The Unending Cancer of Poverty

I grew up poor. I never had a new item of clothing. There was a period in elementary and middle school that I didn’t have any underwear to wear at all. We got our food from food pantries. When my mom got a job in high school, we had two years where we could get one dress each every year for the beginning of the school year. Then she got sick. And that was the end.

Growing up poor is devastating. It never leaves you.

I was not fat growing up, I was perfectly normal, a little on the thin side. But my younger sister (naturally thin, we said) was so skinny it was terrifying. We called her, playfully, “bones.” My mom took part of my meals and gave them to her, because I was chubby and didn’t need it as much as she did. I was not chubby. I was less terrifyingly thin than she was.

When I got old enough to babysit and do other small jobs like that, that money went directly to the family.

At some point we got to the point where we did special needs foster care to get a little extra money. Richard, our six year old ward, would pee in the closet and was diagnosed as criminally insane at age three. He kept picking the lock on his mom’s door and she’d wake up with him standing over her with a knife at her throat. That was a frightening year in our house.

My older sister filed for termination of my parent’s rights because of abuse and neglect. She won. The rest of us kids stayed behind. I have a vague memory of going to court. I have a better memory of the one required family therapy session, where I was upset because I had gathered the ingredients for a Boston cream pie, which I’d never made before, and no one would eat it. (I maintain, to this day, that it was tasty.)

We–my siblings and I–all have these gaps in our memories. Mine are more extensive because I went from an abusive childhood to an abusive husband. It used to be that I blamed my ex-husband for all my issues, but eventually I got to the point in therapy where I realized that while yes, he was abusive and terrible, I was already damaged when I met him. It’s why I wanted him and it’s why he wanted me.

The abuse was real. It was terrible. But even that we processed differently. Some of my siblings agree wholeheartedly that there’s something wrong with an environment where you have to be unseen and silent when your dad is home, and any transgression is punished with beatings with a belt that left welts and bruises for days afterwards. Mom did nothing to protect us and she was known to scream at us until we were cowering in a corner any time our grades were less than 95 in every class. I remember the progress report where I got a B in chemistry. It still haunts me. I can see her, coming at me in my room, as I backed into the 2 foot space between my bed and the wall, eventually curling into a ball as she leaned into my face and screamed about throwing everything away because I was so lazy.

It’s worth noting, despite the protestations of some of my siblings, that the court DID find that the house was toxic enough to terminate their rights to one child. They counter that if it was that bad, we’d all have been removed. I don’t know.

But the poverty is what I’m trying to talk about today. It’s why I’m fat–once I got out of school I NEVER turned down a meal or a snack. I still struggle with this today. I remember the gnawing hunger of my childhood and young adulthood. I remember eating a baked potato with a splash of mustard on it for flavor in college and walking two miles each way in the burning heat and the frigid cold to donate plasma so I could afford more potatoes.

I remember blessing my student loan money because I could usually eke out enough from my loan to buy a pair of jeans or a pair of shoes.

Now, I live in a situation where we’re drowning in debt, although we’ve been hacking away at it. One of the big credit card bills goes away in September. My husband makes a good living but we have 500/month after our debt payments for all variable expenses. That’s food for a family of 5, plus gas for the cars, plus anything else we need.

I spend hours on craigslist’s free section, looking for things we can get that we need. We finally got a new dining table and chairs after we were down to one non-broken chair, for free. We had to spend 10 dollars on fabric and another 10 on supplies to recover the chairs because they were greasy from being in a garage or shed for years, and there are sections of glue and whatnot that still need to be sanded off, but still. This is how I’m living my life in my late 30s.

I have a birthday in less than a month. I’ll be 38. I have nothing I can give myself. I just want the “maintenance required” light on my car to go off. The baby has a birthday this summer, sandwiched between my niece being born and the group memorial service for all the family members who have died this year. What kind of party or celebration can he get in this situation?

Every day I fret about money. Even when the budget is working, I fret. I can’t afford the swimming classes so the older one has a chance at joining swim team. I can’t afford the gymnastics lessons the little one wants and her dad can, and is using that to try to win her affection in the ongoing custody battle. The baby doesn’t have much in the way of toys, and all he has for books are the torn up ones from his sisters. His developmental delay–how much of that is a lack of equipment? How much is my pervasive hopelessness? How much is it a result of my inability to carry him to term?

