Hey All! How are you doing? It’s been a long time, yeah?
Well, don’t feel nervous! Pull up a seat, get a glass of your drink of choice, and lets have a little jam sesh’ on 2016 ~ 2022.
As you can see, the website is still outdated. Old art from the “pre-COVID times” remains, old perhaps in a sense of counting what we lost instead of what we gained on a dizzying worldwide scale. As I type this, America is beset by angry fascists pushing racist theories from the WWII days, but instead of fighting the nazis these same people decided to become them. Families get pulled apart daily by news stories we’d expect to see from old eastern bloc countries; Instead of coming from places whose names we’re too lazy to learn, “the call is coming from inside the house.”
Our states. Our backyards. Our Homes. None of them are off-limits to the swagger of politicians who could care less as long as they get their paycheck.
As a preface to the story, I should let you know a few things:
- I come from a family where both sides have shitloads of chronic & autoimmune related health problems. How we survived to this day is a mystery to me.
- This same family is also… complicated. Outside of my Brother, my Aunt, and my Paternal Grandmother, I don’t have an honest clue how any family members see me anymore. Anywhere from “Queer mistake” to “disaster caused by a very Toxic Childhood,” if I had to guess.
- We do not talk about money in our family. Having that sort of discussion still makes my blood pressure spike just hearing the word.
- MAJOR TRIGGER WARNINGS: Gaslighting, Substance Abuse, Emotional/Psychological neglect, Em/Psy abuse, Self-Harm.
It’s 2016. Trump is president. Eww.
For those who are close to me, I had been dealing with some kind of sickness that doctors could not figure out since at least 2012. Because I was working endless retail jobs during that time (at least 2 at a time to be able to make ends almost-meet like most people in their 20s-30s during that time were), it was hard for me to get into any kind of regular doctors visitation schedule. Didn’t make it better that I didn’t have any health insurance to help me. When I got to the point that I started seeing specialists who would range in $200~400/per visitation, I was only able to see them 1~2 times, and that was with a lot of financial help from my parents & grandparents. It wasn’t until 2016 that after going to get X-rays and MRIs and blood tests and everything outside of asking me to dinner first, a rheumatologist in the area finally put a name to everything: Fibromyalgia.
This was on top of mental health issues like Major Chronic Depression and Chronic Anxiety, Thyroid issues, and a Peptic ulcer. I was in my mid-30s, and I wasn’t a ‘sickly child’ so to speak. But I certainly was a poor AF one. I was one of the lucky assholes fed dreams of ‘5 figure jobs right out of college’ and ‘you’ll do great with your reliable midwestern work ethic!,’ and then given a meal of ‘no one wants to pay you for what you’re worth because the guy at the top of the pay-scale wants another mega-yacht.’ For 10 years after college I was only able to find retail work, or temp work. I tried for a year to do freelance as a self-owned business model and found out that via #3 on the list above & antagonism from my parents, being a small business owner was not in my stars.
Sounds rough, right? In comparison to others in the area, No big deal! I had some jobs, I was able to work for a bit on art when I got home, and ideas were endless and abundant. I was still able to pull all-nighters (groomed into a habit from years of playing WoW), and I was slowly making artistic progress with the amount of work I was able to finish.
That was about to come to an abrupt stop.
The Meat of the Story: Substance abuse issues from within the family, part deux
Both of my parents had issues with substance abuse of various kinds. Both of them were able to escape major issues and/or jail-time because they were found out and forced into help before it killed them (or someone else). One of them had those issues spiral when we were kids. The other had them spiral in 2016. It does not matter which one it was as they both were guilty of the same thing and never really held accountable by the non-abusers. The reasons for non-accountability are various, but they also don’t ultimately matter. This is being stated as a “just the facts, ma’am” look into the background of what happens next.
The 2016 abuser (shortened to 2A from here on out) had been having problems for years prior. My brother and I had made it very clear that we were not responsible for their actions and they were the one who needed to take accountability for previous things said/done. They disagreed.
The actual problem itself was over a week-ish long Christmas visit since we had not seen them in a few years. Ultimately, we came to a head because my brother & I were both poor and looking for work. I was just coming out of the failed “I’m going to have my own full-time business!” and realizing I wasn’t cut out for that (and nor was the economic climate thanks to Mango Mussolini™), so my self-esteem was not exactly stellar. My brother & I told 2A that we’d come visit for Christmas assuming we hadn’t found jobs at that point, but to keep it open that we may have to cancel if something came along. We were not getting financial support (or even emotional support) from 2A, and they agreed through the drunkenness that it would be okay if that were the case; there’s always next year! We would soon find out that was not how they felt. It would nearly ruin my relationship with my entire family.
It was November, and after tons of job searching I finally found a night-shift job doing warehouse/storefront replenishment. It paid okay, and they were okay with adjusting my job load following the symptoms caused by the Fibromyalgia (+ a workplace accident). In good luck, my brother found a small position as well and was able to start making income as well. It came time to tell 2A, so we told them.
2A was fucking. done. with. us.
How dare we not come?! We had promised! We were doing this just to make them sad/upset, it was a totally unfair power play!
