Homebound and friendless
July 25, 2010 8:36 PM   Subscribe

I was "homeschooled" from age 11 to 18 by emotionally/verbally abusive and neglectful parents. During this time I was deprived of contact with the outside world, an education, medical care, and much needed therapy and medication for what is obvious to most people in the world except my parents.

I'm now in my mid-twenties. My anxiety and depression is debilitating and thus, I've been homebound and friendless for over ten years. What's worse, I'm not the only one suffering. I have a sibling in their late twenties with similar issues (social anxiety) in the same situation whose survived all this but in worse physical condition. We still live with my parents and depend on them financially. We never learned how to drive and barely know our way around this city, so taking a bus is out of the question. We've been mustering up enough courage to take a cab to the hospital for years... but we can't do it. We have little money, no insurance, and anxiety, of course, is a major factor.

I've already tried contacting extended family members online about my situation years ago, against my better judgment. In a condensed nutshell: they didn't help. Lesson learned: My sibling is my family and that's it. No one else is to be trusted.

I've already tried having a conversation with my parents about this. They aren't understanding or empathetic about my anxiety. For years I attributed that lack of empathy to my inability to articulate what I was going through in addition to me not understanding what it was I was actually going through. Then I learned it doesn't matter how patient and descriptive I am about my anxiety; they will always expect me to "get over it".

I suspect my mother is mentally ill and has been for as long as I can remember. She is apathetic about me and my sibling being homebound and refuses to talk about it or take responsibility for it in any way. The last time I tried to talk to my mother about this she flatout told me, "No offense, but I don't care. I have my own problems." Sadly, this is better than her other possible response, which is to twist my words, change the subject and/or make it about her, and threaten to slit her throat "if it will make me happy".

She's unfortunately the only person I can "depend" on the rare times I want to try to leave the house. It hurts she can put all her energy into road trips to see [insert sub par rock band here] (she's seen them literally 25 times) but she can't drive me, for example, to the library knowing I'm doing it to "get over" my anxiety without making me feel like a huge burden. More often than not she makes excuses not to drive me and she makes the experience unpleasant for me when/if she does by yelling on the way there and back. When she's not going on expensive trips, she's depressed and angry and takes it out on everyone. I feel like her therapist on good days and her punching bag on bad days.

As for my father, he doesn't "believe" in mental illness, and he is "skeptical" of doctors. He often says things like, "You know why they call it a medical practice? Because they don't know what they're doing! Hur hur hur!" Then he drinks more beer and forgets the conversation ever happened.

Apparently, not even a "real problem" like a physical injury/health problem is enough to take us to a doctor. For example, my sibling injured their arm six years ago from slamming their arm against the wall during a seizure in their sleep. Their arm is getting worse and they're starting to have more seizures, more often. Their arm randomly falls out of the socket, whereas in the past it only fell out when they used it a certain way. When I confront my parents about this, they tell me they don't have enough money. They ignore me. They change the subject. My sibling cries about this to our mother and she acts like they're being selfish or she tells them she's willing to drop them off at the hospital... but they have to go in by themself, and she emphasizes and exaggerates every possible worse case scenario to frighten them from going.

AskMe: I would immensely appreciate your advice, encouragement, and your own personal experience if you've gone through anything similar.

E-mail: throwaway.me123@gmail.com

Anticipated question: We're from Florida.

Another anticipated question/response: I can't use support sites right now. For two years I've tried using an anxiety support site and while I've made some progress (just enough to be posting this today), the site is no longer helping me. I had to walk away from the site for my emotional well-being because I felt like killing myself every time I logged in. It's incredibly painful to see how "normal" most of my fellow anxiety sufferers are, the lives they have despite their anxiety, and how easy it is for them to befriend each other.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (27 answers total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
I don't have any specific suggestions as I've not been in your situation. However, in the case of the sibling, can you contact someone at DCF?

posted by tilde at 8:41 PM on July 25, 2010 [2 favorites]

Wow, what an awful situation.

