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.

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.

My Homeschool Transcript

I was taught primarily for religious and political purposes, not to prepare me for independence in adulthood. My high school transcript, and the fact that I wrote it myself, demonstrates how little I was taught. For me, being homeschooled meant that my access to information was severely limited by what my parents thought was true. It meant that I was expected to teach my younger siblings at times. It meant such ignorance that I could not identify the subjects I had and hadn’t been taught. There was nothing to measure my knowledge against but my only teachers, my parents. They believed they could teach their children everything they would need to know, which is an arrogant thing for any one or two people to assume. The result is that I entered adulthood with incredible ignorance, naivete, and bigotry.

I’ll talk more about the years leading up to high school in another post, because I want to focus on what I learned as a teen as I discuss the transcript below. In short, we learned a great deal of religious and politically conservative propaganda. Once I got to high school age, I started Saxon math books and competing in speech and debate. Math was a textbook with the answer book so I could check my own progress and teach myself. The only measure of success my parents seemed to care about was whether my siblings and I did well in speech and debate competition. Because of this emphasis, our education was warped to form around an extra-curricular activity. There was no foundation in core subjects like math, science, and real language skills. For this reason, my siblings and I struggled to compete against other homeschooled teens in an informed way. Debate was full of big words we didn’t understand and often couldn’t pronounce, and speech was a time to be as performative and we could possibly be.

Below is the actual high school transcript that I designed and wrote myself based on a template I found on Google, and asked my parents to sign. The first thing to note is that I had never been graded on anything, and knew only that I needed to be realistic while getting as close to a 4.0 score as possible. When I presented it to my dad, he asked why I hadn’t put down 4.0 in everything, and I said it didn’t seem realistic to me. I knew I hadn’t taught myself math very well, though I’d tried to work my way to the answers on my own. Every grade is not even a guess, but a blatant lie, because I never had grades. I just needed to write something that looked like I had.

The subjects themselves are odd: I list bible, debate, sewing, piano, and hunter’s safety for my first year. I also listed my debate resolutions as subjects: immigration policy, environmental policy, philosophy, and foreign policy. What I counted as “biology” and “chemistry” were religious devotionals about the human body, butchering animals on occasion for meat, and cooking.

Piano was taught by a homeschool mom, and I never got rhythm or sheet reading down after several years of lessons. Physical education was a Christian group that got together weekly to play simple games in groups, like dodgeball. Business was an important subject to include because I was learning about it through working for the family business. “Current events” was code for a speech event called extemporaneous speaking. This involved limited time to prepare a speech about events in the news. Apologetics was in the same “limited prep” category of speeches, but instead of the news, it was about theological questions. I read a lot, so I figured that counted as studying literature.

In my junior year, I wrote that I did a “publishing internship.” This meant that my dad decided to demote me from a paid position in the family business to an unpaid intern. That summer, several other high school students became unpaid interns, too, and my dad’s reasoning for demoting my sister and me was “so my kids don’t get special treatment.” I also wrote in my senior year that I had been a volunteer child counselor, which meant that I’d worked briefly at a Christian day camp in the summer to help children with performing tricks while riding horses.

Ultimately, what I was learning was how to be overwhelmed with too many responsibilities around the house. I worked for my dad and my mom, who each had to-do lists for me. I wrote this transcript to try and show that I had done schoolwork I hadn’t done. Most of my work was spent looking after the family and family business. So it was that I got into college making a poor case for my k-12 education. Once in college, I failed in many ways because my education had been inadequate. It would take several more years for me to gain the experience necessary to look back on my education with some perspective.

What I know now, looking back, is that I shouldn’t have had to write my own transcript at all. This shows how hands-off my parents were about my education, expecting me to figure it out myself. I didn’t figure it out, I ended up being underinformed about the world and frustrated with myself for not being autodidactic. I still don’t know what a normal transcript should look like, or what I might have learned if I was taught real scientific subjects. Instead…I know a lot of bible verses I wish I could forget.

A Year Spent Surviving

I’m going to keep this short because 2020 has been so chaotic and exhausting, it’s taken me several hours to come up with those two words to describe it.

