22 May 2015

What would you do if you weren't afraid?

Every day, when I'm walking home from work (be it work work, or working on projects in the lab where I'm one of the lab coordinators) I have the same discussion with myself. I go over where I've been, which with exception of hackathons has been right where I am, and I review my decision that at the end of next summer I'm moving to California. Where, exactly, I don't know-- right now, saying San Francisco works, but it might end up being Oakland or Berkeley or one of the many other specific places that make up what from my view point in Wisconsin just blends together into one big blurry mass.

I wonder if that's the way my family members a hundred (give or take a few) years ago thought about America when they boarded ships to come here from places like Ireland and Poland-- all of the things you've heard, and seen, and read all mixed up in your mind to make a vision of how you think things are there, even though you know it's just a dream. Things won't be just like that when you get there, there are a million things your mind takes for granted and a million more where your mind doesn't have the information it needs so it fills in the blanks from your memories and your hopes and your dreams and your fears. Your mind takes everything you've read, and seen on TV, and every movie, and every song, and smooths out the rough edges and decides that now matter what that faraway place turns out to be, even if the streets aren't lined with gold, it's a better place for you now and in the future than where you are.

No, my ancestors did not have TV or movies, but work with me here, k?

It's not an easy decision to process. A year ago, around this same time, I was sleeping on the streets outside the building I'm sitting in right now. Which of course doesn't prove anything other than that the future remains a mystery.


I cannot claim success, yet, of my plan to be housing stable for a year-- the year isn't up. I haven't talked to my landlord about my lease renewal, because whenever I think about doing so the PTSD kicks in and I can't do it. I just can't talk to the guy. He's at my apartment building a couple of times a week doing landlord things-- he parks outside my window, and he's usually talking loud enough that I can hear him. I have to close my window.

A couple of times over the past few weeks, I've seen prospective tenants waiting outside in the parking lot waiting to meet with him, and he doesn't show up. Then there was the guy across the hall who moved out a couple of weeks ago-- he and landlord had a shouting match outside for more than 20 minutes. In my old 'hood in Milwaukee, there would have been gun shots by minute 15 so perhaps I shouldn't be complaining-- but damn, who runs a business like that?

I'm trying to work up the courage to send  landlord a letter via certified mail (so he can't later say that I never talked to him about it) asking for two things. First, that he either interact with me via email or on paper, and not over the phone. Dude triggers my PTSD in person and on the phone, and I hate that he does, and I really hate the idea of playing the ADA accommodations card here-- but I'm losing sleep over this as August (and the end of my current lease) approach. Second, I'm going to ask him if he's going to renew my apartment lease, or not. Yes or no. If it's no, then I can go find a new place to live. I actually want to stay where I am. It's a really good place to live, minus the landlord.


I was at the VA yesterday to get my medication levels checked. I'm on a low twice daily dose of venlafaxine, and a low dose of prazosin once a night before bed-- a lot less meds, and a lot lower doses, than a year ago. I have a new psychiatrist, who is actually not a psychiatrist but a pharmacist trained to handle psych meds, and I'm trying to get started with a new therapist, who I'm told is a psychology intern.

I can deal with the pharmacist. Operationally speaking she's no different than the psychiatrists-- she hands out prescriptions. It bothers me, and I'm not sure just why, that instead of a LCSW (or someone with similar credentials) the referral I got to the mental health clinic got me to an intern. I can trust the VA, right? Except.I don't, really. Not after what they did (really, didn't do) before, during, and after the times I was homeless. As much as I try not to let emotions rule, I'm still angry about all of that. It's hard for me to trust anyone to start with, and at the end of the day I think I have good reason to distrust-- but it can make life pretty not fun.

I had to jump through hoops to get an appointment with Ms. Intern. She has, to her credit, been calling me and leaving voicemails (in the morning, when I'm asleep) but I haven't wanted to call back. At the VA yesterday I tried to get an appointment made, but she wasn't there and she "does her own appointments". It took some convincing before the front desk staff would get an appointment request done for me (not a referral-- an appointment).  Money talks, bullshit walks. I still don't have an actual appointment. 

