Of Cigarettes and Criminals Who Are Idiots…

CW: mentions of an attempted robbery on New Year’s Eve that did not result in any injuries or financial loss. Mentions of past acute traumas, including a threatened mass shooting, that I have experienced, fortunately also without injury.

Does acute trauma add to the mental trauma load if you’ve already experienced the 9th Circle of Hell? I know that every experience of abuse – past and present – in the 9th Circle of Hell has been one more piece removed from the fragile Jenga tower of my mental health. I know that 9th Circle of Hell trauma compounds, but should I count non-9th Circle of Hell trauma? Does something that I would definitely call traumatic if it happened to others – but that will never take up residence in my nightmares because the price of that mental real estate was set too high by the 9th Circle of Hell – count as part of my “trauma narrative?”

I read a post recently from a blogger with a severe trauma history who witnessed a guy open-carrying a gun in a coffee shop. She was triggered, but she had her coffee there anyway. She had to ask if she should have left or if she was overreacting. Go through enough childhood trauma and your perspectives can get very skewed on things. I commented that the statistics on mass shootings in the U.S suggest that it is wise to leave such situations as soon as it is safe, and maybe even to hang out down the block to call 911 if shots are heard. I almost added that I am very wary of guns “even though guns aren’t a part of my trauma history.” Then I stopped and realized I might be being an idiot. I do have a prior scary history with guns, though I don’t think it is contributing to my PTSD symptoms. I briefly considered writing a future post about whether it is possible to be “triggered” by something while thinking you were unaffected by an event. Then I promptly forgot about it, because ADHD, until my Partner was on the receiving end of an attempted robbery on New Year’s Eve.

We both recovered from the fear within hours, but I wonder – given that other post – if that’s completely accurate, or if we’re just a bit too numbed from the 9th Circle of Hell to respond normally to things that should shake us up for a few days. The robbery wasn’t successful – or I guess very successful – but threats were involved. My Partner did take them seriously until he was able to get into a place with others around to not take them seriously anymore. It was a scary situation while it was happening, even if it ended ok. What is considered “normal” for recovering from acute scares – as that other blogger similarly asked – if your baseline isn’t Hell?

We were heading home from dinner on the subway. Our subway system isn’t accessible in many places. In some places, it’s only “accessible” if you get off at a stop on a line close by, take an elevator, and walk through an underground ramp at a gentle grade that can handle a wheelchair at least a block to the other station. The alternative to walking a block is to have to climb what I unaffectionately refer to as “Stairs of Death.”

Our subway has entirely too many “Stairs of Death” for someone with chronic illness. One set, in particular, are my personal nemeses, as before I learned about the workaround they almost convinced me I’d have to quit improv. Attempting to manage them after performances was wiping me out for days. For me, subway stairs are a legendary enemy. For my Partner, they are a quick bit of physical exertion to get steps on the activity tracker to lose a few pounds. Stress from the Crisis of 2018 means elevated cortisol for those who haven’t experienced it so chronically throughout life that they have actually depleted it years before. Elevated cortisol – and also depleted cortisol, because life isn’t fair – can both lead to weight gain. No matter the direction of physiological response, trauma too often manages to be bad for the waistline.

My Partner took the Stairs of Death and said he’d meet me after I slowly walked there the saner way. He didn’t meet me. I instead arrived in time to watch him leave the station with what looked like a generic homeless guy. However, interactions with generic homeless guys do not typically result in my Partner leaving subway stations to walk out into freezing rain on New Year’s Eve when he is supposed to be waiting for someone who is chronically ill and chronically wigged out about the time of year she hates most. My Partner’s typical response to panhandling is to offer the remainder of whatever is on his paper subway ticket – usually about a ride’s worth – to a person outside of the station itself on any potentially life-threatening weather night, wait for that person to use the ticket to go through the turnstile, and then buy a second ticket home. This effectively donates about three dollars, and my Partner can then top up to the credit card minimum on a new ticket since he doesn’t spend enough to warrant a pass. He’s generously cautious.

