Letting go of the past, is much easier said than done. I used to dwell on all the negative experiences I've had and sometimes still do. But I've been able to reframe them, for the most part, as experiences that have shaped me for the better. If I hadn't gone through all the crap that I have- I wouldn't be as strong of a person as I am today. I don't know another person who identifies as a cultural Jew who has lived with a nun. Yep – you heard me correctly. I lived with a nun. I didn't live in a convent per se, but her condo sure felt like one because of all the crosses and the statues of Jesus and of the mother Mary. This nun aka Tina had left the cloistered convent life only a year before I moved in with her.
You're probably wondering why I lived with a nun. I lived with a nun for 18 long months because my psychiatrist at that time thought I couldn't live alone and the person he thought I should live with was his colleague Tina, who just happened to be a nun. You're probably wondering how a nun was a colleague of my ex psychiatrist? Well...she was also a licensed clinical social worker. Honestly I'm not sure how much damage she has done by being a social worker… probably too much damage considering how she treated me and how I saw her treat her other clients. She thought that if I followed a strict schedule every day and did everything her way or the highway that my life would improve. She never asked me what I wanted in life nor what I thought would help me. Nobody asked me my opinion.
I vowed to never make the same mistake. Actually when I was living with her I hoped every night that I wouldn't wake up the next day. Yes I was suicidal while living under her tyranny because of the way I was treated. Truth was I wasn't capable of living alone, but I also wasn't capable of living in an abusive situation. I'm incredibly lucky that I was able to get out of her grips and move into a wonderful treatment center.
Problem was that I was more broken by Tina and my ex psychiatrist than when I moved into Tina's condo...something I never thought was possible. I never thought it was possible to be more broken than when I moved into her place. But I found myself at my third treatment center more broken and hopeless than ever before. Though truth be told- getting into my third treatment center or more like being accepted into my third treatment center gave me a little bit of hope...something that felt incredibly foreign to me. I didn't know what to do with that hope because I hadn't felt that emotion in over two years. But I held onto it for dear life. Holding onto that little bit of hope was a lifesaver for me. It gave me a reason to get up in the morning to go to groups and socialize. It gave me a reason to talk to my flat mates. It gave me a reason to attempt to take college classes again. It gave me a reason to try to live. It gave me a reason to keep going and to hope that my life could turn around.
And my life has turned around. I'm doing what I never thought I'd be capable of doing. I'm psych med free and working at least 40 hours a week. Once upon a time I wished that I could make one persons life better for one minute and then I would have reached my life goal. I've long ago reached that goal. People have told me that I've saved their lives, but I know that I didn't save their life. I know that they did the hard work themselves. I know that I only told them about my experiences so they wouldn't feel as alone. I guess that helped them enough to keep fighting for their life.
I wish that I had peer support when I lived in St. Louis under Tina’s rule. I know that being a peer mental health specialist has given me purpose in life- something I never thought I'd have again. Something I thought I lost forever when I had to take my second and final medical leave from college in the fall of 2006.
I can't believe how radically different my life has become in a mere decade. Back in 2007 when I was living with Tina, I was told by my ex psychiatrist and Tina that I'd be homeless if I didn't continue to live with her for the rest of my life. I'm now a proud homeowner, engaged to my first and only boyfriend- Chris, have lots of friends, acquaintances and coworkers.
All these things were completely out of my reach only a decade ago. A decade ago I was a chronic psych ward patient. I spent more time in the hospital than at home aka Tina's condo. The psych ward was more comfortable because I had human contact there, access to food when I needed it, access to a phone and a computer. Surprisingly I didn't have access to any of those basic necessities (aka human contact) when I was at home. Tina had taken away my ability to connect with people because I didn't drive and I didn't have access to a phone to call a cab nor access to my computer nor any computer nor any phone. If she caught wind of me sneaking onto a neighbors' computer or using their phone – of course with their permission- I'd get doled a bad consequence. I'd be punished for trying to reach out to people. I'd be punished for trying to reach my parents to explain how abusive my living situation was.
Writing about this isn't easy because of how painful living under Tina's tyranny was. In fact I'm crying now. I'm feeling very vulnerable writing about the most difficult time in my life. I'm not sure that I want to press post, but I know that it's important that I share this. That I stop hiding behind the shame of what I went through. I'm sure that other people have gone through similar situations. Though I'm pretty sure that nobody else who identifies as a cultural Jew has lived with a nun (though I might be wrong about that...though I hope I'm not). And with that I leave you part of my story with more to come at a later time…