Friends: Reaching Out — Reaching In

Maggie and Vin

The bright sunlight through the burgundy bedroom curtains made the dark bedroom seem like a redlight district. I’d been living out of bed for over seven years as of 2009. Brief weekends out of bed were followed by weeks of recovery from the exertion. I curled up in a ball around a tiny screen where I would communicate with my friends on Facebook. My phone was anything but smart, and it cost a modest extra fee to be able to have web service on it. But the access to a society who would laugh at my ironic jokes and understand my pain when I couldn’t sleep at 2 am was something I deemed a justifiable expense.

Cell phone

My daughter had been accepted at the University of Washington in the Fall of 2008 and as part of giving their students a way to get to know their roommates, the school suggested new students start a Facebook account. When my daughter was home for winter break, we sat together on my bed as I signed up for my own account. I thought it would be a great way to keep in touch with the daughter I missed.

Some of my friends are quite witty. One of those friends had acquired friends from the online community, meaning “friends” he had never met in person. At first, I was very apprehensive about accepting “friend requests” from people I had never met. But soon conversations and jokes carried over from the friends I did know in person and

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Me & Maria Mills Greenfield (who passed 1-19-2017)

I felt like I knew people from places across the country and even the world. Places hundreds of miles from any I had visited.

While laying in bed in pain, I composed quick thoughts and shared them. It became a release. When people began to respond, I felt I had found friends in the darkness. I connected with other people who were isolated for different reasons. Many of us were dealing with pain. Chronic, neverending pain.

While certain members of the federal administration seem to do anything EXCEPT validate chronic intractable pain, that type of pain is exactly what isolates and literally cripples people, making them incapable of living their previous lives.

Many people responded to the dark comments my mind and thumbs combined to leave on other people’s posts. Quickly I accumulated a large list of friends.

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In October 2010, I decided I would rather take up my friend’s offers across the country to stay a day or a week, rather than rent a room in the gray dark winter of western Washington. I had only seen a few states of the country I lived in and a divorce after over 20 years of marriage was a great reason to explore. Many of my friends made plans to welcome me.

This last week, I lost another friend. It seems the death notices come more frequently now than they ever did. Many of the friends I met during my travels during the years from 2010 to 2017 are no longer around. Their absence in mortality does not lessen their effect on my life. In fact, the more friends who pass, the more grateful for all of them and the ways they changed my life and my attitudes.

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Vin Arnone (2014)

At some point, I will write a detailed memoir, introducing you all to each of them…those who are no longer here. For now, I will say, I would not be around if not for my friends. My friends on social media pulled me out of several seasons of depression. These same people called 911 in 2009 when I was suffering withdrawals after a doctor prescribing me Fentanyl and Percocet discharged me without notice. My friends have saved my life in many ways and on many occasions.

Because I have been the recipient of such generous attention, I know the power of social media. I know when you just need someone to talk to, usually, there is someone at the other end when you enter social media. But I also know electronic connections are not substitutes for in-person socializing. They can supplement it very well, but at some point, my brain needed to meet the people I was talking to on the other end of the data stream.

Being disabled, to be able to afford travel, I sacrificed having a home to come to when I was not traveling. For the most part of seven years, I lived without a permanent dwelling. This was an experience of its own. I am in the midst of writing a book about a part of that experience, The Car That Ran on Prayers.

Many of the people I met in person during my travels joined me online to watch how my journey continued. When I finally made the decision to come inside and begin the task of documenting it all, many of my friends and family nearly cheered with relief. It had been a long seven years for all of us.

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I reached out of my bed into a world I had no idea where or if I belonged in. Then, as I traveled, I began to reach into the people who reached into me when I was reaching out.

I have visited my friends, sat on their beds while they were curled up in pain. I love them all. I love those who have passed, and those who are still here. I love those who no longer consider themselves my friends. I love those who try harder every day, and I love those who just want a break and take it.

On the occasion of saying farewell to yet another friend, I can only reflect on all of my friends and the wonderful ways in which they have all expanded my world. I look forward to being reunited with them, and you, all when we are done on this side of the veil.

For now, I recommend calling a friend. Someone you know who gets lonely. Don’t worry, they will forgive you for not texting first. Too many of us are lonely in a world of friends.

Rest in Peace, Vin, Maria, Stephanie, Dana, Lisa, Bobby and so many more. I’ll see you on the other side. IMG_20170726_054126

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Awareness

The day after my 51st birthday at 6:19 pm, I was sitting at my dining room table contemplating what I should make for dinner. I nearly jumped out of my skin when the antique telephone ringer that signifies someone is calling my cellphone broke the silence of the small apartment. I looked at the number, it wasn’t saved in my contacts and it was from an area code a few miles north… probably a telemarketer or bill collector I surmised and decided to answer it just to make sure I knew which before saving and blocking the number. wp-1509142348363..jpg

“Hello?”
“Hello, is this Margaret …?”
“Yes, who is this?”
“Hi Margaret, this is the Mammography center at Virginia Mason in Federal Way. I’m calling to …”

Her words faded into the ether as my mind raced. I had my mammogram like always just before my birthday. It was an easy way to remember. Now, only two days later, they were calling me about something?!

The sweet young lady from the radiologist office was impervious to my reaction on the other end of the line. She proceeded to inform me that I didn’t have anything to be concerned about, they just needed a few more images and an ultrasound to clear up an area on my mammogram. It was scheduled for 7:30 am on the next Thursday.

I would have almost a week to think about it.