The would-be robber approached my Partner in the guise of a generic homeless guy requesting directions to a shelter outside the immediate area. Given we know that we live in one of the top four states for unsheltered homeless – the shelter system is strained to bursting – my Partner paused to consider. There really is a shelter in the area he mentioned, and it was freezing outside. Every homeless person we have ever met would traverse the entire city upside down and backward for a chance at a spot in one of the shelters on a night of freezing rain. Or, well, for a couple dollars to ride around the subway during the days of freezing rain forthcoming if one wasn’t available.

This is not a story intended to suggest that people should treat homeless individuals like criminals. I don’t want to create repercussions for human beings just trying to survive. Generic homeless guys (and girls, since homelessness doesn’t discriminate by gender) typically just want to not die in the Northeast cold. They are perfectly polite if someone turns them down for a subway swipe and are grateful when someone doesn’t. The would-be robber was not a homeless man. He was masquerading as one to disarm commuters, and that is very different.

I had a very difficult time convincing transit authorities that the situation was alarming, but I eventually did. I don’t know if they actually believed he left the station under duress, but the squeaky wheel gets the grease. The presence of my cane and my ADHD ability to never take a breath while shouting probably also helped convince them that the risk to their annual performance review from not helping a “disabled” girl who couldn’t climb the stairs to go find her Partner also helped. They did send someone to search for him on nearby streets. That person eventually ran into my Partner at the very end of the whole affair, so it wasn’t super useful. But, it proved I was right to send someone, and if things had gone south I’d have been glad I did.

The would-be robber had made threats and demanded my Partner take him to an ATM. My Partner was only carrying a credit card, and that credit card had never had its cash advance pin set up. We do not want to ever mistake a credit card for a debit card and accidentally take out a cash advance at 21% daily interest. (I have ADHD. I have made that costly mistake in the past.) My Partner didn’t have to fake his inability to use the card in the machine. He fumbled and tried random pins, the guy got frustrated, and my quick-thinking Partner suggested instead that he could do a money order at the nearest 7-11. The guy agreed (I have to wonder if he was a bit drunk or just stupid. Even in a high-adrenaline situation, I’d realize the problem with going inside a store with cameras while attempting to rob someone! But, whichever he was, I’m grateful he wasn’t forward-thinking, or perhaps was so supremely overconfident he thought he could pull it off?!)

When they got safely inside the lit store, my Partner turned to the man and said that either he could buy him a couple packs of smokes on the credit card and the man could leave without him reporting anything, or he could take his chances as to whether he could make good on any threats before the cashier pushed the alarm. The guy accepted two packs of cigarettes. Maybe he suddenly realized how lucky he’d be to get away with anything at that point.

We called the credit card company, who voided the charges. They recommended we cancel the card in case the criminal wasn’t quite as dumb as he seemed and had had an accomplice snap a photo or install a key swipe recorder on the ATM to get our card number. It was frightening, but it turned out ok. I managed to be insufferable enough to force transit authority help. My Partner thought up a way to cut a “deal” to resolve the situation. Trauma exposure and/or PTSD don’t mean “unable to act in a crisis.”

I’ve certainly experienced violence in the 9th Circle of Hell, but none involving guns. (That I know of, at least. Given incomplete information about some situations, I won’t categorically say it’s impossible.) Still, no robbery or other acute trauma could compare to it to my C-PTSD.

But, I guess I have experienced gun violence, even if I keep discounting it because it didn’t happen in the 9th Circle of Hell. It wasn’t any remembered fear of that event that ultimately stayed my hand when writing my comment to that other blogger. I stopped myself from writing that I had no experience of trauma related to guns because I didn’t want to accidentally invalidate someone else who had experienced PTSD from a similar situation. Trauma is personal. Just because I’m too weirdly broken from the 9th Circle of Hell to have space left over to process anything non-9th-Circle of Hell doesn’t mean, though, that perhaps, that I shouldn’t have processed it.  It absolutely doesn’t mean that my “non-history” with guns couldn’t be PTSD inducing all on its own for someone else.