My kids wear clothes from Goodwill or (if we’re feeling rich) Walmart. Same for all of us. When the husband’s promotion meant that he had to see clients, we shopped sales at Macy’s and other department stores until he had ONE good outfit. Pants, shirt, shoes, belt. That’s all he owns that’s not junk either.

If my in-laws weren’t helping with the legal bills, we’d already have lost custody of the children. The older one swears she’ll kill herself if she has to go back to her abusive father, and I believe it is true. Our go fund me went nowhere. Even relying on the kindness of strangers, as humiliating and awful as it was to have to beg for money, wasn’t enough to save her life. We’re just eking along trying to keep her alive each day.

DFS investigated her allegations of abuse and found nothing. I said, surely it is emotional abuse at a minimum if what he said or did drove her to attempt suicide. And the supervising manager of the department told me she would remove all my kids and put them in foster care if I insisted on pushing them about the ruling. I shut my mouth.

I can’t help but think a person who could afford to hire a lawyer to fight with DFS wouldn’t have to allow their children to be abused and be threatened if we objected.

Last night, we were banned from the physical therapist’s office, because the toddler can’t sit still for an hour and I can’t always get my husband to watch them because he’s the only one with an income. Now my family is telling me it’s my fault, that I should be pushing the 20 month old to sit quietly and punish him until he does. I can’t imagine how cruel that would feel to him, forcing him to sit for an hour in quiet. And the fact that this is the default option I’m being offered, to break his heart and spirit by asking him to do something he’s not old enough to do so his sister can get the medical care she needs, is just killing me.

Today I’m crying a lot. I don’t know how to get him up to his proper developmental level and everything I google is in the nature of “buy this curriculum” “buy these toys” which I cannot do. I don’t know what I’m going to do when his sister goes back to the doctor again (3 appointments next week, plus therapy!) and it’s just killing me. My sister, who knows I have no money, suggested I hire a babysitter from care.com for those appointments. Sure. Registration fee, minimum hours, it’s about 75 dollars. It’s almost a week worth of our food/gas/everything budget. Per appointment. I can’t. I just can’t.

 

 

 

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Chaos and Personal Development

As mentioned previously, we’re dealing with a lot of chaos here. The offspring decided to take a foray into juvenile delinquency which meant we spent our entire summer in youth facilities and counseling and psychiatrists offices. It was an overwhelming amount of work.

There’s also the legal side to be dealt with, which is taking SO INCREDIBLY LONG. You’d think a process that started in June would be complete by October, but you would be wrong.

And the financial cost is outrageous. As you know if you’ve been reading, we were already on the struggle bus before this, and this has sucked everything we had and then some. We’re borrowing from family, we’re taking out extra credit cards, we’re doing everything we can to try and finance the bare minimum care and treatment that she needs. It’s not ideal and it’s slowing down the process that she doesn’t have access to EVERYTHING she needs, and as long as the legal is pending, her dad is arguing that he has no responsibility to contribute. He’s wrong, but getting him to pay requires us to take him to family court and the cost for that is probably about the same as getting him to pay what he owes us.

It is all terrible. We’re all stressed, we’re tired, we’re broke. How are we going to do Christmas this year? No one knows. We’re not even sure we can keep gas in the car by the end of each pay period.

The problem is, my life has been out of control for too long. The eating is wrong, the weight is wrong, the fitness is wrong, the emotional well-being is wrong, it’s all wrong. I feel like a before and after picture, only flipped. I’m starting from the post-earthquake image and I’m trying to get back to the before.

before and after earthquake

I’ve been trying to solve everything at once for years. It’s not working. It’s never worked.

The husband says, just let it go until the chaos of this period ends. But that feels like the opposite of the right answer to me. If we allow outside factors to influence our personal development, we’ll never get anywhere because there is always something that gets in the way of making significant life changes.

The stress eating of the summer has brought me to 12 pounds from my highest weight when at this time last year I was 35 pounds lighter than my highest weight. I’ve let this get out of hand.

I look at my life and I think, do it all right now! This is a disaster! FIX IT ALL! Go pure keto, do weights every other day, cardio every day, yoga and taichi on alternate days, meditate twice a day, commit to my religion in the form of doing morning and evening prayer services in addition to the weekly services, start working again, develop involved lesson plans for the toddler that cover all areas of his development, read more, keep the house scrupulously clean, and so on and so on.

Obviously, you read that paragraph and you realize it’s full of crazy. I see that, too. It’s definitely crazy.

Do all those things need to get done? Yes. Can I do them all right now? Nope. Not even a little bit.

