Homelessness and PTSD

Trigger warning: some people may be triggered by information contained in this entry that pertains to personal violation.  Please proceed with caution, and read at your own risk.  

Earlier, when I created a talk on this theme, I did not believe I could capsulize my thoughts into a single blog post.   So I talked for a half hour instead.

I’ve since changed my mind.   It’s taken over a week for me to discover how to present these ideas more succinctly, in a logical order.  The first thing I would like to address is that people are generally unaware that homelessness — with all its confusing, unpredictable, and dangerous components — is as much a breeding grounds for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder as situations arising in combat or from having been physically or sexually abused.

PTSD is triggered when something happens to remind a person of past trauma, the memories of which are often buried.  When the reminder occurs, one leaps into the context of the trauma formerly inflicted.  And then, one begins to relive the entire circumstances involved in that traumatic event.

See the source imageSevere abuse comes with the homeless territory.  A person who is exposed, out in the open twenty-four hours a day, is a visible target.  This person is made even more vulnerable when they are sleeping.  When I was homeless, I was pistol-whipped, subjected to strong arm robbery, sexually abused, subjected to arson, and physically abused multiple times.  Any one of those situations can lead to PTSD — let alone all of them in confluence.

Because the first of these traumatic events was a sexual violation that took place on a very hot day when I could find no way out of it, I have been triggered on extremely hot days when I was lost and did not have clear directions to where I was going.  My PTSD counselor and I worked out a series of steps that I would take automatically if I felt that the PTSD had been triggered.  I would stop and take a number of deep breaths while looking for a shady spot.  Then I would sit in the shady spot, no longer moving around or looking where I might go, until the PTSD had subdued.

The reason for taking such steps is because I was reliving the horrific event of a sexual assault.  When the horrible event was over, and the rapist disappeared, I was so freaked out that I ran five miles in 90F degree weather.  That single event has affected my sexual attitudes for life.

But that was only a solitary example of numerous violations that were to ensue during the twelve years when I was homeless and “borderline-homelessness” — by which I mean staying in motels, residence hotels, and other sketch indoor situations.   The overall experience of homelessness carried with it its own set of triggers.   By and large, these were based on two things:

(1) A sense of inequality with, and inferiority to, the people around me.  

(2) A sense of being fully exposed in a context where most of the people were concealed.  

An example of something that triggered me was the event of having a story of mine published on a news site that permitted comments from its readers.  All of the readers had usernames and avatars.  One of them referred to having known me personally — but I had no idea, nor was I able to learn, who this person was.  This bore enough resemblance to the homeless context that I began to relive my homeless experience.

More information about PTSD triggers may be found here, for starts.  An excellent article exploring PTSD among the homeless may be found here.  And of course, further information on the Homeless Experience can be found all over this blog.

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Tuesday Tuneup 54

Q. What are you doing here?

A. Contemplating life.

Q. Why?

A. Because I agree with Socrates, quoted below:

socrates.jpg

Q. What brought this on?

A. Transition.  I’m at a cusp between two stages in my journey.

Q. How do you figure that?

A. By observing the nature of the stage that is to pass, and envisioning the far greater nature of the stage that is to come.

Q. What is the nature of the stage that is to pass?

A. It is a stage based on fear.

Q. Fear of what?

A. Lots of things.  People, for one thing.  People’s opinions, for another thing.  People’s opinions of me, for a third thing.  But it all boils down to fear of death.

Q. Why be afraid of death?  Isn’t death a universal human experience?

A. Pretty much.  Even Jesus had to die, though He came back again, in eternal form.   Enoch and Elijah apparently escaped it.  People who believe in the “consummation of the saints” (AKA the so-called ‘rapture’), might escape it as well.  The jury’s still out on that one.

Q. Then why be afraid of it?

A. My experience is that those who are afraid to die are generally afraid to live.

Q. Have you been afraid to live?

A. Yes.  Especially throughout the past three years.

Q. What happened during the past three years?

A. I escaped twelve years of living in very sketchy situations, most often outdoors, in favor of living mostly alone in secure and secluded indoor dwelling spots.

Q. But wouldn’t that logically make you less afraid to live?

A. Logically, yes.   But what happened was not logical.

Q. What did happen?

A. I kept clinging to the old stage.  I kept living for the approbation of those from whom I had already departed.   Even though the new stage was crying out to be christened, I hesitated.  I clung to the old stage like a baby clinging to his mother’s breasts.

Q. So you were dependent upon the old stage?  Like a baby depends upon a mother?

A. Yes.  But not entirely of my own will.  It took two to dance that dance.  The possessive, overprotective mother of the Old Stage would not let me go.

Q. And now you are escaping her grip?

A. I can feel it, yes.   I’m not her baby anymore.  

Q. So the mother of the old stage was fear?

A. Yes.

Q. And who is the mother of the New Stage?

A. Love.  If you love someone, you let them go.

Q, So the old stage was a stage of fear, and the New Stage will be a Stage of Love.

perfect loveA. Yes — Love.

Q. Say again?

A. Love!

Q. One more time — 

A. LOVE!

Q. How so?

A. Because Perfect Love casts out fear.

 

                                                      The Questioner is silent.