And, I need an actual appointment. I can't help feeling like since I'm not living on the street and I'm working and I'm in school that the VA thinks I'm just fine. The memories and images and smells and feelings from the Desert are all still there, as are the memories and images and smells and feelings of my life since I came back from the Desert-- I'm better at managing them than I used to be, much better in some ways, but it's a battle I fight every day.

I'm pushing my limits, lately-- I'm working another job, actually writing software and getting paid for doing so. I absolutely love it even if it's student (and not rockstar) money per hour. It is more time that I'm at work, and while I can more or less set my own hours I still have to follow them. It's been a couple of weeks doing this now, and I can feel it. Work is work and it uses energy even when it is fun.

Which brings me back to the idea of moving to California, where I am going to make a living for myself writing software. I'm looking at the next year of being a developer as being an internship. I'm trying to learn everything I can about modern software development, which I'm also doing a lot of on my own using many of the products and ideas I've picked up from hackathons. The Desert will follow me to the desert, just as it has followed me everywhere else-- so I'm using this year to learn not only bolster my hacking skills and education but my living-as-a-person skills.

There are a million and one things that I wish I could have figured out and lined up before I head out for California next year. I won't have anywhere close to all of the questions I have resolved before leaving, and my daily conversation with myself revolves around the idea of not having all of the answers being ok.


BTW: the phrase "What would you do if you weren't afraid?" was posted all over at a Facebook hackathon, which was the first-ever hackathon I participated in. At the time I was living in my car, which was parked in the parking structure outside the building.

27 April 2015

Sometimes I wish I didn't know now, the things I didn't know then. --Poison, Something To Believe In

April has become one of those anniversary months-- a month where something really major, and really bad, happened in my life, and now every time that month comes around it's frighteningly easy to find myself back in the middle of the original event. The April Event is, of course, being evicted from transitional housing in April of 2014, which happened almost exactly a year ago. It's strange how anniversaries and PTSD work together, and it's strange how even though so much has changed since then it feels like it's still a year ago-- and then again, it doesn't at all, but yet it does. I obviously can't quite nail it down. I can feel myself wanting to react like it's a year ago, meaning it's 0300 and I don't want to go home to the apartment I have now. I slept all weekend (literally-- Saturday morning through Sunday evening), and now I'm more or less wide awake.

Every day, I walk past (and work in) the same buildings that I hid out and slept in (and outside) last year after I'd been tossed out of transitional housing. I still look at places behind bushes and between buildings, evaluating whether they'd be good places to spend the night if the need arises. I carry a ton of stuff in my backpack that I probably don't need that would be useful if I have to spend the night on the street. I know when certain buildings close, and when they open, and where to get out of the rain, and where to sleep (mostly) without being bothered. I know where to get cheap food. I know where to get free food if I really get to that point.

I'd really rather not know these things.

I still walk past the building on Spring and Mills where I lived for almost two years, the building I got kicked out of. I don't know any of the veterans that are there now, partly because they're all different people and partly because the vets that were there when I was, I don't want to talk to. I feel a little bad about that, sometimes, but I've concluded that there's nothing I can do to change the system that is transitional housing. I'm glad I got out of the system when I did. My two years would have been up in November 2014, which would have put me on the street just in time for winter.

So much of life now is a reaction to last April-- dealing with school, financial aid, grades, work, keeping a stable place to live (none of which ever seem certain). There's so much that happens when you enter a program like transitional housing, the paperwork and the appointments and the basic takeover of your life that they try to put into effect. Once they evict you, they forget you, but once you find a place to live on your own, they really write you off. There's no program for formerly homeless veterans, and by having my own place for close to a year I've probably put myself out of the running for being chronically homeless even if I become homeless again. My Vet Center former Vet Center person told me this week that I'm doing fine, that I don't need to come in for sessions any more, and that I should basically run along and have a nice life.

