I had several adverse childhood experiences and I grew up to have PTSD. Since the age 19, I suffered from a psychosomatic condition that made it very difficult and painful for me to work and go to college, as a typical American working poor student is expected to. I felt guilty for not being able to earn a living, and continued to work until my health could no longer tolerate it.
Yet for many years, I was ashamed of talking about my symptoms to anyone, including my mother who did not believe me for several years. Doctors gave formal replies and uninvolved explanations. For years, I felt that my calls for help had fallen on deaf ears.
My condition includes colon spasms, constipation, and rectal bleeding. I endure hours of pain. Sometimes I have burning and itching sensations that are even worse than pain. Eventually, I was diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome, yet not much could be done about it, medically, without inducing side effects that are worse than the illness itself.
When I had spasms, I would experience intoxication very rapidly. I felt it in my head and as a burning sensation spread from my face throughout my body. In a more extreme case, spasms lasted for many hours, my upper lip would begin to darken and crack. Rashes formed around my mouth. My lower back was immobilized by pain. In those instances, I began to feel very vulnerable and thoughts about suicide come to my mind.
My options at the time.
At the age of 23, I decided that I need a disability because I was not a competitive worker, especially in a society that does not have strong labor protection laws. I don’t have enough health to credit myself with, as American working poor are expected to. Work was all about being in pain and not showing that I have it to anybody. Otherwise, I will be replaced by a healthy worker. My condition had worsened and I was experiencing painful spasms all the time and I lost hope.
I did what seemed to be the most appropriate solution at the time: I knew that it was easier to get a mental disability. Thus, I got myself into a mental hospital, as I could no longer bear the pain that I had to endure while I worked and there was no hope to get out of it.
My mother finally acknowledged that I am unable to work and paid for a psychologist to prepare papers in such a way that I received my disability in less than a year.
There were several Catch 22s that I would be happy to describe in greater detail: to live independently, I needed a full SSI pension; yet to receive that amount, I had to live independently.
When I was 24 years old, I managed to leave my mother’s house, which was a toxic environment. Now I was at the mercy of the welfare system.
When this problem was solved, I received a little more than $700 and around $150 in food stamps, per month and I tried to rent a room with that money. I applied for various subsidized, assisted housing, yet no program would prioritize single men with a ‘mental disability’. I was segregated as a mentally disabled person, yet as a young man I was seen as strong and able-bodied. Medical papers did not interest anyone. I was told that the waiting list at HUD was five years for me. Too bad that I can’t get pregnant! Every organization helps families and single mothers, yet no one wants to help single, ill men.
Frederick’s welfare system
Frederick County’s welfare system is designed to shove all metnally disabled people into Way Station, a Sheppard Pratt-backed institution that does not have a reputation of being a humane and compassionate place that would allow one to recover. I knew people who lived there: as one of my friends described it as “a factory farm for disabled people''.
Way Station helps patients who get out of the mental hospital by providing them with a bed in a slum-like housing program. They are strict with medications, ensuring that clients remain drugged up, perhaps so they would not complain about insecure and crowded living conditions. They also become legal payees and take away disability pensions, leaving $80 to $150 (according to different sources) to the clients, as allowance.
It is against their business interest to lose clients, to recovery or death. Thus, clients remain suspended between the two states for decades. From the very beginning, I understood that this was not an option.
I can elaborate about the big picture of the mental health and affordable housing crisis in Frederick.
It feels like the objective of the welfare system is to scare ill working poor back into work by showing them that there is no livable alternative. Or they are holding tanks for disadvantaged people, ensuring that self-esteem remains low. They are not rewarded for positive outcomes.
At the time, I received only $733 per month and I could not afford a room for more than $500. I was segregated from shared houses for “professionals”. I was stuck in very low-income housing with dishonest landlords and roommates who were not always stable and trustworthy.
My colon spasms made my life a living nightmare. In the housing that I was allowed to rent, I couldn’t cook my own food as the sink was always full of someone’s dirty dishes. (I cannot afford to eat out/buy cooked food; I try my best to eat healthy food that is easy on my digestive system.) I could not use the bathroom when I wanted to, often having to clean filth after other roommates. It was always my turn to clean. Not all people wash their hands after using the bathroom in such places, something that I had to get used to as well.
I have sleeping problems because my spasms would keep me awake at night, periodically throwing off my sleeping cycle. I was constantly sleep deprived.
I was kept awake by noise at night, when I tried to complain, I was told that I am disabled, a parasite and a second-class citizen and that they are taking a break after a long day at work and I am nobody to complain about their midnight TV watching.
I had mentally unstable neighbors: a couple with anger problems who would yell at each other all day and all night. While this anger was not directed at me, the shouts triggered my PTSD.
