A Name for the Nameless

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But this new troop was unique. It belonged to girls who did not know where they belonged. It wouldn’t make sense to use the numbers normally applied to troops in any of the five boroughs. Given that its members had no fixed addresses, wasn’t this troop of girls, no matter where it was located, really like a floating borough in its own right? Or even a shadow borough, because the rest of society was ignorant of or didn’t want to acknowledge its residents? At some point Girl Scout staff realized that the 6000s, designated years earlier for specialized troops, like those for girls with special needs, were no longer used. And so, the Girl Scouts of Greater New York settled on the name Troop 6000.

Troop 6000: The Girl Scout Troop That Began in a Shelter and Inspired the World by Nikita Stewart

Shocking Poverty

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If Heidi had been shocked to hear that all of the rooms in the Sleep Inn were providing shelter for the homeless, she was absolutely shocked to hear that the person proposing to start a Girl Scout troop there was a homeless employee of the Girl Scouts. She began to grasp something that not enough city officials seemed to understand: Homelessness was escalating at such a rapid rate that a hotel had been informally turned into a shelter in a matter of a few months, so fast that a community development specialist at the Girl Scouts was now counted among the city’s most vulnerable.

Troop 6000: The Girl Scout Troop That Began in a Shelter and Inspired the World by Nikita Stewart

Eligible To Live

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They were waiting to be placed in what the city called conditional shelter: For ten days, before putting any family in permanent shelter, investigators would call landlords and relatives to verify whether applicants for housing were actually homeless. For years, advocates and attorneys for homeless people had complained about this intrusiveness, treating homeless people as if they were trying to steal something, as if everyone was a liar until proven otherwise. In the past, the definition of overcrowding varied from investigator to investigator, with some even asking relatives whether a person might sleep well on bedding in a bathtub. Acceptable long-term sleeping options included air mattresses, even if they took up all the floor space in a room.

About 58 percent of those vying for a place to live were initially found to be ineligible either because they had no documentation that they had been evicted or because relatives, unsure of what to say, would convince themselves or outright lie to investigators that ten people could comfortably and happily live in a one-bedroom/one-bathroom apartment. This meant that many people seeking shelter had to apply all over again after incorrectly being found ineligible; others just gave up in frustration, returning to crammed apartments or enduring family strife for the sake of a roof over their heads.

Troop 6000: The Girl Scout Troop That Began in a Shelter and Inspired the World by Nikita Stewart

Eliminating Inconvenient People

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What happened to Maria Halpin next was a cruel injustice straight out of a Charles Dickens novel. Cleveland arranged to have the child forcibly removed from his mother and placed in the Buffalo Orphan Asylum. Maria Halpin was thrown into the Providence Lunatic Asylum, although the facility’s medical director quickly released her after an evaluation, concluding (correctly) that she was not insane and that her incarceration was the result of an abuse of power by political elites.

-Charles Lachman, Grover Cleveland’s Sex Scandal: The Most Despicable in American Political History, The Daily Beast (Jul. 13, 2017)

Allergic to Tears

I know I sound bitter , but I always sound bitter when I tell people about my asthma . I came down with a severe atypical pneumonia years ago . My friends wanted me to go to the hospital , but I refused . Instead , when my trachea’s diameter felt like it decreased by half , I drank tons of coffee , since caffeine is a natural bronchodilator . The infection gradually resolved , but in the aftermath I developed asthma . Now , every time I run or get upset , it feels like my lungs are collapsing . Sometimes I can barely breathe . A shrink told me it was all anxiety – related , but my internal medicine doctor diagnosed me with asthma and prescribed me both a rescue inhaler and steroid inhaler . My running’s never been the same , but even worse than that is crying , which quickly triggers my asthma . Getting upset somehow makes my bronchioles fill up with inflammatory crud and collapse . It doesn’t happen every time I cry , but when it does , it’s awful . So awful , I try not to cry over anything . Before this hit me , I didn’t even know it was possible to be allergic to tears .

Manic Kingdom: A True Story of Breakdown and Breakthrough by Dr. Erin Stair

Paranoia vs Apathy

Suddenly , the pilot announces that we’ll be landing soon . Upon hearing the news , the fat man , the Asian woman , and I simultaneously squirm like mealworms and stretch in our seats . The fat man obnoxiously sneezes , landing a few sticky drops on the side of my neck . I cringe but don’t wipe them off right away . I’m distracted by the Asian woman who starts frantically digging in her oversized black purse , pulling out a handful of tissues and holding them up to cover her mouth and nostrils , as if allowing in another molecule of air will kill her instantly . Her eyes are wild and frightened . They bulge even further when the obese man sneezes again . I can’t help but snicker . If paranoia isn’t the opposite of apathy , I don’t know what is .

Manic Kingdom: A True Story of Breakdown and Breakthrough by Dr. Erin Stair

A Pet’s Unconditional Love

Maybe it’s stupid to love a cat so much , but she really is the only thing I can count on in my life . No matter what I thought or did , she never failed to cuddle next to me every night . On the nights I couldn’t stand myself , the nights I binged and purged and felt defeated and disappointed in myself , she was always there for me . In this world , you need a cat or a dog to experience unconditional love .

Manic Kingdom: A True Story of Breakdown and Breakthrough by Dr. Erin Stair

More Prop Than Person

I got the last word , the most genuine thing I could say out loud and not get kicked out of the rotation . What I wanted to say was that most of the patients are restlessly meandering , drooling , sleeping , or loitering around the nurses ’ station all day long . I wanted to comment on how they’re hunched over in a lobotomized line for a cupful of pills or a tray of food and look more like bizarre props than people. I wanted to tell him to forget the medication and give them something meaningful to do. But I didn’t say any of that.

Manic Kingdom: A True Story of Breakdown and Breakthrough by Dr. Erin Stair

Expert Destruction

I’m in disbelief . The tension between Jamal and Dr . Patel is rising . Their cultures are relentlessly clashing right in front of my eyes , like a sword fight between wealthy India and West Philadelphia . My honest impression of Jamal is that he’s bright , sane and doesn’t need medication . If anyone sounds crazy , his mother does . Some part of me will not allow me to remain silent . Jamal’s young and smart , he has a future . He doesn’t need big – gun medications , and I’m overwhelmed with an urge to save him .

“ Dr . Patel , ” I respectfully say . “ When Jamal says he spits in the mirror , it means he’s rapping . He’s a rapper and that’s how he practices . ”

Dr . Patel stares at me blankly . Nothing registers . I’m a stupid , white girl. “But he hears voices . Why else would he talk to himself ? ” Dr . Patel asks.

“No , he spits . He raps . He’s not hearing voices . He’s practicing to be a musician,” I explain. The conversation continues in this relentlessly circular fashion . Nothing is sinking in . I give up and excuse myself to the bathroom. Let the “expert” seal the young man’s fate .

Manic Kingdom: A True Story of Breakdown and Breakthrough by Dr. Erin Stair

Tattoo Relief

Tory continues to work while I mentally command my body to adjust to the pain and discomfort . The needle spills color under my skin. Tory doesn’t say a word . I break out in chills . My pain tolerance is high, but each time the needle hits, I feel a new, excruciating sting. It hurts but part of me loves it. All I can think about is the growling device marking my back, and not the morbid sentences in my pathology book. The physicality is a relief .

Manic Kingdom: A True Story of Breakdown and Breakthrough by Dr. Erin Stair