Did I mention I haven't signed a lease renewal for next year yet, and I'm as scared to death of trying to find a new place to live as I was at this point exactly a year ago? I have no idea what my status is with my current landlord, if I'm staying for another year in my current place or not. No, Vet Center, things are not quite in order. They don't feel like they are, because they're not. Add having a place to live to one of my sensitivities-- it pretty much was anyway, even before all of the shit that went down with Porchlight, but now it's something I feel afraid about. It's hard to consider becoming homeless an irrational fear when it has already happened

05 April 2015

How many and a wake up?

I finally found the right office in city hall to talk to about Landlord. I'm going there tomorrow to file a discrimination complaint. I'll admit to looking pretty rough sometimes, especially over the past year or so. Still, it's illegal to refuse to rent to someone because you don't like their personal appearance. I'm not looking for damages, I just want to have a place to live without the bullshit.

I'm feeling pretty rough. My anger fuse is getting really short lately, the anxiety and hyper vigilance is constant, I'm not sleeping right, I don't want to be anywhere near other people, the depression is up and down, the flashbacks, the dreams, the nightmares. It's exhausting. The stuff with the landlord hasn't helped any.

I'm supposed to be taking meds for diabetes and high cholesterol, but I'm not. The VA gave me Prilosec to keeps from throwing up when I take the pills, but I've had several very close calls where I've had to tell a bus driver to stop the damn bus now to let me off so I can hurl-- or I've had to run for the nearest door at work so I didn't paint the lobby with a permanent splatter stain. (Sorry if that's TMI.) I hate throwing up. It's worse because I'm afraid that people will see it happening. It's hard enough trying to look normal and not homeless (whatever that means) without throwing up in random places looking like a drunk.

I'm going to talk to the mental health clinic at the VA tomorrow and set up an appointment. I don't know that I've ever been perfectly happy, but I feel like hell lately. I know from experience that I need help to work through whatever's going on. Honestly, over the past several years I've been thumped like a punching bag. It's getting old. The meds and the therapy need to be different-- how I don't know, but the past two years of popping pills got me homeless and bounced out of school. At a certain point I have to conclude that whatever I was doing didn't work. Still, I can't manage PTSD plus diabetes plus the anxiety and the depression completely on my own, at least not yet (and maybe never).

There is some good news: I got the student application developer position I applied for at work. That means more hours and a bump in pay, and I'll be getting paid to write software. I'm pretty happy about it, because I'll also be getting real (and current) experience. It's an opportunity to become a better programmer, and it's something I feel I can really bulld on. This is also why it's important that I get my meds and therapy together, so I can make the most of this and do well at it.

I don't know if I'll be able to graduate from Wisconsin. Right now it doesn't look like it, but who knows. I'm still going to try to find a way. If I can, cool. If not, fine. I can still take community college classes. My last day in Wisconsin is going to be August 15 2016 either way-- my future is on the west coast, and past a certain point staying here isn't doing me any good. That gives me a year to work on me, get things arranged, hopefully put some money aside, and figure out where I plan to land in California. Silicon Vallley? LA? I don't know yet. A year is enough time to figure some of that out, so hopefully I land on my feet when I get out there. If I'm going to transfer to UC (or wherever) there might be classes that I can take while I'm still here that will help with the transfer, and in any case the soonest I'd be able to transfer is fall 2016 anyway.

There are some other changes I can make now that will help. Getting all of my stuff moved out of my storage unit and into my apartment where I can sort out what I want to keep and what I can/have to get rid of will save me $70/month. Over a year, that's a nice bit of change saved that can help pay for moving. I can put aside at least some of the extra money I make as a programmer. So there's a method to my madness.

A lot hinges on me keeping my current apartment, or finding a new place to move into in August. I have a last resort backup plan-- buy a car, sleep in that, join the Y again so I have a place to shower, etc. I don't want that to happen, but I have a plan just in case. 

A year is both an incredibly long time and an incredibly short time-- but either way it's just a short tour, and I've done that before. Where that short timers calendar?

03 April 2015

"Why does it smell like the homeless?"

