The Day We Realized We’re Homeless

OK, yes, technically, we’ve been homeless since Thanksgiving. But there’s reality, and there’s your perception of reality. Barring a few financial hiccups, we’re fine. Just to look st us, you’d probably never realize we’re homeless.

If you’ve never heard of imposter syndrome, it’s this thing where you feel like your achievements are some kind of mistake that you’re going to have to pay for sooner or later.

In our case, we could look out the window and see people sleeping in a storage unit or under a bench, and then dismiss our own reality. See, we’re not as bad off as those people. We have clean clothes and jobs. We’re not really homeless.

Well, our camping stove arrived yesterday. And first of all, we realized the best place to cook would be an abandoned motel. See, anywhere else we went, it was either explicitly not allowed, or we’d have been risking police hassling. So an abandoned building became a safe shelter for us.

And second, I couldn’t get the fire started. I’ve never done it before. I cooked on a propane grill, but this is my first encounter with charcoal. Kate had to help me. And during the whole process, all I could think is how unfair it is that we’re not allowed to just eat. Because we’re homeless. Because we live in a car.

Every post I write, I struggle with imposter syndrome. I mean, I’m just one person. I’ve done research, sure, but at the end of the day, I’m still fairly privileged compared to other homeless people. I don’t know really know what it’s like for someone living in a cardboard box outside a homeless shelter or in a park.

Today, I think Kate and I got over that a little bit. Sleeping in a car and having clean clothes doesn’t make us less homeless. It makes us lucky. It makes us pretty good planners.

I’m not a spokesperson for homeless people everywhere just because I started blogging. But I am genuinely homeless, and it’s OK to accept that.

 

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Deconstructing Abusive Behavior

Kind of thought about updating yesterday, but I couldn’t find the spoons. In fact, I almost didn’t post today, either. Basically, things didn’t go according to plan, and I’m even more grateful for that deacon in the morning. If he hadn’t started our day off on a pleasant note, I’m not sure we wouldn’t have made it.

First of all, food didn’t happen. Cooked food, that is. I learned a very valuable lesson about wattage instead. We can plug our laptops into the power inverter, which was another big thing we needed it for. And we can run our blender on the low setting. But the hot plate is too powerful. The inverter just won’t.

Well, I wasn’t going to give up that easily, not after Kate has been on starvation rations for a month. I decided to make a camping stove out of a spam can. By the way, don’t do that. Use a soup can or something. But the spam can was all we had, and I was determined to make do.

The catholic church where we sleep now was busy, so we went back to the Pentecostal church. It’s exposed to the road, but empty of people. It put in some coals and receipts and lit it up, but the wind was too powerful. It kept blowing it out. I tried to use the car door as a wind screen, but it did nothing.

But while we were standing there, Kate’s mother pulled into the spot next to us. I don’t know how she found us. I’m praying it was just a coincidence, but she had our mail. My mail, specifically, which she had opened. Because she just can’t not butt her nose into my personal affairs. She kept asking if we were all right, and trying to touch my shoulder and completely ignoring our social cues, like me being hostile and Kate refusing to get out of the car.

OK, if you’ve never dealt with an abuser, you’re probably now thinking, “Gee, Car Dweller, that doesn’t sound so bad. She cares about you. Why so hostile?”

  1. She opened my mail. Specifically, she opened my car insurance bill. That kind of thing can be innocuous in other families; hell, I open Kate’s mail sometimes. But in an abusive household, there’s a certain disrespect for personal space and boundaries. In an abusive household, your business is the family’s business. You aren’t allowed personal mail. You aren’t allowed your own room.

    In fact, living in their home, that was another thing we had to contend with. Kate’s mother (hereafter, just KMom) went wherever she pleased. It didn’t matter if you were naked and screaming at her to get out, she’d yell back “I was just getting something/cleaning up/whatevering!” And she’d do that without backing out or closing the door, staring right at you as you tried to cover yourself.

    And God forbid Kate was having a seizure. KMom would slam open the door, frequently causing the seizure, then start screaming and acting hurt, like Kate was being completely irrational and had started seizing just to punish her.

    So KMom opening my mail was yet another incident in a long line of her disrespecting my boundaries.

  2. KMom opening my mail was disrespecting my autonomy. I’m 35 years old. Kate is 28. I may need financial help on occasion. I do not need someone treating me like a child who hasn’t learned how to take care of the family pet. Because make no mistake, that’s exactly what she was doing.

    This is another common abuse tactic called infantilization. It’s designed to make sure the victim stays dependent. As long the victim feels like they’re a child, they won’t stray too far from the “adult” authority. It gives the abuser a sense of power.