Do you have access to a phone to call 911 when your sibling is having a seizure?
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:42 PM on July 25, 2010

Do you have a job? Apart from your anxiety, are you qualified to hold a job? What have you been doing for the past years?
posted by halogen at 8:45 PM on July 25, 2010

I'm not going to be the only one to say this, but: call a therapist. Many will work on a sliding scale, and some will be willing to come to your residence. Even if you can't find a private-practice therapist willing to help you pro bono I am one hundred percent certain that at least one will know about finding you a social worker to help you navigate your state's social welfare bureaucracy, which will be invaluable for getting mental and physical treatment and possibly enough money to be independent of your parents. If you can't call yourself and no one else here knows the Florida support system well enough to give you direct pointers, send me a message and I can try to do the initial legwork for you.
posted by ayerarcturus at 8:51 PM on July 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

When you fly on an airplane, they tell you to put your own oxygen mask on before you try to help your kids.

Put on your mask. You're not a minor. Get out of your house. Your sibling can endure it a few more months until you can spring them.
posted by desuetude at 8:57 PM on July 25, 2010 [15 favorites]

I have not been in your situation, but I do work in social work. It definitely sounds like your parents have some serious mental health issues and it has obviously had a detrimental effect on you and your sibling(s?). I'm glad you're at least aware of all this!

There are usually adult protection services with the depatment of child and family services. It would be worth calling and seeing what kind of resources might be available. Would your parents let you get into therapy? That would be a good start.

You have truly been through an awful, awful situation. Please reach out to get some help. There are certainly people in your area who can help you. You just need to find them!

Good luck! I'll keep you in my thoughts...
posted by crunchtopmuffin at 9:03 PM on July 25, 2010 [2 favorites]

Finding a therapist would be a good idea, but I think that you need to contact a social worker to start with. You need someone trained to walk into troubling situations and make appropriate interventions.
I'm so sorry that you are going through this. When I feel bad about how my life is going, I tell myself that there is absolutely no shame in starting something new. You know that you are not happy now. Trying something new seems like it will be scary. But the scariness is nowhere near as bad as the feeling of being trapped in a place where you know you are unhappy. I wish you all the luck in the world for your new beginning.
posted by pickypicky at 9:06 PM on July 25, 2010 [5 favorites]

My suggestion: forgive your parents, seek counseling, learn about meaningful communities you would want to be part of, find worthwhile opportunities. Most importantly, move on. You don't have any obligation to engage your parents' view of the world, you or themselves anymore. I know you can find meaning in the world.
posted by parmanparman at 9:06 PM on July 25, 2010

You said that taking the bus is out of the question, because you barely know your way around the city. I understand that anxiety can be completely debilitating, but perhaps you can utilize resources to help mitigate the anxiety in this particular case. You've been able to ask this question, so you can get online. Is there a website for the public transportation in your city? Can you study maps, and use google streetview, to help you plot out a route ahead of time? Often there are many FAQs and guides for buses and subways that you can find. It's also quite likely that any given bus driver will be pretty helpful. It's their job to get people around the city, so answering questions about how much or when to pay, when a particular stop is, and so-on, is part of their job, too. You could practice taking the bus somewhere normal at first, like a grocery store, or the library, and then work your way up.

A lot of people are going to suggest drastic, big things, and although that's great if you can muster them, you can also try very small steps that work up to a larger level of independence. Arm yourself with the knowledge of your city and the world that you can learn from the internet and the library, rely on that information when you start to feel lost or afraid.
posted by Mizu at 9:28 PM on July 25, 2010 [24 favorites]

Quite honestly I would contact the police about your siblings. Your siblings sound disabled, this is abuse on your parents part.

As for yourself, you need to realize that you truly are responsible for you. I know you have a social phobia. This is a treatable condition. You cannot depend on your parents. You have to do this yourself.

You have access to the Internet. Find a social worker or a public health clinic. You need to get help. You need to do this yourself.

You may feel like you will not be able to get help, but you can. I know, I did.