The days went by at a snails-pace while thoughts flooded my mind. I didn’t tell many people for a few days. I didn’t want the people who loved me to have the same racing thoughts that I was having; I didn’t want anyone to worry.

wp-1509142651561.jpgThoughts about the cancers that run so rampant throughout my mother’s family.  Thoughts about my mother’s cousin who just fought breast cancer last year… and not to be forgotten, thoughts of my dear friend Maria Mills Greenfield who lost her fight with metastatic breast cancer on January 19th of this year.

I sought relief of my racing thoughts. I needed comfort. I prayed to my Heavenly Father and He filled me with peace. Divine peace. I knew at that point that all was okay; it was just a scare.

Once I received that comfort from the Holy Spirit, I shared the information with a few people that I would be having a “re-mammo.” A few days later, right before my appointment… I decided to share some of my activities at my reaction through twitter:

I was finally ready to talk about what I was going through.

My friends responded on the post that was echoed on my Facebook account, concerned. I tried to reassure those I could by telling them I felt it would be okay. But I just wanted the re-mammo to be over.wp-1509142645891..jpg

Thursday finally arrived and I awoke at 4:14 in the morning, six minutes before my alarm. My dogs were surprised when I turned on the light in the bedroom and began getting ready.

We were loaded into the van before 6. I nervously adjusted the radio to a station that would include a traffic report about the highly congested area of Joint Base Lewis McChord that I would have to travel through to get to my Federal Way radiologist.  Singing along to the country song they were playing, I pulled out and headed into the darkness of the morning.

Thanks to an absence of collisions, we got to Federal Way about a half hour early. I poured some water for the dogs in their van-dish and assured them I would be ‘right back’ and headed into the clinic.

There was no line at the radiology check in counter and the receptionist told me to have a seat, they would be “right with me.”

I scrolled through Facebook and read email for the longest half hour wait I had in a long time. Finally, at 7:34 am, I was called back to the exam area.

IMG_20171026_075356643.jpgThe young lady who was in charge of taking the extra views of the mammogram was very soft spoken and gentle. I wondered to myself how many times she has to do extra views and if it is difficult on her when there is more obvious issues. She left the room as I undressed from the waist up and put on the gown open in the front.

I could see from the displayed previous image of my mammogram displayed on the monitor that they were focusing on a tiny area that just looked like a blur to me. The young lady was gentle as she manipulated my right breast into the correct position for each image.wp-1509069172642..jpg

After changing out the supports a few times and taking several additional images, she asked me to wait while she delivered the images to the radiologist for her to look over. Another long wait, so I took a few photos around the room.

She came back and informed me she needed more views and changed the supports again on the mammogram machine. After she was done, I waited once more. Finally she returned and asked me to follow her into another room where she passed me off to another young lady for the ultrasound.

I was quietly thankful that everyone I was dealing with were female. Apparently the radiologist was female as well. At least that fact was reassuring. I lay down on the table and put my right arm over my head as she squeezed the cold gel onto my right breast and began the exam.

The ultrasound tech explained that she would be taking a few images and measurements, then she would be going out to get the radiologist who wanted to take a look herself.  The exam didn’t take long at all. Before I knew it, the tech stepped out and almost immediately back in with the young radiologist with long dark hair. Her words were also quiet and kind, making me think that she had to tell much harder news to other women often.

PicsArt_10-26-06.56.48.jpgThe radiologists words were reassuring as she informed me the spot they needed more information about was just a tiny little tangle of blood vessels that wasn’t very clear in the mammogram. She reminded me that I have fibrous breasts and told me it would be a good idea for me to continue getting the 3D mammograms, my next being needed in a year.

As I was leaving, I saw a sign reminding me it is breast cancer awareness month in October. This October I am feeling VERY aware. Very aware and very thankful that breast cancer is not currently one of my challenges. My heart and prayers are with all of those who do have and have had breast cancer. I am also much more empathetic now about the scares that many of us go through.wp-1509142437346..jpg

A Woman’s Best Friends

Over seven years ago, I met a Staffordshire Terrier who changed my opinion about dogs. I had been afraid of large dogs (for no reason I can remember….but that isn’t new to me!) for as long as I knew. Barkley was different. A HUGE “pitbull” type breed, he was loyal to no end. Not only to his family, but when I stayed in the house he was protecting, he buddied up to me in a manner I had not experienced. I fell in love with him.

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Ruger Sr., Athena’s father

Then I met a pitbull named “Ruger.” A blue nosed beautiful blockhead, he and his mate Brandy (a chocolate lab) belonged to friends of mine and I rapidly fell for him too. Both Ruger and Brandy would sit on or near my feet when I was in pain, demanding me to pet them. When I would pet them for a little while, the pain got much less intense. Sometimes I even forgot about the pain. Since I could easily deal with daily pain that reached levels of 8-9 (on a scale of 1-10); the idea that a dog could lessen that pain was astounding! I had never heard of such a thing, but I wanted more!

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Brandy, Athena’s Mother

These dogs also showed me in person, what I later learned through reading: Canines have the capability to change a human’s mood as well as ability-level.

When I was crying my eyes out, both of them would lay next to me and encourage (quite forcibly) me to pet them and give them attention. As I was to learn, the very action of petting a dog releases the same hormone, oxytocin, as is released in nursing moms & babies. It is known as the “comforting hormone”. Better than any anti-anxiety drug I know!

God answered my prayers. I stayed with my friends Robin, David and Katie for a month in the spring. As I was getting ready to move on they realized that in spite of being separately kenneled, Brandy had gotten pregnant with Ruger’s litter.

