Three Years of Freedom

My three year freedom anniversary was three days ago. I wish I could say that I celebrated it in some way, but I didn’t.

And that is not the normal for me. Ever since I ran away, I have celebrated every milestone — one year, 500 days, two years, 1,000 days. I’ve always done something symbolic, something meaningful to celebrate the day. The celebrations helped remind me of where I was, and where I came from. I know some people thought it was a bit much, but you never really understand just how important these days are unless you’ve escaped from hell. And I know many of you, unfortunately, can understand that.

But as my three year anniversary rolled around, I didn’t feel like there was anything to celebrate. Over the last few months, my life has fallen apart. I found myself homeless. And even though I found a bed in a shelter, that stay ended up damaging me even more. I wandered the streets. I slept on friends’ couches. And out of desperation, with no options left, I found myself on a bus traveling west to stay with someone I never actually met other than through online conversation.

How did I end up here? Why did I end up here? I still don’t understand what happened. I still don’t understand how, despite everything, I am ineligible for any type of assistance. If I was an alcoholic, or a drug addict, I could get help right away. In the midst of my desperation, I actually considered breaking my sobriety because I knew it was the only way I could get help. But why should I have to? It makes no sense.

I’m angry. And not just because I am homeless. Not just because my only option was to leave the state where I had everything, including my medical care, in place. I’m angry because I’m sick.

It’s not like being sick is anything new to me. I’ve been sick for awhile. But I think, in that time, there was a part of me that didn’t think it was a really big deal. Until I started getting really sick. Until that hospital stay back in May when everything took a turn for the serious. Pulmonologists, infectious disease specialists, doctors in and out of my hospital room telling me that I was very sick. This wasn’t just a cold. This wasn’t something that was going to go away. I must have answered a hundred questions as the doctors tried to figure out just how I ended up this way. It doesn’t make any sense, they’d say. Little did they know, nothing in my life has ever made much sense.

As much as I hate to admit it, I was (and still am) scared. A part of me wanted to run away from my medical problems. If I just left my doctors, left the hospital, that somehow my issues would just disappear. Until five days into my stay in another state, when I passed out at lunch and found myself at the hospital once again.

The hospital did chest x-rays just to be sure everything was okay and there was no pneumonia (as I had a massive thrush infection — completely unrelated to me passing out). The doctor walked into my room and I could see the confusion and concern on his face. There’s no pneumonia, so that’s the good news, but — before he could finish his sentence, I told him it was okay, that I knew I was sick. I realized I’m going to have to have this conversation every time I end up in the hospital. A consistent reminder that I’m sick, no matter how hard I try to pretend like I’m okay.

How is this fair? How is any of it fair? I fought so hard to get out alive and this is where I end up after three years. My mother is free. She is healthy. She doesn’t struggle.

And I am nowhere, sick and struggling.

All of the things I learned along the way have left me with nothing. The people that said they would support me have turned their backs on me. The system that says it helps those in need has left me stranded.

So what’s left to celebrate?

You’re so young

But you’re so young.

I heard that exact phrase at least two dozen times over the last two weeks.

It wasn’t the first time I heard it. I’m sure as hell it won’t be the last. But hearing it over and over and over again day in and day out made me want to scream out loud. I didn’t, of course. I only screamed on the inside.

I know that the people saying it weren’t saying it to be negative, but they didn’t realize that every time I heard that phrase, it was like a tiny jab to my already damaged heart. I know I’m young. You don’t need to remind me. I know I’m sick. You really don’t need to remind me.

I can’t blame them, though. I’m 31 years-old with a disease that affects the elderly. They see my COPD diagnosis and they don’t understand it. And then they want to ask questions. How much did you smoke? How long were you a smoker? I can never seem to tell them I only started smoking after I got sick. I can never explain to them how I grew up and lived in a (literal) toxic environment, how I spent most of the last 17 years in and out of hospitals. It wasn’t just the cigarettes that gave me COPD. It was my life.

It’s hard for many people to realize just how much trauma affects the body. I see it all the time. I’ve never met a person with PTSD who wasn’t struggling with at least one type of physical problem. The effects of trauma aren’t just on the mind.

My body started giving up long ago. It wasn’t just about the broken bones, the bruises, the damage it withstood on a regular basis. Every last bit of energy is spent trying to survive. After awhile, the body can’t fight anymore. There’s no way to win the war. So things break down in ways they shouldn’t, way earlier than they should. Broken mind, broken body.

