Lavender: It’s my blog, so I get to put myself first. Take that, alphabetical order! Despite the fact that I pour my heart out on a weekly basis, gave myself top billing on this page, and vaguely managed to write an “About” page, I actually suck at describing myself. Rather than subject myself to a third attempt, I’ll introduce myself via one of those corporate icebreaker games that seem to be all the rage at Silicon Valley-wannabe companies lately. Two of the following statements about me are true. One is a lie. Can you guess which one? 1) I have had my photo in the New York Times (not in the Engagement Announcement section!), but I didn’t realize I was featured until someone else told me about it! This probably raises some questions about attribution and permission – and who can give them on my behalf – but I didn’t hate the photo, which is enough of a rarity that I’m okay with it. 2) I have enough credits to have completed a minor in Political Science, but, because ADHD, I didn’t notice until three days before graduation. By that point, I’d have had to either officially graduate a semester later (and re-file paperwork) or just accept the loss. I was too afraid of jeopardizing my grad school placement by not being a ‘real grad’ to fight for my minor. 3) I have met and had at least five-minute one-on-one conversations with two former Presidential candidates. I told them both quite sincerely – with copious references – what I thought they were doing wrong. Neither took my advice. But, neither actually became President, either, so I like to think maybe they would have if they’d listened to my impromptu policy briefing!
9th Circle of Hell, The: A terrible, horrible, no good, very bad place. I wish it didn’t appear so close to top billing on this page, or in my life. They say you can’t go home again. Oh, how I wish that was true. I’m the caregiver for my Sibling with severe medical and developmental disabilities who needs intensive residential care. Unfortunately, we were born in a Republican Hellscape that doesn’t know the meaning of “care”, and things like years-long waiting lists (longer in one state than the entire length of my grad school!) and federal budget cuts mean that though I don’t live in the 9th Circle of Hell anymore, Sibling still does. And, I’ve spent my entire adult life fighting institutional abuse, discrimination, and regulatory officials so unwilling to tackle them that they count as abusers themselves. That’s just my adulthood. My childhood in that place was also full of personal experiences of various types of abuse, bullying, and social isolation. I seriously hate that place, in case the pseudonym I gave it didn’t clue you in. I’d love to call it out by name, but given what I still face there, it doesn’t seem smart. You are welcome to try to guess where it is because – whether you get it right or wrong – just doing the research to triangulate hints will walk you through at least 10 other states just as bad as potential candidates. The worst part of my story isn’t that the 9th Circle of Hell is somehow unique in its mistreatment of the vulnerable, it’s that it isn’t unique at all. If trying to figure out where it is in specific helps to wake up my readers to what is wrong with so much of America in general and causes people to start advocating for change, then that is the most productive thing that could ever come out of sharing my story.
ADHD: Not a personality trait that instills mystical empathic powers or hippie traits. A type of neurodivergence that comes along with a ridiculous number of frustrating and life-altering traits, including intense emotions, but also a few rare positives like an ability to think so far outside the box that I don’t actually know where the box is. With the proper medications – and especially at the design phase of the research versus the tedious running of the simulations, writing of the publications and responding to reviewer edits – non-linear thinking helps me come up with really good hypotheses that have sometimes saved my job when my other diagnoses almost sabotaged it. If I could be paid to only ever generate ideas and have someone else do all follow-through, it might even warrant the claim some try to make for self-affirmation that ADHD is a superpower. Until someone does, I guess I’ll be grateful for stimulants and try not to beat myself up because the limitations it imposes on me are clearly a diagnosis, not a power.
