Friday, June 17, 2005

Groping For Doubt Relief

The only way to get the words out on this post is to go for it the same way I do in my journal no stopping to edit. No worrying about word choice or organization of ideas. The only way to do this is stream of consciousness and letting it all hang out clichés included. Grammar spelling punctuation must take the back seat must not intrude on getting said what needs to be said. Time sequence of events too must not be adhered to in strictness when memory is vague because if I try to get all of that right, I will use the excuse of perfectionism to censor myself to procrastinate to make excuses and once again give up. This is all about venting and not about composing a potential essay this is all about confession and laying it out there for inspection this is all about putting my action where my words have been all about doing what I have advocated. Since all three of my web sites are about integrity of mind and heart about reading and writing as a spiritual quest as well as an art about a passion that must be served in spite of all stumbling blocks in spite of all doubt in spite of any judgment against it by self or other and my confession is that I have sinned against the commandment to be dedicated to the heart of it for the joy of it to give it my all even when I don't feel much like it. And I haven't felt much like it at all for almost three months now and today it all came to a head like a pustule ready to burst in my head and heart and I snapped and I cried out to my self and the world, to my accusers--both myself and the others those bodiless voices intruding into my home, my sleep, my thoughts and my dreams--that enough is enough!

To myself: If you believe than do it if you can't follow thru than what business do you have advising others or mouthing the platitudes if that is all they be. If I had an audience here that audience would have noticed a substantial slowdown of postings to this blog and both of its companion sites after the last week of March. Less than a week after the posting of Gift or Temptation? and if so they might be forgiven for thinking that I had gotten lost in the exploration of the Great Books and/or the World Books. See Bringing Home the World On Wheels. But that would be a mistake. For the first week after acquiring them, yes, I did spend a little bit of extra time with them and some small portion of that was borrowed from my night computer sessions. But that wasn't the definitive event. In the post Gift or Temptation? I mentioned that I expected to be wracked by doubt which ever way I chose so I chose to have the books as consolation and I had no regrets for the first week. I continued apace with the revamping of Joystory, Joyread and Joywrite. I was getting pumped up to promote them as soon as the revamp was posted. I was full of hope and ambition and I was working hard. On the computer often from ten in the evening until ten in the morning except my mother-in-law's days off when I would get off by eight. Until the morning or was it afternoon or evening. No way to know as I didn’t record it in my journal. Don't remember which hour of the day the first call came but they come randomly and they come inexorably and they come any time between eight-thirty am and eight-thirty pm. The calls regarding collection of my eighteen year old defaulted student loan. And the shame burns as I write this with the expectation that it will be read by strangers who will judge me the way I have judged myself the way the voices over the wires have judged me, shamed me. But believe me you can't think anything worse about me than I have already thought about myself. And I don't want your pity and I don't want your money. This isn't about that. But just maybe just maybe you will read my story and see in it something of a parable about the very dysfunctions of our society that John Edwards is calling the Two Americas.