But most people don’t understand the connection. They don’t want to hear about the trauma, about the battle you endured that brought you to this point. They want hard facts spoken in brevity.

I don’t bother with facts. I don’t bother with the truth. Just bad luck, I guess. That’s what I tell them. As if luck has been the one and only cause of my destruction. Luck took away the cartilage in my knee. Luck caused me to get COPD. And now luck has led me to a heart problem that has yet to be solved.

Fuck luck. Fuck genetics. I want people to realize the connection to trauma. I want them to stop telling me I’m so young, and start asking how I really ended up here. I want somebody to stand up and realize that I am breaking, not because of luck, not because of genetics, and not all because of my own doing. There was and is something more here.

I want to be able to tell them the truth. My heart is weak because it’s tired. Thirty one years of my life has been constant stress and fear. I’m surprised it still beats at all, to be honest. Why hasn’t it given up on me yet? Why does it try to quit and then get knocked back into beating?

And just when I thought it was over, the appointment was done, the surgery was done, the questions were done — it happened again.

The manager of cardiac unit called me the following day to check and see how I was doing post-surgery. I told her everything was okay (except for some mild pain), and then there was an awkward silence. Then I heard her again. Do you mind if I ask?  You’re so young, why did you have this done? We’ve only ever had to do this with older patients.

I really wanted to say wait, you mean not every 30-something has a heart monitor implanted into their chest? Instead I told her the basic passed out a few times, they found an arrhythmia, completely downplaying the fact that I passed out way more than a few times and I had a collection of issues that included more than just an arrhythmia.

She’s right. All these people are right. I am too goddamn young to be dealing with this shit.

But I am dealing. I am living life as if nothing is wrong. Because that’s how I learned to live.

And that’s what got me here.

She follows me

She follows me.

A monster with eyes all around.

She sees everything.

She is everywhere.

I try to hide, but she finds me.

 

She follows me.

No choice to make. No chance to flee.

I beg her please, just don’t hurt me.

But she doesn’t listen.She breaks me.

 

She follows me.

Attaching to me

Like a leech attaching to skin.

Feeding off my blood

Sucking out the last bit of my soul.

 

She follows me.

Into my body now.

She is a part of me.

Tearing me up from the inside.

Never stopping, never letting go.

 

She follows me.

I cannot stop her.

I cannot stop the pain.

I let it be.

Hoping one day she will let me free.

 

She follows me.

Too weak to fight.

I try to run.

Run for my life.

Now I am free.

 

But she still follows me.

She infiltrates my dreams

and turns them into nightmares.

She lives on every day

Inside of me, my body and my mind.

 

She follows me.

Inside my head

Her voice yelling at me

Telling me everything wrong

Telling me to pay for my sins.

 

She follows me.

She reads my words,

watches my life.

She won’t leave me alone.

She won’t let me be free.

 

She follows me.

Like a storm cloud

raining on my life.

I can’t see the light.

She blocks it from me.

 

She follows me.

I will never be safe.

No matter where I am.

She is there.

Breaking me, killing me.

 

She follows me.

And I cannot escape.

I need to go

It was just supposed to be a regular doctor’s appointment.

I wanted to see if my doctor would change some of my inhalers, since my recent hospital visits indicate that something isn’t working right.

I was still sick on Monday, but I didn’t think anything of it. I took the train ride down and walked a mile to my doctor’s office. No problem. I made it just fine. I was still standing.

After a few minutes of waiting in the waiting room, the nurse called me back to the room. She took my vitals, and asked if I was okay. Of course I’m okay. I’m just here to change my meds.

The nurse practitioner came in, listened to my lungs, then left the room. Well, then.

A minute later, the nurse came back with an oxygen tank. Then the nurse practitioner came in. You need to go to the hospital.

I sat there, completely shocked. I just came for a followup. This was not in my planning. I had work in a few hours. I needed to get out of here so I could catch the train back home. I don’t have time for the hospital. I don’t have time for this.

But I didn’t have a choice. There was no air exchange in my lower lungs. I wasn’t getting enough oxygen. I ended up being taken by ambulance to the emergency room, in a hospital I had never been to, 40 minutes away from my home.