I was technically in an attempted mass shooting. I still feel compelled to add “technically” because it feels like just another irony magnet story to me now, not a true “trauma.” But, it, too, was scary as it happened. I was woken up by a SWAT team and evacuated from my apartment at 7am with only my terrified trauma kitty and my car keys. A neighbor a few doors down with a domestic violence history was firing his guns wildly, holding his family hostage in the apartment. There was enough risk that stray bullets could injure neighbors that we had to be immediately evacuated. He was active duty military, and he also plausibly claimed he had obtained explosive materials from his job that could be used to blow up the complex. Those who weren’t close enough neighbors to have been evacuated in the wild shooting later ended up evacuated anyway because of that threat. The standoff ended safely, though, for everyone including his family thanks to effective law enforcement negotiators, but it made the regional news just long enough to validate my claim that I couldn’t come into the lab because “I’m still in PJs with a cat and all of my stuff is in a potential blast zone.” (What does it say about the U.S. that the event only made the local news “just long enough” – aka about a day – before being supplanted?)

I’ve also been in car wrecks, house fires and even sheltered in place during the apprehension of the Chelsea bomber while interviewing in a round of jobs that ultimately resulted in our move to the Northeast (The bomber turned out to be hiding elsewhere, but I’m fine with police being safer than sorry.) I’ve also been in enough wildfires, earthquakes, tornadoes and other natural phenomena to only half-jokingly claim I will have to add a hurricane and a couple extraneous ones to complete the set. My Partner can now add attempted robbery to his list, I guess?

Any of these events could be considered validly “traumatic.” I’ve seen them listed on various traumatic life experiences scales at therapists’ offices. But, they never seem to “count” to me as anything other than party stories because the 9th Circle of Hell exists.

I would tell anyone else who had a close call with mother nature or criminal activity to talk it through with their therapist and practice good self-care. I’m not a reckless cowboy. I would definitely leave a coffee shop where a man was brandishing a gun openly. But, I also doubt I’ll mention the attempted robbery when my therapist returns from break. I’ve never thought to mention the SWAT evacuation, and if I’ve mentioned mother nature it is probably only in my usual “well, I never got hurt or lost everything so all’s well that ends with a story” way. I have to wonder if that shows healthy resilience and the fact that I am much stronger than the 9th Circle of Hell has led me to believe? Or whether it’s like dissociation: you don’t realize you are too fine to be using a healthy coping strategy until someone else points out the obvious?

What do you think? How personal is “all trauma is personal,” really? Is it healthier to treat every event I’ve experienced that show ups on a traumatic life experiences scale as “trauma,” or is it healthier to continue to craft my trauma narrative such that I “don’t have a trauma history with guns,” because it’s my story and I get to shape its telling?

Should I demand my Partner practice self-care over this attempted robbery, or is it accurate to take him at his word when he laughs and agrees with me that attempted robbery is nothing to dealing with Hell?

Also, why hasn’t anyone successfully sued those cities whose subways aren’t fully accessible? I know if I’d taken the Stairs of Death on New Year’s Eve with my Partner that I, too, would be adding “attempted robbery” to my personal list of potentially traumatic experiences. But that still doesn’t make the existence of all those Stairs of Death and their creepy half-assed workarounds okay…

Need a recap of anything I’m talking about in any post? Check out the Glossary of Terms.




You’ve Been Catfooded!

Don't you love when your dog looks at you like that? Or your cat? Little shits! I am your master, I am here to serve you...
Image: Two cats sitting on a sleeping human in bed. One cat is shaking the human awake with its paw. The cat tells the other cat, “the food is good, but the service is slow…”

Did I ever mention that my Partner and I are weird people? Like “gallows humor” and “eat anything on the planet at least once” weird? Or that we’re advocates for social justice? If not, you have officially been warned.

I may have mentioned before about how my kitty has PTSD from being abused, starved and abandoned before we got her. I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned that she also has kidney issues, old injuries that limit her mobility, and even more allergies than I do. If the abandonment anxiety alone wasn’t enough to prove she is my spirit animal, then the rest ought to guarantee it.

We suspect that her complicated medical issues might, unfortunately, have been the reason she was ultimately abused and abandoned. I mean, we’ve seen it done to vulnerable humans. It’s not much of a stretch of the imagination to assume it happens even more frequently to vulnerable kitties.