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Gratitude List 1229

(1) Though I only got about an hour and a half of sleep before I woke up and couldn’t get back to sleep, I’m still very thankful that it’s been seven days now and I’ve not gone into sleep paralysis.

(2) I was able to get a large tube of toothpaste and a bottle of shampoo for free at the Co-Op in the box of things they take to the Food Bank.   Also, I found a brand new toothbrush in my backpack that I’d forgotten about.

(3) Really looking forward to calling my friend Danielle, and to talking with her for 45 minutes between 4:45 and 5:30.  I’ve missed the last four times due to sleeping in, and it’s left a bit of a void.  I very much gain from this early morning fellowship.  It’s been a tradition now for a long time.

(4) My daughter has connected with a writing coach whom I regard very highly, Lauren Sapala, and Lauren has promised to read a book she has written, called Secrets Held Too Tight to Keep.  

(5) As of this morning, I believe my unhealthy attitudes toward money are being healed.

(6) For the second time this year, just when I ran out of reading glasses, I found a nice pair of dollar readers sitting on a bench, and they suit me perfectly.   

(7) I was able to cry during the church service, though not a whole lot.  Still, it’s a start.  I hardly ever cry, but the times when I’ve gotten in touch with the deeper feelings, I’ve cried in torrents.   It’s always cleansing when I do, and it helps me to move forward once again.

(8) I’ll probably have two new piano pieces for you later on in the week, as soon as I get them off of that guy’s smartphone and upload them onto my youtube channel.  I recall they both came out very nicely.

(9) Letting go off the past has always been very difficult for me.   But it’s become clear that I really need to count my blessings and look forward.   That said, there are some pretty substantial potential blog posts hidden in some of the very long emails I have sent to those who have ceased to contact me.   The words I wrote are still valuable.  I only wrote them to the wrong people.

(10) Training for window washing at 6am, should make some money in cash before 9am, when I have to go to the hospital and finalize my volunteer position.  The volunteer position, by the way, is that I will now be playing piano regularly at the entrance to the Courtyard Cafe — in the hospital where I was born.   Stranger things have happened!  And the Lord Himself moves in strange and mysterious ways.

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Aliens

When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.
    –Leviticus 19:33

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Failure to Adapt

It’s really been frustrating me that I can’t get these simple piano pieces together.  It should be an easy gig; I should be able to plan ahead and find somebody to help me.  I should be able to afford to replace my smartphone; or, save up dutifully until I can afford one.  But I keep showing myself that I can do none of these things.  I try, and it all falls apart.  Then I become discouraged, and I lose confidence, and I start thinking I’ll never get it together.  

Today, for example, I made a point of tracking down someone who wouldn’t mind going over to the church with me with their smartphone so I could do the two-person job of making this piano recording.  One of the volunteers at the Center gladly agreed.   But he does have a mental health condition, as do all of us who frequent the Center.

See the source imageHis, however, is different than mine.  When I asked him what his diagnosis was once, he told me that they had boiled it down to “Failure to Adapt.”  (I’ve never personally heard of such a diagnosis, but I can believe it.  I haven’t succeeded at “adapting” too well myself.)

So I was relieved and thrilled to be able to make a piano recording.  We did it, and I think it took, and I think it sounded good, except for a few mistakes.   But before I began to play the piece, following setup, he asked if he could “take a break.”

“Sure!” I said.

I then proceeded to wait for him for over two hours in the church.  I became increasingly anxious.  Believe me, with my absent-mindedness, I am the last person to be trusted with somebody’s device.   I even misplaced the phone during the two hours when I was at the church, and had to scramble from room to room trying to find it.

When I called the Center to ask if he was there, they said he was not.  They also reminded me that it’s company policy not to give out phone numbers of the people who have given their numbers to the Center.  So I couldn’t call him.

When the two hour wait was over, I emailed him that I would go to the Center and leave his phone there in a safe place.

I went to the Center, and to my surprise, he was there!   He never even came back to the church to get his phone.  Now I begin to make sense of the “Failure to Adapt” diagnosis.  When I spoke with him, there was clearly no idea in his head that he had even inconvenienced me, let alone did it register with him that I might not want to be responsible for his phone.

Neither he nor I could figure out how to find the iPhone equivalent of what is called the “gallery” on an Android.  He then suggested that somebody named Matt would know what to do.   I had to be at the clinic in about ten minutes, so I took off.

The good news is that there probably is a song or two on that phone somewhere.  Then, I will have to upload it to my youtube channel, or maybe get some kind of drive I can get it on, so as to relieve him of further obligations.  Probably, I can get it together by Wednesday, if I focus.

I don’t know.  I’m just spent.  Maybe I’ve made too big a deal out of the whole thing, but it just seems that some of you were getting into these piano offerings, and it sucks that I’m not getting it together.   Like the quote says, “all failure is failure to adapt.”   I guess I better start adapting.

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Talks 2019 No. 2

I promised to get a new talk to you guys by 7:30 this morning, so here it is.  The purpose of this talk is to describe how the conditions of homelessness can easily lead to a PTSD diagnosis, and what the triggers can be like.   I hope you enjoy & gain from this. 

See the source image

The Perception of Inequality

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