. In this way, we were able to discuss even more controversially taboo subjects without the problem that debate presented: forcing the other team to take a position that fell outside the bounds of conservative views. For instance, I could not argue that abortion is evil in a debate round, but I saw dozens of speeches in the category of “persuasive” on exactly why and how abortion is evil. It makes me laugh now to realize the irony that we had a speech category called “persuasive,” but there was no direct conflict with an opponent in that event.

What did I learn from debate? I learned the art of bullshitting. I learned how to feign confidence about positions I personally knew the evidence was weak for. I learned how to pretend my points were stronger than they were. I learned how to find quotations both for and against a case from a single article which, when read as a whole, had observed multiple angles of a situation or topic. I learned how to make my words sound as convincing as possible, to win the favor of a judge or sometimes multiple judges.

It was all about the act, the performance of it all, the presentation. During our debate club meetings, we’d get stern lectures about how “the judges are always watching.” This meant we had to be on our best behavior. At all times we were expected to dress up like politicians. Many teenagers were shamed for changing into more comfortable clothing if they didn’t “break,” or advance beyond preliminary rounds. My parents never forced me to wear dresses, but I certainly wasn’t allowed to change out of my “tournament attire” until the tournament was officially over.

“Ballot parties” were basically a way for us to torture fast food workers. After the tournament, we were each given an orange envelope filled with our ballots. Every judge had filled out ballots with our speaker point scores, wins and losses in debate, and handwritten comments and critiques all over them. Even though the tournament was over, we were expected to study each judge’s notes late into the night. By then it was usually past 9 or 10 p.m., when most restaurants were closed, so we usually settled on McDonald’s. Dad liked to say that we were “helping with business” so they wouldn’t mind about being swarmed just before closing. As a small business owner, he didn’t really understand how big corporations didn’t pay their workers any better based on the number of customers there were to serve.

Describing ballot parties is a shameful thing. We’d show up, over a hundred teenagers and their parents, dressed mostly in fancy suits, and line up at the counter, totally overwhelming and taking over the McDonald’s. The workers’ eyes would get huge as we poured in, and inevitably someone would try to call in another employee to manage all the orders. We often ordered something small and gathered around every table and booth available, unpacking our ballots like they were Christmas presents. This was how we’d know which preliminary debate rounds we’d won and lost, a detail that wasn’t revealed during the tournament itself. Sometimes we read judges’ comments aloud to each other, in a serious or mocking tone, depending on the contents.

The obsession with being “above feelings” and to embrace facts, evidence, and logic is a patriarchal, white supremacist idea. It is part of toxic masculinity itself, because it says that any reaction to violence is not valid. “Appeal to emotion” is designated as a logical fallacy. If you get upset, you’re appealing to emotion. If you talk about how people are hurt, you’re appealing to emotion. The whole activity was designed to make us talk about complex political issues without being properly informed about them.

It shouldn’t be controversial to say that everyone deserves safety, shelter, nutrition, and healthcare. Humanity’s resources should be available to all who have need, regardless of their ability to convert their time into adequate profit to stay alive. This is clear to me now, but ten years ago, I was closed off to the realities of imperialism and racism, homelessness and hunger and poverty, and capitalism-based food and healthcare access. Simultaneously, I believed that I was engaging in reasoned thinking, logic, persuasion, and informed discussion of politics and philosophy.

Christian homeschool speech and debate is nothing more than bullshitting your way through being detached to human rights. Everything I learned from spending my time between the ages of 12 and 18 debating and performing speeches is something I’ve had to since question and unlearn. Many of my peers in the competitions will insist that we learned how to question through this activity, but I disagree. Those of us who did think critically were eventually ostracized for following logical conclusions. I had to recognize the basic fact that human rights are not up for debate. I don’t owe you a debate if you think otherwise.

Heartlessness and Hate, Part 1

Many people have asked me about speech and debate and whether it helped me with my communication and critical thinking skills. Now that a decade has passed, I can say with certainty that it did not. Years of frustration with speech and debate eventually led to some relative competitive success, but I had to sacrifice all other education for it in the end. I had no time left for trying to drag myself through basic pre-algebra. I took a “super senior” year, meaning that while most of my friends graduated high school at age 18, I kept competing until I was almost 19. Altogether, I would spend seven years competing in Christian homeschool speech and debate, from 2004 to 2011.

