Tuesday Tuneup 23

Q. Where would you like to be?

A. In a safe place.

Q. Is there something about your present place that is not safe?

A. What kind of a dumb question is that?  Of course there is!  Why else would I wish I were in safer place?

Q. Could you be a bit more specific, please?

A. What do you mean?

Q. What is it exactly about your present place that is unsafe?

A. That’s a good question.  Let me think about this for a while.

Pause.

A. Well, it’s like this.  I can’t exactly say that I’m in an unsafe place, at least not with respect to many of the other places where I’ve been.  When I slept on a pile of cardboard in a high-crime district, I was considerably more unsafe.   Yet at the same time, if I took care of myself, and I did the right things, I felt that God protected me.

Q. And if you did not take care of yourself, and did not do the right things?

A. I sometimes got burned.  He protected me insofar as that He spared me my life, and saw to it that I didn’t suffer as much bodily harm or psychological damage as a lot of the people around me.   But I was hit enough — and hurt enough, hard enough — to get the message.

Q. That message being?

A. All over the Book of Proverbs — for starts.   But I’m afraid we’ve drifted from the point.

Q. And what’s the point?

A. The point is that, even though I’m living in a nice one-bedroom apartment in a secluded area with good neighbors, lots of protection, and a couple of locks on my door, there’s something about the place I’m at that isn’t safe.  It’s not my physical spot that is my biggest concern.  It’s my mental spot — where my head is at.

Q. And where’s your head at?

A. All over the map, man.  I still dwell on a lot of the situations from my past, people from my past — from my homelessness.  The people who tried to help me, even though they didn’t quite really get what my problem was, and so they couldn’t really help.  And not only them, but the people who tried to hurt me, and who sometimes succeeded.  And not only them, but — 

Q. But whom?

A. My friends.  The people I miss.  The people who were in the same boat as I was.  People who, for one reason or another, had lost their homes.   We bonded together.  We prayed together.  We watched each other’s backs.   We were there for each other, whenever somebody was down, or hassled, or messed with in some way.  It was powerful.  And that bonding, that love — I miss it.

Q. But isn’t there love in your life today?

A. Lots of it!  Don’t get me wrong.  But it’s a different kind of love.

Q. What makes it different?

A. Context.  

Q. What do you mean?

A. See, I don’t have the same issues here.  And the people I hang with, they don’t have the kinds of issues I had back then.  Most of them never have.   So when we share our love with each other, it’s on an entirely different basis.

Q. Is that a bad thing?

A. Not at all.  It’s just that — I sometimes feel alone.  As though my own specific experience, the particularly powerful progression of my life that has shaped me, is too weird for anybody to relate to.   So while I may not be surrounded by people who blatantly want to hurt me, the ones who want to help me don’t quite know how to help.  Or maybe I don’t let them help.  I mean, I gotta admit, my pastor helps.  My lady friend, she helps — though it’s not her job, and I sometimes feel guilty.  I should be helping her, supporting her.  But I’m not.   I’m still on disability, and all screwed up in the head.  So I turn to the therapists, to the doctors, to the system.  And I find that — 

Q. That what?

A. They totally don’t help.  It happened just this morning even.  I go to the therapist, and I think I’m advocating for myself, and I’m finding once again that I really like the guy, and I’m thinking it’s all good — and then, at the end of the session, it all comes down to the same old thing.  That same old useless, worthless band-aid that can never really stop what’s bleeding inside.

Q. What same old useless, worthless band-aid?

A. Lithium. 

Q. Lithium?

A. You heard me.  No matter what I do and where I go, it all comes down to lithium.

Q. Why do they keep wanting to put you on lithium?

mental abuse quoteA. Because they’re boxing me into a box and not listening to my real issues.  They think they know something more about me than I know about myself, because of their credentials and alleged expertise in their field.  But how can they know me, if they’re not listening?   They think that just because it’s well-known that those of us who are quote-unquote “bipolar” don’t like to take our medication, it means that I’m in denial, and I’ve got to take their medications.  What a bunch of malarky.   They might as well have told me that just because people are bipolar don’t like to walk across a pile of hot coals, then I’m in denial, and so I better walk across a pile of hot coals.   Think about it!  Do they think I’m stupid?

