I spent most of the weekend birthday-ing–going out for breakfast, lunch, even dinner last night at my sister Lynn’s, cheering my University of Kentucky Wildcats to a spot in the Final Four:
So, I’ve had next to no time for posting, reading my favorite blogs, or working on my memoir. But—I have, at least, begun looking through that God awful stack of journals, a lifetime’s worth of thinking this, feeling that, and believing so much of it was worth writing down and lugging from one side of the country to the other and back again:
However, even with so little time to dedicate to the effort, I’ve already discovered something that has touched me—something about one of the unexpectedly painful parts of mental illness—namely the poverty.
I rarely talk about it these days, as things have become comfortable again. Sara and I have everything we need and then some (a lot, really). We are beyond blessed, and I am staggeringly grateful.
However, having lost my job teaching college English to the tyranny of bipolar disorder in 1990, I suffered innumerable financial hardships, and though I never ended up on the street, as so many with psychiatric illnesses do, I did spend too many years struggling to feed and clothe myself and lived twice in government housing, first in Dallas and later here in Lexington.
But ironically, those apartments with their roaches, grit, and grime, were a relief compared to the never-ending struggle to make do in abysmal neighborhoods with the meager income I collected from Social Security Disability—never enough to get by, never enough to treat myself to a cup of coffee out with friends or shopping for new shoes anywhere other than garage sales or thrift stores (both of which, I still love, by the way).
But even while my partner Sara has showered me with gifts this week—days and evenings out, doing whatever I wanted, eating wherever I pleased—I’ve read some painful passages from a journal I kept in 1995—reminders of what it used to be like.
So even as Sara has given me this:
I was reading this from January 10, 1995:
I want to be able to buy clothes & shoes. I want the luxury of going out to eat. I miss it terribly. . . . I’m wondering if I could manage to sell my blood for money, the way Barbara is. I could buy new tennis shoes and stuff.
And this from several days later:
I worry about my pets not getting to the vet and my car not being serviced. These are deep and terrifying issues for me—especially when I have little hope of these things resolving themselves any time in the near future . . . . If only I could enjoy going out for coffee—buying a Sunday paper—getting a new item of clothing from time to time with less fear. I mean even the issue of the tennis shoes yesterday was a big deal . . . . and I had to sell my blood and suffer pain for that.
The antipsychotic medication I had to take had caused me to gain considerable weight, and in January of ‘95 I was trying to exercise to lose a few pounds. However, without the appropriate footwear, I was getting shin splints from walking. It felt like I was living a giant catch 22. So ultimately I sold my plasma to fund the purchase of exercise shoes—actually, sold blood a number of times over the six months to follow in an effort to move myself to Dallas and get the psychiatric care I knew was available there, the care that over the next 5 years would allow me to stay out of the hospital for more than several months at a time.
So, I guess I’m feeling blessed, and maybe even a little spoiled these days. I had forgotten about selling plasma for the funds to get by, even buy the shoes to help me lose weight. I know The Merchant of Venice had it bad, but I had forgotten the price I paid for sanity—
My personal pound of flesh!