Suspended in Amber & Slipping Through Cracks

11 years ago I had a total psychotic break. It lasted for 4 months. I was never hospitalized.

Instead, I ended up homeless and living in a garage where, my first morning there, my adoptive sister tried to choke me out and had to be pulled off of me. This was because I was not able to drive her daughter to the bus stop less than a block away. Because I was in psychosis. I got choked because I could not drive because I was in psychosis and therefore not safe to drive, because you kind of need a sense of reality to drive, at least in some cases.

I lived in the garage for 2 months, sleeping on a couch with bad springs, surrounded by my boxes of possessions that had come from the apartment I’d lost, the nicest apartment I’d ever lived in, the place I still think of as home. It was winter, and the electricity was shut off because this garage was attached to the house my adoptive sister was renting, and she decided to move out. No, she didn’t care that there was an ill person subsisting in the garage. She left, and I was there with no electricity, freezing cold in the dark, still coming down from the psychotic break.

I was given medication that made me sleep over 15 hours a day and gain 50 lbs. There was no therapy. That would come later, in false starts, with bad therapists, including one who would tell me, based on my history of chronic abuse and trauma, “You will never be happy, and you will never be functional”, because that was apparently her version of therapeutic. Those words still haunt me to this day. I wonder, was she right?

I moved from the garage into an attic apartment that was infested by rats that ran by me as I slept on the floor. From there I found an apartment that I was able to afford on disability – I could afford exactly rent and electric and nothing more. My adoptive sister tried to have me evicted from this apartment, by calling and lodging many false complaints against me, saying that she could smell my cats in her apartment next door – she of course did not live next door and the entire thing was a lie – and had a couple of her friends call pretending to be other neighbors with the same complaint. She did this because I caught her stealing my mom’s Oxycontin on Christmas Eve, and I was honest with my mother about what had happened. What would you have done? Protected the person who broke into your mother’s home to steal her pain medication that she desperately needed, or be honest about what happened? I did the latter, and was nearly homeless again as a result.

Over the next decade, a lot of things happened. Doctors denied me my medication. I couldn’t find a psychiatrist – none in the area were taking patients – there literally was not a single psychiatrist taking insurance who would accept a new patient in the entire city. A psychiatrist fired me, because I complained about the therapist who said I’d never be happy or functional (she worked in the same office, and I told the office manager, who yelled at me. I was fired for “noncompliance”.) My adoptive sister systematically brought my elderly parents down with a thousand tiny cuts and several hundred deep ones, a constant supply of stress and threats and ultimatums if they did not do as she wished. My father died suddenly. My mother dissolved into profound grief and heartbreak from which she never recovered. I could do nothing to help, because I was so sick, and because I had no control over what happened to her, no way to stop the machinations of evil that my sister (and now her daughter) perpetrated on my fragile mom.

And I had no financial means to help, either. My father had died leaving only a very small insurance policy that was quickly eaten up by cremation expenses and bills and an ill-fated used car purchase that my mother insisted on making because she wanted me to have a safe vehicle. The car was a lemon. I should never have let her do it. I tried to argue against it. I look back now and I am sickened that I allowed her to spend money that should have been kept for her own well-being on something to benefit me. It makes me disgusted with myself, and ashamed.

My rent increased each year, and continued to increase. Each year the struggle to get by became more difficult.  A dear friend offered to move in to help out. I accepted, giving him the bedroom I never used, because due to my PTSD, I could only sleep in the living room, where the front door is, because what if someone broke in and I didn’t hear it? My hyper-vigilance demanded this accommodation, even though now I really wish I had a bedroom.

Then my mom died. I lost my best friend.

None of the therapists I saw could help me. None of them ever even brought up my psychotic break. You’d think that would be a topic of conversation at some point, but apparently, no. I went therapist to therapist, searching for someone who would understand, and also, for someone who would fucking listen. Because these therapists all shared the same trait: they’d listen to the first part, then assume they knew everything, and ‘give advice’ based on that. Which, you know, first off, giving advice is not really therapy. Anyone can give advice. If that worked, no one would need therapy. Secondly, I’ve been through so many things, and there is so much detail to all of them because of the way my mind has processed these things, that I am like an onion, with many layers, and all of those layers need to be taken into account. You can’t read a few pages of a book and know the story.

They would also try to fit me into some pre-fab notion of what a “normal person” is, instead of helping me to understand and accept who it is that I actually am, and work with THAT person, with the person I actually happen to be and not the person they thought I should be. Any treatment plan based on changing who I am as a person will fail. A successful treatment plan is one that works with my strengths, works on my weaknesses, gives me tools to deal with real situations that arise. A treatment plan based in reality. None of these people had it. One therapist even told me that my treatment plan was “none of [my] business”.

During all of this time, I have not once had the time to recuperate, to heal, to process what I went through. I have not been successful in efforts to build a routine again, to be part of the world again. Because I have been struggling financially, always stressed about how to pay things, how to get heavy things like kitty litter HERE because I have no car, how to supplement the unsustainable amount that has not grown commensurate with inflation. And I have been struggling, every day, with just how to get through the day, when I am plagued by flashbacks of lifelong abuse by so many different people, and jarred by so many bad memories, and self-recriminations for things I should have done differently, things I did wrong, things for which I should be and am ashamed. In short, struggling to stay on the planet. To stay alive.

Through this I have been fumbling, trying in vain to create a routine to follow, to do things that are healthy and “self-care”, to right my thinking on my own since I have no professional assistance that is not derelict*; trying fruitlessly to fight the bad voices that make me despair and try to convince me to just give up. I have kept going, my knuckles white from gripping onto whatever might tether me to this realm.

