Sunday, March 23, 2008

Who Is Angel, and Why Does She Need A Home?

My name is Angel and I am a 28-year-old who is in need of a home! Here is my story... at least, the short version!
I grew up in a pretty dysfunctional family. I won't get into the details here, in case one of them reads this and their feelings are hurt, but I will tell you that as a kid I vowed that the minute I turned eighteen, I was going to leave home and never go back. I didn't want to go to college or anything like that... I just wanted to be out, and on my own, and I knew I'd survive somehow!
And I did end up leaving home, actually before I turned eighteen for the first time, and then when I was forced to return, I left again at the age of eighteen. I didn't have any money, I had severe ADHD and some developmental disabilities, plus had always dealt with severe depression and anxiety. And I was really naive and would trust anyone who was even slightly kind to me... and you can probably guess that things would not go well for an eighteen-year-old uneducated kid in that situation! I ended up being homeless, but I adapted and learned to survive. I made it work for me.
Let me point out that although I lived on the streets and became part of a culture thick with substance abuse, crime and violence, I managed to avoid most of that. I did commit some petty crimes when I was a teenager, mostly stealing small things like food, soda, and once a chapstick for my very chapped lips! I never touched alcohol until I was twenty years old, and even that was only a small amount, not enough to get drunk from! I did not join gangs, did not touch drugs, did not do any of the things that other people around me did on a regular basis!
My biggest problem was that I was grateful for any little kindness anyone showed me, and that got me inti a few rough situations. (Although, let me point out, that when I look back on that life, I am amazed that the majority of the people I was around protected me, rather than took advantage of me. There were a handful of people who were not very nice. But I lived with ex-convicts, drug dealers, drug addicts, alcoholics, and all sorts of random people, and most of them were extremely protective of me, never laid a hand on me, and shared everything they could with me! These memories have always given me hope!)
I drifted aimlessly through life for a while, just trying to survive. The best thing I ever did was join AmeriCorps, when I was twenty-one, where I worked as a fulltime volunteer with children with special needs. In exchange, I gained a lot of work experience, and also got a voucher for $4,750 towards higher education. I took advantage of that voucher and started in community college, part-time. Since AmeriCorps had taught me that I loved, and was good at, working with kids with special needs, I got a job as a teacher's aide as a special education school.
I was homeless during most of this time. During Americorps I lived in Colorado, where rent was much cheaper and where I had a roommate. But after Americorps I returned to Chicago, and soon found that, even working full-time at the special ed school, there was literally no way for me to get an apartment. I tried looking for roommates but found a lot of strange people out there. For a while I was living in a crack house, only because a friend I had made on the streets invited me to live with her. She was living in a subsidized housing building (aka "the projects") that was supposed to be for families with kids, but her kids had been taken away from her and somehow she was still able to live there. She did drugs and made money for the drugs by letting drug dealers work out of her house. I lived there, and once again found that the drug dealers I knew were some of the kindest people I'd ever met! It was a crazy life, though. I slept on a bare mattress in the living room. All night I would sleep, while a few feet away all sorts of people would be sitting at the dining room table, smoking rock. I learned to sleep through their noisiness. In the mornings, I would get up and go straight to work at the special ed school. I wouldn't even take a shower there, because I felt uncomfortable using the bathroom in an apartment full of strangers. I would get to work early and wash up in the bathroom, and then get started at preparing my lessons for the day. I had confided to the other staff members in the classroom where I worked about how my life was, and they would help me out, sneaking me food and stuff. I would stay really late after work, working on stuff for the class, and then either go to evening classes at the community college, or go home to the apartment. There was rarely much food there because every ounce of money went towards crack for the others in the apartment. If I went to the food pantry, or bought groceries with my paycheck, I often came home to find that the others had returned the food to stores in exchange for cash for themselves! I would eat weird things like crackers with ketchup, or go hungry. Sometimes the drug dealers would bring me fast food, or give me money for running errands for them.
Eventually I moved in with a different neighbor in the building, and then later moved in with a family member, who I had lived with a few times before. Then at Christmas time I went to my parents' house to visit. My younger brother, who had left home and moved to California when he was seventeen, was visiting, and I stayed at the house so I could spend more time with him. The visit went well, and eventually my mom asked me to move back in with her.
Shortly thereafter, I decided that I'd better start going to school full-time somehow. I learned I could now get financial aid, because my income was so alarmingly low. This was good, because my voucher from Americorps was running out by then! I loved working with kids with special needs so much, I decided what I wanted was to become a special ed teacher, instead of just an aide.
I quit my job at the school, so I could go to my own school full time. From then on I went to school during the day, and worked different part-time jobs in the afternoons. Life wasn't so bad, even though I was living with my parents, because I was rarely home! I was always at school, or working! On weekends I usually stayed at the home of the same family member I used to live with. For the next few years, I actually managed to avoid becoming homeless again! I also managed to save up a little money, and I got to do some cool things, like volunteer at Camp To Belong, and visit my younger brother in California.
As I finished community college, I made plans to transfer to a state university in the southernmost area of the state. I would still have financial aid, and there, my financial aid was enough to actually cover an apartment! I made the arrangements, got everything set up. At the end of the summer in 2006, I moved down there for what seemed to be the beginning of the rest of my life!
But things didn't go well. For the last few months before I'd moved down, I'd gotten along extremely well with my parents, especially my mom. It had actually felt like a normal family for a while, with the three of us spending time together. When I got down to my new school, eight hours away from where I'd lived with my parents, I suddenly had a nervous breakdown! I missed my parents so much! I couldn't do anything but sit on the floor of my beautiful new apartment and bawl my eyes out! I'm sure others in the apartment building heard me wailing and wondered if I was insane! I begged to come home. I went home for what was supposed to be a short break for me to gather my thoughts, but all that week I still couldn't do anything but cry! I couldn't focus my eyes on anything without getting sick. I couldn't sleep. I couldn't eat. I couldn't watch TV. All I could do was cry! I was having a serious, serious bout with depression... my worst ever! even after I was given medication and sedatives, I couldn't get better. I eventually had to drop out of school and move all my stuff back home.
After that, things spiraled downwards quickly. Although I got into another university, only forty minutes from where my parents lived, and immediately started going to school and working again, and although my depression cleared up a little as I got my new routine together, life at my parents' house returned to the way it had been when I was a kid.
Perhaps my mom was just so disgusted with me, with my failure to stay at the school in southern Illinois. After all, I wasn't some fresh-faced kid... I was twenty-six years old by then, and had lived on my own many times before! She went back to acting differently around me, shouting at me a lot, putting me down, or ignoring me.
Not always, though. She could be very nice to me, also. Like, last year, me and her went to Disney World together, just the two of us, and had an awesome time! I got so attached to her that week, and it broke my heart when, the minute we returned to Illinois, she went back to acting like she hated me.
Lately it has been worse than ever. It has gotten to the point where, half the time, when I am at home, I am thinking of killing myself! I think about suicide many times each day. And I know that is a bad sign. I know I'm not in a very healthy situation. As a kid, I knew I had to get out of this house... but somehow I keep ending up back here! What I need is to find a way to be independent.
So many factors are making it nearly impossible for me to just go out and get another apartment. My aggravating brain is probably the biggest factor! When I worked at the special ed school, I loved every minute of it and rarely missed a day. But I could not work there and go to school full time at the same time, because there just aren't enough hours in the day! Since then, I've found myself in a vicious cycle: 1. Find a part-time job that seems great.
2. Things start to go wrong at that job. 3. My depression and anxiety starts to kick in big time. 4. I impulsively quit the job when my depression and anxiety gets so severe that I can't stand to go back! 5. I spend several weeks living off my savings, depleting it, while I look for a new job.

