What Would You Do?

What would you do if a friend lost everything? How would you react if they reached out to you for help?

Would you help them out, or, would you be more concerned with your own problems and send them on their way?

When I first lost my apartment, I did not want to wind up living in the street. I called friends and family members begging for help. Sadly, there was no help to be had. I wound up having to sell my mother’s wedding band to get a few bucks so that I could stay with someone that night. I was terrified and ashamed. I never imagined life would take such an ugly turn. The thing that hurt even worse was that there seemed to be no real help anywhere. We all have problems. None of us are set for life unless we are wealthy. I get that. Having each door slam shut in my face made me feel my life mattered to no one.

As it turned out, I bounced around for a few months, desperately trying to make life work on some level. One disappointment led to the next. I felt like things were constantly out of my reach. I stayed with a highly abusive alcoholic who stole my money. I got to a point where I slept with my purse under my head. Not that it helped all that much. I still recall waking up, finding my wallet empty yet again.

That day I had enough. I had enough of not having coffee money, or cigarette money, or even five bucks for gas. I pitched a fit and I was done.

Now, how was I getting out with no money?

Thankfully, I managed to make friends who did care about me. They knew the situation was bad, but it was not until that St. Patrick’s Day would they know to what extent. That night, he took a swing at me. That was all it took. People flew into action. A circle was formed around me. The bouncer carried him out by his scrawny neck. I was brought into the extreme corner of the room so everyone else could see where he would be coming from next. He did not go away easily. He ran in and out of the bar several times before driving off drunk and with no headlights on.

Now what? Again I was alone.

One of my friends sat with me and we made a game plan of things I needed to do. We tried to get me into a battered women’s shelter, but they were full. I wound up in a homeless shelter that wound up being home for a little over a year. I didn’t have much, but what I had was mine.

I didn’t have to sleep with my pocketbook under my head anymore.

What would you do if you met someone who lost everything? Would you turn your back, or help out?

Lost In the Shuffle

Depression kills. We have all heard that sentiment before. How many of us have given advice to a friend who is legitimately depressed that the person “needs to just get over it?” Perhaps we know of someone who did get over major stumbling blocks with little to no help. These things do happen, but they are not the norm. To think they are is to take away the all too real hurt that people suffer from on a daily basis.

People such as myself.

Yeah, you read that right. I have been depressed ever since the accident and have little to no idea when the black clouds will leave me alone. Many nights I suffer from horrible flashback style nightmares. I have PTSD. I freak out when I see irresponsible drivers and it can lead me to a meltdown. If you think I can control this, you would be sadly mistaken. This is not just a disorder that exists within our military. People such as myself get lost in the shuffle because no one talks about the non military personnel that have gone through a major trauma.

I suffer flashbacks to an accident I have no recollection of. I did not ask for this.

There have been many friends who mean well who tell me marvelous things such as “This happened for a reason.” Okay. I still have no idea what that reason is. Why am I still here? What, if anything, am I put on this earth to make better? They say that life is about finding your passion and building from that. I would be grateful if I could get through the day without feeling so lethargic.

People who do suffer with anxiety outnumber people with depression. The worst part for me is that if I do not get things done, I berate myself for being lazy. I worry constantly that I only have friends because they need someone to poke fun at. Most days I feel that my best efforts are not good enough. Sitting here at the keyboard is one of the only times I feel good about myself.

The part about being lost in the shuffle is that to the untrained eye, I am fairly normal. I have all the same basic traits everyone else has. I just have a much larger low-self esteem button and a gigantic fear button. I have to battle myself each day in ways that others do not. I am in a constant state of fear walking around that another car will hit me and that will be that. I also fear that this is as good as it gets.

What if it is as good as it gets? Cognitively speaking, I try to learn new things, but cannot remember them, due to the damage done to my brain. I do the best I can to remember things, but that is also a crapshoot. Many days I need to remind myself of what I have overcome thus far. Not to be egotistical, but simply to bear witness to the fact that the struggle is worth it.

Most days I feel invisible. I no longer accept feeling lost in the shuffle.

All I can ask is this, if you have a friend dealing with self-hatred, depression, anxiety, or worse, don’t tell them to “get over it.” Talk to them. Surprise them. The happiness you create will make a huge difference.

Just ask someone who is lost in the shuffle.

My Love Does It Good

In honor of Valentines Day, I wanted to talk about my sweetheart. I had a crush on him for a while.

Our paths crossed from time to time, but it was when we were both dateless at a mutual friends wedding, that we really started to chat each other up. We kept each other company. We danced, flirted, and laughed. The one thing we did not do was kiss.