We didn’t know about her issues when I first started fostering her. I was just told to shove as much food and liquid into her as possible. She was too sick to eat, so anything I could tempt her with was automatically approved. I fell back onto gold-standard kitty addictions: tuna water and Fancy Feast. She ate both with gusto, and my Partner and I both quickly realized never to combine cheap cat food and smelly tuna in her tummy again. Let’s just say what she produced was thick enough to mortar a bunker and lethal enough to weaponize to use to clear out the bad guys holed up in that bunker at the same time. She put my two-ply lullaby to shame.

Nothing says a “third date” like an emergency trip to the grocery store to buy every possible form of air freshener in the aisle at nearly midnight. I say she’s “our” foster failure. And, in her mind, she is. She met both of us on the same day. But, technically my Partner and I hadn’t even DTR’ed at the time I got her, and her adoption papers are under my name alone. She’s “our” cat in hindsight, but, at that time, I think my Partner really showed his character by helping clean up after her when he had no official responsibility towards her, or me. I don’t regret it. That experience didn’t require half the strength that actually marrying me and handling my caregiving responsibilities demand. Heck, by the standards of my life it was humorous. It even had an actual resolution, which is particularly unusual in my life. One veterinary specialist, some kitty Prozac, and a lifetime commitment to buying her expensive allergen-safe cat food later, and her tummy troubles cleared up. (However, if her special food ever goes off the market, please send gas masks. We’ll need them.)

That experience has become a running joke for the trajectory of our relationship – and spawned another running joke that our kitty eats better than we do. How many people can read right on the can that their pet’s food is safe for human consumption?

We also watch a lot of Food Network, and while we were dating my Partner dared me to make him a meal that “highlighted” her wet and dry food in the same dish, Chopped-style. If I could successfully fool him into going back for seconds, he’d fork over for a Michelin 3-star restaurant willingly. I never quite remembered to do it when he’d remind me. We’re now married, so any gourmet meal would be funded out of pooled money anyway now. But, the challenge has always stood. And, I’ve always had on my mental bucket list – at least I have every 6-9 months or so when something reminds me of it – to undertake it anyway.

Continue reading “You’ve Been Catfooded!”

Improv #12: Funny You Should Mention That…

memorial quotes for son | Share Inspirational Picture Quotes About Life - On Facebook
Image text: “Pretending to be normal, doing your best to act like you’re ok, day after day, week after week, month after month, it’s just so exhausting” over a woman crying.

For anyone wondering, the Thanksgiving turkey turned out great. Cooking a turkey is like cooking a whole chicken. If you want to practice before next year’s big day, cook whole chickens. Then, do the same thing on Turkey Day for about 3-4 times as long. (Also, turkey enchilada stew and buffalo turkey sandwiches feel much more like a “change” from a week of all-turkey, all-the-time than the standard turkey pot pie and stews that are usually recommended.)

Unfortunately, my Partner sent our only photos to his parents when he last spoke to them. Now there’s a remote chance they could someday identify me as the author of this blog if I recycled those pictures. I used an herbed-butter rub and baked the bird with roasted vegetables for aromatics. The pictures, through the magic of Google image search, could theoretically be vaguely identifiable. Every picture of the same natural feature looks about the same. (I did some digging to prove that to myself before posting Iceland pics last year.) As long as I pick out different photos for his parents and my blog, I can share travel photos here and still keep my worlds separate. But, I can never share the same photos, or my worlds might collide, right?

Not really. All Thanksgiving turkeys also look about the same, so there’s nothing truly stopping me from posting the same pictures here except my ingrained need to keep my worlds separate. There’s nothing except my ingrained need to control to whom and in what situations I reveal just how not normal I am. I am still masking in most of my life, and, though it sucks, I don’t think I’d know how to fully unmask in daily life if I tried. Unmasking hasn’t been safe in childhood, in my workplace and in advocating for my neurodiverse sibling within a regressive, systemically abusive state.