On the first of April, 2011, I woke up to smells and sounds I had never before experienced. I went downstairs to learn that puppies were being born. Before my friends left for work and school, five puppies were born. When I went back downstairs after my shower, there was a sixth. She was later adopted by me and named “Athena Brooke” for the middle names of two of the strongest young ladies I have ever known.

 

Having never raised a dog from a puppy, I had a lot of learning to do. We hit the road before she was even 8 weeks old. Although I had been planning to re-start my cross country road trip with my new-to-me BMW 525, I hadn’t previously planned to have a brand-new puppy in tow! Fortunately, God had me covered; I had friends across the country whose pets and advice taught both me and Athena.

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There was a time she fit in the “Peace Bag”

Together, Athena and I visited people from Idaho to Florida. She made friends with little and big dogs, kittens and even a few house bunnies. Athena was patient with me, and I learned to get my behind out of bed earlier in the morning or pay for my laziness by
having messes to clean up.

When Athena and I had been traveling and living together for less than a year, she made her true “job” or “service” apparent to me.

As a survivor of multiple traumas, I have certain symptoms that are quite distressing. One of them happens quite unexpectedly: I can lose most sensations below my waist suddenly, making it difficult to walk or stand. When Athena was only 9 months old, she sat at my feet and barked me into the chair behind me. We had not had the economical ability to procure formal service-dog training for her, so I was unsure as to her intent. When I sat down, she stopped, seeming pleased with herself. Within five minutes, sure enough, I lost all feeling in my legs.

wp-1491685091988.jpgAthena has made her place in my life with this skill on many occasions. She has
also calmed me, or separated me from a situation, when my PTSD acts up.
She has learned my triggers, and has learned to give notice to me when I am needing help.

Athena and I had many adventures in the past five years, but unfortunately we both eventually experienced some emotionally traumatic events together. She was left with a habit of barking, making it difficult to socialize her enough to use her as a formal service animal. My own PTSD about medical interventions would cause me to delay in having her “fixed.” Although I toyed with the idea of breeding her, I didn’t have the stability to consider that when Athena took matters into her own paws this last summer.

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Athena spent a lot of time hiding from the litter. Especially right after her c-section

It seemed she really liked the full blooded Golden Labrador (who was so old he was silver) next to a house I was visiting, and the two of them conspired to get through the falling down fence more than once. She had tied with him and there were puppies on the way!

I was blessed to be staying with understanding friends who had a lot of experience with dogs when she came to term. The litter of six had to be delivered by emergency c-section due to their huge sizes, but they were all alive and well. Athena woke up to puppies and being a new mom, was not too impressed with them suckling on her near her incision. It took a while of cajoling and treating her to get her to nurse them. Once she did, she rose well to the challenge of motherhood.

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Baby Ruger Bear (abt 3 weeks)

The only puppy in the litter with Athena’s father’s markings was a little black boy with tiny white toes and a splash of white on his chest. I wanted a male from her, and I named him after his grandfather and the name he appeared to favor with his lab looks, he was a “Ruger Bear.”

The rest of the litter was given to friends. I was fortunate to be able to place 2 of the litter to be trained for service dogs for two veterans suffering from PTSD. One has been accepted into a formal training program. It makes me happy to know we were able to help others with this “mistake.”

The only chocolate male of the litter, named “Kiko” by my grandson on his birthday when he came to see the newborns, was given to David, a member of the family that the original Ruger and Brandy belonged to. They have become inseparable. Brandy and Ruger have been gone for a while, and Kiko found a place where he was needed.

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Ruger Bear, about a month old

All of Athena’s puppies found their places. Athena gained experience that seems to help her be more attentive (and rolls her eyes at the puppy’s behavior with me). She is even better at her job of being my companion with Ruger Bear as an additional companion to train. Perhaps I will actually work on training them both formally when we get settled later this year. I hope so. They deserve it and so do I.  For now, Athena is an excellent member of the family and she is truly my very best friend.

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Ruger Bear is already bigger than mama at 6 months

 

Click here to watch Athena and Ruger Bear run and play!

 

(This post was edited from a previous post on SlightelyMaggie authored by myself)

Get Thine A$$ Outta BED!

I have written many Facebook posts that started with the quote, “To Stand UP to LIVE you must first get thine ASS outta BED!” or something similar. Today felt exactly the same way.

On days when starting is like pushing through a bog of mud …this time in my face… I am compelled to wonder if that is why I don’t currently have a bed. I spent nearly seven years in bed. Added a few months here and there over the last three years, and you could say that I wasted nearly a decade in bed. So, now I have lost the privilege to have one, or so it seems on mornings like these.

I know I am not the only person to hide from the world in bed.  The smaller and more advanced technology gets, the easier it it to take to bed with us.  Then those of us introverts who would rather complain about the people around us than to interact with them, hide.  It isn’t just “hiding from the world” that is done in bed…it is also the fact that sometimes a person with chronic pain (like myself) only finds a “comfortable position” in bed. But is life about “comfort?”

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The puppy cuddles me

There are many days that I don’t think I can continue, when everything seems too difficult. This morning, the half-mile drive from the Wal-Mart parking lot where I stayed the night, to the library where I needed to spend today working on my schoolwork and writing, seemed to involve much more cognitive power than I felt I could muster. The dogs were restless, so I walked them. But even the energy to feed them seemed to be escaping my grasp.

So, I prayed. Then I spent some time with Christ in the Gospel of Matthew. Matthew’s words have been a comfort lately. While being bullied online, the words, “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you” from Matthew 5:44 (KJV) were EXACTLY what I needed.