I couldn’t focus on anything but the time. If I could just get this over with, I can still make it to work. I didn’t understand what the big deal was. I haven’t passed out. These people are just overreacting. I am fine. I can walk. I can talk. I am fine.

But I wasn’t fine. The breathing treatments hadn’t helped. The IV steroids weren’t helping enough. My oxygen was still too low, and they had to admit me. It was then that the panic started to set in. Once they wheeled me to my room upstairs, I started to lose it. The emergency room I could handle, but not this. I started crying.

I could feel myself starting to slip away. I tried to tell the nurse what was going on. I told her I had PTSD, that something bad happened to me in a hospital and that this was extremely difficult for me and that I would rather leave. I kept saying I need to go.

What did my honesty get me? A psych hold. As if I didn’t have enough going on, their response was to put me on a safety 1 on 1. I wasn’t suicidal. I was in a panic state.

I was humiliated. They forced me to take off all of my clothes, including my underwear. I explained to them that I was a survivor of sexual abuse and that I needed my clothing to help me feel protected. They gave exactly zero fucks. I asked if I could speak to someone about this to explain the situation, and they told me no. I asked again to speak to someone higher up, and was told there was no one to speak to. Once they put you on a psych hold, you have no rights. I asked for water for over an hour and couldn’t even get that.

I should have been at work that night. I shouldn’t have been laying in a hospital bed without my clothes and possessions being treated like I had committed a crime. I couldn’t even pee by myself. The aide had to stand there and watch me pee and wipe, just like my mother used to watch me before she decided she needed to “help”.

I cried off and on that night. I wasn’t even concerned about my lungs anymore. I wanted my protection back. I wanted my dignity. It was stolen away from me. Again. My therapist was trying to help calm me down, but I was so out of it I couldn’t process everything she was saying. I eventually got so tired of crying that I fell asleep.

I called my program therapist early the next morning to tell her what was going on and ask for support. I was concerned about the psych hold more than anything. I didn’t want to end up inpatient, and I wanted her to be able to advocate for me if needed. My experience with the nurses had been so horrible, that I had low expectations for the psychiatrist. I expected to have to fight. But I didn’t have to. I saw the psychiatrist later that morning and after two minutes, he had taken off the psych hold. I told him I  had explained to the nurses that I had previous trauma in a hospital and I had PTSD, and he said my reaction was completely understandable given the circumstances.

It was great that the psychiatrist realized that, but I had been put through 17 hours of unnecessary bullshit, re-traumatization, and cruelty. For nothing. I was punished for being a victim.

By then, I didn’t even care how my lungs were at all. I could have been dying, I didn’t care. I was not staying in that hospital any longer. The pulmonary doctor came to see me. She saw something on the x-rays and told me I needed a CT scan. Nope, sorry. I have things to do. My patience was already too far gone. Am I dying right this second? No? Then I need to go.

I told the pulmonary doctor I would come back for the tests. But I don’t need to go back.

I don’t need any more diagnoses. I don’t need any more problems. I don’t need any more humiliation. I can’t take any more.

I can’t change.

I’ve been trying to die for the last 24 years.

At six years old, I tried to drown myself. Six. Years. Old. It’s difficult for me to process, because I am entirely detached from the emotions of six year-old me. I remember what it felt like when the water filled up my lungs. I remember what it felt like to sink. I can’t remember the feeling, how sad and hopeless I must have felt to think that I could end it all by drowning. I wonder what it must have felt like to be pulled away, rescued from the ocean, but never rescued from what was really killing me, who was really killing me.

At ten years old, I tried to hang myself. For those few seconds, I felt what it was like to suffocate. I felt what it was like to have no air. I don’t remember feeling fear. I don’t even remember feeling pain; it was actually quite the opposite. I felt at peace. And then the strap snapped, and I fell to the floor. Instead of relief, I felt anger. The opportunity for peace had been ripped right out from under me.

At fifteen years old, I tried to bleed to death. All of my anger, all of my pain, and all of my desperation poured out through blood and tears. I couldn’t feel anything but the pain. Nothing else existed in that moment. My body was there; my mind was somewhere else. I sat in the bathroom alone and waited to die, but death never came. The bleeding stopped, and so did the tears. I became numb. I had no other choice.