Q. I son’t know — do they?

A. Probably not.  But I sure think they’re stupid, if they think that after all I’ve been through, I’m going to turn around and start believing anybody who wears a badge.  And I won’t!  Because I already know what’s going to happen   That lithium won’t have anything to do with clearing out all of the garbage that is related to years of living on the streets.  Which of course is the part they never listen to — the main part.  The important part.  And you know what else it will do?

Q. What?

A. It will destroy all the things that are good about me.  The things that I waited years to be able to get inside and do –  and that now I’m finally doing — because I finally got myself inside. 

Q. What things?  What things are good about you?

A. Dude!  My piano playing!  My speaking!  My writing!  My playwriting!  My songwriting!  All of that good stuff that I so delight in finally being able to do will be trashed and shot the hell if I take their lithium — just like it’s been trashed whenever I’ve taken any other psychiatric drug that those bastards have never ceased to cram down my throat!   I lost a $50.000 annnual income in 2004 because of a psych med!  And do those money-guzzling mainstream, medical monsters give a damn?  Do they care?  Do they care about Andy??  Do they???

Pause.

Q. Do I detect a note of resentment?

A. Listen, I’m sorry I got so pissed off.  But now you understand how hard it is to keep going back to that damn clinic and trying to advocate myself.  When they throw their crap back at me, I explode.  I hate those medical bastards so much for what they did to me all my life – you don’t even know how much I hate them.  All of them.

Q. But aren’t you — stigmatizing them?   Lumping them into a box?   Much as you yourself dislike being pigeonholed, can’t you find it somewhere inside yourself to be more open to them?  To forgive them?  To give them another chance?

A. There’s a big difference between forgiving them and just swallowing any damn pill they stuff down my esophagus.

Q. Then what are we to do about it?  Shall we adjourn until next Tuesday, and give you a chance to get your bearings?

A. Sounds like a plan.  I’ll need about a week to cool down.

Q. May I be excused now?

A. You may.   Thank you for your time.  

The Questioner is silent.  

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Statement to the World

I’m finally going to try to adhere to my earlier stated concept.   I’m going to try to make sure that six posts of six different natures are each posted here at 7:30am PST, Monday thru Friday, with Saturday off.  

Why am I going to try and do this?  It’s not necessarily for the sake of creating a decent, appealing blog here.  That’s part of it.  But it’s a bit deeper than that.

People who have been diagnosed with mental health conditions are often regarded as unstable, incompetent, or insane.   It is generally held that we are flaky, unpredictable, and unreliable.  We can’t hold down jobs, and people can’t tell which way we’re going next, or where we are going to land — if we are going to land.   So, naturally, I would like to do my best to dispel that stigma.

So far, however, I can’t help but feel that all I am doing is proving them right.  My Tuesday Tuneup often shows up on Wednesday — if not Thursday, or even Monday.  There is no consistency whatsoever as to the times that any of the posts show up.   I don’t always take Saturdays off, and in fact the Friday piano video often gets postponed till Saturday or later.  Frequently, I disappear for a few days (while probably in a depressed funk), and then try to “make up for lost time” by, for example, posting the Wednesday speech, the Thursday “blog of substance,” and maybe even the Friday piano video all on the same day, which might even be Sunday.

The point is, no consistency.

How can I possibly dispel the notion that those of us who have diagnosed mental health conditions are unstable, inconsistent flakes if I don’t get it together and bring some order to the table?

Well, obviously, I can’t.   But that doesn’t mean I might not be — er – biting off more than I can chew.  Still, I’m going to give it the ol’ college try, one more time.   You will see this post tomorrow at 7:30am PST, rain or shine.   The mail must go through, and the show must go on.

idiotsavant-tshirt
Severe ADHD, Dyslexia, Bipolar One Hypomanic Disorder, PTSD & Blah Blah blah.

Sigh.

There’s even more to it than this.

People with mental health conditions are often very talented, vibrant people when given their chance to shine.   To meet me in real life, I might not be the most charismatic fellow on the face of the planet, but I do have some specific talents in certain key areas.  My writing isn’t all that bad, for one thing.  It’s good enough to have been published this past year, anyway, for the first time in my life.   You can’t say I’m a bad piano player, and I’m told I’m a pretty good speaker — although admittedly, it’s a lot easier to make a speech in my dining room using the voice recorder app on my lady friend’s smartphone than it would be to stand behind a podium and boldly address the multitudes.