This story does not end there. We had each other’s phone number, and he would shoot me a text message from time to time. I did not chase him even though I wanted to. I was far too afraid of rejection. I dared not dream too big when it came to getting my feet wet again. I was terrified to get my heart broken.

We were both interested in each other, and got together around Christmas last year. It was not without problems. Many people had strong opinions about us being together. We just had to stay the course, and eventually things worked out. We moved in to our own apartment in May, and it has been great. The best part is that neither one of us expected this. We were not looking to fall in love, it happened in its own time. I remember last Valentines Day, he had his DJ gig after we went to dinner. As we danced, an older gentleman commented on how he could see the love we had for each other on our faces.

It would take another month for us to say those words out loud. We were much more likely in those days to play love songs. The songs we chose said the things we did not dare say yet.

Happy Valentines Day.

Here is one of those songs we played.

How My Mom Fixed Dad’s Wagon

I want to tell you a story from when I was a teenager. Back in the early eighties, a movie called National Lampoon’s Vacation came out. We all remember Christie Brinkley being in the movie and her scenes driving a red Ferrari. My father was smitten. So much so that he began to talk about Ms. Brinkley whenever he could. My mother was always a proud woman. She would not show you that you were irritating her. She kept that stuff to herself.

Time passed, and dad was still going on and on about his favorite model, Christie Brinkley. At this time, MTV became the new big thing and she was in the Billy Joel video for the song “Uptown Girl.” News soon broke that Billy Joel and Christie Brinkley were to get married. My dad actually cried and whined about the fact that she was marrying someone.

That was it. Mom was pissed. Now she took action.

I was in my room, when mom came to my door. She looked at me with sad eyes. She asked me for a favor. She needed a poster of Rod Stewart and she needed it as soon as possible. Mom went on to tell me that dad would not shut up about Christie Brinkley and it was time for her to “fix his wagon.”
Mom was not the kind of person to ask for help, so I grabbed a pile of rock magazines and began looking through them.

A short time later I had a perfect mini poster of his face and signature hair. Mom was so relived she hugged me hard and thanked me for getting this taken care of. She hung up this poster by her side of the bed.

Now every night, before going to sleep, she would give Rod Stewart a kiss. This was how my mom solved problems. She showed people how their actions made someone feel rather than telling them outright.

It took only two night of this before dad shut his mouth about Christie Brinkley. The truth is, it was mean of him to keep going on about her, so mom fought back the best way she knew how.

Mom fixed his wagon. She was good at that.

The House On the Hill Part Two

This is the second part of The House On the Hill

Day to day life in a homeless shelter is not normal day to day life. It is a cross between being in the armed forces, and serving a jail sentence. First of all, to a certain degree, you lose your freedom. You are told when to get up. Banging on doors with the loud announcement to get up starts at six. If you are smart, you get up before that time, so you may head downstairs to see if coffee has been made.

Coffee is a commodity in a place like this. Everyone keeps instant coffee in their locker since the coffee pots don’t always work. Instant coffee is a way of life and so, you get your coffee and head outside to smoke. You must be out of the shelter by nine at the latest. It is preferable to be out of there earlier. The only exception is for those who are too disabled to be out and about all day.

Once you are out of the shelter, you need to find something to do. I used to walk to the Salvation Army for free breakfast, then it was a short walk to the library where I could go online to look for jobs. There were also a few places that served free doughnuts and coffee to the homeless and I would go there. We had to go out every single day regardless of weather. That meant you needed an umbrella, sunscreen, and winter gear. The only time you did not have to leave would be in the case of a severe snowstorm or wind chill. Failing that, your butt would be out there. There would be no going back early if you were not feeling well either. You would have no choice but to try and tough it out.

You are told when to come back. Curfew is at four in the afternoon. You need to be back before then so that you may sign a list. If you came back late, you ran the risk of losing your bed. Residents get taken in one at a time. Bags are inspected, you are checked over to make sure you are not drunk or high. Then you may go to your room. If you have arrived late, one of a few things can happen. If you are not drunk or high, you can get a written warning. If you are under the influence, you may get kicked out.

Once you are back, you will need to make sure nothing got stolen while you were out. Since there are more than one person to a room, theft is common but hard to prove. I used to hide the few things I did not want touched. If you smoke, you learn the hard way to never go outside with a full pack of cigarettes. The beggars will be all over you if they see a full pack. The upside is that people get desperate, and will do your chores for a couple of smokes.

There is no set time for dinner. It gets served when the people making it are done. If you have a dietary restriction due to religion that can be worked around to some extent. If you are just fussy, you will learn to shut your mouth and eat. The alternative is to go hungry, so you might want to suck it up.