The problem is forcing myself to have the patience to solve one problem at a time. I’m going to start with food. I’m going back to the no refined carbs, no sugar diet that my endocrinologist recommended to me a year ago. She will not be pleased if I show up in her office in February weighing more than I did then.

I’m also going to start walking the dogs every night because that should not be hard, but it feels hard.

Baby steps to victory, that’s the new motto.

 

Litigation, Juvenile Deliquency and Mindfulness

My younger child decided to foray into the world of juvenile delinquency this year, at the beginning of the summer. Do you know what happens when a pre-teen is making dramatically bad choices?

EVERYTHING.

Facilities for evaluation, detention facilities, psychological testing, medical testing, hearings, restitution, and it just goes ON and ON.

That was my entire summer.

The stress put me on Klonopin, which I have to say is the BEST drug ever made, but eventually I had to drive and care for the baby so I had to only use it in the evenings.

We used this opportunity to move on litigation for a change in custody, arguing that she’s a problem because of the ongoing problems he has in his household. She agrees and places the blame on him as well, which is–I know–very convenient for a kid in trouble. But the psych evaluations showed anxiety and anger issues, and the medical evaluations show the early stages of an autoimmune issue. The therapists are agreeing that the anxiety and anger issues are likely a result of her dad’s treatment of the kids.

We were able to get a judge to temporarily end his access to her, but her sister is not included in that, as there’s no sign that she’s excessively affected by the environment. We’ve been in this holding pattern all summer. Now that she’s back in school we’re trying to get a final hearing set but the ex keeps trying to push it back, farther and farther.

Meanwhile, her anxiety is made worse by the lack of closure on the legal. It’s a mess.

We have drained all the money we had, all the money we could find, everything. My in-laws are helping some with the legal bills but the amount we’ve spent on treatment facilities and medical/psychological treatment is ASTOUNDING. We spent all our flex spend and we have more to pay for her, and of course, that means every treatment for the rest of us is out of pocket.

Of course, for the first week or so, the husband took time off of work because we were so rattled and worried. We had multiple days where we were all so drained and upset we couldn’t handle cooking so we got pizza or takeout, which helped drain our resources even more. But we’ve been operating in crisis mode all summer.

It’s been sad. We couldn’t do anything this summer, not even simple day trip activities. No zoos, no museums, nothing. And now we’re struggling to pay basic bills, put food on the table, all that kind of thing.

If you want to help, we would LOVE it and be so grateful, you can hit up my PayPal at eloisejtaylor@gmail.com

But despite the money stresses and the long-term emotional and mental stress, I’m doing really well emotionally. How is this possible? My therapist suggested the app Calm for meditation before I had to stop my therapy because I have no money. That app is spectacular. I do the daily meditation every evening and then one or more of the sleep stories until I go to sleep.

Obviously, I’m not getting paid by these people. It’s just a genuine recommendation. I hate that it’s 13 bucks a month but for the ability to sleep without a ton of meds, it’s definitely worth the cost. I’m still paying for it, despite the money crunch because I can’t imagine surviving without meditation AND therapy.

I can tell you what a big improvement this is in my life this has been. I’ve been working on meditation and mindfulness with other apps for the last couple of years but this is the first time I’ve actually felt the effect.

 

 

 

Self-Care

There’s been a bit of a medical crisis in the family this week. I’m not ready to talk about it yet–it’s very personal to me at the moment–but I immediately demonstrated how ill-prepared I am for a crisis by falling apart and asking for better anxiety meds.

But my therapist says, no. Work the self care.

I’m doing a reasonably good job with the self care. I’m lowering my chore/momming standards, I’m taking hot baths, I’ve acquired and started using aromatherapy at night, I’m doing therapy every day, I’m asking for help from people as much as I can. I’m grounding myself.

My therapist recommended a new to me meditation app. It’s not free, which is a shame because you guys surely know that money is always a crisis, even before we talk about the cost of medical care this week. And the cost of self-care. The app is called Calm and I cannot rave about it enough. It’s spectacular. It’s very calming, and it has sleep stories and I have not had any trouble getting to sleep. That aspect of the insomnia is completely gone.

I’m waking up at 3am, 4am every day, which isn’t great, but still. Progress is progress.

If anyone wants to help offset the costs of the crisis, you can paypal me something at my email address: eloisejtaylor@gmail.com You don’t have to but it would mean a lot to me if you can spare a few dollars to help. We’re definitely drowning over here.