On another point, have you considered going to community college? May of them have counseling for students. They are very affordable or free. You may find going to a class to be helpful with your social phobia and your self esteem. You will probably have to do this on your own, but community colleges are very helpful. I believe you are in Florida, which has the best community college system in the country. Be honest with them about your problems. You can probably take public transportation or even take classes online. I would not suggest you depend on your parents to help you with this.

As hard as it seems, you need to break free from your parents, and perhaps the rest of your family.

From one social phobic to another, you can help yourself.
posted by fifilaru at 9:29 PM on July 25, 2010 [6 favorites]

The only thing that comes to mind for me to advise is: start walking. Leave the house every day, even when you don't want to. Walk around the block. Then walk farther. Walk farther each and every day, until you become more and more comfortable out of your parents' house. Get used to the world, a little bit at a time.

Then, when you are away from the house, and feel safe, make the phone calls that people have suggested above.

If you have access to the web, like here, you have Google maps. You can learn your way around your city. You can learn to take a bus. The first time you do so might be petrifying. The second time, it won't be. Honestly.

"Move out" is easy to say, but with no job, rental history, etc., how is that going to be achieved? You have to start with smaller steps than moving out.

Your parents might be batshit crazy, but you can, with help, rise above them. I think the cites of social worker are the most sensible.

Also, in this world, sometimes you get a brush off the first time you try to get help. If that happens, persevere. Do not give up.

Good luck.
posted by Savannah at 9:34 PM on July 25, 2010 [46 favorites]

Do you know how to ride a bike? That is another idea.

You could potentially get a bike using Freecycle if you have no money. Of course the key to getting out of this terrible and harmful situation is going to be money, so it sounds like you might need to start by getting some jobs around the neighborhood to earn a few bucks.

Otherwise, I strongly agree with the advice to walk. You are in a city so I bet there are a lot of places within walking distance of you and you just need the strength to get to them. You can do this!

As for your sibling, this may be tough for you given the anxiety, but this is what I recommend. Your sibling needs a doctor for the seizure disorder, to get on medications, to prevent the seizures. Seizure disorders can worsen over time and need treatment to get better.

Next time your sibling has a seizure, call 911. This is what 911 is there for, to help people who don't have transportation/money to get to the hospital. I am a doctor, and I can tell you that people take ambulances to the emergency department for a lot less (stomach upset, sprained ankle, etc.). Don't fool around with your parents on this one and trying to get them to drive you, or a cab for that matter since you don't have the money. They've already failed you on this one, you need to go around them. Calling 911 is not too scary, I promise. You just give the nice operator on the other end your address and they will start by asking "what's your emergency?" You just say "my sibling had a seizure. We need to get to a hospital." They may ask a few other simple questions, but after that some nice paramedics will arrive to take you there. From a hospital emergency department it is also easy to access social work, so if you go there and haven't talked to an SW yet, just ask to speak to one. They are usually VERY nice and happy to help. Once you have been to the hospital and are familiar with how things work there, it will be much easier for you to seek help in the future. The payment for the visit can be worked out with a financial counselor. They have ways of dealing with patients like you and your sibling who don't have much money, like cutting down payments. They deal with this all the time so don't worry that it will be a big deal. This is your health and you need it taken care of, so that you can actually live a real life, and there is nothing more valuable.

I am so glad you posted this because it sounds like you really need help and this is the first step. Wishing you the best of luck with taking the next step. Be strong, your siblings need you! And you need you to be strong too.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 9:51 PM on July 25, 2010 [45 favorites]

dcf is a really good place to start. or, call a women's shelter. those people are clued in, and may have some resources less cranky and bureaucratic than dcf. dcf can be hell on wheels and maybe they won't get anything done. still, file the reports, make the phone calls, even if you are calling from a closet. you guys need some help, NOW. no more hell, please. you have a right to be here and be healthy and it is obviously your voice that needs to be heard RIGHT NOW.
posted by lakersfan1222 at 9:51 PM on July 25, 2010 [4 favorites]

Truly sorry for the way you've been raised and mistreated and neglected and insulted by your parents. Their actions make me sick and also make me realize how lucky I was.