    See, abuse doesn’t come from a position of hatred. When you hate something, you just want it to go away. I think that might be why people get so confused about abuse, actually. They hear about how victims are treated and can’t understand how this could have happened. If the victim lived with their abuser for so long, there must have been love there. Right? So maybe something is wrong with the victim.

    Love doesn’t matter. It might be there. It might not. Frequently, the type of person who abuses doesn’t know how to feel love. They only know they need that control to make themselves feel good, and so they’ll do whatever it take to keep the victim from leaving.

  3. Because abusers need control and lack respect for boundaries and personal autonomy, questions such as “How are you?” are usually masturbatory in nature. They don’t want to hear that you’re doing good. They want to hear whining. They want to hear that you’re doing awful without them and won’t they please take you back.

    KMom asked me four times how we were doing. Each time, I said we were fine in increasingly hostile tones. The third time is when she tried to touch me. Just got up real close, like we were intimate, and tried to put her hand on my shoulder. I don’t remember if she succeeded or not. When I noticed, I turned to move it out of reach, but I was wearing a thick winter coat, and I’m not sure if I noticed in time.

    She had to keep asking because I wasn’t giving her the answer she wanted to hear.

    (Also, you might notice her invading my space and trying to touch my shoulder is a callback to point 1, about disrespecting personal space and boundaries.)

  4. At some point, I think it was after the second “how are you,” she handed me the mail and informed me that it was my car insurance bill, and could I afford to take care of it. Keep in mind, this is the bill that she opened.

    Combine everything I’ve said so far: disrespect for boundaries, disrespect for autonomy, need to infantilize and control the victim.

    Asking if I could take care of my bill didn’t have anything to do with being worried about me. She wanted me to ask her to take care of it because she needed to control me. She needed me to need her help. If she was worried, she could have called. I haven’t been answering her calls, but she’s only tried twice. I’m notorious for not answering my phone or remembering to return messages, and she knows that. We’ve lived together for about six years.

    Instead, she carried them around in her car until the day before the letter said my insurance would be canceled for nonpayment just so that she could ambush me with it. The timing is very important here, too. She thought she’d find me desperate for help. Instead, I already had it taken care of. And when I told her that, her face fell. Her whole posture changed. That’s when she stepped in close to try and assert control in another way.

I told her we wanted to be alone, and she about-faced and went back to her car. No goodbye. Not even an acknowledgement at what I said. Just cold silence.

Kate spent the rest of the day in a panic. She had an initial sprinting seizure and violent thoughts for hours afterward. This happened in the early afternoon, but Kate was still self-harming (beating herself in the head with a fist) right up until we fell asleep. She’s doing better today, but we’re both still paranoid. We both keep looking over our shoulders.

We’re never going back to that parking lot probably. In fact, we’ve changed grocery stores and are thinking of changing storage units as well. I have it on good authority that I should get a restraining order now, and I’m seriously considering it. There’s a part of me that still thinks this wasn’t enough to warrant one, but if she hunted us down once, she’ll do it again. He says preemptive is better, and I’m inclined to agree.

 

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Faith in Humanity Restored

As you can probably imagine, after yesterday, Kate and I were in very low spirits. It seemed like everywhere we go, people drive us, even when we try to keep to ourselves and not bother anyone.

Well, we were driving around the other day, and we found a Catholic church complex. It’s a church, a parish building, and some kind of records office or maybe housing, all arranged in a semi circle around the parking lot. Which means it’s a quiet little cul de sac where cops won’t bother us.

Kate’s Catholic, so she suggested that we sleep there. It’s more brightly lit than the other church, but the further we can get from the road, the better. So we’ve been there for two nights now.

Today, the deacon came out to make sure we were OK (groan) and asked if we needed to use the bathroom or get some coffee. I was so shocked that I had to make him repeat himself. I asked if it was OK for us to be there, and he said yes.

I’m still waiting for the shoe to drop, and he’s going to get pissy and drive us off like everyone else. But for now, it’s just nice.

And we’re about to go cook food for the first time in a month. Today’s looking pretty bright.

 
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Love is All You Need

And unfortunately, it’s in short supply. I’ve talked before about the hierarchy of needs. You have physiological needs (food, water, sleep), safety, love, esteem (feeling like you’ve done something that matters), and self-actualization (you have achieved your dreams and won at life forever). It looks a bit like this. Most people live somewhere between love and self-actualization, and self-actualization is the hardest to achieve. But when you’re homeless, you’re doing good to stay on the bottom level.