Recently I got the perfect job... The same family member I have lived with several times, who is also my best friend on Earth, asked me to watch her two youngest children three days a week. I love it because I can do so many things with the kids! One is an infant and one is in preschool. They also have a brother who is eleven. Those three kids are my life! It is the perfect job because the kids keep me busy, I can really use my brain and creativity to come up with things to do with the kids, and my family member is a person who understands me more than anyone else in the world does. When she and her baby-daddy get home from work, I usually stay and hang out with them, and this gives me a lot of support and happiness! But I only am able to make $800 a month from this job. Its not a lot, but the trade off... me not wanting to kill myself every moment of the day... is worth it!
I still live with my parents though. In Chicago, $800 a month would maybe buy you a studio apartment in the worst drug-infested neighborhood there is. Plus, I can't spend every penny of my income on an apartment... I'd still have to pay for transportation, food, etc! I sleep over at my family members' house several times a week, so that helps a little, but it is still hard to be there... and things with my mom are getting harsher by the moment!
My family member and her boyfriend have suggested I move in with them. But they have a small three-bedroom house, with themselves and three kids living there, and I feel bad enough just staying with them and mooching off of them a few days a week! Plus I think I really do need to have some independence, you know?

I've figured out that there are several things that I need, in order to be an independent, functioning person in life.

1.) I need to live in an area that is somewhat close to my parents... and hopefully closer to my other family member! I don't want to get really far away from my parents. I really think I would have an okay relationship with them if I wasn't living with them and if they weren't basically supporting me. Part of my problem is that my mom can control me by threatening to take things away from me... for instance, threatening to put my cat to sleep, or telling me I can no longer take my dog out of the house, or just plain threatening to kick me out! If I was living on my own, we would be on equal footing, and I could deal with it better.

2.) I need to have an apartment to myself without a roommate, because of my anxiety. I have a dog and a cat that can go with me everywhere, even in no-pets apartments, because of my disability. (They can be classified as "emotional support pets" because of my severe depression and anxiety. My dog, particulary, is helpful in keeping me stable, and I am training her to be an actual service dog so she can go with me to school as well!)

Thats it, really! I really could be a very well-functioning person. I mean, most of the time I am a stable person, especially when it comes to kids! I am at my best when I am helping, educating, or mentoring children.

Since my income from watching the kids isn't enough to pay rent anywhere, I figure my best bet is to save up as much money as possible, and then pay for a whole bunch of months in advance. In order to save up more quickly, I am enlisting in help from you, kind Internet-dwellers!

But I am not asking for donations or anything like that. In the next blog entry, I will post a lot of decent, honest ways that you can help me out, without a lot of effort or pain for yourself!

Keep reading!

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