First, of course, I want to thank everyone for everything you did to help us get through last year. I left my retail job in March and have been relying on the help of others to make bills and meet needs since. The anxiety has been immense without a steady income, but I’m so grateful for everyone and every gift.

Settling into a new place has been fantastic for all three of us living here now. It has meant freedom and acceptance to have a space to ourselves. I am grateful. Grateful that I have this opportunity, and angry that it is such a rare privilege. Housing is a human right and homelessness kills, and none of you should have had to dip into your own pockets to keep my partner and me alive, but you did, and I’m so thankful to all of you for being willing to do that.

I can be angry and thankful at the same time. Thankful for the people who care. Angry at the many who don’t, for the many who get overlooked. This year has been complicated like that. At the time of writing I haven’t received my stimulus check, but I expect I will get something, and I’m angry and thankful about that, too. It’s not enough for the many people struggling, but it’s something. It’s so close to nothing compared to how much people need help right now that it’s insulting and infuriating. But I’m going to use it as wisely as I can with the needs I have.

My writing is in flux right now. I’m figuring out what I do and don’t know about the world, and that influences what I’m confident in writing about. I’ve been trying to write about economics, for instance. I learned how to research through homeschool speech and debate, which in my personal experience was not a solid foundation in research. I also learned most of what I know about economics through capitalist propaganda. I think I am justified in my anger about the injustice of inequality. My understanding of it is simplistic, however. I want to better inform myself so I can write with greater credibility.

I think it’s a good thing to recognize one’s own ignorance as the years pass. The universe is more complex than I will ever be able to comprehend, and the more I learn about it, the more I realize I don’t know. I’m exploring and working to educate myself.

Making it through this year would not have been possible without all of your help. Thank you all so much. I long for a time and place where avoiding homelessness isn’t this hard.

Future Focus

From what I have read about trauma recovery, the process can take a lifetime. The damage done over decades cannot be overwritten in a few years. I’m looking to the future with cautious hope. While a new year may not be a magical reset, I am reflecting on my priorities. I want to improve my writing, pursue better mental and physical health care, and continue to heal.

I need a new approach to writing. I generally sit down and start typing without anything in mind. Trying to stick to a specific topic, or starting with a title in mind, is too rigid and I can’t produce enough words. I can write endlessly if I’m free to write about nothing at all. This is lazy writing. I am not challenging myself to better master my only language.

Now that the move is finally over, I am taking steps once again to properly treat my mental illnesses and trauma. I may have uncertainties, but I remain radicalized to the deadliness of the system. Trying to take care of myself has been a fight, and the more I talk to people who’ve found good therapists and the right medications, the more I realize that I have not yet. Since I started seeking care, my housing and life has been so unstable, I’ve had to switch therapists many times. It took me a long time to realize how unhelpful the attempts to get me on track to recovery have been. I’ve only been seeking professional recovery for six years to deal with 22 years of complex trauma, and it is simply not enough to overwrite the damage done.

Someone dear to me has explained that grief turns from a fresh sting to a familiar ache over time. Healing has not been a clear process. I’m not even sure if I am healing, or if time just widens the gap between now and then. The charts say my depression and anxiety and C-PTSD haven’t changed much. I don’t claim to have figured it all out, but I am not optimistic about the world. This is because I look around and see so many people trapped with nowhere to turn.

The people who have power and resources are using it to deprive the rest of us of the basic means to live. People are dying from a failing housing system, a failing medical system, a failing economic system. This is apparently the best it’s ever been, and injustice is rampant. My brain tells me that everything is hopeless, and I can’t help but think that maybe depression and anxiety are proper reactions to the world as it is. I am just beginning to appreciate the fact that maybe my brain is lying to me because the chemicals aren’t working right.

I’m lucky to be able to have a few inexpensive surprises for my loved ones this season, along with the gifts you all have sent from the Amazon wish list. Soon we will celebrate something like Yule and eat something special and exchange these gifts. We don’t have the spare funds to decorate but it will be a festive time to appreciate winter and the safety of a place to shelter in through it. Thank you all for helping to make it possible.

