Johnstown Flood 2017

Posted: September 10, 2018 in Uncategorized

Wait, there was another flood of Johnstown PA this year? No, not like their floods of the past. This was a different type of flood, and thankfully I was the only one hurt and it did not cause my death. It was a flood of problems combined with a lack of available help that combined for a personal disaster. Some things were my fault, some not. Some things I should have saw coming, some not. Most everybody in my life thought everything was great and success was certain. It wasn’t. Allow me to explain all that happened, it’s quite a journey.

The start of this particular journey really began in April of 2016. I had been living in the same place for almost 2 years, a big accomplishment for me. Instability has haunted me since childhood, so much so that this was only the 3rd time in my 45 years living at the same residence for more than a year. Problem was my life was pretty boring and unhealthily so. I told my therapist that I was having thoughts that I would be much better off going back to Warren State Hospital, a long term mental hospital where I had been for almost 2 years a few years prior. It was pretty rational in the sense that the structure and available programs they had there were much more than I had in my life ever since discharging from there. Highlights there included constant supervision, many friends, intense therapy, positive very part time employment, and sports to play. All things I had lost since, but not from a total lack of trying. In the almost 2 years at the house I was living in I had searched some to find my niche with no good results happening. I felt out of place because of this. I was very much wanting a better, healthier, and more productive life. It really seemed that going to back to the state hospital was a true improvement, even my therapist saw the rationale. But, I grew to decipher that if I was well enough to see that going there could be good for me I really wasn’t eligible to go back because it exists for people who are not or cannot reason things out. It meant I was also well enough to start building a better life for myself outside a long term mental hospital. Going back there would be retreating and I needed to move forward. Smartly trying new things would be the way to do so. I began to look for opportunities in earnest.

I had heard about the Pennsylvania Office of Vocational Rehabilitation, OVR, a few times but had never sought it out. That was about to change. It took some time and a little extra work to obtain the right application and find the right address of my local OVR office but I got that accomplished. I turned in my completed application in mid-June and then waited to get called for an appointment.

In the meantime an unexpected opportunity came to me. My sister and her husband had been to a church service and observed a musician playing a box drum called a cajon. This sparked them to think that I could add to their very successful music ministry by playing a cajon for them during their performances. I liked the idea and was willing to give it a try. So I bought a cajon and started practicing with them. We began to spend a bunch of time together and grow closer than we’d been. It was really nice. Not great to me, but I appreciated the good in it. I saw myself as an accent at best and wondered if I were a hindrance.

A couple weeks later I received my appointment with OVR and found out I was eligible to go to college for free. Incredible! More than just education, they were offering me a life change. An overhaul. A new beginning on a new path. I could work again! I could come off disability pay from the government and start paying the government taxes instead. It seemed too good to be true, but it was true. It was going to take time for it all to come together but the offer was very real. So exciting! To me at least. My sister and her husband? Not so much.

Upon telling my sister about my appointment I saw her have a hard time being excited about the school opportunity. It confused me because I thought she would be happy at least. As weeks passed the amount of time spent together and musical collaborations dwindled. This also confused me. With new hindsight now almost a year later I can tell you that my decision to seek college was personalized as a slight to her and her husband. Apparently they wanted me to commit to them and even thought had done so. This perceived slight created a rift between us and I lost their support. Support I really needed because she is my only family member that I get to talk to. Unfortunately our relationship would grow worse and worse. This caused me stress and anxiety and just plain hurt. I so did not see things with them happening this way. I mean, how could me going to college for free not be a great thing?

A few months passed and in October my stability at my home took a hit. My roommate had become unstable and compounded that by using alcohol. Over a few weeks it escalated to the point of him damaging my property and making a threat to burn the house down. This went on for weeks before it was resolved by my landlords having him move out. This craziness caused me great stress and anxiety. So much so that in November I started developing chest pain and was having some difficulty breathing.

For a month I was in and out of hospitals. The first 2 to have my heart checked for serious problems. No problems were found and the chest pain got attributed to stress and anxiety. It was now mid-December and I had found out that I was to go to a college in Johnstown for a 2 week long evaluation starting January 3rd. This made me desperate to get better. I so didn’t want to go to Johnstown all stressed out and with chest pain. I decided to check myself into Clarion Psychiatric Center for help. I had been there a few times before and they have really helped me. It was no different this time. A good overhaul of my psych meds, 2 changes and 1 addition, had me feeling much better. I discharged just before Christmas ready for a nice holiday and leaving me with just over a week before the evaluation. Things were better, much better. Anxiety down and chest pain gone.

The evaluation went wonderfully. I was calm and continued to have no chest pain even with the new stress of being tested a lot. What I was able to learn about the college itself was very helpful as well what they learned about me. I tested very well and could have my pick of any of the courses they offered and likely other colleges too. Something I ruled as valuable to me was that this college, The Hiram G. Andrews Center, was made just for people with disabilities. This meant they would not be surprised by my challenges and were built to help. This both calmed me and excited me. I decided on a program they call Medical Office Assistant after I spent a morning in that class and it clicked with me. It would be just under 2 years and I’d have an associate’s degree. They would also provide job placement. Things had become great!

In February at my first psychiatry appointment after leaving Johnstown things got weird. My home psychiatrist was very against me being on the 1 addition to my meds Clarion had made. The med was Ativan which is a strong anti-anxiety pill. Unfortunately, like strong pain pills, Ativan is often misused or abused. Somehow some doctors in Meadville have organized a ban on prescribing Ativan and other similar drugs. My home psychiatrist was a firm believer in this ban. In fact it was very much a hot button issue to her. She was so upset that she told me I had to quit taking it right then and there with no tapering. I was shocked by her stance, but obeyed. In retrospect, this turned out to be a major blow. Both losing the help of that med and going through withdrawal thanks to the sudden stop. And at the next appointment a month later in March she wanted to change 2 more things, which really completely undid all that Clarion did for me. I again obeyed her wishes. Again in retrospect, this was a big mistake.

