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My Tribe

Facing Poverty in McPherson, Kansas

When I got sick, everything went to hell. I have Graves’ disease. It is an autoimmune disease that causes your body to release too much of the hormone thyroid. I had breast cancer. People understood that. People asked how I was. This they don’t understand.

I wish you could get inside my head, so I could make you understand. I feel like I am possessed. I can be sitting on the couch and everything is normal. Then my heart starts pounding inside my chest. I feel like I have been jumping up and down. My adrenaline is pumping, and my head can’t focus on anything. My mind just keeps going and going and going and going. My thoughts come out of my mouth, but I can’t stop it.

I had my thyroid removed last August. This spring I had to have surgery to correct thyroid eye disease. The muscle swells and pushes the eyes forward and pinches the optic nerve. They had to break the bones in my skull and put my eyes back in my head. People starred at me because of the bruises. I felt so small.

This is an illness that is not cured. They just can’t get my medicine right. I am so frustrated. My moods are all over the place. I am hyper, sad, anxious and sometimes happy, but not often happy. Sometimes I wish I could die, I am overwhelmed and I can’t handle it. I beat cancer, but I would take the cancer back if I could get rid of this.

It is the little things I can’t do. I have to go to the grocery store with someone.

One day, I stopped to pick up some medicine. I also had been shopping for groceries. I paid for the medicine, but I walked out of the store with this heaping pile of groceries. I meant to pay for them. I just forgot. I was sick. I didn’t do it on purpose.

I paid fines, did community service and was on probation. I have an associate’s degree, but because I have that on my record, I can’t get a decent job.

It wasn’t always like this. My life growing up was normal. I was adopted by two parents who wanted me. I had a bicycle. I sang in the choir. I went to Bible school. I had cousins and aunts and uncles, and they accepted me in, but I felt like I wasn’t a part of their tribe. I always wondered why I had the nose I have. Why do I have these ears? I have always wondered who I was. When I was in high school, I felt misplaced. My parents loved me, but I was rebellious. I smoked and drank. I tried speed. I tried LSD, and smoked marijuana on a daily basis. I always had that feeling in the back of my head that someone didn’t want me. I felt misplaced.

When my children were born, my life totally changed. All the partying was over. My children have always come first in my life. Everything I do is for them. I got married when I was 21. I didn’t love him. While I was waiting to walk down the aisle, I knew that I didn’t want to marry him. But I knew my parents had spent so much money on the wedding, I married him anyway. He thought a good Catholic woman’s place is to stay home, clean the house and take care of the kids. He wasn’t really involved.

My husband and I got divorced, and I was doing pretty good. I was working and paying my bills. Then I met Todd. He was the love of my life. He was so carefree. He was so different than my stick-in-the-mud first husband. The day after Todd and I got married, I found out I was pregnant. Todd was never happy living here. He wanted to go somewhere he could make more money. He moved to St. Louis for work, and I decided to follow. My parents were sick and I had to leave my two adult sons. I was sitting in the front yard with all my stuff crying. It killed me. It broke my heart.

Todd was a different person then. He just wanted to party. He was selfish. He said he always wanted to buy a 1964 VW. He spent $1,000 on it. That was our bills money. It was a pile of shit piece of metal. We were three months behind on our house payment, and we were going to face foreclosure. Our son was struggling. Todd bought pot from one of my son’s friends, and something in my heart just slammed shut. I couldn’t take it anymore. We eventually divorced.

I am not working now. I have been so sick. I can’t get myself together enough to do it. My biological grandfather, who I met as an adult, has been helping me. He bought me and my son a nice house to live in. If it weren’t for him, I don’t know what I would do, but I just don’t have any money to live. I have had to sell almost everything I own. I had antiques I inherited from my grandmother and mother … my mother’s china, her handkerchief from her wedding, my grandmother’s cabinet. I felt like I sold my soul. I had to just shut it off. These were just objects, and I have to survive.

My son and I struggle. He has psycho effective bipolar disorder. It has been very hard for him. They would put him on medicine and he just couldn’t get out of bed for a week. He is doing better now, and he is going to start college. I do what I can, but we don’t have much. We usually eat once a day, but I don’t feel like cooking. There is only so much frozen stuff and take out you can eat.

Todd is back in my life. He has been in Circles for about a year, and I think it has really changed his life. I am new to this Circles thing. We will see how it goes, but with Todd and my son and my grandfather, I feel I have a tribe, a very small tribe, but a tribe. After all this time, I feel like I fit.

A Circle Leader’s Story as told to Cristina Janney

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