30 May 2017

Solitary confinement. And, college.

It's June. WTF.

The (extended) family that was here (my sister's ex-husband and his sister; he owns the house where I've been staying off and on the past few months) left on May 18th, finally. If you haven't read any of my posts from May 2017, the short version of the story is that they were both loud and disruptive. My sister and I both are pretty quiet people, and other than suppertime we don't interact that much. She has her part of the house (the basement) and I have mine (an upstairs bedroom). I've done my best to explain what's going on with my problems with PTSD, and she does her best to respect that and not do things that trigger me.

When my sister's ex and his sister were here, there was no such thing as quiet. The TV, which is down one flight of stairs and on the other end of the house, was loud enough that I could hear it in my room. They'd yell across the house, or across the same room, at each other. I wore ear plugs all the time, Decibullz during the day and (because they are somewhat softer and more comfortable when head meets pillow) foam ear plugs at night. These are the bad ass serious kind of ear plugs that people wear who work in places like factories and DJs that work in clubs wear and at times they still were not enough to block all of the noise that was going on downstairs in this house.

At least once a day I would open the door to my room, peek out, hear the noise level, and close my door and lock it (and not emerge until the next day). For most of the month of May I was in self inflicted solitary confinement, ear plugs in, doing my best to cross off days on the calendar. I'm quite chronologically challenged anyway; I can't tell today from yesterday from ten years ago, so it's kinda normal that I don't remember specific time ranges sometimes. I can tell you though, that the better part of the month of May 2017 is missing from my life.

There are a couple of specific events that really stand out from the past month though, both of them involving typed and laser printed letters.

When I was in the VA grant per diem/transitional housing program, one of the ways that the social workers would "communicate" with me was by leaving notes either on my door or slid under my door. Usually, knowing that I didn't get home from work until after 0200, they'd leave notes at midnight right before they left for the night-- the content of the letters was always something that they knew I wouldn't like or agree with. Leaving notes the way they did virtually assured them of not having to talk to me until at least the next day.

If you ever want to trigger me and remind me what it's like to live in a VA grant per diem/transitional housing shelter, sit down at your computer and open up Microsoft Word. Then type out a short informal letter that tells me what you want done (never ask for permission), print it, and slide the note under my door when I'm asleep.

The request here from sister's ex was (only) that I move my truck from where it was parked to give him better access to the garage, a perfectly reasonable thing to ask-- my sister's ex had no way of knowing this would be a trigger for me and in fact I think he (still) doesn't even know or understand what triggers actually are.

That's how people tend to respond when a) they're at least partially the cause of my PTSD being triggered and/or b) they don't want to deal with it, likely because they don't understand and don't care to try. Sitting down at a computer, typing out a quasiformal letter, printing it, and sliding it under my door to ask me to move my truck? If you're reading this because you're trying to cope with a veteran's (or someone else's) PTSD, please please please especially when it's something simple just go ahead and ask. I get that you might feel like you're walking on eggshells around me, but I haven't stopped being human. You can still talk to me, provided you're not sneaking up behind me and not raising your voice (etc). Yes, I might react badly at first, but I don't mean to and usually once I figure out what's going on it's not a problem.

The other thing that happened was that on the day sister's ex (and his sister) left until the next trip here in fall, he again sat down at the computer and typed a letter, printed it, and left in on the counter for me before getting in his vehicle and leaving. The letter was a request that I start paying $n rent per month while I'm staying here, because the costs for maintaining the house have gone up.

Before I continue, allow me to say that I'm eternally grateful to my sister's ex for letting me stay here while I figure out my life these past few months. Had there been even a shallow goodbye just for politeness's sake, I'd have handed my sister's ex a gift card for dinner at Olive Garden with profuse apologies that I didn't have a bigger thank you gift to offer for letting me stay here. (Just because I'm staying in my room to manage my PTSD doesn't mean I'm a complete asshole without any feelings, which includes appreciating when people are helping me out.)

"The house" is a McMansion. It has five bedrooms, five bathrooms, a three car garage, a swimming pool, a hot tub, and a big chunk of Georgia that it all sits on. Before my sister and I arrived here last fall, the house had been closed up for more than six months. The garage is full of stuff, the swimming pool and hot tub haven't been used in years, and in fact most of the house (including the room where I'm sitting and typing this) doesn't see a human even when sister's ex visits twice a year. When I first arrived here, the driveway was so overgrown with kudzu that I couldn't see it to pull the U-Haul in and I spent my first hours here walking around inside with a broom in each hand through thick cobwebs. It is by far one of the largest and nicest houses I've ever been in, much less stayed in for any period of time, but it is also sitting and rotting in the Georgia sun along with everything else that's here.