I’ve talked before about some of the indoctrination, like in my posts “My Patriotic Education” and “I’m not saying religion sucks, but it hurt me, okay”. I haven’t, however, previously unpacked this massive suitcase called debate and speech competition. For those who knew who I was before my blog was really known, you know that this is deeply intertwined with…well, every aspect of the identity that was projected onto me. For those of you who’ve been following me since my major pieces in 2014 and 2019, this may be difficult to explain to you.

My limited study time was almost entirely dedicated to preparing for speech and debate. When it came to general subjects like math and science, geography and history, I was taught practically nothing. I had an elementary understanding of these, and by the time I was a teenager, I was expected to spend “school time” teaching or reading aloud to my younger siblings. This was frustrating for all parties involved, and I regret being short-tempered.

The two leagues I competed in were called NCFCA and Stoa. The intention is to prepare children for public speaking and defending their positions with logic and evidence. The problem is that the parameters of the competition were limited to the confines of conservative Christianity. We could not discuss any matters of real controversy.

I knew a lot of other homeschooled kids from speech and debate, and some of them were getting thorough educations. For every 20 or so students that I interacted with, I’d say one of them was really hitting the books because of rigorous parents. This does not mean that they were having a superior experience of home life whatsoever – sometimes the more intelligent parents were more cruel. I’m not making a statistical claim without data, this is just my estimate based on interacting with hundreds of other competitors.

A Christian homeschool debate competition has a distinct atmosphere. It’s full of teenagers who are dressed in professional attire, in many cases deprived of socialization with children in other families except for these events. The competitive age range was 12 to 18, and we were not separated into smaller age brackets. I never learned how to count by grades because I didn’t take placement tests, or any tests at all. I didn’t have to, because my parents exploited a legal loophole that said they technically didn’t have to report any progress on the education they were providing to my siblings and me. As a result, I never knew whether I was doing well or not. I didn’t get grades or feedback very often, except for the results of the competitions.

Tournaments often lasted three or four days. The advantage of being homeschooled is we had the time to block out this much time in a week once a month or so. We weren’t missing school for it. It was considered an educational activity. The schedule was tightly packed and demanding: In a day I would have three or four debate rounds in addition to two or three speech rounds, each of which lasted between 90 minutes and two hours. We debated each other in organized formats with timed speeches and cross-examinations, finishing with final rebuttals.

One of the apparent advantages of debate was that we “learned to argue both sides” of an issue. This claim was technically true because every round had an affirmative and negative team. The administrators worked it out so everyone debated both sides the same number of times. The topic of debate was called a resolution. If we were assigned the affirmative side, we were supposed to defend the resolution, detailing how we planned to do so, and how the harms we presented would be solved by our proposed plan, and what advantages might be produced. If we were assigned the negative side, we were tasked with proving why the affirmative’s plan for change had flaws or would lead to disadvantages.

The topics we debated are notable because they were always carefully chosen from among subjects we conservative Christians could all agree on. The idea was that we shouldn’t force our opponents to take a stance that wasn’t morally defensible. For example, because we all agreed that abortion is evil, making the argument “abortion is evil” would be an inappropriate, underhanded move competitively. The opposing team couldn’t disagree and still hope to win the favor of the judge, who was almost always another conservative Christian homeschool parent, whose children were rival competitors. We did our best to recruit “community judges” to come and watch our tournaments, but it was difficult to convince people to volunteer. As a result, we were stuck in the frustrating position of crafting speeches and debate points catered to the biases of a specific group of people.

My first year, we debated US dependence on foreign oil. While we regularly made arguments about how it would be bad to rely on Saudi Arabian oil, it was frowned upon to run any environmental advantages. So for instance, drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge was a very difficult case to beat because no judge would vote for a team arguing for the livelihood of the wildlife. My second year, we debated medical malpractice law. Instead of learning about how broken the American healthcare system is and discussing ways to fix it, our cases promoted plans like forcing traumatized patients into mandatory mediation with their negligent providers. This provided economic advantages for the legal system. My third year, we debated illegal immigration. Rather than learning about the human rights abuses under US immigration policy, we had cases promoting ways to crack down on employment verification. The year we debated about Russia, I learned practically nothing about the complexity of the large country.

