05 May 2017

Trust and Consistency

I feel like I need to write something down that other people can read. I've been putting a lot into my personal journal, some of which probably needs to be let out. Things aren't going well, saying "I'm on my own" doesn't convey the half of it, and as much as I try I can't come up with even small steps to try taking. I know from experience it takes lots of small steps to actually get anywhere, that the first step is the hardest to take, etc. but lately I'm just standing here.

My sister's ex-husband, who owns the house where my sister and I have been staying since last fall, is in town for a couple of weeks. Mostly he's here to do things that need doing to the house, the yard, etc. He also has some other business he needs to attend to here, so he's here about twice a year. His sister also snowbirds, so she's along for the ride and stays here as well.

The result of this is that there are now two additional people in the house, who each have different ways of doing things and different habits. My sister and I are both pretty quiet people, she stays in her part of the house (the basement) and I stay in mine (the second floor) except for meal times. Other than suppertime, which is usually around 2300, we each keep our own schedules and really don't interact that much.

My schedule is pretty similar from one day to the next. I wake up, start the coffee maker, cook myself breakfast while the coffee maker does its magic, then head back upstairs with my coffee and food. I'll get cleaned up. Then the first part of my day is spent mostly at the computer reading or working with occasional breaks for more coffee or more food or the occasional breath of fresh air. Since I'm having so much trouble with PTSD symptoms, I can't concentrate on shit and my blocks of actual doing anything are fairly short. This is my "morning", which loosely translates to what normally happens between starting work and lunch. After a longer break, I'll try again to read or watch or work or whatever for a few hours until it's time to think about cooking supper.

I'm going to take a detour into family dynamics for a bit, but ride along with me and hopefully in the end it will all make sense.

Sister's ex used to live here, and did so for a number of years, so when he's here he acts like it's his house. This sounds wrong, I know, I mean it is his house, but his habits and way of doing things are a lot different than the rules and procedures my sister and I have worked out. In general, his opinion is that whatever we've worked out is wrong and things need to be done his way. If one of the sand castles my sister or I have built to manage things for ourselves is in the way of that, well, too bad.

It's not that he's a mean guy, it's just that for him this is how things are.

He doesn't know, and doesn't understand, that things like having a spoon on a paper towel next to the Mr. Coffee are things that are a part of how I get through the day. So he sees a spoon on the counter and immediately moves it to the dishwasher. If it's afternoon and he sees coffee in the pot, he pours it out, not considering that I don't drink the entire pot at once and often come back downstairs into the evening to refill my cup (warming the cold coffee in the microwave). I finally moved the entire coffee maker, the coffee, the filters, etc into my room upstairs so it wouldn't be fucked with.

While he's here he cooks, although for the first few nights. I'm always worried that at some point he's just going to say "get the fuck out", so I made it a point the first few nights he was here to cook a couple of the meals. I also made sure there was food in the house to cook with, which included one of those three pound tubes of ground beef. One night after he'd cooked supper, he made a remark about "who bought that cheap shit beef in the fridge?".

I'm on disability-- I only get a certain amount of money a month, and it ain't much, so I cut corners and save pennies whenever I can. That means less lean beef, because it's a good deal cheaper. I'm also really sensitive to being on disability, I don't like it, I'd very much rather be able to have a normal job and a normal life. It doesn't help me to have someone remind me how much less well off I am when they didn't spend any time in the fucking Desert. 

This past weekend, I was in Florida again. My sister still had two storage units holding stuff that needed to be retrieved. There is a much longer and deeper story that I won't get into, I'm skipping a lot, but we enter the story with me, sister, and sister's ex in a van on the way to south Florida.

It's about a 12-hour drive, and whenever I go anywhere here (or anywhere, really) my navigator is Google Maps. This is something else I do to cope with PTSD symptoms, because it relieves me of the responsibility of figuring out where the fuck I'm going as well as lets me know if there's slowed traffic ahead. PTSD and surprises don't get along. If I know something's about to happen, I get a chance-- even if it's just a small one-- to get in the right frame of mind and even do something like a couple of tactical breaths to calm down in advance.  This trip we're not using Google, we're using the van's internal GPS and maps and sister's ex is navigating the first few miles.

Okay in about a mile you're going to go around a sharp curve and then there's a stoplight and then you have to turn at the next light and then there's another...