What I Do and Don’t Know

The older I get, the more I realize how inadequate my education was. My writing, my strongest skill, is littered with grammatical errors. I am passionate about the injustices I’ve discovered in the years since I’ve started educating myself, instead of relying on my parents to inform me about the world. When two people are your only constant access to information, your window of what the world looks like is very small. I am amazed every day to the point of emotional overwhelm by the things I learn, simply by watching documentaries about the universe and world.

The place we’ve evolved in is an indescribably tiny world in an incomprehensibly huge universe. In the minds of fundamentalists, this universe can easily be held together by a human-like being who cares about what we do to pleasure each other but not about what happens in war. This has, at least, been my experience. I’m also not excited about January, and I haven’t talked to many people who are. I’m worried, and my anxieties are catastrophic. Perhaps my fears are unwarranted. People from my grandparents’ generation keep reminding me that these things take time. The generation after mine isn’t so sure.

Here’s the thing. I don’t know a lot of things, but I’ve been taught to pretend like I do. That was, in the end, the whole point of competitive Christian homeschool debate: to persuade through performance. That’s why a specific category of human almost always won the biggest competitions. My perception of the world has been altered drastically so many times in my life, that I cannot expect it to remain constant. What I know is that I know a lot less than people who had a standard education.

Writing a memoir about being deprived of a normal life is a complex effort. It is both about writing what I know and what I don’t know. Like I said earlier, the older I get, the more I realize I don’t understand, or I understand at a very rudimentary level.

For instance, the human body. I don’t know much about it. When people refer to organs, what goes through my head is memories of cutting out coloring pages of the organs so my little siblings could glue them onto silhouettes of their bodies that we’d drawn on large pieces of paper. The heart was in red and blue crayon, glued on behind the pink lungs, and below those are the organs I don’t remember very well. Mom read the same books every year, and it was my job to make the copies of the coloring pages so each of the kids could color them in while mom read from a book called “My Magnificent Machine” – a selection of Biblical devotionals about some basic interesting facts about the body that were palatable for children. The people I spend the most time with understand that I need to have common things explained to me every day. I have to be honest that I don’t know what a lot of words mean, and I struggle with conversations about anything medical. I edited this paragraph after some googling because it was more embarrassing than this, too.

While there’s validity in the wisdom of realizing that I ultimately know nothing, I think this problem is also unique. There is genuinely a great deal that I am ignorant about. I feel that the next part of my life looks like writing my way through educating myself. I am uncertain about many things and I want to learn and explore more, instead of trying so hard to recover the past in a way that makes sense to read.

Thank you all so much for reading and supporting me. It has meant a chance at a better place to live, and the opportunity to return to my work in earnest. This month I will be writing less about certainties and more about uncertainties. I’m feeling festive this year, so we’ll discuss seasonal things, like gratitude and depression. I appreciate you all so much.

The Barriers to Stable Housing

I want to preface this post by saying thank you. You are giving us a chance at a place to live, and you all have been giving as much as you possibly can to help. That is tremendous. 29 people have contributed $3,720 to our moving fundraiser. That’s on average over $100 per person. Many of you have even waited for your next paychecks to donate a second or even third time – this hasn’t gone unnoticed. I am incredibly grateful to all of you for thinking of us in your budgets, giving as much as you can spare, even if it’s $1 or $5 a month on Patreon. It has meant survival in a broken system.

I wrote this post several hours ago in a moment of heightened frustration, anger, resentment, fear, and grief. There seems to be an inner world and outer world for me. The one that cares and the one that doesn’t. You have surrounded me as a community of support, while the rest of the world treats me with anonymity.

I still need to reach beyond the barriers I’m about to present in this post, because although I now have the funds to get past the hurdle of the immediate moving expenses – a truck, the application, rent, fees, and a deposit – I am now being told that I still don’t have sufficient income. It’s not enough that I’m making enough to cover rent with a roommate. We must make 3 or 4 times that much in a month. We are short. Like, $2,100 a month short. I need to do at least one of three things, and fast: (1) get a huge influx of Patreon pledges, (2) get a job working from home that allows me to balance caring for my partner, or (3) have someone with a bigger income co-sign our lease. But even if someone were to co-sign, they would have to make 5 times the rent after paying debts or mortgages, and they would be taking on the full brunt of landlord’s wrath if anything falls through. It’s a huge risk to ask someone to take. And it should never have to happen.