Overall, we learned to discuss political and philosophical topics in a heartless way. We debated issues without considering the real-world implications of the policies we were promoting. The tone of each debate round was one of detached discussion supporting conservative ideology. There was little consideration for human rights and injustice. In this way, the activity served as another form of indoctrination for conservative Christian homeschooling parents. This was subverted with co-opting free-thinking terminology like “arguing both sides,” “critical thinking skills,” and “learning how to think, not what to think.” However, it was merely a way to keep us from considering things that were too controversial, while thinking we were addressing the crux of these topics. I want to warn people of the danger in this activity because it desensitizes young people. We learned how to talk callously about human beings and their struggles, as matters of debate, not care. This is my first of two blog posts on the subject. In my second post about this, I’ll talk more about the culture of debate and its approach to emotional appeals.

Surviving and Prioritizing

It may not seem like it by how much I’ve made it a habit, but I hate asking for help. The society I live in frowns upon it severely. No matter how great the need, people in the US especially are dedicated to independence. It’s considered better to die with dignity than invite shame by asking for help.

The fundraiser last year gave us enough to move into a new apartment, and for the past several months, I’ve been supplementing my income from Patreon with fundraising to make ends meet. I’ve said it elsewhere, but to make it clear, I don’t want anyone to help me if they can’t afford it. So many people are struggling right now. There are so many people I’d love to give money to on a regular basis, but I don’t have the spare resources.

I hope someday that my Patreon will bring in enough for me to cover all of my own monthly expenses so I can begin saving and taking better care of myself and my community. For now, I am amazed that rent and utilities are covered, because I never thought I would be able to rely on my writing to get by, and I’m doing just that. 

In my efforts to address the issues that impact me directly, I have written about things I’m not an expert about. Over the past several years I’ve written essays about politics and inequality, but these have distracted from talking about what I know. What I know is only my own experience, and I’m not an expert in complex issues like economics or climate change.

My frustration with the state of things extends far beyond the world I grew up in. I believe that problems like familial abuse would decrease significantly if we had a better social safety net. However, I am learning that it’s not my job to fix the whole world and every aspect of society that contributed to the dysfunction I grew up with. It is my prerogative only to tell my story.

Many survivors do not make their stories public. Choosing to speak up about what I’d truly experienced was not an easy decision. Not everyone has the same opportunities, and not everyone wants to blog about their trauma for a living. I’m not sure most days if I want to write about my trauma for a living. It’s painful. More than that, it might even be counterproductive to my recovery to keep trying to write about the trauma.

I worry a great deal about the silent survivors, those living in anonymity and trying to get jobs, housing, and relational safety. I wonder where the Turpin children are now and how they are doing. I worry also about those who cannot escape because there is no anonymity in the outside world for them, like the Duggar kids. I am lucky to be just recognizable enough to get attention and just anonymous enough to have gotten out. The survivor’s guilt I live with is very real.

False Fame

The one episode of reality TV that featured my family was a much smaller thing than we thought. Shared delusions are central to relationships with abusers, and the chance to soak up the spotlight was no exception for my parents. The show itself was embarrassingly bad – the production quality was abysmal, and we had our dysfunction as a family on display as the subject of entertainment.

Nevertheless, a few months after the first season of Kids by the Dozen aired in early 2007, my parents had already written a book about it, with a big yellow star on the front that says “As seen on TV”. They didn’t realize it was embarrassing at all. In fact, they saw it as a way to proselytize and convince other people to have more kids. By extension, we kids couldn’t express our embarrassment, either. We had to be proud of our “awesome” family. Being on reality TV was a big break for the family business, and other evangelical Christians were interested in the religious aspects of the book’s message.

I thought that my family was at least a little famous because my parents had a platform saying so. I had a part in that platform. I helped write my mom’s cookbook and several speech and debate resources. I didn’t have a choice, but I didn’t think I needed to have one, I believed wholeheartedly in the message. I thought god was directly talking to me, and my family members, and that he had told my parents to build this lifestyle for their family.

Perhaps the most confusing thing about becoming an adult was that I had to realize I was not, even slightly, famous at all. I’d always thought that the show had been a huge success. Yes, we had “haters,” as dad called them, but our Christian beliefs encouraged us that non-believers would attack us. What he neglected to mention is that people were commenting online about how he seemed to be a controlling patriarch, and out of concern for us kids.