No. This is why Google Maps works for me; it speaks in a predictable way. It says things like "in 500 feet turn right on Bob's Road". It doesn't explain, it doesn't offer opinions, it doesn't in fact say anything if there's nothing to say. My brain is constantly busy with intrusive thoughts and hyperawareness and all of that, so the less different inputs I have the easier it is for me to process them.

Through all of this the van's GPS is also giving instructions, that are slightly different than what sister's ex is giving, so this isn't much fun. I find that I'm repeatedly asking for clarification, asking for more specific things like the name of the road to turn on.


In case you're not familiar with Georgia and Florida: I-75 south through GA and part of FL, then Florida's Turnpike all the way down to south FL, then a short stretch on I-95 south. I more or less know the way, having been this way a few times, and it involves less road changing than when I go to the convenience store I go to here. Simple is good.

Florida's Turnpike is a toll road. It costs about $20 to go where we're going. The van's GPS wants me to go east to the coast and ride along the coast the rest of the way. I ignore it, because that's fucking stupid, and after several minutes of it not realizing that it needs to reroute itself I turn it off. Sister's ex is sleeping in the back of the van until I stop at the first service plaza/rest area on the Turnpike, and when he wakes up he's not happy that we're on the Turnpike-- a miles long discussion ensues on the unconstitutionality of toll roads, on double taxation without appropriate representation, and blah blah blah. 

I don't care. I like simple. My sister likes simple. Pay the tolls, get there faster. In general, the less complicated driving is for me, the better-- especially on a 12-hour trip that I'm going to have to repeat within 24 hours. It's decided that we're going to take state road 60 from the Turnpike directly east to I-95 and go south from there. Hwy 60 is out in the middle of fucking nowhere. There's no place to stop, and if you get stuck you're going to be there waiting for help for a long, long time. My opinion, the world isn't a very safe place and being in the middle of nowhere in a place where help can't reach you isn't a good idea.

Anyway, we get to I-95 and get pointed south again. As we finally approach where we're headed, another discussion starts on which exit we're going to take. There are several options, all of which are discussed, and while the discussion is going on I'm in the left lane with the cruise control set at 75mph. This means that the window of time for reaching a decision is rapidly shrinking, and at a certain point I have to yell "MAKE A FUCKING DECISION. WHICH EXIT?"

There's a lot to this idea; you need to give me clear and simple instructions on what you want, and give me a little bit of time before you expect an action to happen. (Two different voices saying two different things at once while you hash shit out just makes things more anxious and triggers me, and then I can't think at all.) Again, this is why things like Google Maps are good-- they act in a predictable way and they always give instructions that are clear.

This happened all the time in classes at Wisconsin (and to a much lesser extent, MATC) where a professor would be lecturing about something and then stop in the middle or get lost or look at something on the screen and say "oh, no, wait, we need to change this or that". I'm having a devil of a time concentrating and staying on track, and now the track I'm following is gone and I'm left standing in the middle to figure it out on my own.

Back to the trip, we go and pick up a rental truck. This is a 17 foot box truck, which I'm driving because it's a 17' box truck. If you've not spent any time in south Florida, the streets are made so that if you're going one direction and want to get to something on the opposite direction side, you have to do a U-turn. Instead of painted on turn lanes down the center, there are curbs so that turning cars don't meet in the middle. U-turns are also allowed and often required at stoplights.  None of this helps you if you're driving a box truck that needs two lanes to do nearly anything involving a turn.

It should be noted that I learned to drive truck in a mobile US Air Force comm unit, where there are no small trucks and damn near every truck that could pull a trailer (itself the size of a truck) did so. I also drove a school bus for a short time in Milwaukee WI, where there are one-way streets that allow parking on both sides. Therefore do I know something about driving a large vehicle in spaces made for cars, which is that everything takes at least twice as much space, distance and time in a truck. So when it comes time to have to do a U-turn over a set of railroad tracks at a stoplight to get into the first self storage place, I ain't having it.

Now I'm driving a box truck down a street I don't know in a city I don't live in, trying to explain to my sister that I need more room than that to turn, while my phone is now ringing because sister's ex doesn't understand either. I push the button to silence the phone, which probably pisses sister's ex off, and explain that I need either normal left and right turns at normal intersections or a really big parking lot. Eventually we make a left at a light, then a series of right turns that get us back on the right road in the right direction.