Kate and I live on the safety level. We struggle with food sometimes (the end of last month was a pretty good example), but we’re not worried about starving. If worst absolutely comes to worst, we can go back to her abusive parents and get money. We’ll do everything we possibly can to avoid that moment, but we’re not going to die.

We’re also not in danger. We spend all day in a library. When we can’t be here, we have two churches, a gym, and a Panera Bread to choose from. We live and sleep in a car, but we have enough blankets and warm clothes that we don’t have to worry about freezing to death.

So love is the level we struggle with. We love each other. We have friends who love us. But the rest of the country hates us. We’re homeless, and that makes us automatically criminals in a lot of people’s eyes. It doesn’t matter that we’ve never done anything wrong. One infraction is all it takes for people to condemn us.

I think I’ve mentioned our storage unit before. If not, we have one, which we pay $100 a month. The place is quiet and has a bathroom, so we spent time there on occasion. Until today, when the gentleman who works there lectured us about this isn’t out personal bathroom and we need to stop sleeping there (Kate was the only one sleeping; I was on my phone.) He informed us that we’d been spoken to about this before and refused to listen when I said we had not. I said it wouldn’t happen again, and he continued to lecture us for like two fucking minutes.

There are at least two homeless families living on the third floor of that building. A bag lady comes through with a shopping cart every single morning that we’re there. And someone is illegally storing gasoline near our unit. But we’re the criminals because we thought paying $100 every fucking months meant we could occasionally use the bathroom or sit quietly in the parking lot to watch a movie.

This is not the first place we’ve been kicked out of. McDonald’s has done it twice. Apparently, you’re not allowed to sit and eat your food in their dining room. You have to be out in 15 minutes. Take too long, even if you’re the only customer, and you risk getting kicked out. Dunkin Donuts did it once: same deal, though a little more understandable since they don’t have a proper dining room. Even our gym coach, who told us point blank that he wanted to do anything he could to help before we ever asked, told us we had to stop cooking there because someone complained about a smell.

This country needs to rethink its attitude towards homeless people. I am not a criminal. I am not trying to scam the system. I just want a place to unwind after work like everyone else. And you know what? I’m not even asking you to give me that. I just need you to stop taking it away whenever I find it.

 

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Today on Car Dwellers…

CarDweller fixes a computer.

Well, technically, it’s an external hard drive. The problem is that the USB cord keeps wobbling around in the slot, so it gets disconnected while writing things. This causes errors. This doesn’t cause instant problems, so we keep using it, and the errors accumulate. Eventually, we plug it in, it chugs for about five or ten minutes, and then it informs us that we have to reformat it.

We absolutely cannot reformat. We have too much data on this. The formatting process would wipe everything. Supposedly there’s way to get your back afterward, but I hope you’ll forgive me for not putting in faith in that.

Here’s what we’re doing instead. I plug in the hard drive. It chugs. It keeps chugging. It finishes chugging. It waits another five minutes. It finally gives me the “you need to format the disk” popup. I do not click the popup.

Instead, I right-click my Windows Start button and hit Command Prompt (Admin). Type “chkdsk [INSERT DRIVE LETTER HERE]:/f”. Then I just sit back and wait for fucking Check Disk to do its slow as fuck thing. Seems to be working, though.

And it is…

Not working. Lovely. Time to try something else.

I actually enjoy this kind of thing, though I always hated when family called on me to fix problems. It was an imposition, and not one they appreciated. But now, I can just enjoy the problem solving aspect. Fixing a hard drive is an interesting puzzle for me, and Kate appreciates and respects the time investment when she asks for help. Plus, she doesn’t ask for things she could do herself with a minimum of familiarity.

I think that was my biggest problem with my family, actually. With Kate’s family, too. They asked for help because they didn’t want to bother learning a new skill. It wasn’t lack of ability. It was unwillingness to stretch their minds a little.

If I need help with something I don’t know how to do, sure, I’ll ask someone who does. But if I need help with something I’m going to be using every day for the rest of my life? I’m damn well going to learn to do it on my own. I’m not going to bug that person every day for the rest of their life just so I don’t have to think too hard.

I don’t know. Maybe I’m being overly judgmental here. I mean, I definitely understand extenuating circumstances. My grandmother probably couldn’t learn. She was already in the early, barely noticeable stages of dementia when they bought their first internet capable computer. But my grandfather is just as sharp as he was 30 years ago. He wants to use the internet, but he doesn’t want to invest the time to learn how to do it on his own, and that’s the part that bugs me.