It was naïve of me to believe it for so long. That is part of what I’m trying to say here, though – our isolation and lack of access to proper education made for a collection of naïve children and young adults. We believed what our parents taught us because they were the only teachers and source of safety and livelihood that we had.

Birthday Post 7

Birthdays, for me, are not a time of celebration, but a time to feel the weight of life’s length. I remember when years felt long, and now I feel so old as they shorten. I don’t know how much strength I have in me to double this time I’ve spent so far, and keep counting. I fear losing count.

29 is a weird number for me, because it always makes me think of the time my mom turned 30, and everyone, including her, continued to insist she was still 29. Now that I am actually 29, I know that I don’t want to do the same – I want to be honest about how old I am.

Honesty is so much more than telling the truth about other people. It’s also telling the truth about yourself, and that is a difficult thing. I do not always want to be honest with myself about my own behavior and motives. I do not like carrying the burden of my baggage. I’m breaking under the weight of trying to hold back the results of what I have inherited and experienced. I berate myself for not trying hard enough, not being strong enough.

Secrets loom in the shadows of my memory, and the more I shine light into them, the darker and sharper they become. I mean to tell it all, but I am not the hero of my story. I am someone who tried to hold it all together while caring for everyone around me.

I appreciate the support and the opportunity to write. I am finally being paid to write my book, and with many tears and jarring re-visualizations of memories, I am spending as much time as I possibly can working on it. There is much to tell.

I don’t want to face my existence today. The plan is to share today with a small gathering of vaccinated people, so I will try to do something I struggle to do much: just relax.

Standing Time

How long can you stand up? For most able-bodied people, the question usually comes up when evaluating work. People who can work on their feet are expected to stand for hours at a time. People who work sitting down may have the capacity to also go to the gym regularly.

For me, it’s less than an hour to a few hours, depending on the day. I can walk to run an errand or two and take the bus there and back, but I’ll be exhausted and in pain for the rest of the day if I push myself beyond that. For instance, I shouldn’t run an errand and try to do dishes on the same day. That’s too much most of the time. I can take a shower without worrying about feeling like I’m going to collapse, but I have to make sure I don’t overdo it.   

For my partner and roommate, it’s mere seconds. They cannot use the microwave for themselves, and must rely on me and frozen convenience around the clock when I am out of energy to cook. Showers are practically impossible.

Thankfully, we now have groceries delivered so I don’t have to destroy my body trying to go out and shop myself. A kind patron sent us the funds to cover a Walmart+ account, so delivery with EBT is free now.

Here’s the situation with disability benefits: my roommate receives benefits. My partner has been trying to apply for years, and officially hasn’t been able to work since July of 2019, but that was not long before the pandemic started, which put disabled people even further back among priorities.

As for me, I make too much money through Patreon and direct gifts for disability benefits to apply to me. I also have to get help with taxes in six months and I’ll likely lose my EBT benefits soon. This is a good thing! It means I have a reliable income and I appreciate every dollar that almost 100 people pool together to help cover my bills every month. It’s not covering everything yet, but it’s a good deal more than I could count on in the past. So I can apply for benefits, but even if I fight through the entire process, they still see me as working, even though I’m not pulling nearly the workload I once could.

I would much rather have an income through my writing than get benefits, because I’d make even less. The question is, am I working or aren’t I? It’s not that simple. I can’t do the kind of work that would mean I get paid by the hour using my body to do manual labor. I am running a blog and writing a book, and I’m getting paid to do that, which is work, but that doesn’t mean I could just go get a job if I needed to. I can’t stand for eight hours and work anymore. This means I am limited to using what I have to get by, and for me, I am lucky enough to have writing. I am therefore extremely grateful for all the kind people supporting me.

The reason I haven’t posted in over two weeks is because I’m seeing a psychiatrist (at last! This is great news!) and the first med we tried has not worked well, and it has made it nearly impossible to focus or do much of anything but sleep. I have been trying to write as often as I can, and I’m working on two different subjects, homeschooling and being a disabled caregiver.

My birthday is on Saturday. I’m planning on writing a post then about turning 29. Thank you all for everything you’ve done to support my recovery.

The thing about disability is that people always ask questions, but they don’t want to hear the simple answer that nobody cares about disabled people. It’s assumed that somebody is taking care of us. People don’t realize that we have to buy our own access, like wheelchairs and hearing aids, which can cost thousands of dollars. My disability is one that makes activities not impossible at this point in my life, but they come at a cost. I have to really think about how I’m going to spend my energy, because it is limited, and I will be exhausted and sore if I push myself too hard.