I'm on disability, but not the VA service connected kind; I get a check from the government every month, out of which comes money for student loans, my storage unit that I've had since I was homeless, my phone and internet bill, gas for my truck, things like shampoo and soap and deodorant, minor things like, say, food, and half of the house's electric bill. It's enough, barely, although during the winter months when the heat was on making my half of the electric bill was a challenge sometimes. My impromptu trip to Greenville SC a couple of weeks ago put a pretty good dent in my budget for the month. I'm right at the federal poverty level for a single person. Over the past two years especially, I've learned (often the hard way) that I can't spend even a single dollar without at least thinking about it and making sure I can afford to spend it.

It is a hell of a thing to say to a disabled veteran who spent two years homeless that you need my money because your big expensive house that you don't even live in needs maintenance. It's also a hell of a thing to say this by leaving a note on your way out the door to your *other* house. I really don't mind having to pay a certain amount of rent while I'm here-- in fall when I first got here I asked if I needed to pay rent, and the answer was "no, you don't have any money, when you get a job we can talk about rent". So I'm not completely sure where this all came from; in the absence of actually having conversation about the issue it seems punitive, a response to my keeping completely to myself while they were here.

I'm not going to feel bad for someone whose unused, rotting in the sun net worth exceeds the entire amount of money I'm likely to earn over my entire working life. So I'm outta here, not right away but certainly soon-- definitely before sister's ex comes back for his semi-annual visit this fall. There are twelve months in a year, and I'm not willing to sacrifice another of those months by staying locked in my room just to avoid two people and the triggers they trip.


I probably should end this post here, but just in case anyone's still scoring along at home-- I am perhaps maybe considering a return to life as a student. A lot has to be resolved, and a lot has to happen, before I can sit down in a classroom again.

Before anything, I need to get back into some kind of PTSD therapy and figure out this Persian Gulf War shit. VAMC Atlanta sent me an "anonymous" survey that requires a VA supplied username and password to fill out online. That's apparently the way things work now, a month after you're dropped through the cracks of a Vet Center or clinic or emergency room, you get a survey to fill out. I call bullshit, especially when the survey is probably managed by a contractor. Since I'm looking at leaving Georgia before winter, and the therapy I want (cognitive processing therapy) takes three months, it's becoming more likely that I'll have to pursue therapy somewhere else.

I am in the process of raising a stink concerning all of the problems I've had with the VA in/around Atlanta, but I don't have anything more than that, yet, to report.

Much of what's wrong outside of remembering far too much about the Desert has to do with the fallout from failing out of school in 2011.

When that happened, I made the decision to stay in Madison and put all my energy towards eventually returning to UW-Madison-- to the point that I ended up homeless. At the time I thought it was a brave and noble thing to do, to keep pursuing a degree at "a top tier research university" like Wisconsin even after I'd become homeless. Maybe it was, maybe it wasn't... looking back I've started to wonder if washing out then was my cue to pull up stakes and head somewhere else. Here and now, in someone else's house in Georgia where I'm not as welcome as I was a few months ago, I'm finally having to directly confront a lot of things that over the past couple of years I've been able to avoid thinking about.

The past two years, 2015 and 2016, I tried to self medicate through working. I have a spreadsheet of times when I entered and exited the area around the UW-Madison Computer Sciences building (thanks to IFTTT) that I've done some analysis on. Not claiming I was working every minute I was in the CS building, but on average I was there around 50-60 hours a week. I learned a lot, but I didn't solve that many life sized problems. Working as hard and as long as I did was in the medication sense no different than drinking too much.

It is a possibility that I will return to Wisconsin (the state, not UW-Madison or even the city of Madison). I'm at least considering it, looking at the other UW System schools, trying to weigh my options. In ancient times, before PTSD and before I started writing about PTSD and college, I was in school for two semesters at one of those schools. I have been thinking about returning to that campus, and that city, maybe. It would be a return home, but it's not without pitfalls. PTSD will be along for the ride, and I have to be able to deal with it. A return to college would also be at night and online, part time-- wherever I'd decide to go, I'll need to complete about 30-35 credits at that school to graduate. Three credits per class, one (maybe two) classes per semester, even with summers it's a long term deal. By the time I finish I'll be eligible AARP membership, and then I'm still left with the question of what the fuck to do then-- except I'll be asking it as a young senior citizen.

Look, I haven't even remotely figured out being fortysomething and being in college; now I'm looking at being fiftysomething in college. But hey-- I'd be eligible for both senior discounts and student discounts.



Finally finally: I decided that "PTSD and ..." doesn't really work as a blog title, and that "PTSD and College" is still relevant to my life even though I am currently a dropout and I have neither current answers nor current solutions to changing that status. Not having the answers has certainly never stopped me from pursuing a degree before, why let it be a barrier now.

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