Continue reading “Improv #12: Funny You Should Mention That…”

The Trolley Persecutor

CW: keeping secrets about child abuse, descriptions of child abuse, discussions of death and systemic abuse, swearing, and standard “never go to the 9th Circle of Hell” trauma.

I’ve said before that I’m open to being challenged on even very sensitive topics on this blog, as long as basic trust and safety is maintained. One blogger I really respect, Mishka of Crafts, Chronic Illness and Adulting, challenged me with her comments on my last blog post exactly because she never doubted me when I said that, in the 9th Circle of Hell, a profoundly disabled minor child in the foster system would probably have died without a protector. If that same disabled adult nearly died from systemic abuse as an adult even with multiple guardians attempting to protect him, what hope would the same child split up from his sibling have had?

And, since that is true, what choice really did any “family” member have but to stay silent about my own abuse – the same way I did – to protect him? I was struggling with that question in the post itself, and, knowing more now about Mishka’s history, I can see why she was struggling. The stereotype of the “abused child” is that they become the abuser. But, really, that is quite rare. The vast majority of us only abuse ourselves. And, well, was that adult who warped my reality by not only staying silent really not also destroying herself? How do you “choose” between one child’s possible death and the warping of another child’s soul, sense of self and continuity of memory through denying what is true until they have to fragment their reality into a dissociative disorder to survive it without tearing off pieces of your already tattered soul too?

I struggled with that question when I wrote the post. I struggled again when I thought how to answer Mishka. I – who has written on her own Glossary of Terms that ADHD’s one upside is that it enables me to think so far outside the box that I “don’t know where the box is” – couldn’t think outside of “pick one abusive situation or another.”

Trauma keeps us in a box of our abusers’ making. We are ever so good at convincing ourselves that we are both all-powerful and powerless at the same time. We are so powerful that somehow if we’d just said the right thing, done the right thing, recognized the tells, and played the game, we could have prevented what happened to us. We are so expert at controlling others that if we fail to keep them from abusing us, we believe at heart that we are to blame. Yet, we are simultaneously so powerless that when an abusive system sets up two abusive choices, we are too powerless within our abusers’ reality to ever question the foundations upon which it was built.

My Partner, who has no ACES, has no such coercively imposed limitations, and no such moral doubt as to whether my “family” member should ever be excused. My Partner called my life the ‘Murican Red State version of the good-old philosophical “Trolley Problem.” If an out-of-control trolley is going to run over five people if it stays on the track it is on, but you could flip a switch and have it only run over one person, would you? Most people would say yes, but the vast majority of people never even consider any of the other options. Most people never think outside the box to realize that staying within two fundamentally abusive choices is victimizing to the switch-thrower as much as it is to the six people on the tracks and that perhaps the only solution is to break the rules themselves. A person could throw themselves in front of the trolley. They could daringly leap aboard the train and try to speed it up to the point where it derailed when it hit the track switch at a dizzying rate of speed. (I live in the Northeast. More than one Amtrak train has derailed by taking a track change at too high a speed. It could work!)

Continue reading “The Trolley Persecutor”

And Now Back to Our Regularly Scheduled Secrets…

CW: keeping secrets about child abuse, the aftermath of systemic abuse in the present day, family secrets, intergenerational trauma, swearing, and standard “never go to the 9th Circle of Hell” trauma.

I’ve run away from this topic for a good three posts now, but I guess it’s time to return to our regularly scheduled shit show. It’s time to give an update on life in the 9th Circle of Hell. One might assume I’ve been running away from the topic because it involves more of the same present-day Hell, but I’ve honestly gotten pretty damn used to calling out abusive group homes on this blog. I’d feel no compunction against describing the latest in the series if needed.

The complication here isn’t about what’s happening in the present. It’s the fact that the moment the present vaguely stabilizes, there’s always, always ways the past can still betray me in the 9th Circle of Hell. It is the land of betrayal, after all. Writing about the past abuse that happened to me – or anything that relates to it – is always so much harder than writing about the systemic abuse I substantiated in this very year 2018. A “family” legacy of secrets and lies is so very hard to shake…

Continue reading “And Now Back to Our Regularly Scheduled Secrets…”

Uh Oh, Spaghetti-Ohs!

