Advice

If you’re feeling helpless listening to your friend, try not to reach for your handy advice bag. You have no idea how meaningful it is to simply be there.

Sitting quietly with someone while they feel their emotions is powerful. It’s power. You’re not taking on their stuff. You’re not trying to fix it. You’re sitting there, being present with them. You’re holding down the fort, creating a kind of safety, so they can feel their feelings. They can feel assured that you aren’t judging them, and maybe that gives them a millisecond when they can stop judging themselves.

It’s a thing. It’s called “Holding the Space.” I don’t know whether or not that should be capitalized. I’ve forgotten a lot of grammar and punctuation lessons, because I haven’t been in school in so long. Do me a favor? Don’t tell me how I can get back to school. Just trust that I’m doing what I can. Cuz, for real, you don’t understand, and it’s fine to not understand. Just don’t play like you do. Just listen.

People always suggest meditation to me because I have chronic panic attacks that impede my living and functionality. I don’t like meditation. It doesn’t work. Stop suggesting it. You have to feel safe in order to meditate. Maybe one day I’ll feel safe. In the meantime, shut up. Same goes for yoga.

See, you’re just talking over me cuz you don’t want to believe that there’s nothing that’ll fix me right now while we’re talking. We might be friends an entire lifetime and I’ll never be fixed to your satisfaction. You’re uncomfortable. You feel helpless. You don’t know what to say or do.

Advice is more about the person who’s giving it than the person it’s being given to. Advice is when someone gets very agitated by what you’re saying: you’ve hit a nerve, and they can relate, but they don’t want to touch that nerve, so they kinda go after you.

Here’s what: say nothing. Have you heard of “Active Listening?” It’s listening without interruption while your friend/partner/client speaks their truth. There are a few steps to it. One is paraphrasing what the person said, or even repeating exactly what they said back to them. A second step might be just listening quietly and saying “Oh my goodness,” or “Holy shit,” or “That’s so messed up. I wish this weren’t happening to you.” It’s important to avoid saying “I understand,” because no one really understands another person’s experience. Say “I hear what you’re saying. You have all my sympathy.”

Now, some people tend to bristle when receiving sympathy. They’re not used to it. They’d prefer advice, I think. I can’t speak for them. Maybe they’ve never been to therapy and that’s very uncomfortable for them. Maybe they’ve never told anyone what they’re telling you, and it doesn’t matter what you say – they’ll be mad at you. Maybe they suddenly found themselves speaking this unspeakable thing out loud and they’re trying to shut it back in its box, instead of talking about it while you listen sympathetically.

There’s a fine line. Hey – I want to make things better for people who are suffering, especially if I love them. I feel helpless and angry and hurt when I hear what obstacles they’re facing, and I want to make the obstacles go away. It’s just that has never worked for me. There’s a backlash. I gave them the wrong advice, or I missed out on a moment of being there for someone by pushing them away with advice. It’s the being there that has the most meaning.

Ow, My Depression! ~trigger alert~

I’m so depressed today that I dare not tell anyone. They would be ashamed of me. I’m ashamed of myself.

I’m shaking with anxiety. My kitchen and apartment seem foul to me, especially the fridge, and I’m embarrassed. I’m embarrassed that I’m going to eat gelato, and proably drink cream later. It’s the depression. The effort it takes for me to keep clean is too much sometimes. That’s why I want to live alone. I’m so ashamed of how I live, even though there are probably 17,000 depressed people within a 1000 mile radius of here who are embarrassed by how they live.

I keep people away from my life. I keep them away from my home. I hate my housing: Congregate Care Level II HUD-subsidized housing. The staff watches my every move. Cameras everywhere except inside the apartments (as far as I know). They know – the staff always knows whether or not I’m home. It’s because the front desk person has to record in a notebook whenever a resident exits or enters. There’s just the one entrance. They have a monitor in front of them with all the camera feeds from the hallways and building entrance and lobby. If they want me, they know I’m home. They’ll buzz my intercom over and over. They’ll come knock on my door. The case manager will call my phone.

I’m in an abusive relationship with my housing. Every step I take to protect myself seems to incite some kind of retaliatory behavior. They start treating me like I can’t be trusted; like I’m incapable. They patronize me; they condescend to me. They laugh and pooh-pooh my very real problems. They interrupt me when I’m speaking. They ask intrusive questions – the same ones – over and over; and their shtick is that they need to continually evaluate and therefore they’re allowed to ask the same instrusive questions every time they see me. It’s a design. The program is designed to give me the feeling that I don’t know what’s real and what’s not. It’s designed to give me the feeling that I’m crazy, incapable, dependent, and also undeserving of support and trust.