Our politicians thought we would go out and buy new cars with our pittance of $1,200, and I’m so poor it wouldn’t have been enough to help me acquire shelter. They are out of touch with reality. My reality is this: I’ve been on the phone for a month trying to find a simple apartment, and I’ve contacted every resource I can find for people who are on the edge of needing a place to live.

So, that said, I don’t know how to begin this except with saying my friends and I are mostly on the edge of homelessness.

Many would have you believe that we deserve this. We haven’t made something of ourselves. We haven’t worked the system in our favor. We haven’t manifested wealth into our lives by adhering to the appropriate beliefs and perspectives. There are so many things they believe we haven’t tried. Surely poverty is deserved.

Many people refuse to recognize that the world is divided between the exploited masses and the privileged few. No amount of factual evidence at the sheer extremity of the numbers will convince them. The reality is too brutal to face, I think. Thousands of people are dying of exposure in a violent form of slow, devastating, mentally crushing indifference we callously label “homelessness.”

I have lived in a car before. That is not an option this time. I don’t have a driver’s license anymore, it wasn’t worth the extra cost to keep it upgraded since I haven’t had the spare funds to acquire a vehicle in years. Even then, the car I lived in with my partner was falling apart and had to be carefully nursed on certain hills between the Target and QFC we each worked at. My partner couldn’t live in a car at all now. It’s not possible. Homelessness would kill him.

My partner is practically bedridden and requires attention and care – he can get to and from the bathroom, but not down the stairs in the middle of our shared apartment, so he can’t acquire food for himself. He can sit up for short periods of time if he’s careful not to overexert himself. If we could get just a tiny space, he still wouldn’t be able to stand long enough to prepare whole meals, but could at least get to and from the kitchen.

Not only does manual labor exacerbate my chronic nerve pain exponentially, but the only jobs I’ve been able to find in recent years have been in retail, and front-line work in a pandemic would put my partner at risk. I’ve been in search of remote work I can do from home, but so is everyone right now, and scams abound. The most consistent form of income I have is from my own writing, through Patreon.

We don’t expect to be able to have a space of our own, we’ve found a roommate who also lives how we need to – staying home and safe in the pandemic, and in need of an accessible place to live. They are disabled and receive benefits, as much as the government has determined they need to survive, which keeps them far below the poverty line. My partner doesn’t receive benefits yet, because he still doesn’t have an official diagnosis, though we’ve been seeking one for years.

Though it’s not a large income, I figured we would have a chance to get something small and cheap. Just a 2-bedroom apartment, so my partner and I can have privacy and so can our roommate. We’ve been raising the money we need to cover the hurdle of move-in costs.

In September, we decided to give ourselves another month, which required paying another round of rent and utilities here. All throughout October, I’ve been searching with dedication for the right place for us. Now it’s the end of the month, and I haven’t found anything that is inexpensive enough for our budget. I was also not expecting the income restrictions to have changed since last time I was in the market for an apartment – landlords now want tenants to make 3 or 4 times rent. Some companies work with co-signers, but for someone to qualify, they would have to make 5 times rent. I haven’t yet found anyone who would be able and willing to co-sign for us.

All of this is over having a place to live. Shelter. A basic human need.

Surely there are resources for disabled people, though, right? If you are literally incapable of making “enough” money, what happens to you?

I spent the past month on the phone trying to answer that question. The county housing authority waitlists are all closed. I’ve called every number I can find, and I have a new list to go through today. Nobody has resources and I’ve been told that our income is simply too low to get anything at all. Not because we can’t make rent, but because we need to make more than that.

In what the capitalists would call a society, hundreds of thousands of people face homelessness when they most need support, shelter, and care: when it becomes impossible to work anymore.

