March 13th, 2011


From a cold start

I came and then went away again for a while--I was mid-breakdown, mid-fall. I'm not sure if I landed at rock bottom, but close enough.

My patient, generous (gracious, long-suffering...) landlord finally had to kick me out. Unemployed, ineligible for benefits, broke and broken, I stayed with equally kind friends for a night then checked into Harborview, a hospital in downtown Seattle. They're the front lines for the homeless and crazy.

I might not have made it all the way in without help. When I got to the counter, I couldn't answer the receptionist's question about whether I was checking in. I shook my head no and went back to the entry corridor, stared out the windows aimlessly. After a few minutes she was at my side, helping me back inside, getting my ID from me, no words necessary.

It was easier after that. I went through intake, then to the emergency room. I hadn't taken my blood pressure meds in a while--my BP was 207/135. When they'd treated me for that, I was transferred over to University of Washington Medical Center. If you want a psych ward, that's the place to go. I was there 10 days; on Friday they checked me out with a referral to a program that is supposed to help me get medication and counseling and help getting back on my feet. I've got a bed in a specially designated room of the downtown homeless shelter.

Not today, but soon, I want to write about things in more detail, especially the shelter, which is simultaneously a safe harbor and a truly appalling place that you never want to be stuck in. In a similarly contradictory way, I'm doing better on a new regime of antidepressants, but I'm also struggling to keep my head up above dark water.

Tomorrow I have my first appointment--not clear yet on whether it's a counselor or a primary care physician, but it's kick-off.

Meanwhile I'm trying to (a) avoid catching the lung-rattling shelter plague my bunkmates have, (b) eat well enough to stay energized (which means anything but shelter food, trust me), (c) spend as much time I can away from the shelter being productive or at least comfortable (while being not too spendy). I mean, it's only been 48 hours so far. I've read 3 books. There's not a lot to do in a shelter between the hours of 5:30 p.m. (curfew to keep your bed) and 6:30 a.m. (when they turn the lights on).

No wi-fi for the Seattle homeless; I'm drifting from Starbucks to Starbucks. I don't *quite* have the homeless air about me (yet?): I have the luxury of a locker at the shelter, a laptop, clean clothes, some spending money, and possibly a lingering attitude of entitlement. But a Starbucks in Seattle's city center is a good place to watch how businesses treat the obvious homeless--no bathroom door code unless you buy something, free-floating hostility, voices raised to issue warnings against loitering.

Even in a cozy Starbucks with the crackling fireplace, I sat across from a Real Change vendor who chuckled and talked to himself; surreptitiously gave the door code to a woman who couldn't afford to purchase anything; and looked up housing voucher listings on my laptop for a woman at the next table. Undercover homelessness.

Even though it's only 1:30 p.m. I compulsively check the time--the shelter staff are hardcore about the curfew and the front doors are locked on schedule (sometimes sooner, I'm told). I can tell already that this will become an ingrained habit.

I think I'm almost out of words for the day, but I realize I feel compelled to get out at least a few details of shelter existence:

  • One of my shelter roommates, B., looks and talks like a NYC academic--she's frizzy haired, manic, and lexically rigorous--but her upper-bunk nest of clothes and belongings smells so foul that I flinch every time I enter the room.

  • Another recently departed roommate was very nice and polite--also a meth addict with two children (ages 1 and 5) in the care of one's father. The other father died 4 months ago of a heroin overdose. J. has been in and out of hospitals and shelters for years.

  • The bathroom stalls have no doors; the showers, no curtains. There are stories of male staff walking in to tear down any sheets or blankets that women attempt to hang across those areas.

  • The breakfast trays this morning held: approx. 2/3 cup of watery oatmeal, 1 small bag of parmesan and garlic potato chips, and a glass of some pale cloudy liquid, impossible to identify at a glance.

  • I'm actually lucky to be in a 6-bunk, windowless, poorly ventilated, 12x12 room in a sectioned-off area of the shelter. The general sleeping areas hold dozens of bunks and are reportedly plagued by bed-bugs. They accommodate people on a night by night basis and operate under far more restrictive conditions (out of bed on schedule; exchange your shelter card for loan of a towel).

They do allow animals in the shelter, which was a surprise. I haven't seen any pettable cats yet. I miss my landlord's cats in a deep and terrible way. We had adopted each other; they slept on my bed for almost three years. She said I could come back and visit them, but right now that's just theoretical. (She also just e-mailed to say they were "lost" without me. Must not think about them too much or the missing becomes much worse.)

That's all for now, I guess. I've been encouraged--clinically and professionally encouraged, even--to write in my LJ as a coping outlet. I suspect anything beyond that now would be wildly ambitious.

waving at the world,