I went back to school in January of1985 and ten years after my high-school guidance councilor had advised me that I was not college material, that it would be better if I gave up my then five year old dream of becoming a child psychiatrist who wrote up the stories of her patients to raise the consciousness of the nation about the plight of abused children, ten years after he tells me that I would be better off applying those same interests into becoming a mother and writing stories for my kids, ten years after he wrote me off as a second class citizen, I finished my first quarter of college on the President's list. And for six quarters thereafter on the Dean's list. I was planning to apply my interest in child psychology and language into a career as a speech therapist specializing in very young children. It wasn't likely to be the kind of career path that would make me a millionaire but I wasn't interested in being rich. Never have been. I just needed to be doing something that would give me a wage while at the same time allowing me to feel I was of service to a real need and at the same time support my truest passion which was writing stories. By the spring of 87, by taking on 18+ credits per quarter, I was two credits short of completing my junior year. I fully intended to graduate the following spring. But during that summer, my husband lost his job and I learned I had the RP and was probably already legally blind. We were forced to move out of the Rogue Valley where I had been attending SOSC (now SOU) in Ashland, Oregon. And where we ended up did not have a four year school. Six months later, I started getting notices of my obligation to start paying on the two $2500 student loans I had taken out the previous year. Not long after that I was declared in default and lost my right to receive government grants and loans to continue my education and other things like help on rent or mortgages though the latter was never going to be an issue while our income remained below the poverty level as it did for most of the eighties and nineties. And whenever my husband was working where taxes were automatically withheld, our refund was confiscated every year because of our defaulted student loans (he had taken out a single $2500 loan). He claims that due to that confiscation of our refunds, we have repaid the original loans at least twice over but because of the accumulation of the interest, late fees, penalties etc my debt to the Department of Education now stands near $18,000 and is growing at more than $1 per day. I'm not sure where his stood before they started garnishing his check two years ago. But that garnishment contributes to our continued dependence on his parents though ostensibly his income brings us a bit above the poverty level. At least before Federal, State, Payroll, health and 401k withholdings. We can't afford our own place--first last month's rent, utilities and deposits. Not to mention the outfitting of a kitchen, bedroom and bathroom, plus cleaning supplies and laundry facility. And the existence of my defaulted student loan and other debts puts at risk any accumulation of assets towards our eventual independence. Any bank account is subject to liens and even confiscation. As are any vehicles, any appliances, in fact any belongings including wardrobes over a certain dollar amount and even books. Without a bank account, my husband is forced to cash his paychecks in grocery stores, check cashing joints and bars (which latter are often the only thing still open after he gets off work) Without a bank account it is hard to save towards a future. Without a bank account it is hard to pay bills. Without a bank account I can't sign up for Paypal and thus cannot apply any of the potential moneymaking concepts to my websites. Without a bank account I can't be an affiliate of an online bookstore, accept advertisements, offer my services as editor. Without a bank account I can't cash non-local checks or any personal checks.

So this was the state of affairs last March when I bent my nearly three year long iron will against spending money out of my secret stash to buy those two sets of books to honor my work. I had been spared the collections phone calls for a couple months and the sting of the last one had begun to fade. I was not thinking of those phone calls when I bought the books and thus was not thinking of how handing the money over for them would affect my ability to continue telling the voice on the other end the same thing I had been telling them for years. No resources. No assets. Nothing I can do. It didn't really change anything other than the label in my own mind of that secret stash of cash. By spending it on something it had not been intended for, I had destroyed it's sacrosanct aspect, its set-aside-ness. Though my husband points out that my original intent for the money was as investment into my writing and so were the books so what's the problem? And he points out that the $74 total did not set me back any for the computer either since I have had enough to get it for several months and the only thing stopping me was my fear. Fear of getting a lemon if I went refurbished. Fear of loosing it again if the bill collectors learn of its existence. Fear of my own feelings of guilt and shame for spending money like that while still living with my in-laws. While still owing so many so much. Even tho it is intended as an investment towards gaining a source of income that would free us of this dependence. Even tho. Because of fear that I will not be able to pull it off. That I won't be able to find a way to make an income because every way involves some kind of self promotion every way involves some form of saying look at me see what I can do while holding my hand out for cash. Both aspects of which are very hard for me to handle--both the look-at-me part and the pay-me part.

Then in late March, just days after bringing home the Great Books, the phone calls started up again. It was a different agency than the one before and this one was more aggressive and more intrusive in their questions. And I was already weary of answering those same questions over and over and over and getting nothing but disrespect back. The pattern is that once told of my status as legally blind they send me paperwork that I am supposed to take into a Dr. to have signed verifying that I am 100% permanently disabled and will never work for money again. That is the standard the government uses for waiver of a student loan. But how can I claim that I will never work for money again? Even Christopher Reeves worked for money after his accident. How would I ever justify that in my own mind? How could I ask a doctor to sign off on it? Especially with the memories of the two doctors that the state had sent me to in the past. The one that diagnosed my RP which qualified me for food stamps and SSI and the one that gave me a physical when I entered the state rehab program a few months later.

Rehab. What a laugh. Here I was with just a year to go on my BA which could have made me a productive citizen in service to my fellow citizens as a speech therapist or Russian language translator, technical writer or editor, and my social worker who I will forever think of as Mr. Broccoli wanted to send me to blind school which is glorified jr high school shop and home economics courses undertaken while blindfolded if one still has any vision left. What is the point of that when (at that time) I still had good central vision correctable to almost 20/20 which could, if I followed the pattern of my mother's and her mother's disease progress, continue to allow me to read and to see and recognize faces, watch TV and much much more for another twenty to thirty years. The limitations then were about mobility and safety of self and others outside environments that I could completely control. I could not work in restaurants because of all the movement of people and objects and the often dim lighting. I could not work on assembly lines. I could not drive at all nor could I walk the streets alone after dark. The disease has progressed since then and there are more things I can't do. There are other health issues now that I am nearing fifty after two decades of spotty health care that weren't issues in my late twenties.