I found the strength in those words, and a comfort that enveloped my soul, to continue. I may not be the person I once thought I was, but I am much better than I ever imagined I could be. Every day, every hour, out of my bed is an accomplishment. Every time I turn in one more assignment towards completing my goal of finishing my Bachelor’s degree, I am closer to becoming the person I want to be.

Sometimes, I’m thankful to be without a bed.

 

 

Have we become a Country of Bullies?

A few lines from a poem I penned a year ago today caused me to reflect upon the process of the election and it’s effect on us all, “Is the desire, the need for change so great,
That we condemn our children to a new world of hate?!”

In retrospect, I don’t feel that it is one election that does that. That poem was part of a knee-jerk reaction that has been common in almost ALL Americans, no matter what color, red or blue, that your state or your voting was tinted. I say this because I have been the online target of a few reactions as well. When I chose to use the name of the president of my country in a title of a blog piece, using a technique we were learning in my college class, I endured judgement and ridicule from people who didn’t even bother to read the article I wrote.20161108_132912_hdr

In spite of my poem from last year when I expressed my frustration and personal dislike of the lows that the republican debate had reached, the ENTIRE political process was frustrating and disgusting me all through the election. I feel much the same about it now: Disgusted.

This morning when I went into the local library in Savannah, Georgia, my arms and hands loaded to my limits with my computer bag and backpack, my journals in my arms; a woman smiled and greeted me as she came into the elevator. Her smile was beautiful, her greeting cheered me up. I knew I was going to write about the anger and hate and bullying that is prevalent right now online, and it was her mood that influenced mine for the better. How? She smiled at me. She said, “Hello, how are you this morning?” I answered back in kind. It was nice. But why is any of this important??

wp-1485625896850.jpgI see and feel the online community becoming more and more quick to judge. When I used the alliteration technique I was practicing for school to title a blog post, I was removed from a Mormon group on Facebook (1 Million Mormons on Facebook.) The ONLY reason for my being banned from the group is that one of the moderators had read “Trump” (the name of the current president of my country) in the title of a blog piece I shared and had unequivocally decided that my blog piece was of a political nature while failing to even read it.

There were comments from many other people who I have come to call “Trumpeteers” because of their quick to comment and berate attitude when I used the name of the president. I know there are many people who are arguing that he ISN’T THEIR president, but the fact remains, he is currently in that office. Why don’t I have every right to use his name? I am an American. I never saw this type of “blind reactions” when Obama came into office. But then again, I didn’t write him into my blog titles either. I hadn’t learned the techniques that I learned last term in my college classes to get more views, yet.

The increased visibility of my writing is WHY I feel that I have gained a larger amount of negativity. I had come from a place where my writing only reached a personal audience, but the more I share it into the online world at large, the more of all types of reactions I have received.1585624636311

I have known and still KNOW I have my “personal haters”… a group that has been following me and increasing with every failed relationship. Apparently I have had a “type” for the last few years: I seem to have liked men who were loud online and failed to have any redeeming quality in person. All bark, no bite. They both had MANY followers in social media. A group of them have been attacking my posts and me by email. I guess they fail to understand that their “hits” on my page count just as well as any who enjoy what I write. As it has been said, “there’s no such thing as bad publicity.” Or is there?

Although I have GENERALLY noticed an increasing amount of bullying and hate online, I can NOT say that it is coming entirely from one faction or another. It is as if people have forgotten that on the other side of that computer screen is a PERSON, regardless of their political stance! Did we, as Americans (I AM noticing that this contentious behavior is MOSTLY from people in my own country!!!) get so damaged and affected by the propaganda involved in the electoral process in these last years that we have FORGOTTEN how to treat one another?? Have we forgotten that “Golden Rule,” that is differently worded, but included in EACH and EVERY religious and spiritual practice, “Do unto others as YOU WOULD HAVE THEM DO TO YOU???” Where are our MANNERS? Where is our tact? Where is our compassion? Are we just out to attack when we see something that comes close to almost offending us? Have we, as a country, been reduced to being “keyboard warriors?”

In a series of tweets and posts over a 8 hour period of time prefacing the writing of this article, I made the following statements:

“I’m thankful that the real world has not yet become as angry and hateful as the online world. I fear the day when it does.”

“Digital world vs #bootsontheground, what is reality and what is a carefully orchestrated PR scheme? #TrumpsAmerica #social”

“I fear the day when we are as thoughtless and mean in person as we, as a people, can be online #depersonalization #bullying #BeNice #love”

The comments that I received made me overwhelmingly sad. Over and over again it was stated that the “real world” is as nasty to live in as a world filled with keyboard warriors ready to pounce on our every word or statement. But I have not experienced that. Those were comments from others that I had not found true in my travels in the past 4 months through Washington state, Oregon, California, Utah, Idaho, Colorado, Arizona, Texas, New Mexico, Alabama, Louisiana, Florida or now, Georgia. Not one bit.

img_20170225_141418.jpgIt could be argued that I haven’t experienced discrimination or nasty people being mean in person because I am not of a certain group or another. I beg to differ. I am a mentally and physically disabled older woman who is currently without a roof to call her own. I am in the public CONSTANTLY: gas stations, public libraries, stores and dog parks. Yet, I am a member of one of the most feared and hated groups in the country: The mentally ill homeless. Oh, I am also of a VERY fair complexion. So fair, in fact, that the wonderful woman who said “hi” to me this morning and I were at the OPPOSITE range of tints in our skin tones. Did that make what she did any more or less important? Probably not. I felt it nice to have someone reach out to me. I have noticed in the past when I travelled in the south it was very discouraged for me to speak first to someone who wasn’t my race. I got stared at in Obama’s America for initiating conversations with other races in the South. In Trump’s America, that hasn’t happened, yet. Interesting change … or was it the time that passed between my trips… or was it simply different people in different areas?