At nineteen years old, I tried to stab myself. It was violent, fueled by the anger and rage that I had no other choice but to suppress. I so often dreamed of stabbing my mother, but I was too weak to make an attempt. I couldn’t stab the people who hurt me. So I stabbed myself. It scared me. The rage I had inside pushed me to a level I had never experienced before. And it’s a rage I can never forget, because those wounds turned into malformed scars that I see and feel every day of my life.

At twenty-two years old, I tried to end my life. I wasn’t going to mess it up this time. I planned it so carefully. I had a notebook full of calculations, weight conversions, lethal dosage levels. I triple checked to make sure it was going to be right. I took twice the lethal dose of aspirin and waited to die, with my family there, hiding me away, ashamed of what I had done. I didn’t die that day. I should have died. Instead of finding solace in death, I found hopelessness in life.

At twenty-five years old, I tried again, on the very same day I tried three years prior. A mix of three this time. If one isn’t enough, surely the others would do me in. I just wanted everything to end. I wanted her to stop hurting me. I wanted to stop crying myself to sleep. I wanted to stop being afraid. I wanted to be free, and the only freedom was in death. But once again, death didn’t come to me. All that came was more pain.

At twenty-nine years old, I tried a third time, on that very same day. I thought of running into the ocean that night, getting lost and drowning before anyone would ever find me. But I couldn’t move. I was stuck in a bed in a strange place, drowning in my own memories. I took an Ativan hoping it would help me, but I was still drowning. So I gave up. I took twenty more and before I could do it again, someone saved me. They didn’t understand that I didn’t want to be saved.

At thirty years old, I tried to die. I ran out in the highway in the dark of the morning, in front of traffic, hoping that someone would hit me and end my life. If I couldn’t do it, I wanted someone else to do it for me. I wasn’t worried about the pain. The broken bones, the internal bleeding, the crushed insides — those possibilities were nothing compared to the pain and hopelessness that consumed me. Crush my body just like my heart has been crushed. Break my bones just like my mind has been broken. But no one hit me. They saw me, even through my invisibility.

All those times, I should have died. I wanted my peace. I wanted an end to the pain. Why couldn’t I get that? I don’t know. I fail at dying, but I also fail at living.

The expectation that I can just take away everything that has happened to me, that I can go on with my life without wanting to die — I can’t. I’ve spent most of my life trying to end my life. A pill won’t fix that. Group therapy won’t fix that. A new therapist won’t fix that.

It’s part of my life, ingrained in me since childhood.

Crash

I feel it coming.

That moment when the last string holding shit together finally breaks and everything comes spilling out. That moment when the last screw in the last hinge comes loose and the door flies right off the wall. That moment when everything comes crashing down because the weight is just too much to handle.

I am tired. Physically and emotionally spent. But I can’t even sleep anymore, between the noise in my head and the noise right outside my door. Every ring of the doorbell, every knock at the door, every 3 AM TV show played on volume 50, every fucking noise in the middle of the night — I hear it. And I can’t sleep.

And it drains me. At a time when my body needs the most rest, I am getting the least. The least sleep. The least food. The least of everything. I am running on fumes, and I’m waiting for the day when I finally run out of gas and drop to the floor.

I thought about going to the hospital, which is ironic considering I just fought my way out of there two weeks ago when I was sick. But there are things there that I can’t get right now: a safe place to sleep, three meals a day, quiet, and care. I need those things, right now more than ever.

But I can’t do that. I can’t just drop everything and pretend like my needs matter. The world doesn’t work like that. If I went to the hospital, I wouldn’t be able to go to work, and right now I can’t even afford a tissue to sneeze in. So what choice do I have? No matter what I do, I’m fucked in one way or another.

I try to get care in wherever I can. I stay at work just so I can have some peace and quiet. I sleep there, too. I feed myself off of unwanted food and value menu items I buy with the gift cards I got for Christmas. I use another gift card to go to the movies to give myself a break from my life for a little while. I don’t think my coworkers and friends will ever know how much their gifts have helped me get through these last couple weeks. They have indirectly been my source of care, of peace and sustenance.

This isn’t a way to live. I can’t do it anymore. I shouldn’t have to live like this. I shouldn’t have to sleep at work. I shouldn’t have to look for peace and solace in places that aren’t my home. I shouldn’t have to feel trapped inside my own room.

But don’t worry about me. I’m fine. I still get out of bed. I still go to work in the morning. I am still breathing.

Is that enough?