I had to move several times and I could not do the lifting. For this reason, I slept on an inflatable mattress and kept only as many belongings as one would bring to a camping trip. This also didn’t help my condition.
I often have back pain. Currently, having a medicine ball around helps me stretch my back and relieve back pain. It would be an unthinkable luxury to have a medicine ball in the environments where I lived previously.
My landlord pretended like I have a say in who gets to move into the room that is right against mine, he offered me to write an ad on craigslist and to show the room. The landlord rented this room for less than he told me to advertise it for and a new tenant moved in.
My new roommate was very loud. He was also obsessed with the zombie apocalypse. He hoarded weapons and kept a rifle in his bedroom. My room no longer felt like a sanctuary, I experienced severe spasms, had bloody stool and decided to go to the hospital just so I could catch up on sleep in a safe place.
At the time, I was afraid to complain to my landlord as I feared that my neighbor would shoot me before my landlord would do anything about him having a gun. Also, I realized that for the amount of money that I am given, I cannot rent anything else.
Such situations are a part of my income bracket.
There was an instance when I was arrested, based on a made up story for the police. I would have died if I was jailed before trial. The charges against me were dropped.
Writing about this situation to our influential “community leaders” did not help. My cries for help were ignored by politicians, welfare directors and priests, alike.
Most of the people whom I contacted were Democrats.
Because of my bad health and guilt that I was brought up with, I had self-esteem problems that made me more vulnerable. I felt like society wanted me dead and I almost conformed.
I tried to schedule a meeting with a lawyer at the Legal Aid to receive a consultation on the ways to prepare to defend my legal rights. However it took them so long to respond that I no longer needed their help, by the time that they got back to me. It has been suggested that Frederic’s Legal Aid deliberately throttles clients to keep poor people from knowing their rights when negotiating in landlord-tenant disputes. This may be a part of the gentrification that Frederick is experiencing.
People like me
I interact with a number of other people who have health problems that are similar to mine. Many of them are in unsupportive, unhealthy and hostile environments. They cannot afford to live independently. This impedes their recovery process, taking a toll on their mental and physical health. Clearly, their recovery is not a priority to the Frederick establishment, as I mentioned their stories during various meetings with officials.
Surviving in Frederick
I felt very vulnerable because I could not find a place where I can live in safety and comfort for guaranteed periods of time and take care of myself. I felt, and still feel like I am being punished for not being a profit-bearing resident of Frederick. All odds were against me and every day was an uphill battle for survival.
If we were to weigh my suffering only from an economic perspective, it would have saved the state a lot of money on hospitalization expenses if I had a safer place to live.
There is a category of expenses that are associated with homeless people that use hospitals as the only places where they can access hygiene: use the showers and rest in a clean, warm, quiet and safe environment.
Because of my condition, I would not survive on the streets. Thus, I understood that I may have to take my last stand to attract attention to my situation and to the societal problem, at large.
As a last resort, I considered public suicide, as that could also be a way to help other people who are still living like that, for someone with extremely limited influence.
After all, I “earned” my PTSD in Frederick and now Frederick tries to get rid of me.
Lack of affordable housing in Frederick increases the number of suicides and unnecessary hospitalizations. It has a real human cost that nobody bothers to measure.
It also contributes to the cost of public healthcare.
Currently, our welfare system prioritizes poor families with children. However it makes no attempt to reward those who choose not to have children in poverty, people who are struggling to be productive, despite their limited health.
The welfare system is designed around obsolete gender roles that disfavor LGBT people and single men, encourage irresponsible procreation.
My experiences with local employment services for disabeld were also disappointing: lots of formal replies and no involvement.
Thankfully, good people provided me with a safe place to live. I still pay most of my SSI as rent. I managed to recover significantly: I no longer experience such severe spasms. I am also trying to attract public attention to the problems that I encountered.
So far, my attempts to find representation in the Municipal and County governments, to become a spokesperson for the problem were unsuccessful.
(00) Why are taxpayers expected to support a welfare system that so easily disposes of them, once they lose their ability to work?
Why do we support such a large and inefficient welfare/non-profit sector?
Can we defund some programs in this sector and give money directly to the poor; start programs that would pay people with lived experience to help other people with lived experience?
(01) Remove systemic barriers that keep survivors/low income residents/residents with lived experience from representing themselves in the City/County Government.
(02) Have Frederick's welfare system and non-profit organizations that the welfare relies upon, Organizations that receive funding from the State, City and County treasury, organizations that poor/vulnerable residents, residents with special needs are referred to, be AUDITED by an independent third-party analytical organization for their efficiency, as it was requested many times.
Please help me become a spokesperson for the experience that I had!