However, somebody whom I respected once told me this:

“You act as though all these talents of yours make up for all your bad qualities.”

While that’s certainly debatable (if not hurtful), I can see where she was coming from.  The particular skills of expertise do not make up for bad qualities in other areas.  I’ve even said it myself, in so many words.   We live in a society that values competence, and devalues moral integrity.  And I hate to say it, but I’m pretty sure the person who said that to me felt that I was morally lax.

But there’s another facet to all of this.   While skillful expertise cannot compensate for moral turpitude, it can compensate for the lack of expertise in other areas.   I am horribly incompetent when it comes to most jobs, because my mind is largely incapable of panoramic focus.  I can only focus myopically.  If there is more than one thing I need to keep my mind on for any significant period of time, my mind will fail me.  I will screw up.  It will be noticeable and frustrating to my coworkers, and I like-as-not will be fired.

They call this Severe ADHD and Dyslexia.  Other aspects of my personality have been dubbed Bipolar One and Hypomanic.   Throw in a little PTSD, and the O.G.’s pretty much a mess.

Given all that, to cut to the quick, why should I not be focusing on the things that I can do?  I’ve spent most of my life trying to excel at things at which I suck, just because they happen to be the things that make money in this world.  But now I’m an Old Guy, and I’m on Social Security, and why not just take some time to show the world what I’m really made of?

In fact, if I don’t do so, I would feel like I’m shirking a calling of mine.   Yes, a calling – of which this post is a part.  

My disability landed me in a gutter for damn near twelve years, where none of these special gifts I have to offer were given the chance to shine.   While my ascent from that gutter to a decent apartment in another part of the world was rapid, sudden, unanticipated, and miraculous, that ascent would be meaningless if I didn’t do something with it.  For I am no less disabled, no less “incompetent,” than I was when I was sleeping under a bridge.   

The difference is not in my personality.  The difference is that I have been granted favorable circumstances in life, in such a form that the gifts with which I hope to bless you actually are given a chance to shine.

And that alone is the essence of my Statement to the World.  Not every homeless person is a worthless, low-life scum bag.  In fact, none of them are — because no person on Earth needs to be saddled with that tag.   Every person is redeemable and salvageable, for our Father in Heaven desires that none will be consigned to perdition, but that all will be preserved and saved.   So, if I don’t hide my light under a bushel, and I don’t let it shine before humanity, then people will not glorify the Maker of All Things — and yet, that’s what life’s all about.  (It’s also 2 Peter 3:9, Matthew 5:16, and Ecclesiastes 12:13 in a nutshell — and the reason I know this is because I just looked ’em up.)

So I’ll give it a go.   If you’re reading these words, it means it’s 7:30am PST or after.  If you’re not, you’re not.  Wish me luck.

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Anything Helps – God Bless!

Tuesday Tuneup 18

Q. Do you know who I am?

A. Yeah.  You’re a pain in the ass who darkens my door once a week, annoying me with an incessant series of inane questions, challenging my patience.

Q. So why have you summoned me?

A. What choice did I have?

Q. Aren’t I supposed to be asking you the questions?

A. Supposed to schummosed to.  I’m totally disgruntled.

Q. Whatever for?

A. I don’t know.  The whole thing just seems to be — on me. 

Q. What whole thing?

A. Forgiveness!  Why am I the guy who always has to focus all his energy on forgiving all these other people?   If even one of them would so much as give me the time of day, it would sure make it a lot easier.

hillary forgivenessQ. Easier on who?

A. On me — obviously!

Q. Why don’t you make it easy on them?

A. Don’t insult my integrity.  I’m already trying to do that, and you know that.

Q. How?

A. By apologizing to them.  By asking their forgiveness.  Like the Bible says.  Like Jesus says.  Like we’re all supposed to do with each other.  But they still won’t —

Q. Give you the time of day?

A. Right.  How do I know they’re even reading my emails?  Or listening to my voice mail messages?  Or even reading my carefully, prayerfully worded snail mail letters?   I wouldn’t be surprised if whats-his-face just ripped up the letter I sent to his home address, without even bothering to open it.