Finally in the self storage place, where I want to put the truck doesn't work for sister's ex. It has to point the other way. This results in me having to make a blind Y-turn at the end of the row; if you've never had an urban self storage unit, this won't mean much, but it's not a trivial thing. Once the truck is pointed the right direction, sister's ex wants to stand in front of the moving truck to show me how and where to park it. This process ends when I roll down the window, yell "MOVE OR I WILL FUCKING RUN YOU OVER WITH THIS TRUCK" and shift into park.

It's taken me years of practice and a ton of hours of therapy to get to the point where I can get through a normal day. I'm not on medication, I don't drink, I don't use, I don't have those kinds of things to rely on. I've done a lot of work towards realizing and knowing my limitations. If I say I've got something, I've got it; if I didn't, I'd step back and say so. It's important that I be able to trust people around me, but it's also important that people in my environment are able to trust me-- if you don't trust me, then why not? I have to then wonder if I can trust you, and then I don't.

As soon as I'd descended from the truck cab, sister's ex wanted to know why I didn't turn when he did, why I didn't answer the phone, etc. I said that since I was the one driving the truck, I made the call that I didn't have enough room.  Trust isn't just exchanged between people, it's internal too. I trusted myself.

The trip back was mostly uneventful. Sister and I stopped in Ft. Pierce FL that night to relax a little and get some sleep-- it was already Saturday evening and I hadn't slept since Friday night. Again, I made the call to get a room at a Days Inn rather than sleep in the cab of the truck. I definitely will do all I can to save pennies at a grocery store, to the point that I call myself cheap, but the fun and excitement of sleeping in a vehicle ended when I was homeless.

Where we stopped was, not by accident, right between I-95 and Florida's Turnpike, which meant getting there and getting going in the morning would be easy. I'd also called the Days Inn before booking the room to make sure there was room (and permission) to park the truck. There happened to be a lot of stuff there, so it was also easy to find food. (If you're ever in/near Ft. Pierce FL, try Pappy's Pizza.)

The trip back was also via Florida's Turnpike, with Google Maps navigating. Again, there's not that much navigating to do between south Florida and the house in Georgia. The Turnpike runs right into I-75 north, and that gets me very nearly all the way back here.

At several points, my sister's phone showed alerts that said "Traffic incident--Florida's Turnpike" but didn't specify location/mile marker or direction, so they were useless. Google Maps on my phone didn't alert, so I didn't worry about it, but this is also something important-- with PTSD, everything is an alert. It's really hard sometimes to sort out what's an alert that needs something done, versus an alert that's just something that happened that can be ignored.

At least right away, there's no difference between "I think something's wrong" and "The house is on fire". All alerts are triggering. In the Desert, if the PA system that was used to announce that missiles were inbound, I didn't listen to the voice message. I heard the audible click that the microphone makes when the push-to-talk button is pressed, and knew that I needed to grab my chemical warfare gear and haul ass or die. I didn't need to worry about context or evaluating the situation. In the present, context matters because most things aren't as well defined. It's hard to determine an appropriate response to a vague threat (and in fact, my brain will drive itself crazy trying to do so). Don't tell me that something is wrong. Tell me what. I'm not at all saying that you shouldn't speak up for fear of triggering me, but make sure that you're as specific as possible about what's going on.

Since getting back from Florida, meaning all of this week, I've spent most of the time in my room alone. I haven't felt very social anyway, and everything that happened before and during the trip convinced me that sister's ex (and his sister) are just people who don't understand. I'm not saying that they're terrible people, they're actually very nice, but I was already feeling pretty shitty. When they were here in fall, I felt halfway decent, but I don't now-- which to them is likely really confusing. That I keep really weird sleep hours and don't come downstairs for meals is probably quite foreign to them.

Earlier this evening, sister's ex pounded on my door to let me know supper was ready. The rest of the week, supper's been left out for me in the kitchen (which is really appreciated, but if no one cooked for me I'm capable of foraging for myself). I responded with "what?". Sister's ex called my name. Again, I responded with "WHAT?", thinking if I yelled it a little louder it might make sense that I'd really like to know what the fuck you want and why it's necessary to pound on my door. After that I finally got the answer, that supper was ready and what it was. Why today required pounding on my door, I don't know.

This is something else that's attached to a memory-- when I was homeless and lived in transitional housing, they'd always knock on my door and whatever they had to say usually wasn't worthwhile or good news. There, they always expected me to come downstairs to eat, or be social, or whatever. The dining room there was always noisy, always chaotic. People would yell across the table at each other, then the TV would be turned up, and the cycle would repeat until no one could hear anything. It's not that bad here, but supper still has to be in front of the TV that's turned up too loud, and then I'm expected to participate in conversation since I'm sitting there.