Proving to the government that you are in fact disabled is a lengthy process. After years of trying, I am finally past step one: I have a diagnosis. My partner still does not. Once you’re diagnosed, you must pursue treatment for a year, and the treatment must fail to put you back in the workforce. It would seem that nobody with resources cares how you’re going to keep shelter without an income during that time, least of all people who control rent prices. We need to get my partner a new doctor because the one we have, and the one before that, and the one before that, couldn’t figure out his diagnosis. After a diagnosis, he needs to prove he’s not recovering enough to work, and then we can seek a lawyer to get him the money the government owes him.

Poverty is not a choice. Everyone is more likely to be poor than rich. This is just my own personal experience of the broken system, but I have so many friends who are trying to get into stable housing. It seems to be just beyond reach, no matter how hard we try.

Creative Flow (Futility Revisited)

I’ve just written over 800 words of stream-of-consciousness prose, and it will never see the light of day, thank you very much. Many people are concerned about me right now but this is about the same as it’s always been. By that I mean I’ve always dealt with depression. I used to live in denial of it, thinking I could chase the demons away with the power of prayer and positivity. Now I’m just more honest about it.

————-

Fractured writings and aching hands

From already pouring my heart out in words

Scribbled by hand with mistakes throughout

And typed in prose about the love I’m feeling

It’s not that I have nothing left to say, it’s that there is so much

And I don’t know what of it matters anymore

Only the absurd seems worthwhile to create

Who is there to convince?

————–

The past week has been exhausting. Someone close to me was in the ER, and I attended my first Zoom memorial service for someone who’d passed away, and my therapist had a death in the family so she canceled our session, and I’ve started looking for apartments and packing to move, all while trying to get back to writing so I can do my part to earn my way into regular housing.

Here is the problem I have been having with writing all day. The stuff I’m processing is really personal and I haven’t figured it out yet, or certain things need to happen before I can talk about it. What I can talk about right now is pretty depressing, but I am not any more depressed than usual. In fact, there is a very intense flicker of life in me. I must keep taking care of myself, cultivating my art, and providing for myself and my partner and others I care about.

I’ve been writing sad poetry about what I’m going through and what I’m confused about. I’ve been making some things that are too dark to share with any but a select audience. I’ve been painting a lot and sharing my work with friends and my Patreon patrons. I’d like to keep most of my paintings to a limited audience for now. I’ve also been co-writing fiction. It’s been a lot.

Okay, fine, I’ll put ONE painting here. This one’s called Dark Chest of Wonders, based on this song, and I’m really proud of it honestly:

Description: The painting has at its top center a white clock at midnight in a dark purple room. Below it is a wide black-framed window, with its 6-paned panels flung open to show a moonlit ocean view with stars in a dark blue sky, slightly illuminated by the moon and reflecting on the water. Below the window is an open treasure chest, filled with gold and copper coins and metallic purple and green gems, with purple and green swirls of magic coming up from it. Seeming to rise up out of the chest and landing in the center of the picture is a human-shaped silhouette with a short dress and long flowing hair, arms out as if ready to fly outside. In the center of the silhouette is a white heart.

I’ve already put out of a lot of creative energy today, but none of it was appropriate for sharing here. So today’s post will be short. Basically I’m processing a lot of complicated emotions. Not the least of which is dealing with watching my partner’s health and capabilities deteriorate at an alarming rate. All while the doctors shrug him off or blame him for his symptoms.

The big picture is too much to look at right now, mostly. I get the main headlines as much as anyone, numb to the growing death count and unable to comprehend the loss of how willing our so-called leaders were to sacrifice so many people for their wealth. I simply do not have the spare energy to unpack big questions in these posts. I can only keep making art, taking care of my partner, and asking for support in doing so.

Thank you all for your help in making it possible to keep my partner and me housed. We are trying to move into accessible housing that accommodates our disabilities. Please keep sharing the fundraiser! It helps so much.

That is all for today. Thank you all for your compassion and generosity.

