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16 August 2011

Homelessness, but maybe not what you think.

You may want to get a fresh cup of coffee before reading this post.  Everything here is true, but in the end it is not about sleeping on the street. It is, however, about doing something else.

It is not yet the start of the fall semester, but it is closer every day. Around here, it is moving week-- most student apartment leases begin on August 16th, but end a day or two before that. If you're moving from one apartment to another, you are essentially homeless for a day or two until you can get into your new apartment/house/room.  Soon, it will also be time for the next wave of incoming freshmen, arriving to move into the dorms.

I have been really worried/stressed/triggered the past few weeks, as August 15th has approached. I have been afraid that something had gone wrong, that I'd missed filling out a form. Afraid that I'd find myself homeless because I hadn't renewed my lease properly, that someone would show up at my door ready to move in.

My life, in terms of having a reliable place to call home, has not been the most stable. My parents divorced when I was 13, so my sense of home was broken at that point-- my Dad moved out. My Mom found someone new and started making plans to get married and build a house in the country, and that affected where I'd go to high school. My Dad stayed on the same end of town, and eventually regular weekend visitation was established, but I had two lives. The first was actually in high school in the country, and the second was in the city at my Dad's apartment.

My space at my Dad's apartment was initially a couch to sleep on, and a corner of the bedroom that was used as storage. My computer desk was the closed cover of a sewing machine.

At one point my Dad retired and moved to Florida, meaning I had to spend all of my time at my Mom's house. This didn't work well for me. At her house, and with her new husband, I had no freedom, no phone of my own, no computer. Mom's house was sterile, unwelcoming. I didn't get along at all with her new husband.

My Dad unretired after being in Florida for a while-- his new relationship had not turned out well. He ended up in the hospital, for what were probably psych related issues. And so he moved back, and I was able to spend weekends at my Dad's place again. So that was better.  actually had my own room, a desk, and a waterbed. Aww yeah.

I finished high school and went off to college. Home was Dad's place, not Mom's. I lasted three semesters at my first attempt at college, and found myself with a choice-- Mom's place, Dad's place, or my car. I chose Dad's place, but the only space available there was a small room in the basement, a storage room converted to a workshop.

I'd decided to enlist as soon as I knew college wasn't working out, but it was January and my entrance date wasn't until June. I didn't have a job, so I didn't have money. I didn't get along at all with my Dad's new wife, so I didn't spend much time at home. I had a car, though, so I spent my time on the local cruising strip-- it wasn't the same as being homeless, but it was close. Most of us that cruised the strip were in similar situations. Sleeping in the car in the parking lot of a grocery store was often a better choice than going "home".

I tried to move my spot in basic training up so I could leave earlier-- I'd visit my recruiter fairly often, who would tell me she had a whole list of people that wanted to leave sooner than they'd signed up for. There were actually a lot of people around my age that were having similar problems, although I wouldn't fully realize that until years later.

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When my enlistment was up, it was up. I was overweight, and so I'd received a bad review. I was also "on the program", which took away my ability to reenlist.  I think everyone, to some extent, once they've decided they're getting out want to do so as quickly as possible and get life going. I resisted the urge to lay a patch going through the gate for the last time, and flipping the guard off on the way past. I suspect we all want to do that, too.

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Once I was a civilian again, my wife and I ended up moving to her parents house. There weren't many other options.

Eventually we bought a double-wide trailer, which was placed on one end of her parents land. What happened while I lived there isn't as important as what happened when I stopped living there.  Her parents decided to sell their house and land, and our (my) trailer along with it.

For a while, we lived in the rec room behind my inlaws' house-- an outside building that had been converted into the family room. The realtor would bring people in unannounced when showing the home, even when we were not there, or worse, when we were asleep or busy working on homework. Anytime there was a showing, it meant that we'd been moving soon on very short notice.

When we did finally have to move, my inlaws gave us a bed in a corner of a guest house bedroom that was already full of boxes. We had no privacy, no choice-- when I suggested an apartment, the inlaws wouldn't allow it.

That situation was eventually resolved by me leaving school, and us moving back to my hometown. I was able to get a job, and my Dad owned a second duplex, so we moved in to the empty lower unit.

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That changed after about a year; my Dad's sight and general health were getting slowly worse, and a nursing home for him was becoming a possibility. His wife, for whatever reason, was scared that the duplex would be lost anyway if my Dad went into managed care, so she put in on the market to sell.

So here we go again-- realtors, people walking through my house, nodding in disapproval. We hadn't been able to bring a lot of our furniture when we moved, and I heard more than one potential buyer whisper to the realtor, "how do people live like this"?

Faced with moving yet again, we bought a small house and moved.

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We moved into the house in June. At Thanksgiving I was unemployed, which lasted over a year before I found a job delivering packages. I also found another job delivering pizza.

Two years later, my Dad passed away in spring.

That fall, I found out my wife preferred girls to boys. Upon finding that out, I suggested she leave for good. (I have no problems with anyone being lesbian, gay, or whatever. I have a problem the person I'm married to doesn't tell me, and blames marriage issues on me. But that's another story.)

The next day, she was loading a UHaul, and then she was gone. I was left with a house payment on a mortgage that was already three months behind, so the bank began foreclosure.

At the time, it seemed that the bank and the Sheriff would arrive at any moment- I didn't know that it would take another year or two for that to actually happen. I did know I had to get out of the situation I was in... squatting in a house I no longer owned.

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The next spring, I moved out of the house, into an apartment in the city where I live now. It was small, only a studio, but with a new job and careful budgeting I was able to afford it. It was the first apartment I'd ever found on my own. After five years there, I moved to the campus apartment I live in now.

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In light of all of that, perhaps it's not at all surprising that I've been out of whack these past couple of weeks. I've missed two VA appointments, been late to or missed shifts at work, and have generally been not functioning well.

Is it rational to fear that I'll lose my apartment this week? No, it isn't. It's PTSD together will all of the bad experiences I've had, getting all jumbled up and making me afraid and anxious.
This is something I need to work on.

Tomorrow, I'll call the VA and let them know that I'm all right, and I'll reschedule the missed appointments. I'll try to think about today, instead of yesterday. And I'll go on.

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This post was pretty long, thanks to those of you that made it to the end.  The moral of the story is that PTSD isn't just what happened during the war, or the abuse, or the trauma-- it's everything else, too. Surviving on a battlefield, surviving in spite of our attackers, surviving in general makes us stronger. After the bad things, we can survive anything. 

"Just surviving" doesn't mean that we make the right choices as a result. In all of the situations I talked about, I could have done something different. At the time, though, it seemed like the choice I made was the one most likely to keep me going.

That's not living. That's surviving.

PTSD therapy, be it counseling or group work or medication (or all of the above) teaches you how to make decisions that are not just based on what you did to survive in the past. The goal is to be able to interpret situations and make decisions that turn out well for you, better than just base survival.

If you're looking for a reason to start therapy, now you have one. Life can and will get better, but there will be rough spots like this.

And, as always, some days are better than others.

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