Bedbug Motel: The penultimate residential facility in which Sibling lived. It was, sadly, like the others, in the 9th Circle of Hell. It used to have bedbugs, but it was (at first) also the only place that accepted my sibling after we spent the summer of 2018 substantiating abuse that happened in a prior residential facility. I wish I could say that was my first experience with institutional abuse, but, as I mentioned, I grew up in the 9th Circle of Hell. I’ve been dealing with it all my life in one form or another. It doesn’t have bedbugs anymore, because the first owners packed up and left its residents in the dark, literally, with no place to go. Now there is an emergency management company that sprayed and eventually turned the lights back on. Unfortunately, they also decided that dealing with someone with a trauma history was too much, so they evicted my sibling alongside the bedbugs. We had a month to find a new place, but goodbye and good riddance. Well, unless I end up testifying about my experiences there as part of the investigation that appears to have continued after we left. Yup, you guessed it, the story didn’t end after we left for the One-Horse Townhouse. We kept receiving notifications of substantiated abuse that had happened there since the dates and county could only match it through the end of 2018. The last official notification of substantiated abuse was dated 12/30/2018. What a way to end the year? Unfortunately, the 9th Circle of Hell is completely untransparent. A guardian can receive notice an investigation was completed, her sibling was found to have been abused (further), and yet she still isn’t allowed to know how or by whom. In the 9th Circle of Hell, unless you personally filed the initial report, you don’t get to know the details of the abuse someone close to you suffered at the hands of another. But, we’ve developed sources over time. It seems like the investigations continue even though we’re no longer there. It’s not directly our fight anymore, but we have volunteered to share whatever we can with whoever will listen to help whomever it is that took it up.
Behavioral Economics: The answer to life, the universe, and everything isn’t (only) 42. It’s behavioral economics. At least, it is since I care a lot about politics, mental and physical health and why the world is the way it is, but I majored in a STEM field instead of in psychology or philosophy. Behavioral economics means that if any asshole ever tries to call me irrational or crazy, I will stick my tongue out at them and go “I know you are, so what if I am, too” and mean it. Behavioral economics teaches that all people – not just those with mental illness – are fundamentally irrational and make suboptimal choices because of cognitive distortions and inappropriately short time horizons. Being irrational is being human. I’d make a lousy Wall Street quant, though I know the math for it, because I can’t believe the myth of homo economicus and because torturing data until it confesses actually triggers me. I hold out a delusional hope that someday social justice advocates will use behavioral economics principles to reform U.S. social services to be economically sustainable, effective and fundamentally compassionate.
Blog Awards Series: I like answering silly questions about myself. I student-taught a freshman seminar about the science behind personality. I had a faculty member/licensed practitioner as my supervisor, and she taught the class the psychological theory behind many of the most common tools used in therapy. She also helped debunk a lot of pseudo-scientific personality tests common in the corporate world. Thanks to that seminar, I can answer most medical and job screeners without having a PTSD meltdown over the fear of how my data will be used. That seminar inspired my blog name. Class members drew anonymous silly instant messenger names and tried to determine over the term if they could figure out who drew each name. (Yes, I’m old enough AIM was still a thing then!) My randomly selected username included “Lavender.” Later, I joined one of my first D&D games with a pre-generated NPC handed to me by the DM, and – unable to think of a name – called the character “Lavender.” NPCs are generic, no-name characters, right? It was a tiny nod to that throwaway AIM name. Because I’m an irony magnet, of course, I ended up playing that “one-off” character for several years! By the end of that game, I’d answer if you called out Lavender in a crowded room. So, yeah, I like personality questionnaires and have a history with them. If you nominate me, it will take me months to respond, but I will absolutely respond in a way you don’t expect!
Bully-of-a-Boss: One of those smug MBA types who has never met a company he didn’t believe he should single-handedly remake. Has not, from what I’ve seen, actually remade them better, but he is rich enough that people keep letting him try and privileged enough to not ask himself tough questions. Holds attitudes towards chronic physical and mental illness, work-life imbalance, and what an employee should mention even about the most mundane of personal matters that seem like they would be more at home in the 9th Circle of Hell, but lives and works on the East Coast all the same. Calls PTSD flashbacks proof that an employee has a “difficult working style,” but at least he isn’t someone I have to see on a daily basis now that I work remotely.
Bully-in-my-Brain: The arsehole voice that whispers in my head that I’m not good enough and am going to fail, 24/7. It’s sort of a literary representation of Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria, sort of my own low self-esteem, and sort of the cumulative voice of the various abusers in my life mimicking their emotionally abusive labels for me. But, because one of its voices is partly formed from my own, it is also snarky enough to have won a supporting actor role on my blog instead of being evicted from blog or brain. Great. Maybe its presence will at least help someone else evict their Inner Critic.
