High School

My high school shut down permanently the other day. I knew it was coming. It was a Catholic high school in the midst of severe financial misappropriation and scandal. Nothing could have saved it, despite the efforts of alumni donating money to keep the school open.

I didn’t donate anything. Mostly because I was poor, but also because I had such mixed emotions about that high school. As much as it was an outlet for me, a safe place for 8 or so hours a day, it was also another institution, another group of people who seriously missed the mark in getting me help.

I have nothing left from high school. No yearbooks. No memorabilia. Nothing but distant memories and bottled up emotions. I can count on my hands the number of people from that I still talk to from there, and that is only thanks to connecting with them through Facebook (oddly enough, most of them I reconnected with last year when they announced our school was in crisis).

There’s a lot of high school I don’t remember. I know that’s common with dissociation. I know it was a time of transition for me, and not just the typical adolescent transitions. High school was the start of my health problems. It was the start of a life in and out of emergency rooms and hospital beds.

It was also the time when the abuse I was experiencing became more physical and psychological. My mother could no longer overpower me enough to sexually abuse me as regularly as she had been, so she changed her ways. And it wasn’t any better or any easier. In many ways, it was worse. It was a change for me, and one I didn’t know how to cope with.

I turned to drugs and alcohol, because I knew no other way to cope beyond the ways I was already coping. And no one suspected a thing, because I was still functioning, I was still getting As. But I was drowning my feelings in alcohol, forgetting about life with every line of coke I snorted, popping any pill I could get my hands on because I didn’t care. I wanted out of the pain. I wanted out of my life.

I didn’t understand why no one helped me. There were many efforts, both mine and those of my teachers, but they all ended up in failure. I remember my health teacher pulling me aside after class one day. She knew something was wrong. It was the day after my mother had taken all of my clothes, threw them in garbage bags, and tossed them away, because I had no longer deserved them. I’m not even sure what I did or didn’t do to deem myself unworthy. I’m not sure I ever knew. But I ended up breaking down and telling my teacher what happened. She asked questions I couldn’t answer, questions I was trained not to answer honestly. I hesitated, and she knew something wasn’t right.

It didn’t matter, though. She went to the head guidance counselor, who questioned me and ending up calling my mother, who of course would never admit to anything that made her look at all bad, and it was all deemed a misunderstanding. But that was my fault. I could have spoken up. I could have told them both what else was happening, and I didn’t. I stayed silent. I stayed voiceless.

But my actions continued to speak; my actions screamed out loud something’s not right here. All the times I ended up in my guidance counselor’s office breaking down in tears, but unable to tell them why. The bursts of anger I had taken out on other classmates, both verbally and physically. The bruises, the unexplained wounds, the self-inflicted injuries, all getting worse, all getting (for the most part) ignored.

And I say for the most part because there was action. It was just the wrong kind of action. Any attempt I made to tell my counselor how I felt was met with a call to my parents, even after I begged, through tears, for them not to call. They didn’t understand why I was so desperate for them not to call. They didn’t understand that each phone call led to another beating, another punishment, another break to my heart. But I couldn’t tell them the real reason I didn’t want them to call. So whose fault was it?

I blamed myself for the longest time. If I had just spoken up. If I had just done more than cry, and push people, and bury everything down with shit I should have never been doing, maybe they would have noticed.

But they did notice something, enough to tell my parents I needed outside help immediately. But that was it. No calls to CPS. No further investigations. Why? Because private school tuition pays for silence. If they cause a commotion, they lose their money. I didn’t realize it at the time, but as I got older, I met more people with similar experiences. Obvious child abuse, but no action taken by private schools. Because money buys silence.

And that’s what angers me. I know times have changed. I know schools have started to take more action. But what we know now is not any different from what we knew then. Abuse doesn’t just happen in poor families; abuse happens in all kinds of families. It’s just easier to cover up when you have money and hide under the guise of the Lord.