If you doubt that I have had the OPPORTUNITY to experience discrimination in my travels, let me add that throughout the states of Washington, Oregon, California, Arizona, TEXAS, ALABAMA, LOUISIANA and Florida, I was travelling with a VERY openly OUT Gay young man. Jacob was acting as my friend, companion, assistant and photographer, we were travelling in close proximity to one another. I remember him remarking how Texas was not at all what he would thought it would be. Then there was the service he offered at the Houston LDS Temple to a couple of Patrons after he took a few photos for me. Not one time, not in ALL of the south, did either of us experience ANY hate words or worse. NOT ONCE.

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Jacob in New Orleans

My friends from the northwest are relaying stories from travellers heading north that the northwest, once known for it’s welcoming nature, has become angry and gloomy as a society. If that is true, it saddens me greatly.

It is my PERSONAL belief that what we give comes back to us, sometimes many times over. I have yet to experience leading with a smile or a friendly comment that hasn’t been returned. Not once. I have had a couple of incidents where I have even been involved with law enforcement in these 2800 miles. All were in Florida where the homeless population bursts at the seams with northerners so poor that the gas to go south was cheaper than heating whatever shelter they had or didn’t have for the winter. I can say unequivocally that even THOSE experiences were not unpleasant. Just officers doing their jobs. They gave me information that I didn’t have and they were as pleasant as they could be in carrying out their duties.

I am hopeful that somehow as a nation we can heal. Perhaps even as a world. But that may be just a dream. I am a dreamer though, and I will gladly keep dreaming that particular fantasy. I will continue to spread love and light with my smile and my words whenever I possibly can! I will LOVE my neighbor. I will be the most positive that my broken brain can manage on any given day. I WILL be part of the change we NEED.

Homeless NOT Hopeless

Quick Rewind

In my previous post, Transient in Trump’s America, I briefly gave you a glimpse into a few of my choices and my current circumstance. The feedback I received was generally positive except for some highly charged opinions about my choice of title. Apparently it is okay to write about being a transient as long as you don’t mention the current president’s name. My choice to use the “keyword” to “trend-jack” was a marketing decision made in conjunction with learning that technique in class. I was making reference to times and places, since I had listened to the radio news talk about the President’s (he who shall not be named?!) visit to the same county I was currently homeless in. It was included purely for perspective, not as a political statement.20161108_132908_hdr

Perceptions vs Reality

What does it mean to be looked at by others as homeless? Add physically AND mentally disabled, and what image does that conjure up in your mind?
Do you automatically think of someone or a place?  Many people think of homeless camps or transients on the street. In Orlando, Florida, it appears to be commonplace for panhandlers to carry signs walking through 8 lanes of stopped traffic at each major intersection. When there is an accident ahead, they have a captive audience for their begging.  But just because someone is panhandling doesn’t mean that they are homeless.

When you are homeless, others who have residences feel that it is their job to judge you. For example, many people have had much to say about my choice of medicine. The fact that it alone replaced 20 different medications doesn’t seem to faze the people who would call it a “drug” and say that if I wasn’t on “pot” maybe I would have a home. Considering the facts, that is not only painful to hear but frustrating to reiterate my justifications for my choices. sugar-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-awww-honey-honeyEvery choice I make is seemingly up for public scrutiny purely based on my un-housed status.  The fact is, before I was using cannabis I didn’t have the energy or strength to get out of bed, let alone travel the country. It was the use of the herb that allowed me my freedom: Once I had conquered the need for physical comfort my options regarding my living circumstances opened up. Until I left that disability bed zoned out on narcotics, I had not travelled hardly at all. Making the choice to travel, to be homeless, allowed me to get out of my home state of Washington and visit the country from one end to the other!

I remember when I was travelling on a train for the first time in Florida. My Amtrak train incurred a “trespasser strike” right outside of Orlando, in Winter Park. When I heard the term “trespasser strike” I automatically thought there were pickets on the train track. Unfortunately that was a HUGE misperception. The train that I was on, which just picked up a load of children and their families from the Disney World area, had hit a person. He was killed. The only way he was ever identified in the news reports was as “a transient in his 40s.” Eventually the press added the descriptive, “hispanic,” but he was never identified publicly.

Being a bit of a sensitive person, I felt the energy. I felt the fear and confusion and frustration of all of the children around me. I felt the aggravation from their parents; they wanted to move on down the road, and the mandatory 3-hour investigation was delaying that from occurring. I also felt a kinship. “transient in his 40s” was too close to home for me. After all, the only difference in that description from him and me at the time was the pronoun. 1489967004930

The thought that I could be killed while travelling and it be described as “just another homeless person dead” was horrifying. Had I become a “non-person” just because I chose not to pay for a residence and travel?

Is “homeless” a dirty word? Perhaps not, but it seems to strike fear into the most compassionate. I suppose that it is the fear of knowing that every time they are late on their mortgage or rent payment, they are one step closer to being one of them. As I listened to the reactions to my first story “coming out as homeless” I observed many knee-jerk reactions telling me I should seek help at a homeless shelter without respecting my choice of having my dog with me and living in my car. I also found it interesting that others reacted with admiration. Why would anyone admire me?