Q. But why would he do that?

A. I don’t know.  Fear of its contents, I guess.  Or disrespect for me as a man.  Hard to say.  Maybe his wife doesn’t want him to have anything to do with me.  Maybe his doctor told him to avoid “toxic people,” and he decided I was “toxic.”  Or maybe he’s just a cowardly wimp who can’t face up to his own bullshit unless he’s painted into a damn corner.

Q. Do you really need this guy?

A. No, not really.

Q. Then what do you need?  

Pause.

A. I need to forgive him.  To be free and clear of all the lingering resentment over the way I was treated — and the way I treated him.   To know that he has received my apologies, my requests for forgiveness, and that they matter enough to him — that Jesus matters enough for him — to say “I forgive you, Andy.”  And then we can both move on.  Or even be friends again, who knows?   God only knows.

Q. How long has this been going on?

A. Five years now.  

Q. He hasn’t talked to you for five years?

A. Not just him – but all kinds of people.

Q. Why did they all stop talking to you?

A. Probably because of the way I was coming across at the time.

Q. How were you coming across?

A. I was desperate.  I was homeless.  Sure I had all kinds of other problems, but I couldn’t solve any of them from homelessness.  And none of those damned group situations that were always recommended ever worked out for me.  They only surrounded me with thieves and criminals, and furthered the violation of my person and my property.   I was down in this hole that was so deep, I couldn’t climb out of it myself for the life of me.  I kept beseeching them, please, let me stay with you, just for a while, just for a month or so, till I can get my bearings, get some sleep, and see a way to maybe get back on my feet.  But nobody would budge.  They all rejected me.  Most of them without even a word of notice or warning.  They flushed me down the toilet like I was a total piece of — piece of — piece of  —

Q. Shit?

A. You said it.  

Q. Why did you internalize their opinions of you?

A. I couldn’t help it.  I knew I was coming across in a way that freaked them out, or pissed them off even.  But all the gross details of homelessness, the sleep deprivation, the constant insinuation from everyone around me that I was this worthless piece of crap, that my music didn’t matter, my singing, my piano playing, my writing, my public speaking, none of the good things about me counted!  I was just supposed to cram a bunch of damned pills down my throat that I knew would destroy everything I had going for me, and get into some group home where they monitored all my meds and only let me out under supervision on Sundays.   

And I had already tried all that.  And I just couldn’t do it!  I’d have rather slept alone out in a field somewhere.  So I did.  But then — all the other crap set in.

Q. What other crap?

A. You know something?  I really don’t want to talk about it.

Q. Then why are you?

A. Because of you.  And all your damned questions.  Go away! And don’t come back till Tuesday!   Tired of your robotic, unfeeling crap.

The Questioner is silent.

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Anything Helps – God Bless!

 
 

Tuesday Tuneup 15

Q. Do you know who I am?

A. Yes.  You are a feelingless generator of questions, whose function it is to churn out question after question, based on a logical follow-up to my responses, with little or no empathy for my emotional state.  Moreover, your first two questions are the same every Tuesday.  Therefore, my first answer is immaterial, since you will only ask me why I have summoned you, and it really does not matter what I’ve said.

Q. Why have you summoned me?

A. Because I can’t read.

Q. You can’t?

A. Not very well.

Q. And how does this affect you?

A. It disturbs me a great deal.  It also causes me to waste huge amounts of time.

dyslexiaQ. Doing what?

A. Trying to read.  Staring at the pages, while my head is flying, off in space, not seeming to be able to alight upon a single word or phrase of meaning.

Q. Why do I find this hard to believe?

A. Probably for the same reason everyone else does.

Q. And what reason is that?

A. The reason that I seem to be educated, and reasonably articulate, and able to write fairly well.

Q. If you cannot read, then where did you pick up all these words you use?

A. Mostly from talking to a lot of smart people, and remembering their words.  You see, I do have an unusually good long-term memory.  I am only unable to focus in the short-term.

Q. Unable?

A. Well, hardly able.  I suppose you have caught me in hyperbole.  It’s not that I can’t read at all.  I can read short articles, and emails on occasion, and unusually engaging works that don’t challenge my dyslexia.