Once dinner is over, you have free time. I spent mine mostly in my room reading. I did have a boyfriend there, and I would spend part of my time watching him show off on the basketball court. Hookups were commonplace. PDA’s were frowned upon. The rule was simple, you could do what you wanted once you left the property. Once you were back, nothing. This meant not even kissing my boyfriend goodnight.

Last cigarette was always at quarter to eleven. Lights out at eleven p.m.

Just because it is time for lights out, does not mean it is quiet. Fighting can happen at any time. We had residents who walked in their sleep. it was a humiliating experience to know that you had little to no rights whatsoever. The only thing you did have control over was getting out of there as fast as possible.

So many people who were there did not fit the classic profile of a homeless person. It truly is time for that to change. Yes, a large chunk of the homeless population have untreated mental illness. This is a statistical fact. There are countless others who fell down the rabbit hole of poverty. What about them? What can be done for the hardworking people who live paycheck to paycheck and lose it all due to a poor job market?

Just something to think about.

I Still Hate Change

The hard part about change is that it comes at the worst possible time. It tears through my life like a tornado, often leaving me wondering exactly what the hell happened. Eventually, I find my way to the right path and begin reassessing my existence and the relationships that remain.

Society as a whole has a strong desire to keep things the same. Have you ever noticed that many of us go to the same place for coffee, and perhaps even sit in the same seat? What do we do when our apple cart gets knocked over through no fault of our own? One faction will embrace change, while the vast majority want nothing at all to do with it. Life for me the past few years has been one change after another. Some I have handled better than others.

The newest set of challenges is to not take rejection personally. It hurts like a bitch, and I would be lying if I said otherwise. This is certainly not a change I asked for, this is a situation I never wanted to face yet here it is, staring at me. I did not want to accept this new reality. The fact is that this course was charted without my input.

Feeling hurt and confused is part of life. Not everything that happens in our lives has to make sense. It is up to me to walk with my head held high, not act like a child, and go through this unfortunate circumstance with some grace. There may come a day when all of what has gone on in the past month or so will finally make sense.

In the meantime, I will simply deal with it. One day, I will wake up and not feel hurt. The fact is, if you have even a couple of close friends, you are doing great.

Doing great or not, I still hate change.

What about you? Do you embrace change or do you run away from it?

The House On the Hill

Living in a homeless shelter will change your perspective on many things.

I wound up at the doorstep of a homeless shelter scared out of my mind. The shelter looked like a huge, weather-beaten house. It sat up on a hill. A large porch wrapped around the front portion. I arrived by taxi, with my worldly possessions in black trash bags. When I entered, my belongings were inspected. I was told I would not be allowed to have more than a few days worth of clothing, so anything extra had to go into a storage closet.

I then had to put all of my clothing items in a hot dryer for thirty minutes. This is a common precaution against bedbugs. I was then shown around, and given my bed assignment. The building was confusing to me at first. I kept getting lost. Men and women stay in separate sleeping quarters, and I kept walking down the wrong hallway.

Once I was there for a bit, I met the others. By the end of my first week, I learned some valuable lessons.

The first lesson is that money is not the only form of currency. Cigarettes and food are equally important. Living in a place like this, you need allies. Real friends in a place like this are rare, but do happen. At a minimum, you need a few people who you know won’t steal from you. It is also a good idea to not show that someone is helping you out even if that person is a family member. During my time in this place, I noticed that the people who got robbed the most, displayed too many resources. This is a homeless shelter. Things get stolen. I learned to hide anything I considered valuable.

The second lesson I learned is keep your nose out of other people’s business. Drugs are rampant, so is alcohol use. I never wanted to be labeled a “rat” so I turned a blind eye to what was going on as long as I was left alone. When I saw people getting drunk, I would head upstairs to my room or another common area so I did not have to deal with it. That might be the most important lesson. I learned what is worth complaining about and when to just suck it up. There were people there that I found annoying. I am sure others found me annoying. When you live with thirty or so people, that is bound to happen. The easier thing to do is mind your own business.

The toughest lesson was that not everyone employed there wants to help homeless people. You learned to rely on the staffers that truly wanted to help, and said little to the rest. There were a few staffers that I came to trust. One of them would help me fill out forms, help me understand what was going on, and even managed to get me a few privileges after the accident. It just goes to show not everyone has your best interests at heart.

When I did leave that place for good in May of 2014 I had been there a total of two years and a few months. It was a humbling experience. I saw many people go in and out of those doors. Some left because they couldn’t handle it. Others got kicked out for any number of reasons, from drinking, to drugs, to fighting, you name it. Through it all, I tried to keep a sense of humor, because if I didn’t laugh, I would have cried.

Without a doubt, living in the house on the hill was the hardest place I have ever had to live in. The best part about leaving is being able to appreciate all of the things that I have now.