C-PTSD: Possibly one of the origins of the bully-in-my-brain. Definitely the worst of my diagnoses, and not one that comes with any bright spots I can think of. I suppose I’m hyper-aware of power dynamics and thus able to read threats before others, but since it doesn’t confer any ability to respond to them – in fact, sometimes it confers the exact opposite via dissociation – I don’t see the benefit. It’s like PTSD, but with added emotional flashbacks, relational and attachment trauma, and toxic shame on top. C-PTSD: because the only way my brain could cope with ongoing trauma perpetuated by multiple people within a substantially imbalanced power dynamic was to internalize that I somehow deserved it. I internalized the abuse for most of my life, but, over time, I have at least come to recognize intellectually that I didn’t/don’t deserve the trauma I’ve experienced. My wildest hope is that somehow my blog will lead to positive change in states like the 9th Circle of Hell, but my most realistic hope is that at least a few of my readers who have been subjected to similar abuse – and to people who used their power to silence their voices and destroy their sense of safety – will realize that it wasn’t their fault either.
Dysautonomia: You know how every job description talks about the need to be able to sit or stand for thirty minutes? I ignore that or I could never apply anywhere! I’m grateful I work in data analysis where I sit down all day. My autonomic nervous system is like a car with a faulty fuel float: nothing reads out to the rest of my body right, and so things like my ability to stay upright or hold it occasionally go out. If you are curious, some of the more interesting places I have fainted include: 1) between two plate boundaries 2) in Times Square 3) at a charity auction 4) at work (which is not interesting for its location so much as for the amusement of my boss being forced to hear about – oh, the horror! – something personal about an employee) and 5) airport security.
East Coast: Where I currently live. I actually really like living here, though I’m afraid to get too attached. But, I still mock my current home’s Blue State-ness anyway. I will never vote Republican. They are the demons that reign over my 9th Circle of Hell. I consider myself as Progressive as they come. But, I’m also oft disappointed in Blue States for things like still having waiting lists for services, for still having de facto segregated schools, for their elected Democrats being too spineless to stop what is being perpetrated on the U.S. at the national level, and for Coastal liberals being self-absorbed enough to claim that Red States deserve what happens to them because “they voted for it.” Too many progressives forget that I never voted for any of the people who created the 9th Circle of Hell, but I suffer them anyway. There are a lot of reasons – chief among them that it already takes a certain level of baseline economic privilege to be able to move to another state – that people remain trapped in Red States. We should elect national representatives who will look out for the most vulnerable economically and socially, instead of sequestering themselves and forgetting the rest of the country. (Whether you live in Red State or Blue, if you want to help elect those types of officials even though you are facing your own challenges, here are some hopefully helpful steps.)
Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome: The thigh bone’s connected to the hip bone, the hip bone’s connected to the backbone, the shoulder bone’s connected to the backbone…except when they aren’t. When they aren’t, it’s probably because the roughly 30% of all raw protein in my body that contains collagen isn’t doing its job. I have Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome. I can put my legs behind my head, but I also dislocate various body parts in my sleep (especially if I have a PTSD nightmare) and sometimes lose my vision. Flexibility isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
Improv: Like Whose Line Is it Anyway – well, actually not like, as it is Whose Line is it Anyway in the short-form games – but I am still in training. I don’t get paid and nobody will ever ask me for my autograph. I also may panic and quit the whole thing the moment I become eligible to audition for something serious like mainstage cast instead of just participating in secondary theater experimental shows as part of a group that auditions together. I’m currently in that limbo state where nothing I do has been quite individually judged enough that the bully-in-my-brain has vetoed it yet, but I’m also starting to see others audition solo and pre-doubt my own ability. I joke that Improv is trauma therapy, but that is often too true for comfort.
Irony Magnet: We all have a useless superpower. My Partner’s is the ability to walk past street lamps and have them go out with much higher than baseline expected frequency. Mine is that unusual things happen to me, a lot. I don’t even mean trauma, though, as we discussed above, that happens far too frequently as well. I mean the weirdest possible version of something I made a joke about. Or, perhaps, just a series of things that by themselves might not be that unexpected (like experiencing one type of weird natural phenomenon) but together sound a bit fantastic (like being in all but two major types.)
