13 January 2014

Thinking out loud, about college

I'm just kinda letting some stuff out. My classes start next week, PTSD and homelessness be damned.

If you're dealing with college, dealing with PTSD, it's fucking hard. It's also easy to give up. You look into the future, and there's nothing there because you just failed all of your classes and got booted out of school. That shit about being a Veteran and being automatically able to handle a simple thing like college-- you've been through a war, you can handle this-- that doesn't work when PTSD gets involved.

You struggle, you fail, and suddenly you're not coming back next semester. Shit. Now what? No one tells you what to do, just that you can apply for readmission next year.

Then the last of the financial aid gets spent, and you're really screwed. Your landlord makes your life hell trying you evict you at the same time as you're waking up at 0430 to the sound of machinery moving around, backup beepers that would wake the dead, sand and dust in the air that make outside look and sound and smell a lot like the Desert.

You're in therapy at the VA hospital. You're in crisis mode. Life sucks. You scrape up enough money to get most of the rent paid, but you can't find a place to live because you won't get a good reference from the landlord that runs the place you're living in. The VA is trying to help but you're still going to end up homeless.

Still, you get up every day and try again, try to do something, even if it's just make coffee. The end date of your lease is coming up, and getting the fuck out of this apartment is a priority now. Getting back into school this semester? Doesn't happen.

You manage to get your stuff out of your apartment only because a Vet you know from Transitions Clinic is generous enough to help you move- he has a van. Now your stuff is in a storage unit on the other side of town and you're sleeping in the car in a parking structure next to Camp Randall.


I camped out on the campus I'd been dismissed from, and that was easy for me because I'm single and don't have anyone else (kids) to worry about. I had a job, which didn't pay that much but kept me in pizza and Dew. I studied Java, the programming language I'd need when I got back into college. I wrote bash scripts, little programs that pulled data from websites like the temperature and thunderstorm warnings. I got up, every day, pulled my pants back on, waited until no one was around, climbed out of my car, and went to Union South or Computer Sciences or Engineering, went to work, and for a while, just kinda faked it. I really didn't have anywhere else to go, so I stayed here.

When someone I knew asked what classes I was in, I mumbled.

When I could afford it, I'd get a motel room for the night-- get a real shower, sleep in a real bed. Feel almost human again, enough to keep going for a while longer. When I couldn't afford a room, I'd stay up all night in academic building, drinking Dew and coffee to stay awake. If I was sleeping, I'd get thrown out. If I was reading, that was cool. If I was up all night, I'd sleep during the next day or not at all.

I learned where the rest rooms with large handicapped stalls were, because there I had room to change clothes. I learned where the security cameras were, so I could avoid them.

I liked the freedom. Other than the possibility of being arrested for trespassing or robbed, that is.

During football season, the top level of the parking ramp had porta johns.

I didn't look in the mirror much.


I made Computer Sciences my hangout location. Sort of like John Nash did in the movie A Beautiful Mind. My login in one of the labs still worked, and I was working so I had email and such, and I really did get some programming done. I participated in the Facebook Hackathon in October 2012.


I found out about VA Transitional Housing, and got on the waiting list.

I felt anxious and afraid and ashamed when my name came up, because getting into a program meant I couldn't survive on the street alone-- winter was coming, and the nights were already getting cold.

The car was dead. I didn't have money to fix it, and when it was finally towed, I didn't have the additional money to retrieve it.

I had a place to live though, finally.  Always a good start.


I'm back, now. I never really left, I just stayed and worked and coded and had a lot of bad days and some good ones. Classes start next week, and I'll be in class. This time I have support in place-- the Vet Center, the mental health clinic at the VA Hospital, the staff at vets house, the campus disability resource center. I've learned more than I can describe and I have a plan in place.

I feel better. Not perfect, not great, and some days still suck.

I went to the Facebook Midwest Regional Hackathon a while back, and built Weathercheck, a web based mobile weather app.


I used to think that someday, the clouds would go away and the sun would shine and I'd be over this PTSD thing. Maybe that day will happen, but I'm not so worried about it. PTSD isn't something you get cured of, it's something you get better at dealing with.
It's ultimately up to me what happens. I've decided that I'm going for it.

PTSD and being homeless be damned.

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