I think Savannah's on the right track. Get outside, walk, learn your way around your neighborhood, get comfortable locally and then you can start to branch out from there. The world is a great big scary, awesome, beautiful, loud, chaotic and wonderful place.

And absolutely as much as possible, do not ask for or depend on your parents for anything. They've demonstrated such a horrible callousness towards you and your sibling (just one, right?). One suggestion I would have is to gather together as much paperwork about you as you can, birth certificate, social security card and the like before you go because it sounds like it will be damned near impossible to get any of it afterwards. I get the sense that your parents are a scorched earth kind of parent, that is, when you go, they turn your room into something totally different and my even go so far as to stop responding to you.

It sucks being where you are but try to remember this, if you start taking control of your life tomorrow then today might just be as bad as it gets and tomorrow may be better. There are lots of good people in the world who want to help you live a better life, it just blows that your parents aren't in that group.
posted by fenriq at 9:58 PM on July 25, 2010 [4 favorites]

Dial 211 for the United Way in your city and do not get off the phone until you've got a list of resources to call. Specifically, tell them about your mental health symptoms! Tell them about the depression, anxiety and isolation. Tell them about your sibling's untreated physical conditions. Keep talking, describing, detailing until you can't any longer. Do not get off the phone until you have a list of places to call and an understanding of how each of them can help you. If you need assistance in making the calls, let the United Way person know! Do not get off the phone until you feel confident that there is help out there and you can reach out for it. I am so sorry about your situation. You have taken the first step by posting this question and thus you are one step closer to safety. Please do not give up. And please let us know how you are doing. I would be happy to help with researching appropriate sources for help in your area but would need to know where you are in Florida. Email me if you'd like my help.
posted by rglass at 10:03 PM on July 25, 2010 [11 favorites]

There is a very simple way to put a solution into play. All you need to do is make a report to the Florida Abuse Hotline and you can even do it on-line here.
There is also a phone number: 1-800-962-2873 but on-line is probably easier for you.

They will get Florida Adult Protective Services to investigate your family situation.

According to the website: The Adult Protective Services Program is charged with protecting vulnerable adults from being harmed (Chapter 415, F.S.). These adults may experience abuse, neglect, or exploitation by second parties or may fail to take care of themselves adequately. Florida statutes require any person who knows or who has reasonable cause to suspect any abuse of vulnerable adults to report that information to the Florida Abuse Hotline.

In addition, Adult Protective Services assists vulnerable adults to live dignified and reasonably independent lives in their own homes or in the homes of relatives or friends so that they may be assured the least restrictive environment suitable to their needs

Note that you as well as your sibling meet the definition of a Vulnerable Adult since you are unable to perform normal activities due to emotional disability.

I know that even filling out an on-line form might be frightening but this one action will start the process of change and put you in touch with people who know how to help you create the life you and your sibling deserve.
posted by metahawk at 10:09 PM on July 25, 2010 [26 favorites]

From tilde's link, the DCF number is (800) 962-2873.

You need to call that number as soon as possible as you are in an acute situation and you need the intervention of professionals to help you and your sister. The advice about walking and doing things for yourself is good, but that can come a little later. You need to send out an SOS and get some help for your sister right now. That number should be a 24 hour one.

It's incredibly painful to see how "normal" most of my fellow anxiety sufferers are, the lives they have despite their anxiety, and how easy it is for them to befriend each other.

You had no control over what has been done to you and your sister and you should understand that for people who came from difficult circumstances the only way they received help was because of the intervention of an older sibling, a cousin, an aunt, anyone who could help. Children can not advocate for themselves. It is heartbreaking that there was no one there for you two.