Messages in a Bottle: Things I wrote in the past, usually posted because they relate to something I’m struggling with or pondering in the present. (They could also just be something I wrote that I forgot existed until much later. I have ADHD, after all!) Originally, these were supposed to be more vulnerable posts that showed that it really can get better, even though things seemed rough in the post itself. But, given that 2018 turned out to be rougher than many of those old posts, they have now become a bit of a personal trauma narrative and way to integrate my experiences, especially as someone so dissociative she has to keep a reality journal during crises. The best advice I can offer for healing from trauma is to own your own story, all of the good, bad, and indifferent.
Middling Child, The: Three out of four group homes to date have been so memorable as to warrant entries on this page. The completist in me feels I should give the one my sibling resided in the longest to date an entry, too. There was nothing overtly wrong with it. It was basically “middling,” but that’s high praise for any agency in the 9th Circle of Hell. My life would have sucked a lot less if my sibling could have just remained there in 2018. Unfortunately, his medical conditions worsened severely in 2017. The “Middling” Child didn’t feel like handling “medically complex.” In the 9th Circle of Hell, providers can determine what kinds of clients they will serve, and they evict ones they don’t want. The Middling Child didn’t feel like dealing with complexity, so they gave us thirty days notice and the state said they were allowed. We were taken quite unaware, and there was such a shortage of providers that we basically had to take what we could get. That turned out to be the Too Little, Too Late Inn. I hate that the Middling Child’s management created the crises of 2018 by evicting my sibling in 2017. I used to say that what I hated even worse than that was that if – by some miracle – they’d suddenly change their mind, I’d have sent sibling back there in a heartbeat. I’ve learned to expect the worst from the providers of the 9th Circle of Hell. Only engineering forced evictions feels tame in comparison to so many others. (Did I mention most of the others are barely maintained hellholes?) But, my sibling’s place was given away, and the management still shows no sign of ever being willing to take complex cases of any type. They’re popular enough they don’t have to, so why would they? Welcome to the 9th Circle of Hell: even the okay providers are still discriminatory arseholes. Now, though, I don’t think I’d send my sibling back even if I could. The One-Horse Townhouse keeps shocking me with how shockingly reasonable they have been. Will it last? I don’t know, but it also reminds me that “Middling” isn’t the same as “Good.” A lifetime of abuse – witnessed and lived – has just broken my sense of what “Good” means.
One-Horse Townhouse: Sometimes beggars can be choosers? Ok, not really, but sometimes beggars get lucky? My sibling’s current residential facility is in Nowheresville, 9th Circle of Hell, USA. But, though it’s in a one-horse town, it hasn’t yet revealed itself to be horrible. I’m entirely too jaded to let my guard down. Did you notice what I said in my last sentence in the description above? I’ve got C-PTSD: you don’t get diagnosed with that without living a life wherein that “other shoe” has kicked you in the behind more often than not. For right now, though, its physical location is a lot less modern than the facilities of the Middling Child, but its staff seems potentially more…human? Do actual humans ever live in the 9th Circle of Hell and work in social services? Is that a thing? Ask me in a year, and maybe I’ll feel more comfortable weighing in on that question.
Partner: One of the rare consistently good things about my life. He’s actually my husband, but I was so concerned about anonymity when I started this blog that I gave him a pseudonym that left our relationship status ambiguous. Then I realized I didn’t want to leave our relationship status ambiguous because he’s one of the good guys, has put up with more than he ever expected from the 9th Circle of Hell itself and from my response to it, and he hasn’t run yet. In fact, he accepted legal backup guardianship responsibility for my sibling. He’s a data analyst like me, and probably funny enough to also do Improv if his introversion didn’t know no bounds. His humor style runs more surrealist than mine, though, and he programs video game mods for fun while I blog. We haven’t become the same person quite yet, I promise, though he’s politically like-minded enough that I can hand him half the ballot candidates to research and take the other half to create a joint list of how we’ll both vote without fear he’ll lead me astray. He is quoted often on my blog, explicitly directs me to write about specific topics that he thinks are important to advocacy, and he MST-3ks the news for me so I can still watch it. But, he’s never read my blog. He knows the bully-in-my-brain will overweight and overanalyze the slightest twitch if he reads my writing, and he is smart enough not to engage with it.