You know what they say: if you’re stuck in bowl hole, don’t keep pigging digging.

I grabbed a few spoons – and I don’t mean of the good kind – and dug in this week. That’s the nature of executive dysfunction coupled with a tendency to dissociate.

I am not the best at self-care in general, and I am generally worse at it when I’m alone or dissociated. My Partner has left me in the awkward position of being alone in our apartment on the East Coast (well, alone except for our kitty*) twice this year.

The first time he didn’t leave because of an active crisis, and I was generally aware and present the entire time he was gone. Or, at least I was as aware and present as anyone with ADHD ever is. I have now entered into my second year living on the East Coast, but I haven’t quite gotten used to having to keep food on hand for Nor’easters in March. By the time my ADHD brain worked out we were having one the last time I was alone – which was, basically, as the snow was starting to fall – our grocery delivery service had already stopped deliveries. I had to resort to stock ups for the next three days from what I could find at the CVS on the way home from work.

Continue reading “Uh Oh, Spaghetti-Ohs!”

Too Little, Too Late?

Remember how I said that despite all my efforts, the first abusive group home my sibling was in never actually closed? Because, well, in the 9th Circle of Hell: 1) There’s a chronic shortage of providers (because the state itself effed its own finances and healthcare so thoroughly that no provider can afford to provide decent care, so only the lousy ones seem to stay in the business, but *shh* we don’t mention that part…) and 2) The state regulatory agencies have their noses so far up the providers’ @$$3s that they help sweep abuse under the rug to keep their favorites open? Slaps on the wrist are usually the most one can ever expect.

Well, the second abusive group home – the reason I had to take not-FMLA this summer and basically had a breakdown that broke the last latch on the vault that all my trauma memories were stored in – was closed. I found that out today. No one cares about the abuse itself in the 9th Circle of Hell, but screw with financials in a state that cannibalized its own treasury and sometimes things happen, I guess? Money is all that matters, not compassion or decency.

I think I claimed at one point that I would consider it a victory if ever anything I testified to or reported or uncovered ever managed to help to force even one of the most abusive group homes in the 9th Circle of Hell to close down. I assume I can claim some credit for this place closing. And, it certainly deserved to be closed for its practices.

I just probably should have been more specific about my victory conditions. It should feel like a major victory whenever a horrible place closes, especially in a place like the 9th Circle of Hell, where they virtually never do. It should feel like maybe I did something good in the world. Because, trust me, that place really needed to close! I will reiterate that again just in case a summer’s worth of despondent blog posts hasn’t made that clear enough before. That place needed to close.

It doesn’t quite feel like a victory since I mentioned before that there are basically no placements left anywhere that will accept clients with trauma histories, and now all the rest of the clients previously served by that horrible home will also have to find emergency places. Their substantiated histories of trauma, however, won’t make that easy for them. It doesn’t quite feel like a victory when exposing what’s wrong in the system only leads to the same catch-22 that my family is currently caught in for the rest of that place’s victims. It doesn’t quite feel like a victory when my own sibling was still able to be summarily evicted from the Bedbug Motel because its emergency management didn’t feel like dealing with someone with a trauma history and probably engineered their own loophole conditions to be able to kick him out legally as a result.

It just doesn’t quite feel like a victory since even that place’s closure didn’t actually end the crisis…

Need a recap of anything I’m talking about in any post? Check out the Glossary of Terms.

Messages in a Bottle #9: The Archivist

This CW is so important it should be in neon flashing lights. This is a serious post. Serious like: mentions of 9th Circle of Hell current systemic abuse, mentions of the same kind of systemic abuse on another blog, and mentions of past suicidal feelings and coercive control. I really meant it when I said the lights were off this month, so please please be careful when reading this blog post. There is no date on this “past” post because it’s not truly a post written in the past. It’s a memory, from a time when I would never have written anything down, that has been bothering me. I think I need to write to exorcize that old ghost and thus fight my new demons more effectively. Be safe.

Continue reading “Messages in a Bottle #9: The Archivist”