I’m not sad to see my high school shut down. The corruption that was uncovered wasn’t new, it was just bad actions in a different form. It needed to be closed.

What I am sad about is the loss of those four years of my life, the let down I experienced, the screams left unheard, the questions left unanswered.

And the fact that I will never know how my life could have been different if someone had just spoken up for me, if someone had just listened to the truth in my silence.

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4 Miles of Freedom

Something I saw on Facebook inadvertently triggered a memory.

It wasn’t a bad memory. I would have liked it better if I had the memory at a time other than 3 o’clock in the morning, but I guess some things are just out of my control.

I went to a private high school in another town. It was another way my mother distanced me from people. My father would always drive me to school. For some reason, I don’t remember what exactly, my father couldn’t drive me to school for a few weeks (I think it was work-related). So I had to take the bus. The first few times, my mother went with me. Then she would just walk with me to the bus stop (about 6 blocks) and stay until I got on the bus.

One day, I was feeling rather rebellious. I didn’t want to take the bus. I just wanted to experience freedom. So I took a chance. I told my mother I was going to be okay and she could go. The bus was right down the avenue. And by some miracle, it worked. I had my chance. She turned away and as the bus came to a stop, I ran around the corner.

I was free. My heart was pounding, I was carrying a book bag that probably weighed at least 20 pounds, but I was free. So I walked. My school was over four miles away and up a hill, but I walked. For that hour, I got to experience some normalcy. I was still afraid. Afraid my mother was going to find out what I had done, afraid someone would see me walking and tell my parent. But none of that mattered. I still did it. I broke the rules because I wanted to be free.

By the time I got to school, I was covered in sweat and exhausted from the trek. But I felt empowered. I had done something that in some way I knew was wrong, because I had disobeyed my mother’s rules. But it didn’t feel that wrong to me. It felt right.

I wonder if I channeled that same part that made that brief escape walking to school, when I made that permanent escape from my mother’s prison.

It’s funny, as afraid as I was (and still am, in some ways), there was always a part of me that fought through the fear and moved towards freedom. It’s that part that got me to where I am today. Where would I be now without it?

 

Why I Chose Psychology

Psychology was not my original major.

When I first started college, I majored in mathematics. I’m not even sure why I did. I liked math. But what the hell do you do with a mathematics degree? Shit. You do shit.

Then I bounced around from majoring in English to communications to who knows what else. I was 18 and didn’t even know myself, let alone what I wanted to do with my life. All of the departments wanted me, so whenever someone grabbed a hold of me and gave me their pitch, I ended up changing my major to that. Looking back, it was such a hot mess. Thankfully, I didn’t waste too much of my life there.

I took a course in psychology to fulfill a social science requirement. It was my first psychology course – my high school never had anything psychology-related. I really enjoyed it and found it interesting. One day in class, we were discussing odd behaviors in childhood. Students were sharing their stories. I, for some reason, decided to share my childhood fascination (not the right word, I don’t even know) with saving my poop. Through the laughter, the professor came up with possible explanations for my behavior. Something in me clicked that day. If psychology gave reasons for my shitty (literally) behavior, what other things could it explain?

I soon switched my major to psychology. Unfortunately, a short time later, I dropped out of school. But I never lost my love for psychology; it only grew. I was determined to find explanations. I wanted to know why I had so many issues. What were the reasons for my behaviors? What caused my mental illness? What is really wrong with me?

And as I went along, I started seeking out answers to explain my mother’s behavior. What makes a parent hate her child? What makes people abuse others? How are people able to act one way in public and a different way in private? Are people like that aware of what they are doing? Is it mental illness, or is it a choice?

I needed answers. I spent so much of my 20s, even out of school, researching and reading and looking for answers. I needed answers. Some of the answers, I did find. But most regarding my mother were left unanswered.

I realize now that not every question has an answer. I may never know or understand why my mother did the things she did. No one knows for certain except my mother. But that won’t stop me from trying. I want to understand. I need to understand.