But here's the thing, by calling DCF, you will be the one to help your sister, you will be the one getting her the help she needs. This will be such a tremendous step for you, such a positive thing, no matter how difficult it feels right now.
posted by mlis at 10:25 PM on July 25, 2010 [3 favorites]

I'm an abuse survivor*. Hang in there. The change is going to be hard and scary but you're going to get through it. Honestly, the *worst* part about what's going to happen when you start to make this change is how scary it is going to be. But I promise, it's *just* scary. It won't hurt you. The scary is the worst part.

Having said that, I understand that you have debilitating anxiety. I don't know what that's like, but I get that when I say that something is going to be scary and that's the worst part, that this might mean that you really just can't do it. I think that the best thing for you to do is something like what metahawk or treehorn+bunny or pickypicky has suggested -- make a phone call that will set some things in motion. Calling 911 or reporting to the Abuse hotline will start the change happening, and a process will begin that can help you out of this.

I'm sorry that the webboards aren't helping you any more. Please follow up with us and let us know how you are. You are welcome to memail me if you wish.

* Your situation is about as desperate as I've ever heard someone talk about in the first person present tense. You need to make those phone calls now.
posted by Made of Star Stuff at 10:40 PM on July 25, 2010 [5 favorites]

I'm told my first link didn't work. Try this for the beginning of how to report abuse on-line. If that doesn't work, try this and then follow the link on the left to report. Good luck!!
posted by metahawk at 11:18 PM on July 25, 2010

My (unofficially) "adopted" sister went through something very similar with her crazy and abusive birth family, although she got out at 16. She got legally emancipated, found a surrogate family (mine), went to therapy for a few years, and now she's well-adjusted, happily married, and finishing her PhD. So please know that there's definitely hope that your life will turn out OK.

Use the internet to reach out to *local* communities. If you're religious, perhaps you and your sibling could join a nearby church? (And if you're not religious, a Unitarian church might still be a good option.) The church leader could probably find someone to take you to and from services, and once you tell him/her what's going on, connect you to other resources to get you safely out of your house. My "adopted" sister met my stepsister through their church, and that's how she got connected to my family and out of her own hellish situation.
posted by Jacqueline at 1:32 AM on July 26, 2010 [3 favorites]

Make those phone calls - metahawk's comment is excellent, as is treehorn+bunny's.

You're not alone; I mean that very supportively. Although I was able to go to public schools and my mother "taught" me how to drive (think: screaming, gesticulating, threatening, and insulting the whole time — I learned more from neighbors and friends than I did from her), we lived in the middle of nowhere. My parents too never took me to the hospital when I was in severe pain (hemorrhaging and passing out... I have endometriosis), I wasn't allowed to have friends over, never had a birthday party outside of immediate family, could only participate in school activities if there was an activity bus that could get me there and back (there weren't many since we were in the boondocks)... so like you, I ended up with a lot of social anxiety, including not knowing how to take city buses, because there weren't any to our area, heh. Also, my parents were so careful with gas money, only giving me enough to get to school and back, that I often ran out of gas only taking that home-school-home route. So I really couldn't go anywhere, despite having what looked like some freedom.

You can get through this — make the phone calls first, that will be you and your sister's boost towards independence; it's immensely important. Therapy on a sliding scale would be great too, it's helped my anxiety and depression. The rest will come step by step. I'll give examples just to relate, eh, it's not meant as "do this", but more like "know that it will come in time, anxiety-inducing as it may be." For the bus, you could ask a little old lady to teach you how it works, if you want. Route maps are free. In my case, coincidence helped: the first time I had to take the bus, by chance, a friend of mine was waiting at the same stop. He noticed that I looked pale and was shaking, so asked if I needed help; I told him I'd never taken a city bus before, didn't know how it worked, was completely embarrassed about it and worried I'd get lost. He showed me the ropes. Later I learned to do other things on my own, with much the same panic and shaking: grocery shopping, clothes shopping, setting up bank accounts (oh ugh banks can be awful, credit unions are so much better), job interviews (I'd be trembling and clam up, sometimes not even understanding when they asked my name), getting an apartment (I'd freak out that I would forget to pay the rent, but in reality I never forgot), the first time the bathtub flooded, the first time the toilet clogged up, the first time I had to deal with certifiably crazy neighbors (the police are your friends!), so on and so forth. There were times I thought I'd never be a full-fledged independent adult.