I’m not going to get into the specifics of insults and many, many lies told to my brother & I over our lives from 2A, but we had to stick our feet in. 2A was not financially supporting us in any way, and making 6 figures a year for many years now in a very nice office-job apparently was still not enough to help us during literal ‘I have 0$ in checking, and I had to liquidate my savings to evade eviction’ waves. We reminded them that they said we could do it next year. They said we were full of shit and this was a planned attack. I don’t know why I thought I could reach them. If I had more access to healthcare and counseling, I would have known they were in their 60s and not going to change, especially not under the influence.
What became me not answering calls and refusing to talk to this person in the following days was not a “Heidi needs to protect herself mentally and emotionally from this as it’s triggering Fibromyalgia symptoms”, but a ‘What a selfish, unloving, unforgiving child! How could I deserve to be so loathed!’ pity party that I was no longer willing to entertain. They had all of the resources socially and financially to live a life of relative ease with perks like regular vacations, regular splurging in the name of “keeping up with the folks at work/in the neighborhood,” etc etc. Reasons stacked on reasons. When they could no longer get their way with me putting them on hold, they went straight to doubling down on lies I had been told for years: Your grandparents are only helping you financially because they pity you and know that you’re taking them for a ride financially, and yet they still put up with you. Your art is too much one thing and not enough other things, I’m embarrassed to show my coworkers. (supposedly my grandmother died being both fine with my Queerness and, at the same time, going to a dark place for it.)
The one that haunted me the most was “What… What are you?,” lisped out like an oily slur, like they couldn’t figure out why the hell I wasn’t the mademoiselle débutante they needed me to grow into. I remember saying “well, I’m your kid, for starters,” and them coming back with pure unbridled vitriol for me in waves, trying to stick in the smaller washes near the end in the ears of other family members. “I KNOW THAT. YOU KNOW WHAT I WAS MEANING TO SAY, DON’T TURN THIS AROUND ON ME.” I wasn’t turning anything, i was trying to make sense of questions coming from blackout drunk states, repeated to me over the course of years when I should have had the strength and right mind to say “Enough with the Gaslighting,” but feeling like it was too direct, too pointed and forceful.
I asked my aunt about why my grandparents would say that about me, and why 2A loved to tell other people how artistically supportive they were and then turn around and tell me that I wasn’t making money from my bachelors and that I had wasted their time and, in a weird way, their respectability. Aunty had no clue, so I went to asking my grandparents directly. They were horrified, and could not grasp where I heard that from. I didn’t tell them the source, it wasn’t worth it to stir up more shit when I was already being branded “the spoiled deviant”.
I don’t know when it happened, but somewhere along the line I started to question my sanity. Slowly the insults tumbled down from the years, and within a month or so of the “big explosion” when I called to say I’d ‘…have to come to Christmas the following year…’, I was having anxiety attacks trying to draw. Every artistic failure began to come into view, even ones I had no control over. I would force myself to sit down and try to do something, anything, but all I would get was stomach upset, headaches, and anxiety. It eventually became so bad that I couldn’t even pick up a pencil or a tablet pen without disassociating. Literally.
Over the next few years I would find through talking with some truly amazing social workers & counseling persons in the area, I was having what is often referred to by the layman as a ‘nervous breakdown’, but it wouldn’t be until I moved to Canada to be with my wife that I felt safe enough and far enough away from it all to actually begin to internalize it. “Darkest before the dawn” as the adage goes.
(I was hoping to get more of this written out, but I find in retelling the story I’m getting a little queasy dredging stuff up so I’ll make the rest as condensed as I can while getting the main points in.)
It was either a year or two by the time I saw 2A again, right before I officially started dating my then-girlfriend. 2A was coming to town to visit for Christmas, and requested I be there even though I had talked very little with them. I met them on the condition I could talk to them about what happened and lay down my peace. They agreed.
Long story short, that didn’t happen.
I was met with a blank stare, and then rolling eyes. It felt like the air in the room had been blown out of a spaceship lock, and they antagonized me multiple times while I was trying though tears and hyperventilation to get back on my feet enough to answer. Not only did they not see what the BFD was, this was really my fault for not keeping a promise (which I did. I gave almost 2 months in advance warning, in fact) but they thought I was “really emotionally messed up” and “what was I expecting from this? Why hadn’t I moved on?”
When I asked near my breaking point if they were even sorry about anything, they said “I don’t remember any of it. How can I be sorry for something I don’t remember?”
My head hurt. My words felt hollow and wasted. I looked at the door, and immediately got up and left.
I went home. Shattered. Self-harm followed shortly.
Communication with them stopped entirely. As was normal, the story being told was that I victimized them. Multiple people confirmed this fact to me over the years in conversations. During that time, I could not draw. It was no longer my ability or future. I honestly had started giving up on the idea of ever trying to do professional art again.
The first stages of deattachment and healing came around 2018 when it came time to decide between a dream-job I had been working for only over a year and moving to Canada to be with my wife. All I could do to keep myself from shutting down completely (due to Fibromyalgia Flares that would last a week at a time from stress) was counting down the days to being with her again. On my last day of packing I would end up leaving the nearly-completed mess of emptying the apartment to my brother and my parent (without much direction, at that. The fact that they helped me at all was a true showing of their character.)
That very day, I left for Canada. I have not been back to the US since.
It wouldn’t be until late 2020 that I could even pick up a pencil again without disassociation or anxiety attacks.