Therapist: I promised in several posts to write about her, but I only managed to do so at the prospect of possibly having to see her less frequently. You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s potentially gone and all that? It’s still weird to write positively about anyone affiliated with a system, given my history. According to my Partner, who attended the first session as my protector, the first thing she said to me was “you’re educated and know your own needs, what do you want to get out of this experience?” She didn’t hand me some horrible trauma history questionnaire to re-trigger me, force a symptom screener onto my lap, read a checklist of introductory rules in a robot voice, or use her position to tell me who I was instead of asking me. I was too dissociated/afraid of her to actually remember this, but I trust my Partner enough to believe she did those things. She followed that up by giving me peer-reviewed articles to review about techniques she wanted to try, and she asked for my consent. I joke that I know trauma-informed care quite well – in the sense that the “care” I have seen has been quite “informing” of my trauma history. But, she practices trauma-informed care despite being part of a thoroughly trauma-uninformed facility that – like too many others I have been to – looks more like a prison than a safe space. She also referred me to a trauma yoga studio that actually does look safe and non-institutional, which also helps. They even knew how to modify “trauma yoga” into “not-yoga” (more like pilates, I think?) with the same benefits, since true yoga isn’t good for hypermobility.
“Thesis Defense Rests” Stop, The: The first group home my sibling was in. It was abusive, but despite my family’s best attempts got merely a slap on the wrist. I went to Hell to testify about what they had done the same week as my thesis defense, which also happened to be the week of my birthday. There are many reasons I don’t like to celebrate my birthday, but the week that I had to testify against them ranks highly among those reasons. Despite all our efforts – and the fact that worse things have happened in that place since – they remain open. They are quite cozy with the right unscrupulous “Quality Assurance Provider” and thus avoid anything but a slap on the wrist.
Too Little, Too Late Inn: Why do I call it that? Well, the abuses it perpetrated led to me having a pretty substantial PTSD breakdown and having to take not-FMLA leave to go deal with the consequences of their actions in the spring/summer of 2018. I didn’t expect to accomplish much of anything but getting my sibling out of there. After all, I’d been down that road before with the aforementioned Thesis Defense Rests Stop, and there was too much deja vu in this case. (I even also had to go deal with them the week of my birthday, just like with the first abusive place, because the
universe 9th Circle of Hell hates me.) The first place only got a slap on the wrist for its abuse, and remain open even after they pulled worse crap on others. But, sometimes money – or rather the mishandling of it in a state bleeding out from self-inflicted financial wounds – talks. Sometimes places do close. It just sucks that when they close, their clients have no place to go, and we get the word of our “too little, too late” victory while in the midst of dealing with the situation with Bedbug Motel. Timing is everything, and the timing on the closure of the Too Little, Too Late Inn didn’t quite feel like a victory.
Trauma Kitty: I have an adorable ten-year-old kitty who would be a fantastic therapy animal, if not for the fact that her own trauma history means she’s afraid of ever leaving our apartment. She’s my unofficial emotional support animal, though, and I’m her unofficial emotional support human. She has an official diagnosis of PTSD, took kitty Prozac, and had to work through a lot of trauma symptoms when we first got her. (Living near a university meant she got the best possible physical and behavioral health treatment from specialty veterinary faculty while she was skin and bones and recovering from prior abuse/abandonment.) Pets can get PTSD, too, but they can also be the best source of comfort for those suffering from it.
Where’s Whoopsie: Coloring books are wonderfully meditative, especially since I have issues with meditation and mindfulness in general. They become self-defeating, however, when the bully-in-my-brain berates me for every mistake etched forever in ink. since this is a blog about failure, I turned the tables on it and made my mistakes into a Where’s Waldo style game. First, read a blog post about a failure of mine, then spot my artistic failures within the associated images! The featured image above is a Where’s Whoopsie.