Sleeping Pill Detox

I’ve been using things to help me sleep since the divorce, which was 9 years ago. Even when I was pregnant, I was ok because the nausea medication made me sleepy and helped me sleep.

But I can’t do this anymore. So I’m cutting myself off. I went cold turkey. Well. I went cold turkey off the real meds. No ambien, no unisom, but I’m taking melatonin and some sleepytime tea at night.

This is day 3. The first night I had trouble getting to sleep but did it eventually, but then was up at 2:30am and slept fitfully after that.

Last night I got to sleep pretty easily but also had some fitful sleep starting in the early morning. My sleep tracker says I only had 45 minutes of deep sleep last night.

Part of the problem is that the husband has a cold and is coughing, but fortunately the doctor gave him some good cough medicine today and that should reduce the problems going forward.

I feel really tired today. Not groggy like I often do on the meds, but tired and more depressed than usual. The internet says that’s a common reaction to going off the sleep medication, but that it should pass in a week or so.

It’s really hard, but it’s an important step to getting healthy and functional.

 

Adventures in Narcissism

I recently read Ann Rule’s true crime classic, The Stranger Beside Me. It’s the Ted Bundy story, which is so interesting to me. Specifically, I think it’s interesting that we all know Ted’s name, and John Wayne Gacy’s, and Dahmer’s, but we don’t know the names of other serial killers that had higher numbers of people killed, like Gary Ridgeway, the Green River Killer.

Why is that?

I’m not sure. But what was very interesting to me about the book was Ted Bundy’s narcissism. He’s often considered the prototypical narcissist. I have an interest in narcissism since my ex was listed as likely having narcissistic personality disorder and was referred for further testing, which he never did. And indeed, when you read about narcissism, it’s a portrait of my ex.

My ex is a terrible person and was abusive to me and to the children, but I do not believe that he is a serial killer, or even a killer at all. And I would be incredibly surprised if you told me that he was. His sense of self-preservation is stronger than his belief that he is too smart to catch, which doubtless saved my life many times.

Narcissism isn’t just self-centeredness. It’s more than that. It’s the absolute and unwavering belief that you are always right and never make mistakes. The shrink that diagnosed my ex said that therapy would be useless for him because he can’t admit he’s done anything wrong and as a result he can’t grow.

It’s the belief that you are different than other people. Better than other people.

Part of the fun for narcissists is to manipulate other people. Sometimes he would lie about things that were completely trivial, not worth lying about. I distinctly recall a lie about getting milk from the store, for example.

And he does this other thing I could never understand, and I got a chill when, near the end of the book, Bundy did the same thing.

My ex sometimes will tell you he’s thinking about doing something or about agreeing to something, when actually he had already done that thing. For example, earlier this year he cornered me at a school event to discuss the older child’s proposed science fair project, which he did not like, and he said, I think I might let her do it anyway, because she has to learn to fail if she makes bad choices. But I found out later that at the time he said that, he had spent several days emailing her science teacher expressly forbidding the project entirely.

Near the end of the book, Bundy says to Rule, I’m thinking of writing to the detectives in Seattle and offering my help with the Green River Killer case. That was said to her in 1986. Later it came out that he had been in contact with the police about the Green River Killer since 1984.

I don’t understand why. I don’t know what they get from that. Is it just another level of subterfuge? Another barrier between the world and their real life? I don’t know.

It’s just so creepy and disturbing to me to see correlations between the best known serial killer in history and the man I lived with for eight years.

 

Oh hi, Anxiety. I did NOT miss You.

I’ve been struggling with some hard core depression for about a month now and last week that was joined by a return of the most hard core anxiety situation that I can remember, for a period of almost 4 days.

This was the real deal–chest pain, trouble breathing, digestive issues–for almost 4 days. Days during which I had to do things, like care for an infant and pick up older children and see people, which was incredibly difficult and made the anxiety much worse. Even with the buspar that I take when the anxiety gets rough I was not in any way ok. I found myself taking meds to make myself sleepier, not to sleep but to calm the anxiety.

It was terrible.

But after a mostly restful weekend I am doing better today, and I have minimal commitments this week, so hopefully that will continue to be true.

Tomorrow I’m scheduled to meet with the integrative medicine lady at my new therapist’s office. Apparently that’s largely acupuncture, which is (unbelievably) covered by my insurance?? I’m not convinced about the acupuncture but am willing to have that conversation, anyway.

I hope you all are doing better than I am these past few weeks.