 

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The Cost of Eating Cheap

Well, it’s payday finally, and that means we’re no longer just this side of starving. Kate still needs her carbs, but the power inverter should be here tomorrow or Friday. At that point, I’ll be able to make her cracker/pancake out of tapioca pearls. Even better, we’ll be able to eat cheaper and healthier.

See, spam may be cheap, but it’s still $2 to feed both of us for a night. Or we can get a bag of potatoes at $2.50, a bag of onions at $2,50, and a pound of chicken cutlets at $1.99 and eat for days. And we’ll have potatoes and onions left over once the chicken is gone, so we can buy more chicken or or mix them with something else.

This is the trickiest part of being homeless for the two of us. Even discounting Kate’s food intolerances, we spend more money buying cheap prepared food than we do when we can cook. That’s why last month was such a huge problem. It took me too long to figure out that we needed a power inverter, and we couldn’t afford one by the time I did. (Thanks again for that, Zob. 😀 ) So we’ve just been scrounging for change and begging from our friends for a couple weeks now just to keep going for a few more days.

This is the month where it all turns around for us. I hope.

 

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The Cost of Exercise

Well, I’ve spent most of today in a car taking pictures of things. Speaking of which, I’m cardweller on Rabadaba. If you’re not a member, but you have an interest in social networking for money, use my referral code and join up. It’s a lot of fun and pretty pictures.

But anyway, I’ve been participating in my gym’s 90-day challenge. There’s a detox program (that I have been able afford joining yet) and then you just exercise. So I’ve an hour of exercise two nights in a row now, and I am so fucking exhausted today.

When you exercise enough, you get this endorphin rush that just makes everything pretty groovy for a few hours. Kate keeps telling there’s a longer lasting depression-fighting effect as well, but I’ll tell you what, I am not feeling it.

I woke up this morning in terrible spirits, and it only got worse as the day progressed. I kind of leveled out about an hour ago, and now I’ve just got this head pounding equilibrium going. I am not looking forward to going back tonight.

 

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A Typical Doctor Visit

Today, I wanted to talk about why it’s so difficult for Kate to get help with her seizures. It seems like it should be a simple thing, right? But for a long time, we didn’t even know they were seizures. We only knew that she would flip out and start running. It was a good couple years before we realized (and yes, she didn’t realize either) that she wasn’t doing on purpose because she was pissed.

Our first neurologist was a 90-year-old man with a stubborn streak that bordered on denial. He told Kate she had myasthenia gravis and put her some pills for it. He said take half of one every day and started scheduling her for tests. He acted like this was the case that would make his career.

Every single test came back negative, and the pills stopped working once the initial placebo effect wore off. But the doctor insisted that didn’t mean anything, that myasthenia gravis hardly ever showed up in tests, and we should keep doing everything he said.

It took months of tests and pills and wasted money before the guy finally sent us to a myasthenia gravis specialist he knew. The specialist informed us that Kate should have been taking like four to six pills everyday, and also if all these tests were coming back negative, Kate absolutely did not have myasthenia gravis.

We went back to her family doctor at that point. He had previously told her that she had mononucleosis, despite not being contagious. He also insisted that she probably had chronic fatigue syndrome, which near as I can figure, is actually not a disease but a catchall term for a collection of symptoms that doctors use when they’re sick of trying to figure out what the problem really is.

He is now insisting that Kate has multiple sclerosis and also CFS and just generally filling her head with paranoia about incurable diseases and making her think her life is over. He’s a blustering bully (also literally a rapist who can’t keep a his hands off his receptionists) who has to be right and refuses to listen, and as I’ve mentioned before, abuse is one of Kate’s seizure triggers. So one day, she just explodes and flees the office, banging into things as she goes. The doctor sends a formal letter to the house refusing to treat her ever again.

Shortly after this, we got hit by a hurricane and had to move in with my family in Missouri. While there, we went to see the neurologist in my home town. The nurse practitioner was a very polite, attentive young fellow who listened very carefully and promised they would do everything they could. The doctor ignored Kate, claimed he couldn’t help, and sent us away.

It was also while in Missouri that we first began to understand how food triggered these episodes. Kate went from barely able to walk even while leaning heavily on a cane to moving freely in about a month.

Also let me just clarify here. Kate was weak, physically. She could barely pull herself out of bed some days. But when a seizure hit, that didn’t matter anymore. She still does something similar, actually. Nearly broke her knee while running because she smashed into a wall and twisted it badly as she fell. Neither weakness nor broken limbs can stop her from running when she has that type of seizure. It’s like a fugue state. She’s not really aware of anything, and her memory will be patchy when she comes back to me.