Their formula keeps me trapped in my home, because I don’t want each of my exits and entrances recorded…because I deserve privacy and independence…because I don’t want to run into nosy staff every time I leave or come home. There’s only one way in and out of the building. It’s all very “Big Brother Is Watching You.”

You want out of the shelter, you submit to them. They get to change the rules whenever they want.

I sit in my apartment and shake with fear. The meds don’t touch it, this anxiety. It’s not anxiety. It’s pure fear of being abused. It’s pure fear of being violated. The answer to an abusive relationship? GET. OUT. Get out! Get out! Get out! Don’t try to reason with an abuser. Just get the fuck out however you have to.

Dis-Abled

Well, I canceled my internet and my HBO NOW (no!!) and I paid up my Con Ed and my prepaid phone.  I’m all paid up and I’m about to have even less money than I’ve been living on.

And, yes, I will talk candidly about money and not having enough.  Most people don’t have enough and why don’t we just talk about it in exact numbers?

************************************************************************

Well, I got approved for Disability and my income is just enough to pay my rent with a jolly $15 left over.  I sobbed and slammed doors and screamed and panicked when I got the income notice from Social Security.

Now I have to take steps.  I have to go to this office and that office.  I have to apply for extra income.  I have to wait and panic and be even hungrier for at least a few months.  The steps aren’t even clear.  Do I know that I’ll get extra income the first time I apply?  Will I have to appeal that decision too?

I first applied for Social Security Disability Income in May of 2014.  I was turned down in July.  I was in the shelter then.  My case manager, who kicked ass, appealed online (marvel that I didn’t have to go to the Social Security office!).  I got my appeals hearing in November, 2015.  Nightmare. Nightmare. I got the judge’s decision in late January.  I got the award notice in the fourth week of February.  Got all that?

My lawyer insists I’m entitled to retroactive Disability pay.  Social Security awarded me none.  I had my heart set on buying a used diesel pickup and moving out to a country road upstate.  I need quiet.  Now.  I need it now.  I could afford the rent in the middle of nowhere.  The truck could be converted to biodiesel.  I could live within driving distance of a train or bus to commute to the city twice a week for therapy.

I begged for more anxiety meds from my psychiatrist.  Thank god for him.  He’s my fourth psychiatrist within the past three years – all at the same clinic.  Psychiatrists and therapists can really suck, but, at last, not mine. I have the Dream Team now, bitch.

I dearly wish I could work.  It’s just all the panic attacks, all the PTSD symptoms.  Sometimes it seems like everything triggers me.  Nothing doesn’t set me off.  Fuck, I’m embarrassed by my intense reactions to odors and people’s conversations; to sounds; to someone standing behind me. I’m surprised by triggers that I didn’t know I had. I. Can’t. Work. Yet I’m dying to. I’m dying to go back to school. School? I can’t even concentrate on reading a short story. Let’s get healed. Let me heal, please, please. Please let me heal so that I can read a book and go back to school. I’ll figure the student loans out. I promise. Just…please.

Fuck, I had all these plans, and they have to wait. I have to adjust my expectations and my goals. My social worker here at my housing told me that student loans are forgiven once you get Disability (they’re not…or only in some cases, and it’s a complicated rubric). Thanks, dum-dum, for getting my hopes up. [My long-defaulted loans have totally fucked my credit, and I’ve never made enough income to turn it around].

There are all kinds of magical rumors about Disability floating around. I have come to believe that Social Security Administration workers are kept in the dark about a lot of this stuff. They sure as hell don’t have the answers you need. There’s really a different answer for each person for every damn little or big thing.

And humiliation is built into every layer of the system. Oh dammit, I can’t do any more today. I’m exhausted and I had so much coffee. Ttfn. XOXO

How to Shun Your Family Forever in 38 Easy Steps

trigger warning:  abuse

 

This is a little tutorial about how to rid yourself of abuse forever. I know. I wish it worked like that, too. We don’t choose abuse, certainly not when we’re very young, and certainly not at any age. Abuse, and abusers, force themselves upon us. We can’t help it. Let’s make an agreement to call ourselves survivors and not victims.