I remember what it was like to be able to go to the gym three times a week and work at a desk job and attend school. That’s how I lived ten years ago, and I was doing far too much then. I was not succeeding at any of the things I was trying to do. My present life is less stressful, but my capacity to do what is necessary is limited.

How long can you stand up? How long will you be able to stand up for as long as you can now? Do you rely on your body’s capacity to stand and move, carry and lift, bend over, and twist? For some of us, these are not things we can do.

Our entire lives are impacted, and that often means we lose the ability to provide for ourselves months or years before we are recognized as “disabled enough” to qualify in the eyes of the United States government for help. If help is acquired before you die on the waiting list, it is minimal.

Learning Disabilities and Homeschool

I have not been in contact with my family in several years, and my siblings have attended some charter school and community college. I can only speak to my personal experience, not to what has happened in my siblings’ education since cutting contact.

My parents had a religious and political agenda in homeschooling my siblings and me. They were not capable of teaching a full range of subjects through 12 grades to 16 kids. To believe this is possible takes a great deal of ignorance and arrogance, and this fueled their approach to how they taught us. While these elements contributed to my ignorance as I entered adulthood, I was also limited by learning disabilities that were overlooked and undetected by my parents. I was told that I was excelling when I was never being tested. Homeschool Christian speech and debate competition supposedly held significant weight in my academic and professional success.

When I started college, it was not only my lack of basic education that held me back. I had severe anxiety and was struggling to focus, study, and learn. Several distinct symptoms indicate that I am neurodivergent. This means, among many things, that I struggle to learn at the same pace and in the same way as neurotypical people. I have been trying for years to teach myself what I missed growing up, but my retention of information is poor. I’m either highly distracted or hyper-focused on creating. It is difficult if not impossible for me to force myself to focus or pay attention, even to do something simple like watch a movie.

While I was a distracted student throughout my childhood, it was treated as a behavior problem if it was noticed at all. Mostly it went unnoticed, because my only standard of success was whether I had trophies from memorizing passages from the bible or performing in speech and debate. I didn’t take tests or receive informed instruction beyond the simplified children’s propaganda published by Christian conservative homeschool publishers. My symptoms of fidgeting or struggling to sit still were punished when I was very young so that I would sit still in church. Beyond this, I was often reprimanded for being forgetful of the many things I had to keep track of in caring for my younger siblings. Overall, my symptoms were not recognized as ones that could hinder my learning, just my own failures to shoulder the responsibilities I was given.

There is also significant stigma against acknowledging and properly treating mental illness in the evangelical Christian world. In some instances, it is seen as a spiritual problem to be addressed with prayer. In others, it is seen as behavior to be corrected with negative reinforcement. Rarely is a child given adequate treatment to address the underlying cause of the symptoms in this environment. There was nothing to indicate whether I was doing well or not, because homeschooling meant my parents could teach in whatever way they wished. They could declare me an educational success because they said so.

Year after year, my parents would teach us kids the same basic things. Year after year, most of the kids would fail to learn these basics, because there was no structure, no testing, and no informed instruction. We went through at least three different reading curricula before one of them finally clicked, which left my younger siblings very confused about how to read, write, and spell. I was often tasked with helping to teach them how to read when I should have been learning more advanced things myself.

In 2014, when I started blogging about my parents’ abuse, I gave another example of neurodivergence in my family. This is because I had still not recognized that I had learning struggles of my own. I was vague and didn’t specify which sibling or identify their gender when I brought this up. I wrote the following in my post “Of course it wasn’t all bad”:

“Another one of my siblings is severely dyslexic, and thinks it’s their own fault they didn’t work harder to learn to read by themselves. After all, I was a fast learner and I picked up on reading quickly, surely all the other kids will pick it up by themselves. My parents didn’t discover that sibling’s dyslexia until that sibling was fourteen.”