Anyway, when we finally got back, we saw a doctor who barely spoke English. He was nice enough, but I’m not sure he fully understood the problem. He latched onto the food issue we’d discovered and put us in touch with a handful of new specialists. Kate was tested for allergies, Celiacs, neurological disorders, and I think a couple other thing, but I don’t remember. All negative. In fact, the last specialist we saw listened to Kate’s story and suggested we just try alternative therapies, like controlling her diet as we’d been doing.

By then, we’d done all we could think of, and our primary care physician didn’t have any new ideas. So we just that one specialist’s advice and focused on Kate’s diet. We got her going back to the gym, which helped further. She’d still enter the fugue state, but she’d  come out of it sooner, sometimes without running at all

While there, one of her sparring partners was a med student who was curious about this weird disorder. He told her the fugue state sounded like sn absentee seizure.

We now had a new direction to look in, but Kate wasn’t insured by her dad’s family plan anymore. And he’d been making such a big deal of blaming us both for her seizures and ordering us to see more doctors that the idea of doing so was becoming increasingly stressful. I was having panic attacks, and Kate didn’t want to leave the house except for gym. Even when we got her insurance taken care of, the idea of being jerked around by more doctors was soul crushing.

Then we were homeless. It was like flipping a switch. We didn’t ever have to succumb to their abuse again. Suddenly, everything seemed possible.

We got Kate a new primary care physician, and he was polite and attentive. They tried to do a nerve conductivity test, but Kate started seizing during it. (And the nurse practitioner thpught she was just shivering, but I guess we can’t have everything.) So the doctor gave the name of another specialist.

Now, I honestly can’t remember if I told this part of the story before or not. I’ve told a bunch of people.

Basically, the receptionist rushed Kate through some setup that involved being half naked in a freezing room while wearing only her pants rolled up to the knees and a rough dressing gown. Of course, Kate started seizing. The specialist made her wait for an hour, and then instead of noticing that she was in distress just demanded to know wjy the gown was on the floor. Kate attempted to describe her symptoms and was dismissed. She happened to mention we were living in a car, and the specialist decided that she was  schizophrenic. She told Kate to go to an emergency room because she was clearly having a psychotic break, and that her symptoms must be getting worse or we wouldn’t have been kicked out of the house.

As I’ve mentioned before, Kate’s symptoms have gotten about a hundred times better since we got out of that abusive environment.

She scheduled Kate for two conductivity tests and kicked her out. Total time: five minutes. And then they had the gall to charge our insurance company full price for that.

So now, we really don’t want to see anymore doctors again. We are still trying, but finding neurologists who’ll take her insurance has been…um, trying. Supposedly, you can check their website. There are eight neurologists in our area, and not a single one of them had a valid phone number listed. So for now, we’re back to our own brand of alternative medicine. It’s worked better than the healthcare system so far.

 

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Food and Mental Health

I’ve talked a bit before about the importance of a warm meal in helping you feel human. Well, turns out it’s not just a morale booster. A lack of good food can actually screw with your brain chemistry.

Kate’s been slowly sliding into deeper and deeper depression since we lost the ability to cook food. Today, it took four hours before she could even climb out from under her blanket and get out of the car. Most people can get the nutrition they need from a variety of sources. But because Kate’s diet is so restrictive, she can basically eat meats. Specifically chicken or fish.

Well, we found out the other day that she can eat spam, so we’re going to try feeding her that later today. And the power inverter that will let us cook food again should be here in the next few days. So it won’t be much longer.

It’s weird. You don’t think about things like this when you have a home and plenty to eat. Or at least, I never did. I always had more than I needed. Too much, actually. I have a pretty bad food addiction.

See, growing up, no one ever bothered to teach me about nutrition. Instead, they taught me (as many southern households do) that you finish whatever’s on your plate whether you’re full or not. Your needs don’t matter. Only appearances do. There’s starving kids in Africa, don’t you know, who would kill to eat like you do, so don’t waste it.

So I never got to learn how much was enough and what my body’s signals meant. I was taught to ignore my body’s signals and overeat. So that’s what I’d do. I learned to associate eating with doing a good job, so when I was depressed, I’d eat so I could feel good. Now, I don’t know any other way to cope with stress.

That was a huge struggle for me living with Kate’s folks. It was constant stress, so I was constantly eating. I’d order delivery, then I’d get shamed for spending money, and then I’d have to order more to help deal with the shame.

I still struggle with it. I crave delivery like other people crave sunlight and social interaction. I make myself sick on cheap breads and cereals because it’s the only way I know to relax. And the more sick and depressed Kate gets, the more I need my fix.

Just a few more days. Just a few more days, and then we can both have a nice big plate of chicken and potatoes.


 

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