Abuse can come from a government. It can come from an intimate partner. It can come from a parent. In my case, it came from my parents, their parents, their friends, and old men who paid my parents for the privilege of abusing me.

I know.  It’s really icky.  That’s why I put “Trigger Warning.”  Too much to absorb, isn’t it? It doesn’t take 38 steps. It doesn’t go away forever. Yet I survived.

Not all survive. Some will take their own lives. Abusers and governments will murder their would-be survivors. The would-be survivor can’t help it. Let’s call them survivors, too, because they did all they could.

You don’t think that a creature being abused does nothing, do you? You are off your nut if you believe that. Nobody stays and hangs out for intimate partner abuse, for example, because they want to stay. There’s force. There are reasons. Their finances, the people they see, friendships, their children, their psyches are all being manipulated by the abuser. There are those who refuse to believe that. We must red-flag them. We must keep our distance from deniers as much as possible.

When a survivor of intimate partner abuse, for example, attempts to leave the abuser, the chance of the abuser murdering the survivor goes up like a million percent. I’m excluding references to academic material in this piece. But know that I completed an internship at a domestic violence shelter and I learned all of this. Learning all of this helped when I had to leave an abusive intimate partner.

Leaving that dude terrified me. He scared me a lot. Over months, through subtle and overt manipulations, he’d controlled my self-esteem. I believed I had no value: only my actions gave me value. So I served him, in a sense, in order to gain a sense of value. He put down my job, my friends, my income, my apartment, my cat, how I lived, my choices – anything he could lay his hands on.

I managed to come out of it. I lost or quit 4 jobs because of how I began to believe that they were worthless, as he told me. It took a constant vigilance being with him. The trickiness of navigating his moods and behaviors exhausted me. The stress affected my work.

Friends fell off. This man allowed very little contact between me and my friends. He insisted on having every minute of mine accounted for. He called my workplaces repeatedly – I guess to make sure of where I was. Outside of work, he, in his way, required me to be present with him at all times.

I dissociated, I guess. Do you know what that means? It means to leave your body; leave your mind. If you’re physically and psychically and emotionally trapped, you take your mind somewhere else, and your body does things by rote in order to keep up appearances.  You know – like using body language and facial expressions and inflections to your words in such a way as to avoid inciting your abuser as much as it is possible to.

It was easy for me. I did it automatically, separating from myself during stress. When the fight or flight response took over my body, I either left my body, or, if I was safe from harm, I acted out. I always acted out at work.  Because I lived through untenable cruelty  in my family, I developed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. That’s another essay. In the presence of an abuser, where it was not safe to make a quip, or lose my temper, or curse under my breath (as I did at work), I left my body. I learned when I was two or three years old, I think. Memory is so spotty. It’s because I was two different people. Huge chunks of time go unaccounted for in my memory. That’s dissociation.

I imagine the survivors in Syria and the refugees have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Anyone surviving a war, or fleeing from war, or having grown up in poverty, or as a survivor of racism or transphobia, or of growing up on a block where people got shot…they’d have PTSD. It’d be hard for them to get and keep a job. That’s a guess. Maybe work is their refuge. Everyone’s so different.

Sometimes I want everyone to be like me so that I feel validated.

 

A Very Bensonhurst Xmas

Bensonhurst Christmas

The lights of Dyker Heights, Brooklyn

I moved out of my apartment near Bensonhurst, Brooklyn on Christmas eve of 2013. I’d lost my last ever barista job. I’d missed work because of the migraines I always had. It was also because I lost my temper a lot, which, as it turns out, is a symptom of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, which doctors subsequently diagnosed me with.

I tried to negotiate with my roommate, Shirley, to not kick me out. It was her name only on the lease. I paid rent in cash to her – her caveat. I frequently paid the rent late. Yet I wanted to completely withhold rent. She didn’t understand that she made the apartment unlivable. In retrospect, I believe she was overcharging me on rent. I had my doubts about how much money she could possibly have made working as a diner waitress overnights. And she constantly bought new stuff and crammed it into every available counter, cabinet, floor, surface and refrigerator space. You walked through a maze of her stuff. How could she afford it all?