I wonder to this day what the point was in asking me to put on a blindfold and learn to operate a table saw and power sander to make a bookshelf. To learn to make bread and put an entire meal on the table, blindfolded. When I was at least twenty years away from needing those skills. Why would the state have been willing to spend the thousands of dollars to send me to that boarding school while being unwilling to spend the same amount--or much less if they could have helped me get access to the Pell grants and student loans again and unlock my credits--so that I could finish my degree with a useful marketable skill? Mr. Broccoli could not imagine what I could do with a degree in languages or linguistics, he said I would have to live near the U.N. for translator to be a marketable skill. He said most parents wouldn't want to entrust their small children to a half-blind speech therapist. His words weren't quite that crude but the meaning behind them was. And as for data processor or computer programmer, (also languages and both of which I'd discovered an affinity for while in college) wasn't that kind of work awfully hard on the eyes? Ditto for word processor, editor or technical writer. The joke was on him (at my expense) when later that year the Berlin wall came down and a year or so later there was a large influx of Russian immigrants into Washington State. And during that same several years, the computer monitors developed better definition and the applications developed accessibility features. The internet exploded into a voracious consumer of talent in all area related to information handling. If he still can not imagine how my talent with languages and information manipulation could have been marketed at that point--he had no business in his job, which was after all about matching his clients strengths with the labor market's needs. Or maybe I was wrong about that all along. Maybe he saw his job as moving society's embarrassments out of sight and out of mind. At any rate, I felt then and continue to feel that I could have done his job better than he did. At least I would have had compassion for my clients and tried to find creative solutions for their individual and unique needs!

I have digressed again which is what this whole rendition of the story has been one digression after another. Which is a reflection of the way the thing plays out in my mind all the time. There are so many elements to it. There are so many constrictions on choices so much hope stomped on. It seems that every time I have tried to dig myself out of the hole someone grabs the shovel from my hands just as I begin to see over the lip and smashes it against my fingers until I let go and fall back into it, reminding me that the shovel is for digging myself in deeper not for digging stair steps out. And again I do not want anyone's pity and I do not want a hand out and I do not want anything except the dignity and respect that is the birthright of every human born into this world.

So. Back to the thing about the doctors. Both times I saw a doctor at the State's request, the doctor treated me like toe-jam. The first one would not tell me the results of the tests he did because it was the state that was his client and not me and his whole demeanor as he examined me was one of contempt. The second doctor giving me the physical for the rehab program also would not discuss with me the results of the exam for the same reason tho he was not nearly as holier-than-thou in our encounters. But those experiences do not make easy to contemplate taking in a form for a doctor to fill out stating that I am and always will be incapable of working for money. The form does not say working for a living but working for money in any capacity. And to make matters worse it would cost me somewhere between $70 and $150 in co-pays for the doctor appointments and the test fees. For in our health plan I have to go thru my primary care physician (which I don't currently have) to get sent to a specialist--in this case an ophthalmologist. So that would be at least two co-pays for appointments. And then the cost of the fees for each of the tests that establish the condition of my eyes. And to add to the weight of my claim I should also have appointments with an audiologist to establish the 50% or more hearing loss. With a Psychiatrist to establish the reality of the mood disorder. And a sleep clinic to establish the sleeping disorder. For each doctor and each lab fee add twenty plus dollars to the tab. I am supposed to do this even tho it is likely to be a wild goose chase, even tho I stopped going to the doctor two years ago because my husband stopped giving me my allowance in the face of all the co-pays. So I have not had my female exams for five years. I have not been on my blood pressure meds for nineteen months. Have not been on my mood and sleep disorder meds for thirteen months. All because it was costing me not just money but hope because it was deferring my dream of becoming independent into a future so far away it might as well be never.