Sorry, I don't want to talk, and I don't want to have to be an asshole and tell you to leave me the fuck alone and let me eat in peace, so I mostly stay upstairs until everyone has gone to bed.

I'm really not doing very well lately. PTSD's getting worse, a lot worse.

Outside of the normal family bullshit that accompanies any road trip, the trip to Florida this past weekend gave me both a lot of time to think and my first real time away from here since last fall.

The mission to help get my sister moved is complete, all of her stuff is now here. As far as me being able to help her sort things (not just material goods) out, well, that's pretty much complete too. We have different ways of looking at things. I've offered my solutions. That's really all I can do. Her life, her choices.

If I'd gone somewhere other than here, I'd still have PTSD and all of its associated problems. I don't blame being here for my PTSD getting worse. The world is changing, as it always does, plus there are a bunch of things that I've been avoiding that are no longer avoidable. I don't blame "here" for things not going well.

"Here" though, is someone else's. It's my sister's ex's house. I have a nephew and a niece here, and their families are here, but this here-- the life they've all built here-- belongs to them. I just ended up here because I was brave/kind/crazy enough to help my sister get moved, and because I didn't have anywhere else to go. Georgia, and in fact the southeastern US, was not on my dream sheet of places to end up. I hope that doesn't sound awful, it's not meant that way. People here are in fact mostly pretty nice, including my family, but this isn't home and I'm not sure it ever will be.

In spring 2011, after I'd failed most of my classes again even with academic accommodations for PTSD, I made the decision to stay in Madison. I did stay, even after I lost first one apartment, and then another; even after I'd started living in my car in Lot 17. Lately I've been thinking about that decision, not necessarily second guessing, just wondering why I made it. What made me so passionate about staying? Having been away from Wisconsin for a while now, it's not so clear-- I don't miss being there.

I stayed, endured being homeless, and returned to school at Wisconsin, because it was the easy way out.

I thought for a long time that if I could just run fast enough or far enough, stay up late enough, work hard enough, I'd eventually get past this PTSD shit. At some point I'd be able to say that I won the battle, that I'd overcome it, put it behind me. Walking the stage and being handed a bachelor's degree would do a whole lot towards proving that I'd done just that.

I never asked myself if UW-Madison was the right place for someone with PTSD, or more specifically, for me with PTSD. I never asked myself if Madison, WI was the right place. Instead I just made the decision to stay there and figure things out, when perhaps the real solution was to look wherever necessary to find not just a university, but the right university. Not just a city, but the right city.

Staying-- even including all of the shit that staying eventually included-- meant that I never had to make those decisions and answer those questions. Leaving and/or transferring would have meant that I'd been wrong in lots of different ways, would have meant that I'd have to go through all of the difficulties in finding and moving to a new place and essentially starting my life over again. I'd done that in 2004 when I'd left my ex-wife and moved to Madison, and in 1999 when I'd moved back to Wisconsin in the first place. I'm not entirely sure why I was afraid to pull up stakes, only that I was.

I have thought about this before, although not quite in these terms; see here from last June when I still was thinking I was headed for California. A year ago I didn't even see the questions clearly, so I don't feel quite so bad now about not having the answers. (I was right about the VA not being much help, sadly.) It's taken this amount of time, and this distance, to be able to see things as they are.

Having to interact (and ultimately choosing to avoid interacting) with family over the past week or so, asking for trust and not getting it, and having to stand my ground has helped put some things in perspective. I really do a lot of different things to cope, things that no one else sees, and it's really very frustrating when other people blunder into the middle of what I'm doing. During the several intakes I've done (which is all I've done) at various VA appointments over the past few months, when I've been asked what my goals are I've always answered that I want to have something that resembles a normal life. Perhaps that answer shares a common thread with my decision to stay in Madison as long as I did, and is it just the easy (or easiest) answer?

A better answer is that I'd like to have a job that I can do well at, a stable place to live that's quiet and not triggering, some real friends that I can trust. I'd like to feel that I have liberty and freedom. I'd like to have enough resources to do what I need to do to cope when changes happen, to never be trapped in a situation that I cannot control or escape from. I'd like to wake up and not see a struggle to get through the day looming ahead. (I'd really like to not have to look in the mirror and find a reason to be alive to do the same thing tomorrow.)

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