Lost my cat, Munch, on December something. I never memorized the date. She was my whole family and best friend. I didn’t want to remember how quickly she died after the vet tech put her out of her suffering.   They first put a needle in her to give her calm.  Immediately her head dropped to her paws.  Then came an injection that ended her suffering forever.  I tried to wrap her up and hold her after they gave her the final shot, and had to give it up. She wasn’t my warm, alive Munch anymore.  She’d gone stiff, and her eyes wouldn’t close.  I walked home from the vet with the cat carrier strapped over my shoulder, feeling like an exhausted warrior; feeling heavy guilt. Wished I could’ve kept her from suffering and then having to die on a steel table. Wished I could’ve kept her safe; kept an eye on her. I felt like I abandoned her, and I felt abandoned, too.

Moved out and didn’t tell anyone in my blood family. Hired a queer mover who made my life so much easier. Cleaned. Had to leave my hard-won couch behind. Just had no where to store it. Left it for Shirley. Let her deal with it.

I cared deeply that I owed her money. I also wanted her to rot in hell in that rotting apartment. Why wouldn’t she let me contact the landlord to attempt a payment agreement? Huh? She never told me who the landlord was, or gave me a number or email. Guessed she rented out the room illegally, in some fashion. I mean, otherwise, what could it be? The landlord might have been a real pig or something. Both, I’m sure, are true. Yet, it was within my rights to contact the landlord.

Social Worker Faye Levine at Bensonhurst Jewish Community Center counseled me all about housing and benefits, and even gave me a rent grant. This was all thanks to Amy (darling, darling Amy). Faye said that tenants must get thirty day’s notice before an eviction. So I communicated this to Shirley. She back pedaled; claimed it wasn’t an eviction. Faye also told me that I could stay put, because landlords don’t want to take a tenant to court – it costs them a lot of money. Now, Shirley wasn’t my landlord…

Amy researched, contacted, called, emailed everyone she knew and every agency in New York, I think, to find assistance for me. She lent me money, and then forgave the loan. She must have made phone call after phone call. She’s so good at that. She was so generous with me. She helped me get a hospital bill reduced, too, before I had health insurance. She asked whether or not I’d feel too anxious to get some paperwork together. She found a person in a department at a humongous New York hospital to sit with me and look at my documents and try to reduce my bill. Darling, darling Amy.

I can’t help thinking that Shirley was behind in the rent. She never contacted the landlord for repairs: she hired someone. (I wondered how she paid for it). The repairs, the roaches, the ants? Not contacting the landlord about that? Or the super? The super was a super nice guy. So, what was going on with Shirley? I’ll never know. You know, I investigated on my own, looking for the property owner’s name and contact info. I guess I don’t remember what happened with that.

I felt pretty defeated. I was also busy rustling up my damn food stamp benefits, and trying to get a rent credit from these cretins, and running back and forth to different HRA offices. Ugh.

Also, I was getting unemployment. However, it actually amounted to almost 1000 dollars less than I made at work, including tips. In order to continue receiving unemployment benefits, I had to attend various events and sessions with social workers, and job counselors or whoever they were…I had to be actively looking for jobs, so I did. That was hell.

Applying for jobs which I knew I couldn’t bring myself to do anymore completely blew. I couldn’t wait on customers anymore. It hurt me too much. I would always lose my temper in that environment, no matter how small; no matter how much the customers tipped; no matter how well-behaved I found them. There would always be a PTSD trigger right close to the surface. I would always be experiencing constant panic. I would dissociate in order to work. Then I would go home to whatever room I could find, alone, and order delivery, and eat and eat until I couldn’t feel anymore, and I’d be able to sleep. I’d have nightmares all night and wake up sore all over, usually with a migraine, lightheaded and exhausted. I’d dread going back to that job, but I would force myself to get there and get there every day till I got fired. I would always eventually get fired.

I took a small stand and began to cancel job interviews. I had migraines a good bit of the time, and I would email the interviewer explaining that. I might say something else, for example “I think I would thrive better in a small, quiet environment. Thank you for your time. However, I am going to cancel our interview. Thank you for contacting me and I wish you luck.”

Man, I must have applied to every government and non-government social program that would have me. I worked so hard. And my little Munchie got sick. And I had to watch her die. And then I couldn’t snuggle with her anymore. And I had to go back to this toxic apartment that I struggled for dear life to hold on to.

All of this time period included frantic searches for a room to rent. I broadened my parameters over and over. I travelled all over Brooklyn to see places. Then they wouldn’t get back to me, or they’d say they found someone else.

Then I realized I would be homeless soon.