But the voice on the other end of the line reads from their script, playing their psychological head games--good cop bad cop; disappointed mama: shame on you; stern daddy: get used to the sound of my voice because you're going to hear it every day; voice of the taxpayer/bounty hunter, dripping scorn: you deadbeat! The voice is telling me I have two weeks to get that waiver paperwork back to them and I tell them it takes longer than that to get the appointments set up and not only that it would take several weeks if not several months to save the money to pay for them and they say borrow it. Then ten days after giving me a fourteen day deadline they call again and say times up too late you can never exercise that option again. But I know that is a lie because every collection company I've dealt with sends me that same paperwork after I inform them I am legally blind. Now they tell me they are red flagging my social security that I will never be able to draw it as long as I owe the government this money and I'm not sure if this is true or not and I'm not sure if they mean only the retirement benefits or if it is also the disability benefit’s the SSI that has several times been a stop gap when my husband was between jobs. They call my in-laws liars for saying I am unavailable to come to the phone or that I am not at home. They imply to my husband that he is a controlling and abusive spouse for screening his wife's calls. They won't identify themselves to anyone but me and refuse to leave a message so when it is a woman's voice and sweet sounding asking for me by first name only and saying it is really important, they can't take the chance that it isn't my sister calling about a family emergency since my father has been fighting cancer for eighteen months. So they bring the phone to me in mid morning pulling me out of sleep. Or to the dinner table. To my bed when I have the flu or a migraine. I hang up on them and they call back which imposes further on my in-laws because they must answer the phone and bring it back to me. They call every day for a week or more and then stop for a week or so and start up again. I cringe every time the phone rings between eight and eight. I go into anxiety attacks as soon as the phone is handed to me, sometimes full blown panic attacks. And this added to my 50% hearing loss and the way they talk so fast makes it hard to understand much of what they say and I have to ask them to repeat themselves two, three times and they as much as accuse me of being difficult, changing the subject, wasting their time. My husband says stop answering their questions for if it was just about the answers they would enter them into their records and not need to hear the story repeated ad infinitum. They are fishing for information they can use to collect a debt and you have told them the only fact they need to know: you have no resources, no income no assets. There is nothing they can do except torment you in the hopes that you will break and go into debt elsewhere to pay off this debt so they can have their take on it. It is seldom the same person three times in a row and it is a crapshoot whether they are going to be pleasant or obnoxious. I go silent and they chide me like a child. I say I have answered that question a hundred times in the past year in a weary tone and they say essentially So what you owe this eighteen thousand dollars and it isn't going to go away. Yes. Right. Like I haven't known that for eighteen years and isn't the steady rising of the amount enough of a punishment? The eighteen years of confiscated tax refunds? Where is the law that makes this harassment from them a penalty and if it is then where was I when the judge handed down the sentence?

When the calls started coming again in March I started getting off the computer sooner and sooner each morning until I was off before six. So that I would be assumed to be sound asleep by the time the call came. And just in case, I wore earplugs as I often have to do anyway as a day sleeper in a trailer park. When the calls came in the evening it would take me hours to regain my composure and the first half of my session was often very unproductive. I stopped working on creative projects and research and started filling the hours with solitaire and jigsaw puzzles, maze and logic games that would keep my mind narrowly focused or on surfing online without aim or keeping records faux research…anything to help me stop obsessing on the phone calls, the debt, money issues and all the ramifications of it.

And then in late May either the calls stopped coming or were being fielded by my in-laws. As the reprieve grew past two weeks, I started to let down my guard. I started to get interested in my creative projects again and started to tinker with them and I started to stay on the computer past six again. And I started to window shop on-line for my notebook. And I started to hope again. And then today there was another call. I had not gotten to bed until after eight and had fallen asleep with the tv on so my father-in-law called me to the phone. And whether it was the fact that I had relaxed or the fact that my inhibitions were sleep fogged or the fact that as he handed me the phone, my father-in-law said 'she says its important' and I flashed on images of my Dad back in the hospital or worse. But when she identified herself to me, I lost it. I felt myself going into a panic attack and I had had enough. No more. This is not just. This is not helpful. This is not productive for anybody. it’s a waste of my time it’s a waste of their time. It is downright abusive. I have nearly always before been polite and compliant, answering every question tho they kept me on the line for over half an hour. I understood they were just doing their job that their working conditions are often little better than sweatshops. That they work off a script. So I tried not to take it personal tho that was often hard. But I was suddenly thru with polite and compliant. I took a preemptive approach and I went ballistic on her. You pulled me out of bed for this? I have nothing new to say. But you have this eighteen thousand dollar loan and we need to talk about it, she says. I was asleep! It's after nine-thirty she says implying that anyone still in bed that late, especially anyone owing this kind of money to the government has no right to be asleep at that hour. Has she never heard of day-sleepers? I wonder tho I do not say as I am tired of saying it, realizing she could care less. Instead I say, There are no new facts on the ground here. I have no resources. Zero. Zip. Nada. I own nothing of value. There is nothing I can do. There is no need to be rude she says. And I say Some of you people have been rude to me. Meaning tho I did not say Why should rudeness go only one way. And tho I do not believe that two wrongs make a right, why should I wait until I know whether you have the good cop script or the bad cop script. The school marm script or the hick town sheriff script. The nurturing mother script or the disciplinarian patriarch script. Why should I have to take that manipulative crap off of snot nosed brats that are young enough to be my kids? But I say none of that I only say again, There is nothing I can do. Nothing. My voice going up two octaves. She says have a nice day and hangs up.