Not surprisingly in hindsight, March and then all of April saw me really having chest pain again. This time it came with even more physical symptoms like stomach trouble, bathroom trouble, and muscle pain. This time I suspected anxiety but knew my psychiatrist would not give me strong anti-anxiety medication. I was stuck. I decided to pin my hope on getting better treatment at Johnstown, aka go there to get stable. It seemed feasible because I had met the school’s psychiatrist and he was understanding and supportive. I now see that going away to new challenges without being stable first is unwise at best. But I was more than determined to make college work.

Transportation to school became a problem. Thankfully I received help from my county’s mental health program called CHAPS, and I arrived on Friday April 28th. I got permission to be dropped off a day earlier than normal. That first weekend was an anomaly, it was hot outside and hotter inside due to their air conditioning having a problem. Sunday morning I was at the ER dehydrated. I received iv fluids there and felt better. Classes started the next day. That day there was another blow. I learned that the school psychiatrist by school policy was only there to talk to and not to prescribe medicine. Students need to establish their own outpatient psychiatrist while there. This was a big ugh because it could take weeks to get an intake appointment and then get new medicine prescribed. I would stay stressed out and continue to get more stress with no help coming soon. I did my best to persevere anyway.

Not surprisingly, I began to have more serious symptoms. Exactly one week after arriving I was in my 3rd period class when I got the worst chest pain of my life. It scared both my professor and myself. After being taken to the nurse’s station where I received zero compassion from the nurse on duty I was taken by ambulance to the ER and then admitted. It took the hospital 4 days of tests and evaluation to rule out a heart attack and rule me safe enough for discharge. I missed many classes. Then on my 2nd night back at school I woke up with all of my left arm numb and strong nausea. Night staff was compassionate and urged me to have security take me to the ER to get checked out. I was admitted again. This time it took 3 days to rule out a stroke and rule me safe to discharge. More classes missed.  Both of these stays in the hospital would be ruled caused by anxiety and stress. I was falling apart.

I returned to the school Friday May 12th exactly 2 weeks after my arrival there fearing I was in danger of not meeting the school’s strict 90% attendance standard. I was right to fear this because I found out I had missed too many classes to recover especially in light of more doctor’s visits coming that would require more missed classes. My guidance counselor suggested it to be ruled a false start. I was not in trouble per se and could return to school at the start of another trimester. They would give me time to go home and get healthy. I agreed to this. My professors and my dorm counselor agreed as well. I never even got to have a paper graded. So I was now ineligible academically, which meant I was now ineligible to live in their dorm. I needed to come home. And fast. Of note, after having that trimester declared a false start I began hearing that people were concerned about my stability. Unfortunately, they did not speak up until it was over. It was time to get more help for myself.

Getting home was not easy. How I got to Johnstown, through CHAPS, ended up costing me over $120. I barely had a few dollars in my pocket. And my family was not available to help me either. Greyhound would be the most feasible and cheapest way home. I was supposed to receive a check from my payee in the mail that day but it did not come. Having only a few dollars I decided to try to sell some of my more sellable belongings to come up with money for the bus. Thankfully I did by selling a nice Bluetooth speaker, computer speakers, and a computer monitor for below fair value because I had to leave. I accrued $75, which was ironic because that was the amount I was supposed to receive from my payee. Thankfully it was enough to get home. So with the money taken care of it was time to pack. I was taken to Johnstown in a minivan. I used boxes and garbage bags because I had no luggage. Unfortunately for me, Greyhound does not allow boxes or garbage bags, they require luggage of some sort. All I had that could pass for luggage was a smallish backpack. I would have to leave many of my belongings behind, taking only my best stuff that could fit in that backpack. I would be starting over from nearly scratch. Yuck. But it was all I could do, so I did it. At a scheduled layover in Pittsburgh I reached out for psychiatric care but to no avail.

I arrived back in Meadville on Saturday May 13th with no money and no home. I was expecting my sister to take me in for a couple days. She’s provided me emergency help several times in the past, but she did not offer her help. I again tried to get psychiatric treatment and was again turned down. Though I was in a housing and food crisis I was not in a psychiatric crisis. I was forced into calling my friend and asking him to sleep on his couch. He’s not supposed to have visitors so I felt awful asking him but I was downright desperate. With great kindness he allowed me to stay. Sunday morning I was determined to no longer burden my friend and somehow get my sister to help me. I only needed one day because on Monday CHAPS would be open again and they would have support for me. It took some teeth pulling but she finally relented and kept me with her until Monday morning. She dropped me off at CHAPS and it was there that my road to recovery from this Johnstown flood would start.

Later that Monday I was even more convinced that I was in a psychiatric emergency. Clarion Psychiatric center was full and thus not an option. I ended up finding help at a hospital in Erie. I received lots of help there and they setup new and better outpatient care for me too. I was able to have housing when I got back to Meadville thanks to CHAPS opening my old group home back up to me. I have a different bedroom there now, but it’s actually a better room for me and a blessing. I’ve reconnected with my good health providers and I’m establishing the needed new ones. CHAPS is quickly turning into my family now, welcoming me back with open arms and offering great support as well. Thanks to them I am not alone and things are indeed getting better. I have even found a great church to go to! New steps to a needed new recovery.

May seemed like it was a great blessing coming into it, but turned into disaster. A definite flood of sorts, now known to me as The Johnstown Flood 2017. It’s now June 1st as I finish this writing. Things are better and are continuing to get better. No matter what I go through, God is always good and takes great care of me.



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