I turn to psychology to help me understand. I turn to psychology so I can help others understand. I want to know the ins and outs of the human mind. I want to understand behavior. I want to understand what makes people do bad things just as much as I want to understand what makes people do good. I want to know about resilience. I want to know it all.

I was meant to study psychology.

Problem solver

“You’re a problem solver.”

That’s what my therapist told me last session. I’ll get things figured out, because I’m a problem solver.

I do like solving problems. I have always liked solving problems.

I like solving mathematical problems. I was a bit of a math genius growing up. In elementary school, someone could give me a multiplication problem of any difficulty, and I could give an answer without even working it out on paper. I sat in the corner at school every day engrossed in learning and solving mathematical equations, and by the 3rd grade, I was already working on high school level math. I love math.

Why do I love math? I don’t know if my reasons were the same as a child as they are now, but I love math because you are solving problems that have an answer. (Most) math is finite. Math is logical. Math has rules and methods. Zero multiplied by any number will always be zero. Two plus two will always equal four. There is always an answer in some way or another. In math, little to nothing is left up to chance. It’s clean-cut problem-solving.

Problem solving in life? Not finite. Not always logical. No established set of working rules. Not always an answer. Not at all like math.

It is extremely difficult for a logical-minded person to make decisions with his or her heart. In the months (even longer, really) leading up to my escape, I was burdened with tremendous fear and anxiety. Not only about the actual escape, that’s understandable – but because my mind and my heart were never in agreement. My heart would tell me you need to get out now while my logic-driven brain would tell me no, you need more money before you can leave, this will lead to financial ruin. My heart would tell me you should tell the people you care about while my brain would tell me no, telling people increases the risk. Numbers. My brain is always about the numbers.

Obviously, I solved a huge problem when I ran away. But did I really? I solved the problem by leaving the abuse, yes, but I just set myself up for different problems. And now I have to put on my problem solver cap and solve a new set of problems that don’t have simple answers.

Finances. Blah. Most times, I’m really good at saving money. I pay all of my bills on time. I have managed to feed myself for under $25 a month. I only buy things that are on sale, even if it’s not what I particularly like. Some frugality has become a necessity.

With that being said, I’m still paying bills that aren’t all mine. I’m stuck paying off my mother’s bills because they are in my name. I don’t have any other way to solve that problem. I’m paying a bill for a friend because that bill is also in my name. I own a car that I don’t even have because I don’t drive. All problems. All problems that I’ve created by my own doing. All problems that I will need to solve.

Therapy. I could save more money by cutting down my therapy to once a week, or choosing a Medicaid-covered therapist that I wouldn’t have to pay for at all. Except I need therapy multiple times a week. It keeps me functional. To be honest, I should probably be in therapy every day sometimes. I couldn’t imagine myself existing without therapy. And when I say therapy, I mean my current therapy schedule with my current therapist. I pay out-of-pocket for a competent, professional, knowledgeable, and experienced therapist, because that is what I need after 15 years of absolutely shit therapists.

Which leads to my next issue, and why I have avoided using mental health care covered by Medicaid. It sucks. Medicaid here covers mostly social workers, mostly fresh out of college with little experience. While there is nothing wrong with that, my issues are a little complex. Many social workers don’t even know what a dissociative disorder is, let alone how to treat one.

I need my therapist just as much as I need oxygen to breathe. I can’t give that up.

School. What a conundrum. Even if I wanted to continue with this grad school, I can’t afford it. I’ve done the math. It’s not possible. I will run out of aid half way through the program. And then want? Then I’d really be fucked. Aside from finances, I have to figure out if I am even capable of being a counselor. Am I too damaged? Are people right? If I am a counselor, I would be limited in my ability to share and write about my life, because being a counselor requires a considerable amount of privacy. My writing is important to me, and so is sharing my story. Can’t I find a way to be able to do both? I need to solve this problem, too.

I am a problem solver, but I am not that good. This equation of life is too complex for me to solve.