Q. Then why did you say that you can’t read?

A. Because I can’t ever seem to finish an entire book.  I’ve finished only one book in the past several years.

Q. What book is that?

A. The INFJ Writer: Cracking the Genius of the World’s Rarest Type by Lauren Sapala.

Q. What enabled you to finish that particular book, if no other?

A. A matter of threefold interest.  There was not one, nor two, but three things about the book that intrigued me.

Q. Those being?

A. First, the MBTI.  I myself am an INFJ, and I saw myself all over the book.

Q. And second?

A. Writing.  Something I love to do.  The book was about INFJ’s who are Writers.

Q. And third?

A. Recovery.  The account of someone who had been deeply hurt, and who had escaped from that hurt by evoking a typical escape mechanism, and an addictive one at that.  But most importantly, she recovered.

Q. Have you done so?

A. Recovered?  Or escaped?

Q. Both.

A. Recovered?  Partly.  Escaped?  Totally.

Q. When?

A. All too often.   In 1979 after a break-up with a finacee.  In 1982 when I learned I was too sensitive for a highly competitive position in the music world.  In the early 90’s, after a difficult divorce.  And between the years 2013 and 2016, after being deeply hurt by a critique of my unfinished first draft to my musical Eden in Babylon, when I had turned to a friend for encouragement, and not only had received no encouragement, but the painful information that this man was not even a friend.

Q. How did you find out he was not your friend?

A. In the same way that I learned last night that another man was not my friend.

Q. How?

A. It is too painful to answer.  But it might inform you what was on my mind when I tried this morning, unsuccessfully once again, to read.  

The Questioner is silent.  

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Anything Helps – God Bless!

 

Wisdom

Blessed are those who find wisdom,
those who gain understanding,
for she is more profitable than silver
and yields better returns than gold.

She is more precious than rubies;
nothing you desire can compare with her.
Long life is in her right hand;
in her left hand are riches and honor.

Her ways are pleasant ways,
and all her paths are peace.
She is a tree of life to those who take hold of her;
those who hold her fast will be blessed.

–Proverbs 3:13-18

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Homeless in the USA

On the site Quora, where I am considered to be a “Most Viewed Writer” on the subject of Homelessness, somebody recently posed the question: “How do people become homeless in the USA?”  I answered it quickly according to my experience, and later noticed that it had received over 3,500 views and 73 “upvotes.”  So I figured I’d share it here.  I hope you gain from it.

Having lived in a community of over 1,000 homeless people for five years, and having been homeless and borderline-homeless in other areas for seven additional years, I think I might be qualified to answer this question.

There are many ways that a person can become homeless in America. Let me list four that seem most prevalent:

(1) A sudden medical problem or family crisis that costs a person an unexpected amount of money, making it impossible for them to continue paying rent or mortgage.

(2) Socio-economic factors beyond the scope of individual control; e.g., a persistent rent increase over a period of time that far exceeds any increase in the renter’s income.

(3) A drug or alcohol problem resulting in job loss, eviction, and/or general inability to make rational decisions over the long haul.

(4) A mental health condition that goes untreated or is (as in my own case) misdiagnosed, resulting in one’s taking medications that work to one’s detriment rather than one’s benefit.

My experience is that, in larger urban areas, there is a greater percentage of people who became homeless as a result of socio-economic factors or circumstances beyond their control.

evictionIn smaller, more rural areas, such as the small college town where I now live in Northern Idaho, it is much more difficult to become homeless without sort of “asking for it” by displaying a serious drug or alcohol problem.

I do know that in the two years that I have now successfully rented apartments in my present city – first, a studio, then a one-bedroom, I have done every thing that would have “made me homeless” in situations that arose in the San Francisco Bay Area, where rents are on the average four times as high, but where my fixed income from Social Security has not varied.

Had I not moved to this small college town in the middle of the country, I would have died a meaningless death on the Berkeley city streets. I simply would never have been able to pay the rent. And because I was largely regarded as unemployable due to my mental health condition, I found it difficult to cut through that stigma in order to find a job.

After almost two years of successfully paying my rent every month, I am living a very meaningful and happy life.

All it took was a $200 Greyhound bus ticket to a distant State, and a loan on an apartment deposit, to end twelve years of seemingly inescapable homelessness in the Bay Area. I applied for a part-time job three weeks after I arrived in Idaho, and was hired. I even managed to keep the job for ten months before aspects of my condition caused them to ask me to resign. But by that time, I was established in the community with a church and a solid support group, and I knew how to make ends meet.

I hope this information has been helpful, and of particular use to someone who may be in need.

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Anything Helps – God Bless!