This is one of things that you don't ever hear about when people who used to be homeless find "permanent housing". Life is supposed to return to normal, to stabilize. It's not always the case that this just happens.

Yesterday I left my apartment, turned left towards the door leading to the stairs, and saw a handwritten sign on the fire door that read "why does it smell like the homeless?" [sic]

I recognized the handwriting as my landlord's. Which (to me) is really, really disturbing. It sounds like something a 4 year old would ask. It's potentially offensive, since I used to be homeless. It really doesn't make sense to me, that a landlord would post something like this in his own building-- what's his point?

Ok, I know what it might mean-- that something doesn't smell quite right, and this is his (really weird) way of trying to tell his tenants to make the offending thing go away. The normal way would be to call or email or otherwise notify a particular tenant that something smells rotten in the state of Denmark and would you please fix the problem. 

It's probably my stuff. It's painful to talk about, but it's probably my clothes,  books, boxes, etc. I've been fighting off being sick for a few weeks now, and at the same time gradually moving stuff into my apartment from my storage unit. My nose is stopped up (sorry if that's TMI), so if stuff doesn't smell right I probably can't tell.

Things that have been in a storage unit all winter (or in the case of some things, much longer) tend to smell a little musty. I get it.

Clothes that a person wears while they're living on the street tend to pick up some the smells of the street, and that's not always a pleasant thing. It's unavoidable, and it's socially devastating, and as I'm discovering, it doesn't wash out very easily. I get that too. Unfortunately, I can't just throw out and replace every piece of clothing I wore while I was sleeping on the street. 

I'm honestly afraid to call and ask Landlord wtf. During the Great Rent Incident a few weeks ago, I ended up screaming into my phone at the guy to convince him to take my rent payment. I don't want to go through that again.

There's also the note that was written on the 5-day notice I received that said, in the same handwriting as the note on the fire door, "You smell. Take a shower. It is that bad." I ignored it at the time, probably selectively, but also because I was more worried about getting the rent paid so I could continue to have a place to live.

Now, with the notice on the door, things make sense. It's a really twisted way for things to make sense. 

I'm not proud of having been homeless. I don't wear it like a badge of honor. I'm proud of myself for surviving it. That's all. 

There  is an olfactory toll that the street takes. I'm not proud of that either. Catch me on the wrong day when I'm wearing a tshirt that I wore during the worst of being on the street (which has been washed regularly since) and you might notice it. I don't know, actually. If it's there I can't tell, probably because after so long I'm probably just conditioned to it. That doesn't mean I like it or accept it. 

It's also hard to keep track of taking care of myself in general because of the PTSD, the depression, the anxiety, and all of the fun associated symptoms. There are some days when I'm honestly doing pretty well just get my ass dressed and out of my apartment. It's possible that the one day I passed Landlord in the hallway a month or two ago was a really bad day.

That I'm essentially off of my psych meds doesn't make leading a normal life any easier. It might sound like I don't give a shit, but that's not correct. I really do care about taking care of myself. It's like all things when PTSD is involved, some days are better than others.

In trying to decipher Landlord's secret code, though, it all starts to make sense.

Now I start to wonder if this is why Landlord hasn't managed to get me any lease renewal paperwork. It's already apparent (and it really doesn't matter) that Landlord doesn't like me, and the feeling is mutual. Here's the thing, though-- if he's stonewalling on renewing my lease because he doesn't like my personal appearance, it might be a legal issue. It's illegal in my city to discriminate against someone (not rent to them) based on personal appearance.

I don't want to look (or smell) like a homeless person-- I don't want to be perceived as a homeless person-- because there's nothing positive about that perception. It's not anything I aspire to.

It's also not fair, and the law says so, to refuse to rent to someone because they look pretty rough. I am not a lawyer. I am educated though, and my research says that filing a complaint with the city might be the right thing to do. I'm going to talk to someone from the city later today to see what options I might have.

Out of all of this what do I want? To have a place to live, and to be left alone.same things everyone else wants.