Seeking a Home in the Midst of Collapse

Every night, I get up at least twice in the night to bring meals to my partner. He is too disabled now to get his own food from the kitchen. We have a flight of carpeted stairs separating our bedroom from the kitchen and going down them gives him chest pain and a rapid heart rate, sometimes also palpitations. He only goes down them when absolutely necessary, which is to get to his appointments with the cardiologist and primary care provider – and these can give him symptom flare-ups. He’s never been able to sleep at night, and I’ve never been able to get myself to match his sleep cycle, either. When we met, he was fully capable of cooking for himself. Then over time he needed me to take over the cooking, and leave meals for him to eat during the night while I slept. Now I have to go up and down the stairs many times a day and get up in the night to bring him what he needs.

We are lucky to have had all your support throughout the pandemic. We have been able to pay rent since I left my day job in March and switched to taking care of my partner full-time. Now I am doing my best to also write and create regularly again, but the interrupted sleep is becoming difficult to deal with.

There are many reasons we need to leave this living situation, and I’ve detailed the problems of accessibility and finances in two earlier posts. In this one, I want to explain more about what our options are, the desperation of the situation, and how it looks to be trying to raise money to move into a new apartment while your country’s so-called “society” is collapsing.

First, the situation from a wide angle: my country is collapsing, and most of us are in denial about it.

If you don’t believe me, please check out these independent articles by people who’ve lived through collapses in other countries. Umair Haque wrote a piece that’s been making rounds in my circles entitled “We Don’t Know How to Warn You Any Harder. America is Dying.” Indi Samarajiva wrote another about his experience in Sri Lanka called “I Lived Through Collapse. America Is Already There.

Of note, in the latter article, this bit got my attention:

“If you’re waiting for a moment where you’re like ‘this is it’, I’m telling you, it never comes. Nobody comes on TV and says ‘things are officially bad’. There’s no launch party for decay. It’s just a pileup of outrages and atrocities in between friendships and weddings and perhaps an unusual amount of alcohol.”

I believe that the election will only exacerbate the unrest that has been building for the past six months. I am expecting the worst – an inexplicably low voter turnout, followed by an indefinite and unresolving results determination process that makes the 2000 election look quick, followed by an economic collapse worse than the Great Depression. Other things worse than this may happen, too. I may be wrong, but I must make personal decisions based on the information I have.

To zoom back in to my personal situation, which is only one of a growing number of people who are falling through the cracks financially as our economy topples, we need to move before the election. If any change is going to be made in location, it needs to happen now. So we are looking into applying for an apartment very soon, and we will need to continue bringing in funds to put down a deposit and introductory rent, as well as cover the costs of moving itself.

Right now we’re spending about $900/month on rent, utilities, and my phone (we don’t even pay for a line of phone service for my partner too). Thanks to the generous help of my Patreon patrons, I have a steady income of $591 per month as of this writing. I’ve been using GoFundMe to make up the difference in living expenses. I can get a place where I’d be spending less on rent and utilities than I am now. Providing proof of this income will qualify me to sign a lease, and our future roommate is someone we deeply trust who can pay the other half of rent.

Being homeless again would certainly kill my partner. He is bedridden. You can’t be bedridden and have to walk everywhere, carrying whatever you have left of your possessions, yet this is what homelessness demands. He’s also sensitive to heat and cold, so exposure would make things worse, too – by all standards, he wouldn’t survive. We need a more affordable, accessible apartment to live in. We need to move in at the beginning of November. Otherwise we will be trapped indefinitely.

If you can spare any help, both Patreon and the GoFundMe are great ways to support us in getting into a new home – the former pledges monthly support, while the latter accepts one-time donations. If you can’t spare anything, please don’t feel bad about it – most of us are facing financial struggle. If you’re already pledging and donating, thank you so much for your incredible kindness. We would not be sheltered and alive without your kindness and understanding of what we are going through.

I want to help others like us, because we are not alone – and the numbers of people facing financial devastation are growing daily. I’ve been doing so where possible, like with promoting others’ fundraisers and donation requests on twitter. We are asking for mutual aid, not charity, while demanding a new system that spreads resources evenly. There is no going back to normal. This is the time to imagine a new future and fight for it.