Featured Image -- 327I have HOPE. I live with faith. I know that I have a Heavenly Father who loves me and watches over me. Using that hope and faith, I am working on bettering myself. When I realized that strangers would actually be interested in reading what I write, I took it upon myself to start a program at a college with an online presence, Southern New Hampshire University, to finish my Bachelor’s degree with a focus on nonfiction writing. It was time to learn how to use this gift God gave me.

My books, Standing Up to Live and Medical Marijuana for Mormons are well in the works. I fought for quite some time about “coming out” as homeless; I didn’t want to be known as homeless or transient. Then I prayed about it and the Holy Spirit witnessed to me that Jesus Christ Himself had been without a place to lay His head. Perhaps it was time to make others aware that being homeless does not mean we are scary or bad people. It means nothing except the fact we currently do not have a domicile to call our own. The person inside is still the same as if we did. That is why we can “hide” in plain sight.

The next time you see someone leaving church or a grocery store, don’t assume they are going to a home, the statistics are staggering: Over a half MILLION people in the United States are homeless.  If it doesn’t include a family member or a close friend, perhaps that person you saw use the bathroom at McDonald’s was going out to sleep in their car. You don’t know because we don’t want you to. We, the homeless, hide from your judgements and your fears. Those fears used to be ours, now we not only live them, we are learning to conquer them. img_20160717_112738312

I go to church at a Ward or Branch of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints whereever I am staying at the time. I have been blessed with Relief Society (women of LDS) Sisters offering me hot meals and even an overnight inside. The generosity has at times overwhelmed but humbled me. I long to be the one giving, I am so tired of needing to receive. I look forward to a time when I will be able to give. A time when I have achieved my goals of “working myself out of retirement.” My dreams are many, but they have one theme: To help my fellow person. If I can share my hope and faith with anyone that will be a start!

 

Being A Transient in Trump’s America

I am a transient. For all that means, as much as it pains me to admit, I AM a transient.

I became homeless, officially, only weeks before the election. 20161108_132912_hdrWhile the church members who attended the Branch where I am a member cast votes overwhelmingly and loudly for now President Trump, I was living in a camper shell on a friend’s land. My husband moved in with another woman and got a restraining order prohibiting me from returning to the fifth wheel “home” he had given to me for my 49th birthday.  On my 50th birthday, I became a transient once again.

The first time had been partially by choice: Having left my first husband after all of my disability settlement was spent, I had a choice (due to my small disability pension) to rent a small room from a friend or not to. When I contemplated the reality of my seasonal depression and a small space shared with a near-stranger, I thought it best to find my way on my own…homeless.

163113_1531448921952_1630415_nInvited by social media friends across the country to visit, I employed trains, buses, planes, then my own car to visit them. Some for an afternoon, others for a night, some longer. Friends would share their homes and meals and much more with me, but it was always time to leave before too long, leaving me searching for another place to keep dry and warm, or cool. Never a place to call my own. With my mental illness getting worse with my circumstances, I wore out my welcome faster than my friends could anticipate.

When I met my second ex-husband, Keith, he was living in a friends’ RV on the same friend’s property…but he was also officially homeless. I spent 3 years travelling with him, both of our mother’s providing additional assistance when we needed it even though we were both adults ourselves and our mothers were both in their seventies. It didn’t seem to matter to him that we were taking advantage of them, but it hurt my heart. I love my Mom and knew she didn’t have much to give, but I appreciated the support.img_20140130_114920_285

When our mental and physical disabilities overcame the lusts that led to our marriage, it was time for another divorce. Once again, I was left with nothing to call my own. In spite of his claims at the time, Keith had put the 5th wheel that he said was my birthday present into his mother’s name and I was left with a broken-down 1983 Volvo as my only claim from the community property. All of what I had been told was community actually belonged to his mother. Another betrayal. I was alone again.

I DID have my freedom. As frightening as it may seem to some, for me the freedom of being able to travel from place to place means much more than “having a place to call my own.” Don’t get me wrong, I DESPERATELY want something to call my own as well, but I can not depend on someone else to provide it. That is on me.

1476242421824Back in 2010, when I became homeless the first time, I didn’t understand the reality of my mental illness. This time as I sought therapy and cognitive behavioral training via Recovery International groups, I have been able to keep my head a bit more about me and use the skills I have learned over the past 7 years. I attend church where ever I am led to and I have visited several Temples across the country since my baptism in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in 2013. I also have a service animal who understands living on the road. She protects me as well as assisting me with my physical and emotional challenges.

What is it like to be a “Transient In Trump’s America?” I was pondering that question as I was listening to a local radio show inform me that the new President was spending yet another weekend not too far from where my travels had led me. The expenses of the local law enforcement were going up astronomically to accommodate for President Trump’s “Southern White House,” a mansion in Florida previously owned by the Post family. I contemplated my own humble circumstance as I looked in my change purse on the way to use the bathroom in the local grocery store: No milk for us today, only 24 cents. 

To be honest, I don’t blame anyone for the situation I find myself in. I am currently on the way to bettering myself: I started back to school via an online program over a year ago and I will graduate with my Bachelor’s in General Studies with a concentration in creative nonfiction writing in July 2017. It is my goal to “work my way out of retirement” in a profession that I can continue in spite of the mental and physical disabilities that prevent me from holding down a day-to-day 9 to 5 job.  In the meantime, I have resources such as a small disability pension I payed money into while I was able to hold down traditional jobs. That helps me to buy gas and essentials like dog food for my service dog as well as groceries.img_20120903_163711_5

I freely admit there are days, weeks and even months where I would not have made it without the help of friends. If a dear friend and her mother had not taken me in this last summer, providing food, shelter and medicine with the value of thousands of dollars, I would not have made it out alive when a jaw infection completely overwhelmed me. Another friend allowed me to stay on her property until the weather turned dangerous. Then again in December when I needed to be in the northwest, my friend and her mom allowed me to stay once again. My friends have been angels.