The truth of it is, though, that I have spent 11 years in this living room, not getting better.

I have tried so hard to get better. I have done so many different things. I have adjusted my attitude – as much as someone with severe mental illness can – so many times.

I’m not getting better. I have never had a chance to get better.

I have never heard of someone who had a psychotic break who was not hospitalized. But then there’s me. This makes sense, though. Because I was in a car wreck where I was thrown 75 feet and no one even bothered to check me for a concussion. And all the bad experiences with doctors in general – from psychiatric to medical. A continual pattern of disregard.

Things like this, they give me the message that I really, and truly, do not matter.

I wish more than anything I could have just a few months, where I didn’t have to worry about financial survival, where I could actually and finally focus on getting well, or at least better. Where I could look again for a therapist and hopefully find a good one, and concentrate on going to therapy a few times a week. Focus on building a new routine, a new life. Find myself again, in such a way that I don’t disappear and I don’t fall apart every morning, the way I do now.

Because right now, every morning of every day, I wake up a sobbing shambles, a complete mess, paralyzed, not sure what to do, and haunted by so much bad shit in my brain that it physically hurts. The anxiety is so bad I have to take a benzo and then I have to ingest huge amounts of caffeine to stay awake, and also to keep myself awash in enough temporary dopamine that I don’t just say, “That’s it, I’m done, I can’t do this anymore.”

I’m on all the medication that they can give me. So many pills. It does work. It does its job. But it isn’t enough. You can’t just medicate trauma away, you can’t medicate your brain into processing and parsing things and assimilating them into your narrative in such a way that you can go on comfortably.

They always say, if you are down, ask for help. Reach out. I have done that, over and over again. I have done that to the point where I now wonder, have they changed the spelling or the pronunciation of the word “help” and I just didn’t get the memo? Am I speaking the correct language? Or is it as I suspect, deep down, that when it comes down to it, I really don’t matter?

Eleven years have passed away, been wasted, sitting in this living room on this futon upon which I sleep. I don’t want it to be this way. I am willing to put in the work, and I have been from the very start – ever since I tried to kill myself the first time when I was 8 years old, and no one believed that I was depressed because a person is supposed to pull themselves up by those bootstraps, those fucking bootstraps that every mentally ill person would love to brandish at the people who suggest that the Road to Wellness is merely a matter of eschewing some indolence they seem to think we have.

Motherfucker, if I could pull up some metaphorical out-of-current-parlance item to fix myself, don’t you think I would have done that ELEVEN YEARS AGO? Because who among us wants eleven years of their life to just disappear with nothing to show for them? Who?

I have spent time focusing on small problems in order to avoid the biggest one, the hydra-headed one that follows me around like the dust cloud follows Pig-Pen from Peanuts. But all problems lead to one end, and it is this one. The Big One.

I never had time to get better. And so I never have. And things just keep getting more and more log-jammed, in my head, and in my life, and I am overwhelmed.

I am studying coding, in an attempt to make something of this life. But I know that unless I get the actual Life stuff sorted out, it’s not going to help. I have to be a person who is reliable and focused, not someone who has to put themselves back together every morning from scratch.

How the fuck will I ever get there, when my main focus must be survival? What I have to do to survive, it’s not healthy for me in myriad ways. And better still, people judge me harshly for doing it. A cherry atop the melted sundae of all the thoughts of the potential I had as a child, and the possibility of what might have been.

It’s hard sometimes to hear parents discuss parenting with other parents. They are all so focused on their children’s welfare. Their lives appear to be centered around parenting, and being parents. They think about things like which school is best, and how it will affect their child’s future. Their kids are involved in school activities and have friends and don’t have to lie about the stuff that happens at home. And their kids don’t seem to be randomly insulted by people on the street for no reason. It’s like, if I squint my mind’s eye I can almost see that kind of life, where every day is the same, there is a routine and you follow it, and you make progress in things, and your parents know what’s going on in your schooling, and the idea of you going to college isn’t considered ridiculous or impossible or simply “off the table” but instead a real fucking thing. Where you say “I want to do this creative thing for a living” and you don’t hear back, “You’ll never make a living doing that” as the very first response to your giving voice to a dream. Where you know how to plan out things, because you have confidence that the future you are planning is actually going to happen.

Oh, yeah;. And where no one hits you or beats you with a belt or molests you or psychologically tortures you day in and day out. That, too.  And where you can have friends over and know everything will be okay, that there won’t be some horrible scene coming out of nowhere that will end with someone threatening to throw you out of the house to live on the street. Where you can say, “Yeah, this teacher was kinda a jerk”, and know that later on, no one in your family is going to be calling that teacher and threatening to put a bomb in her car.

My parents loved me. But my dad was psychotic for most of my childhood, and neither he nor my mom protected me from the adoptive sister, who was and is a violent sociopath. And they were so busy reacting to her every fucked-up move, that there was no room for anything, or anyone, else.

I don’t know what else to say. I have to try to figure out how to make this day worth something now. I have been crying all morning. I am surrounded by used tissues and I can no longer breathe through my nose. And these tears and this Everything has fucked up a day where I needed to try to do something to earn some money to pay for the ever-growing list of things that need to be paid for, some of which – like redoing my teeth so my facial bone structure doesn’t cave in – will probably never be possible.

This is the truth about my life. Along with so very much else that remains unsaid.

 

*ETA: my shrink is a good shrink. It is the 15-minute hour, though, and just medication, so I didn’t count him among the therapists and doctors I grouped together as derelict. But I wanted to acknowledge him, and say that without him, I would not be here.

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