Laura Gail Landmeyer

Today is Laura’s birthday. She would have turned 35 this year, but she died when she was 18. I knew her for less than a year, but she had a huge impact on my life. We were in foster care together. She was nine months younger than me and she was like a little sister to me. We loved each other even though we didn’t always get along.

We bonded a lot over our shared appreciation of the little bits of freedom that many teenagers take for granted. We had both been institutionalized for mental illness, so we got excited about things like being allowed to wear shoes, listen to the radio, and have private conversations. When Laura and I first met, I said something profane, and her face lit up and she exclaimed, “Wow! We’re allowed to swear here?!”

Being allowed to go outside by ourselves felt like the ultimate freedom. I have fond memories of warm autumn nights when we’d walk to the public boat launch on the lake. We’d sit on the dock with our toes in the water and look up at the stars. I’m glad we got to do that together. When you’re in an institution and you get to go outside at all, you don’t get to see the stars.

Laura idolized me. I liked it at first because it made me feel important. But after a while I got sick of her always smoking my cigarettes and wanting to go everywhere with me. I needed breaks from her sometimes. We had been fighting when she died. I had wanted space from her, but then she was gone. I was absolutely devastated. I fell into a deep depression. I went over a month without changing my clothes or bathing.

One important thing I learned from Laura’s death was that losing a loved one unexpectedly is extremely painful, even if you haven’t really enjoyed their company lately. That is to say, even if everyone is sick of me, a lot of people would probably be really devastated if I died. When I have felt suicidal, I have not been able to convince myself that it wouldn’t hurt anyone if I died.

Laura suffered a lot in her short life. Her mental illness made her life scary. The illness itself frightened her. “Getting help” always felt like a punishment. People were mean to her because she was strange. My memories of Laura have shaped my activism. I like to imagine a world where she could have felt safe.

I think about her when I try to encourage others to be respectful with how they talk about people with mental illnesses. I think about her when I try to raise awareness of the punishment camps we call mental health care facilities. I think about her when I try to make my neighborhood more walkable.

Raising Intensity

When I was 14 (and 15), I spent 8 months in the non-secure part of a large correctional facility. I was in a building called the “shelter.” I had been told it was a residential mental health care center, but it was the unlocked building on a prison campus. The shelter primarily housed discarded young people who hadn’t committed any crimes. It was bad there. It was a punishment-centered program, and I got punished several times a day for being hard-of-hearing and for experiencing side effects from my medications.

Twenty years later, I continue to experience PTSD symptoms from that placement multiple times every week. Sometimes it comes up in my weekly therapy. A month or so ago, my therapist told me that she thinks there are a few ways in which the Lino shelter is a little better than it was a decade ago, but they still do some really messed up stuff, such as “raising intensity.”

I came home from therapy, talking about how raising intensity is not a way to help anyone. Elysa asked about the practice, and I said, “Oh yeah, that’s when everyone stands in a circle around the accused and screams and swears at them and calls them names. Sometimes staff members even throw furniture. If you get spit on your lips from someone screaming in your face, you’re not allowed to wipe it away.” She was kind of horrified. I suppose that’s a healthier response than my learned indifference.

Accessibility Fairy

I wrote this post last week. I don’t feel so positive about things right now, but I’m willing to acknowledge that I felt this way last week and many other times. See my last post for a more current report on how I feel right now.

From last week:

My favorite wintertime activity is smashing ice that obstructs the curb ramps of sidewalks near my home. I like to think of myself as an accessibility fairy. In a perfect world, there would be no use for an accessibility fairy. All the sidewalks and curb ramps would be cleared for maximum accessibility. But that’s just never going to happen.

I can report properties where snow has not been cleared, but that doesn’t feel like enough. I want more than a dispersal of cautionary form letters. I want as many people as possible to be able to safely navigate my neighborhood. I want people to be able to get their wheelchairs from one bus stop to another. I want people to be able to push a stroller around without having to lift it all the time.

I can’t fix everything, so I focus on removing the obstructions that remain when people think they’ve cleared it well enough. The places where the sidewalk meets the street are a definite legal gray area. One side of the curb line is the responsibility of the property owner, one side is the responsibility of the city. But it’s hard to say which side the ice mound is on until you smash through it. In reality, though, the ice mound is usually on the street side since the plow drivers try not to destroy the curbs. The city isn’t going to do anything about the icy snow banks at the bottom of all the curb ramps. The plowing has a lot of room for improvement, and I’ve learned that pedestrian improvements are usually at the end of the public wish list.

Crossing the street as a pedestrian can be very scary sometimes. Most motorists don’t know the crosswalk law, and many motorists in my neighborhood show a wanton disregard for the safety of pedestrians. I like to clean up the curb ramp areas so pedestrians can have an easier time getting in and out of the street while aggressive, entitled motorists are careening about.

I wish all the sidewalks were fully accessible all the time. If more people cared, we could get a lot closer to that. I just do my best to make my little corner of the world a little better for some people.

I’m Tired

I’m tired of being an activist. I want to make the world a better place, but a lot of people are heavily invested in the opposite. I’m tired of entitlement. I’m tired of violent motorists. I’m tired of ableism. I’m tired of sexism and transphobia. I’m tired of living in a culture that calls me disposable. I’m tired of waking up every day. Sometimes I just want to go to sleep forever.

Tech Support

I backdated yesterday’s post to the time when I first tried to publish it. I didn’t actually get it online until after 10 this morning. My internet connection did this fascinating thing last night where it stopped being able to locate my blog website here. I could still view all the other websites I wanted to. I could view this one on my phone, but that’s pretty inconvenient.

I ran around doing nerd stuff for a while. I ruled out everything I could fix on my own. I’ve learned that if I can’t figure it out, tech support probably won’t be able to help me. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a better option. I spent the next two or three hours chatting online with tech support. (I like that modern technological trends have accidentally made more things accessible to deaf people.) In that time, the friendly tech support person determined that they could not help me.

Someone is supposed to call me back in the next day or two, but I don’t know if I’ll be able to hear the person who calls. The odds are not in my favor. In any case, I should practice my butch voice so they take me seriously. Looks like I’ll be accessing my blog from my phone for a while.

Following Through

I have a lot of trouble finishing all the projects I start. I have very many interests and I’m easily distractable. And since I turned 30 (I’m 35 now), time seems to pass a lot faster than it used to. I’m in the middle of reading three different books. I have half a dozen partially finished blog posts. I routinely forget to push the start button on the coffee pot and the rice maker. I have a habit of wandering off after cutting only a few of my fingernails. I want to get better at focusing well enough to finish some of the overwhelming projects. I feel like one way to accomplish this is to break the big projects into smaller tasks. I am starting my year by writing a blog post that is ten sentences long.