I couldn’t continue to live off of my friends. It hurt my heart when I couldn’t give back for all they had given. I started traveling again, hoping to find a place where it was warm so I didn’t have to spend the few dollars I had on shelter. Florida had been an area where I visited back in 2010-2011 and I had loved the sunrises at the Atlantic Ocean. I used the cash I had for gas and headed to see friends and to live where it wasn’t too cold to live in my car.

I spend my days alternating in libraries working on my school work and blogs and books with time spent at dog parks and other areas where my canine partners and I can get physical exercise. At night I usually tend to park in lots that DO have surveillance as that tends to keep the trouble-makers away from us. I don’t care if I am watched, just safe.

Over the years, I have incurred vicious attacks from others including the words “homeless (insert expletive here)” directed at me. I feel the shame when I admit I have no home. Even some who have called me their friend have stated that I couldn’t be homeless because, “homeless people don’t dress that way” or because I keep myself clean. I spend a lot of time crying in my car/home wishing people would understand the utter and complete humiliation it is to be unhoused in America.

The public knows “homeless” as those people living in the streets. They are only the VERY FEW of us who have stopped trying to hide. The rest of us cower in our vehicles or corners and try to pretend we have a home waiting for us when we get out of church or when the library closes. We don’t.

While staying in Key West, Florida recently, where I observed a homeless population bursting at the seams, I happened to notice a young father changing the diaper on what looked to be a newborn baby. When he finished, he handed the babe to his partner and closed up the doors on the red minivan that was in the grocery store parking lot for the night. Their license plates were from Michigan. My first thoughts were that baby didn’t choose to be homeless!!! But those thoughts rapidly turned to the nasty weather I saw my Michigan friends complaining about on social media. My prayers then went towards the little family’s safety and security while they stayed in their van.  The parking lot where we all spent the night was full of signs telling us we couldn’t be there. There were no cops that night called to sweep. It was a relief.

my-street-in-key-west-floridaThroughout southern Florida the “bursting at the seams” hospital emergency rooms to the constant, “NO TRESPASSING” and “NO LOITERING” signs directed to those who need desperately to just find a place to lay down for an hour or two are indicative of the increase in population when the rest of the United States of America is covered in snow and frost. Even the President wants to come where it’s warm, and he has SEVERAL homes!

I don’t have the answers. I want to be out of this particular population as much as the next transient. That word HURTS. When I first had to seek the assistance from a “Transient Bishop,” just the realization that label fit who I was, made me turn and start crying. I had to wash up before I could face the Bishop.

I prefer the word “un-housed” while my home is currently a car that runs on prayers. I continue to try to hide my life circumstance from those who would judge, or worse yet, attack me. That is what I fear most.  My faith is still in God and it is stronger than ever as I do what I can as I can to leave the transient life behind. But my thoughts are back with that baby in that red minivan; what is to become of her?

See & hear me here.

 

 

Standing Up to Live

When my physicians “discharged me without notice” flinging me headlong into massive withdrawals from some of the strongest narcotics on the market, I thought my life was over. My blood pressure reading when a paramedic was called by my Facebook friends echoed that assumption. 50/30 is not the blood pressure of someone who is doing well at living. Six months later, I was dancing with a Saint, celebrating a life I didn’t understand ahead of me. But I knew I was alive. That was something of a miracle.

In a pool of vomit and other detritus that any self-respecting adult would be embarrassed to be found in, in level 10 pain, I prayed. I prayed to a God I didn’t know if He knew who I was. I called out in tears, “PLEASE HELP ME!!!!”   He did.

look-into-my-eyes-what-do-you-see-001About 4 years prior to that breakdown, while I was still on Fentanyl, percocet, neurontin (gabapentin), and 16 other medications, a friend asked me if I had ever tried marijuana for my pain. I had used it as a teenager, then as a young adult when I wanted to drink and party with my friends, noticing it’s anti-emetic properties allowed me to drink when I was taking medications I should not have been drinking with (my bad!), but I had put my “stash” far away when I began having pain that completely ruined my life… overtaking every aspect, finally putting me in bed. It was in that bed that I lived. A life consisting of watching DVDs from the library (I could check out an entire season of a television program at a time) and Netflix. When I could focus.  When I said to my friend, “but won’t it make me unable to do anything?” She told me to look around at my life. That was a sobering experience.

Once I looked at the life that had been crumbling before and around me for the previous 3 years, I thought, “what can it hurt?” After all, the mind-numbing narcotics and antidepressants and antianxiety medications had made me nearly a drooling idiot, what more could marijuana do? Hey, maybe I could “get high” and stop thinking about the pain? Either way, it was worth a try. 11182775_1624731581136715_86556055208525763_o

I tried it, and it worked. This was in 2006, two years before my youngest graduated high school, four years after my physical disabilities had taken my permanent employment from me, 10 years before I was to learn about the emotional and mental disabilities that had been haunting me my entire life. Before 2006, I had been heard to say on several occasions that people were just using the “medical marijuana” excuse to get high. God proved me WRONG on that account. 