During 2020, my dad had the entire draft of his book about me up on his blog, but it has since been removed. I have the screenshots and text saved from when it was online. In response to what I wrote above, he twisted my statement to make it sound like I was attacking and teasing my sibling, or blaming my parents for something they couldn’t control:  

“My second-born son, just a year younger than my first and nearly an adult, was most devastated. He had a strong story of overcoming severe dyslexia and going on to winning national speech tournaments. He’s quite a success story, but his sisters hijacked his story to accuse us of “educational abuse,” making his dyslexia somehow our failure as parents. He hated the misrepresentation and attempted to enter the online frenzy to set things straight. He was teased by his sisters, especially when he would misspell words, and the online community claimed such misspellings as evidence of our “educational abuse,” not his dyslexia.”

In my dad’s own words, the emphasis on speech and debate success is apparent. I wasn’t saying that the dyslexia itself was my parent’s mistake, but their failure to notice it until he was well into his teens was. This sibling is not the only one in the family who struggles with spelling and grammar – we all did, including me. I may write for a living, but that doesn’t make my writing academic or grammatically excellent by any means. I just write about what happened, and I know now that I have learning disabilities of my own that were overlooked because my education was inadequate.

I am an Ignorant Adult

I was severely unprepared for adulthood in every way. I had been indoctrinated to view the entire world through a religious lens. This meant that I thought the world was small. I lacked (and still lack) the professional and social skills needed to attain and maintain gainful employment. I also lack the skills needed to learn in a formal educational setting, as my abysmal college GPA shows. It’s been ten years since I took the SAT and “finished high school,” just before I turned 19. I never got a diploma and I wrote my own transcript, but I had a graduation party and my parents made a speech about how proud they were of my accomplishments. I would remain at home with my parents for another two years while struggling with higher education.

The only things I learned at home revolved around my assigned role as a daughter and future wife under the Quiverfull patriarchal movement. That is, I learned how to change a lot of diapers, wash a lot of dishes and laundry, and supervise a lot of children. My work experience was in the family business, so I knew a very specific niche (curriculum for homeschool Christian speech and debate competition), but it failed to give me adequate skills to qualify for other jobs.

My parents didn’t care whether the children assigned a daughter role went to college. I wanted to be a journalist, but my closest sibling had no interest in college at all. The first classrooms I sat in for a full semester were in college. I didn’t know how to study, and didn’t have time to study anyway because of my responsibilities at home. I was used to trying to study with a child sitting in my lap and five more piled on my bed. I didn’t know what a scantron was, and I didn’t know the answers from my attempts to learn. I dropped out because I knew better than to keep trying to win a game I couldn’t figure out how to play.

Socially, I was praised as a child for being able to converse so well with adults. I was considered “wise beyond my years” and knew better how to talk to adults than to kids my own age. I miss social cues every day. Jokes and trivia go right over my head, along with common knowledge about history and geography. I often find myself missing whole chunks of conversations with my peers because I don’t understand what everyone else is talking about. I have accepted that this is a normal experience for me because it’s better than singling myself out by asking. Not only was I deprived of a normal education, but I missed most of the entertainment of the 90s and 2000s, because most things including television weren’t allowed. Some things were considered too secular, others too satanic. As the years passed and my parents had more and more kids, they relaxed a little and let the kids watch movies throughout the day.

My professional track record is a mess. My only desk job was one I got through my parents as a reference, and I was lucky to keep it after I blogged about my parents’ abuse. After that, I realized that what I’d learned had not given me what I needed to stay in the white-collar workforce. I knew how to watch kids and keep a home, so I became a nanny and then a summer camp counselor. After that I washed dishes in a restaurant, then worked as a deli clerk at a grocery store. I was a line cook after that, then I worked at a call center. Between 2019 and 2020 I went back to a grocery store deli, and I’ve been working for myself thanks to Patreon since March 2020. I don’t know how I would attain meaningful income otherwise.

I believed that things were not as they are. I thought I was supposed to demonstrate god’s goodness to the people I encountered. Worse, I thought I was succeeding in doing so. I saw myself as a prophet, someone who was chosen to do the work of god. I fully trusted that my parents had expertly prepared me for this purpose. I was wrong about everything I thought I knew. This ignorance made me believe I was informed when I wasn’t. It went along with naivete and bigotry.

All of this hardly scratches the surface of how significantly my life was impacted. I am so many years behind my peers, and while I can patch my education in ways, I can’t get those years back. I spent my school years doing my parents’ work for them. I worked at home and for the family business. My childhood was exploited for labor instead of cultivated for learning. The result is that all I can do to get by is keep unpacking what I went through in my writing. I am ignorant about everything except the oddity of my own experience.