20 March 2015

Don't be a dick

I need to wrap up the story of this month's rent-- I talked about my landlord once already this week and once last fall. Landlord is unprofessional, impolite, knows nothing about this crazy concept of "customer service" and he's a (for lack of a better term) a bully. If this were the military I'd at least have the recourse of a chain of command to work with, but it's not. This was the only landlord that would rent me an apartment last fall, so I didn't have much of a choice. It was either rent from him or spend the winter sleeping outside the Computer Science building.

Here's the rest of what happened.

I called back, after work, which is for me after 0100, and left a message that I intended to pay, needed to know exactly how much I needed to pay, and that I also needed to know if he'd prefer a cashier's check.  I also let him know that I'd have whatever amount ready on the 19th (Thursday).

Landlord called that morning and left me a three minute message (voice mail cut him off after three minutes, going on about how I was not to call the office when it is closed, and that he's seen me coming and going from the apartment building in the afternoon a week or two ago, and that.... well, you get the idea.  I'm honestly not trying to be difficult with the guy. I don't talk on the phone. In my world, people email, text, and instant message (sometimes if we're physically located in the same room), and a phone call is usually the last resort in getting in touch with someone.

Anyway: landlord says that I am to call him at exactly noon the next day to set up a time to meet.

Except, he's not done. He calls back after a while, complains that the voice mail cut him off, says he had some other calls, and now wants me to call back between 1130 and 1300 or 1330 at the latest. That takes about a minute, and he spends another two minutes (until the voice mail cuts him off again at three minutes) explaining that my rent check was returned and what each late fee is for and everything else. Most important, he gives me a dollar figure for what I owe, which is the only information I really needed from the 6+ minute rant.

Wednesday morning, again after work when I have time to think and time to call, I call landlord and leave a voice mail that says I will have the cashier's check for the full amount I owe ready for him to pick up at 1300 on Thursday 3/19, and that I will need a receipt from him as a record that he received the payment from me (meaning we're all settled and cool).

On the morning of the 19th I get another call, which goes straight to voice mail because I'm a nerd and know how to set up Do Not Disturb on my phone (also, I am usually up all night and get the little sleep I do get in the morning). The VM starts with "I got your message", goes on to the usual "I asked you to call at a specific time and you didn't", and then gets to "we're on for 1300 today".

Good, right? No. He's not done. More about what happened with the bank. More about the check being returned. Then, I'm supposed expected to call him at exactly ten minutes before 1300 to confirm.

Confirm what? We're agreed on the amount I'm paying, that it needs to be a cashier's check, and that he's going to come by at 1300 to pick up the check. What else is there to confirm? At this point I'm triggered to the point where I can't see straight. I just want to give him the damn check, get my receipt, and be done with all of this so I can take a few deep breaths, recharge, and get on with life. This shouldn't be so difficult.

1300 comes, and 1300 passes. No landlord.

About 1315 I get yet another phone call from landlord, from yet another different phone number (which I don't answer, because I don't recognize the phone number). He tells me I'm a no-show because he told me to call at exactly ten minutes to 1300 and I didn't call. Before he ends the call he says "I don't know what the problem is with your communication, but you just can't communicate, I guess."

Deeeeep breath.

We've already agreed on the amount, that it's to be a cashier's check, that he's going to come to my apartment (which is in a building he owns) to pick it up, and he's going to do so at 1300. Exactly what else is there to confirm? Now I'm beyond triggered, I'm just pissed. This is stupid. I'm so anxious I'm feeling sick and he's coming up with this bullshit?

Now I have to call him back to find out what the hell is going on. This won't be fun (and it wasn't). The conversation quickly becomes him shouting at me through the phone, at which I'm shouting back "I HAVE A CASHIER'S CHECK IN MY HAND, MADE OUT TO YOU, FOR THE EXACT AMOUNT YOU SAY I OWE. I AM STANDING IN MY APARTMENT, WAITING FOR YOU TO COME PICK IT UP AND PROVIDE ME WITH A RECEIPT. WHAT THE FUCK IS THE COMPLICATED PART?"