By 2008, while I was still using multiple opioid and other medications (19 of them, total), I found “breakthrough pain” relief in cannabis, marijuana. I talked to my urologist and internist (my primary care physician) and they both agreed that the changes they had seen since I had been using it were positive and they agreed with me using it, but neither of them sugar-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-awww-honey-honeywere ready to put their license on the line by recommending it (the marijuana alternative to “prescriptions” due to the federal illegality it can not be “prescribed”). So, they referred me to a specialist that JUST recommended marijuana.

I met her in a hotel conference center with my $200 and a large file full of my medical records. After completing a short exam and reviewing my records, I was given a paper that allowed me to have an “affirmative defense” if I was ever in legal trouble for my use of marijuana. At that time there were NO dispensaries and I was left to find my own supply of medicine from the streets.

In 2008, one ounce of fairly decent bud would range from $250-$300. I needed at least that for a month. But that was a lot of money to someone living on $900 in disability. I made it work, running out nearly every month towards the 25th of the month. But the difference in my abilities was ASTOUNDING!!! Not only could I get out of bed, but I learned to ride a bug-catchin-on-2002-low-rider-damn-fun-2009Harley Davidson (2002 Low Rider)! Riding on the wind was so much more freedom than I could have imagined. My disabilities still had me bed-bound 5/7th of the week, but for 2 days each week I felt like I was LIVING again!

THEN, in August of 2009, I felt like I was dying. Around the 20th of the month was when I would make my monthly trip to Tacoma from Olympia, Washington to visit my urologist for the purposes of picking up the paper script for my Fentanyl patches and percocet. When I arrived at the doctor’s office, I was told that I had been “discharged;” I was no longer a patient of that clinic. They claimed to have sent me a letter, but it was never received.

I began to panic. The 3-day patch on my arm was my last and I was on the last day of it. Even the idea of withdrawals from an opioid 100x stronger than morphine scared the living daylights out of me. The reality sent me into a panic like none I had ever experienced before. Although my diagnosis of Dissociative Identity Disorder wasn’t to come until 2015, my symptoms were in full swing, causing me to lose more time than I could remember during frantic panics and pain.

The next few weeks were physically and emotionally gruelling. My body and brain gave out completely: days and nights blended together as I lay on the carpeted floor of the bathroom not knowing what end should be towards the commode when both needed to be. I felt like I was in absolute hell. This continued for days until a Facebook friend heard my pleadings and worried about me, called 911.

3209497472117The paramedics arrived, taking my blood pressure both they and I were surprised I was conscious: 50/30 are numbers I won’t forget. After they loaded me up and took me into the hospital, my husband at the time demanded my release before I could be admitted to a rehab, he needed me at home was the excuse. The nurses looked at me like a junkie. They all looked at me as an addict, not as someone who was dependant on a medication prescribed by the doctor… I felt lower than dirt and went home with a prescription of clonidine (a blood pressure medication to LOWER my blood pressure from the impending pain) knowing I would likely be committing suicide to take it.

It was the 25th of August, 2009 and my monthly ounce of cannabis was long gone. One of my personalities hid my pocket knife from me… as my nightmares continued day to day. After the spasming in my legs and the pain in my body and brain evened out to a “normal” of about a 8-9 waking level on a scale of 1-10, I tried to do my best to get on with my life. I had lost about 40 pounds during the withdrawals, and looked emaciated to my family and friends. In March 2010 I met a man who taught me how to maximize my cannabis medication by infusing it into butter in addition to smoking it.

The first time I ate a cannabis-buttered piece of toast, the difference was unbelievable! green-grilled-cheeseMy pain was MUCH better, lowering to about a 6 or a 7 within a half hour… then I began LIVING!!! Out of bed, I started looking around me to see what I was missing. I was missing out on LIFE!

My last child had “flown the coop” in June of 2009, moving in with the man who would become her husband within a few years. I left my husband and the confusingly abusive relationship with him (and parts of my brain I wouldn’t begin to understand for 7 more years) in March 2010; by October 2010 I was finally recovered enough from the physical trials to start exploring. My Facebook friends who had saved my life the previous year by calling 911 continued to bolster me and invited me to visit them all across the country.

12027761_854199591361628_1229843056908513068_nSomehow, through the Grace of God, I was able to put my MASSIVE social anxiety aside and get on a train, then a bus and a plane, finally in my own vehicle to visit many of them. What I found was that all around the country there were people like me in pain physically and emotionally who needed a reason to live. A reason and a method to Stand Up To Live. That is why I travel to this day: To show it can be done.

As I travel and talk to people, learning more about humanity than even about the herb I have spent the last 7 years researching, I have found not only a following, but deep friendships that I could not live without. As I continue my goals to write my books and then develop the “Lightehouse Recovery Center Network” (a holistically-based wellness recovery center network for the disabled with a focus on hemp production and use), my focus is on helping others to “Stand Up to Live.”12004115_843631165751804_1709398889653203692_n

While reading a children’s book on writing, I came across the quote, “How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live.” By Henry David Thoreau, A few weeks after I read it, I saw Mr. Thoreau’s name on a report by Relative Finder as my distant ancestral cousin.

I took both of those instances as a sign. The quote that so perfectly described the decision I made almost 7 years ago was destined to influence the title of my journey.

“Standing Up to Live” is the title of the book I am writing about this journey. I prayed to know what to do then I used that faith I had hiding in the back of my soul, followed the impressions I received from God, through the Holy Spirit: I stood up and I began to live; Now I share that life in my writing and photos. Thank you all for being with me on this journey, I could not have done it without you!!!