Take care, make those calls, with what you and your sister are going through I'm sure you'll get much-needed help. Know that you can get through this. As scary as it can be, I can tell you from my own experience... it's immensely reassuring to take those risks and discover that other people are helpful. (It is true that not all are, but even the not-so-nice ones won't be as bad as staying with your parents would be.)
posted by fraula at 1:53 AM on July 26, 2010 [11 favorites]

If you have access to the web, like here, you have Google maps. You can learn your way around your city. You can learn to take a bus. The first time you do so might be petrifying. The second time, it won't be. Honestly.

"Move out" is easy to say, but with no job, rental history, etc., how is that going to be achieved? You have to start with smaller steps than moving out.

This is excellent advice. Break things down into more manageable steps, with the end-goal of moving out. Look at maps. Take walks. Make phone calls. Learn about your options.

Listen to fraula and the others here who have had similar experiences and succeeded in becoming independent.
posted by desuetude at 9:20 AM on July 26, 2010

[your mother] tells [your sibling] she's willing to drop [your sibling] off at the hospital... but they have to go in by themself, and she emphasizes and exaggerates every possible worse case scenario to frighten them from going.

Call your mother's bluff. The next time your sibling is in pain like that, you and your sibling should, as a team, say that actually yes, you guys would like your mother to drop you off at the hospital together. You can be each other's support system and each other's advocate and thereby make things less scary there. While your sibling finally gets the health treatment he/she desperately needs, you get to talk to his/her doctors and nurses and social workers, and the two of you together will be able to shore each other up emotionally and help make your case for the awful abuse you've been living with. It's a win-win situation for you both. Plus, you're going to need to start documenting the physical and mental abuse you've been facing (and denial of needed medical treatment is certainly abuse), and starting to have outside people like doctors, ER nurses, and social workers observe and report will be a big help to you later on.

And don't think your mother doesn't know all this. That is, it's not just that she doesn't want to take your sibling to the hospital because she's mean and uncaring and mentally ill (although all that seems to be true), but also some tiny rational part of her must realize that once you guys expose her abuse, all kinds of shit could rain down upon her head. And that's extremely frightening to her. So she would rather harangue and guilt-trip you guys into not exposing her cruelty so that she doesn't have to suffer any legal consequences for her actions.
posted by Asparagirl at 10:07 AM on July 26, 2010 [5 favorites]

It sounds like you are extremely isolated from other people in your neighborhood. Is there anyone who you know who could help you? Other relatives, neighbors, members of the clergy? I think your situation would be a lot easier if you had someone to turn to for support. It might sounds scary to tell people about your problems but I promise most people will want to help you if they can. Your experience with your un-helpful relative is not the norm.
posted by mai at 11:24 AM on July 26, 2010

Volunteering can also give you experience, which you will need, or which can help, to get you a job. It might help cut through the Catch-22 of trying to get employment with no previous experience.
posted by Savannah at 6:38 PM on July 26, 2010

Sorry for the delayed response, everyone. I'm also sorry to the unbelievably kind few who e-mailed me offering advice and assistance; I have yet to respond to either of you individually, but I will try to in the future, when I'm feeling less overwhelmed.

You might be interested in reading the MetaTalk thread about my post, if only to see how grateful I am to all of you.

Thank you all so much.
posted by Faraday Cage at 12:36 PM on July 30, 2010 [3 favorites]

Dear Anonymous, it is only my personal and unqualified opinion, but it sounds like your parents are, at the very least, very narcissistic, if not pathological narcissists.

Friends I know who suffer from intense, chronic anxiety, have felt relief when they took about 150 mgs of Effexor per day.

It sounds like you are in a crisis of sorts and I think this Florida site might have telephone numbers you can call that might be able to offer you free help.

Sending you loving thoughts and encouragement.
posted by nickyskye at 10:21 AM on October 22, 2010

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