Now he says that because I didn't call him to confirm, he can't make it to come pick up the check. He lives in a suburb, so it's probably about a 20 minute drive, and he has business to conduct and doesn't have time for this. The shouting escalates. He's back on the "why don't you call me when I tell you to" thing when I remind him that I'm the one writing the check-- I'm the customer-- and if I tried to talk this way to my customers at work, I'd be fired on the spot. (Which is true.)

Yeah, he really didn't like that. It's true, though. Even if you're a landlord who drives a nice car and lives in the burbs, you're still in business and your customers are the reason you're even in business. I'm as confused at this point as I am angry. This is the fourth (out of five) landlords I've had in Madison that's had no problem treating me like shit, being consistently unprofessional, and in general being a dick.  I understand my rent was late. It's a bad thing. At this point though, I have the money to settle my account and I'm trying to give it to you. What does it matter when I call you, if you get the message? Why do I need to confirm what we've already agreed on? Take the fscking money.

Next he says he won't be able to get to my apartment for a couple of hours. He's a busy man. When I say I have another appointment that afternoon (which is also true, I have an appointment at the Vet Center, a ~30 minute walk away), he says I should just leave the cashier's check on my kitchen counter and he'll stop by and pick it up later "when he has time".

Mofo, you had no problem getting to my apartment to put a 5-day notice on my door last Friday (which, incidentally, included an insult that would fit right in on a fourth grade playground-- no, I'm not making this up).

This is where I repeat (trying to be calm) that I need a receipt for my payment.  Landlord takes this personally, like how dare I not trust him to come into my apartment and get the check? He does this all the time. I don't need a receipt.

Yes, I do. The more we talk, the more I need a receipt.

Finally, he says there is a maintenance guy that was in the area who can stop by and pick up the check. Landlord needs to call him to see if he can do that. Fine. I still want a receipt. I'm supposed to call Landlord back to confirm something about the maintenance guy. Whatever. Send the maintenance guy with a receipt.

The maintenance guy actually shows up not long after that. He doesn't have a receipt, says I don't need one. After I get a pen, he scrawls out a receipt on the back of a bank deposit slip from his back pocket. Why is generating a receipt so hard for a landlord that's been in business for ~40 years? In the meantime, Landlord has called again to tell me I need to confirm something with maintenance guy. When maintenance guy leaves, I call landlord and tell him we're cool, the reason I didn't call about the guy coming over to get the check was because I was talking to the guy. Finally, thankfully, that call ends. Rent is paid. I have a receipt, sort of.

Of course, I'm triggered to the point that I'm shaking. I'm standing in my apartment, but I might as well be in the Desert in the middle of the night running for my chemical warfare gear that's nowhere near as close as it needs to be because the SCUD alert is going off. It feels the same.

I actually do have a Vet Center appointment after all of this, after explaining what happened my Vet Center tells me I look exhausted. I was.

I still am, even after a night's sleep and a day has passed, because every night I have to come home to that apartment. It's bad enough that every time I come home I feel anxious, because it reminds me that I used to be homeless. Now coming home reminds me that there's a landlord who has no feelings, no remorse, towards making me feel like shit, and if anything goes wrong with my apartment I have to call that same landlord to get anything fixed. If I want to ask where my lease renewal is, I also have to call and talk to the same landlord.

Most campus apartments do lease renewals in February; after I told my landlord I intended to stay for another year, I never heard anything more about it. Maybe it's a moot point after all of this week's festivities, which is honestly up to my landlord. I'm responsible for paying my rent on time, and this month it didn't get paid on time. Once I knew what the situation was I took the necessary steps to fix it, and now my account is up to date.

All of this was so completely unnecessary. A couple of emails were all that were needed to communicate what needed to be exchanged to get paying my rent coordinated. I tried to avoid the game-- and that's what Landlord is playing, is a fucked up childish game-- up to the limits of my medication. Introversion and the effects of PTSD mean I don't go looking for crazy stimulation. I have enough, too much, of that already in the never ending movie titled Shit That Happened To Me In The Desert.

Don't be a dick. --@wilw