But my mind did not stop. Nor did the anxiety attack. It lasted over three hours, accompanied by chest pain, which just increases my anxiety because ever since learning that my BP was 220/120 I am never sure the chest pain is just anxiety. For hours I kept replaying the conversation and those of the past and replaying the history of all my attempts to better myself and to get a piece of the American dream. And by that I don't mean riches and fame. Just respect from self and others. And independence. Physical, financial and mental independence. But every time I reach for that dream something yanks it away and uses my very efforts as a means to keep it out of my reach.

It was four hours before I was able to sleep and then only after taking four Ibuprophen and then breaking down for the first time in months into tears and sobbing, spreading the anxiety to my cats who crowded my face, purring and nipping my nose, licking tears off my eyelashes and sticking their noses in my ears. The anxiety went into my dreams and I had a series of falling off the cliff and jerking awake scenarios with chiding voices full of contempt and chanting who do you think you are after all. Deadbeat. Thief. Moocher off family and taxpayers. And as soon as I was fully awake again after only three hours of this fitful sleep, the anxiety powered up again and continued to keep me on edge for the whole evening. I flinched every time the phone rang which averages a dozen times an evening here. Had multiple startle reactions to unexpected noises. I fought the tears thru dinner time and let them come again as I stood alone over the dishwater.

And then about nine-thirty this evening, as my time on the computer approached I remembered that I still had a few Zoloft tablets left from the 2001 prescription that I had had to withdraw from during the week the towers fell in New York when it became clear that my husband's unemployment benefits from his lost tech job, were too high for me to qualify for help from the county mental health clinic and we could not afford to pay for the three meds I was on and the careful monitoring of them which I need because of past adverse reactions. I got the idea that I could maybe put a damper on the anxiety if I took a small chip of one of those tablets. They were already broken in half from the weeks of the withdrawal and I could break those in half again to give me a 25miligram dose which was the size of the very first prescription in 99 so should be safe enough. If I could just get a grip on it to reach a level of calmness from which I could apply the various relaxation techniques to enhance the effect…if I could just get a few moments of relief from this pressure in my chest this sense that I could not get my breath…this inability to think clear coherent thoughts…but the old bottle wasn't where I had left it. And I spent the next hour searching for it, more and more frantic, punishing myself with further silent verbal abuse for being so disorganized for not putting things back where they belong. Did it fall on the floor? And then get kicked under the bed? Or become a kitty toy? Or did it fall into the pile of laundry? Or behind the stack of cardboard boxes aka bookshelves? If that last had happened I would have to wait until the next day after my husband left for work to unload the books onto the bed so I could move the boxes. So I started by lifting every item of clothing in the laundry pile and giving it a little shake. Sorting by load type while I was at it. Might as well accomplish something. I pulled shoes, slippers and water bottles, kitty toys, tissues and more dirty clothes out from under the bed. No prescription bottle. And I finally gave up and started moving my books and papers out to the computer even though I doubted I would be having a productive session and would be moving them all back in a few hours without using them. But I was going to take them with me anyway as a symbol of my intent to try, to have the tools available and to make myself available for the task. Often I have surprised myself by having a productive session in which I did some of my most interesting, most mature and meaningful work when I thought I was a complete wreck or had nothing but boring clichés to contribute to the effort. So I schlepped the stuff out, it takes several trips since the box of materials related to the various projects has gotten too heavy for me to carry. And there it was, after the first trip but not the last, there it was, the bottle--behind a notebook I grabbed up to take with me. And I found my pill splitter and split the half tab in two and took one of them. And half an hour later I clicked the game off, signed online and got busy.

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