Thursday, February 20, 2020

Who Am I?

For some background on the author, and the experience that gives me the authority I have to address issues I address:

My name is Juan. I identify as a mixed-race American... Mescalero Apache, Mexican, English, and German... who grew up more in the Northwest Indiana (NWI) area than anywhere else. Out of four children across sixteen years, I'm the only one who isn't white, because of different fathers. I identify most closely as mixed-race Apache, and then mixed-race Mexican, before anything else, because the race interactions I most often have with people are in the vein of "are you Native American?" (often and regularly), and "are you Mexican?" (rarely), but nobody ever mistakes me as white.

I have a genetic autoimmune condition called Graves Disease (GD or Graves), where the body thinks the thyroid is a foreign body and attacks it. The thyroid either fails, or it over-reacts and eventually burns out and fails; in my case, it was very much the latter: hyperthyroidism. Thyroid hormones regulate the metabolism, so the impact of an overactive or underactive thyroid produces body-wide issues. Graves kicks in around puberty; however, due to a lack of access to health care, I didn't get a diagnosis until I was 35. That's a long time for an overactive thyroid to have its unmitigated effect on the body. In response, I've had radiation therapy to treat the thyroid and resultant goiter, and a change in eyeglass prescription to compensate for minor protrusion of my right eye.

My childhood was extremely unstable. I was born an Army brat, but my parents divorced when I was young. By the time I was thirteen, I had moved roughly a dozen times, experienced violent child abuse and domestic violence, and descended into escapism due to a lack of mental health care. By thirteen, the impact of Graves amplified psych issues and introduced new physical problems like body pain and tremor, and I spent my adolescence hanging on to mental stability by my fingernails... and slipping often. We stopped moving around, but at fifteen, another man entered the home and introduced a different approach to domestic abuse.

I spent the early years of adulthood in various states of homelessness, from sleeping on couches to outright sleeping on the streets. I learned to watch the street or sidewalk for dropped coins as I went, to sleep in graveyards, church yards, Little League baseball dugouts, playgrounds, or just off the side of the road. I also learned to ask strangers for money, for food, for water, for rides, and to count on the incongruity of a huge, shaggy brown man in a duster, holding rerod as a walking stick, politely explaining themselves and asking for the consideration without trying to insist or impose. I have to admit... it had an exceptional rate of success; I was never a criminal element, and tried to hold on to that.

I've slept in inclement weather for weeks at a time, and dealt with hunger, hypothermia, heat exhaustion, injury, body strain, and fungal skin infections countless times. I made trips out of NWI to places like Munising, MI; Hazelwood, MO; and Gainesville, TX. Both in my home area and abroad, I encountered violence, some of it with race motivations, from other homeless, random strangers, and even the police.

My life did not stabilize as much as I would have liked in the intervening years; many people aren't equipped to properly assist with people facing such a complex history of challenges and trauma. This, in itself, isn't bad, but the prevailing practice is to oversimplify and generalize the experience, and deflect accountability for its failure on the struggling person... who, often, isn't equipped to defend their character in return. Only recently have I realized, myself, what it means to be offered a veneer of help, and how little it actually accomplishes.

As of this writing, I've lived in the same place in Chicago for over five years, and finally have health care through the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare), so have been pursuing physical and mental health care. A former employer offered me a private long-term disability agreement rather than fire me for being sick, so I have the space to address my health, although the pay is a shoestring budget, and finances are still a problem. My diagnoses help address issues like Graves, intent tremor (shaking when exerting effort, but not so much at-rest), unfocused body pain, PTSD, chronic major depression with suicidal ideation, insomnia, night terrors, social anxiety, and distrust of men.

My interests have faded in the last decade or so. If I had found PS1 in my youth, I likely would have taken to turning out forged swords, armor, and the like, and enthusiastically; nowadays, I've largely turned away from fiction and escapism. I obviously spend time writing on ethics and politics, from a very liberal perspective. I dabble in guitar, C# computer programming (mostly learning piecemeal by modding a video game called Terraria), blacksmithing and metalworking, and I've been trying to learn to speak German. I've also been challenging PS1 on its struggling equality and inclusivity ethics.

However, barring my challenge of PS1 status quo, and my ethics and politics writing, I've struggled to retain information, because I don't really feel sustained engagement or excitement anymore. As a result, my learning processes are much slower than they used to be, and I lack engagement resources to address this. However, this very same set of perspectives has also made me realize just how many other people face such an unaddressed challenge... that a lifetime of struggle damages the ability to learn. I'm not excited to take such messages forward, because they're strongly resisted by a comfortable status quo, but I have one persistent thought that keeps pushing me to try, because of my combination of perspective, experience, and intelligence...

... if I don't try, then who will?

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