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How to Come Back from the Dead

July 2022, Issue 12 "This country has socialism for the rich, rugged individualism for the poor.” - Martin Luther King, Jr.


By Harper Klay, Shonkinite Founder

6 minute read

Click on the video below to hear this Sketch in the author's voice

Smelling Red Series is birthed from the Founder’s personal journey recovering from a Traumatic Brain Injury. We begin with her story.

"When you fall off your horse you get right back on." "Toughen up."

Growing up in Montana these phrases, these beliefs, echoed through my head. I was unaware of how deeply they were imbedded within my identity. When I did finally ask for help, I was confronted by these beliefs from society, family, friends, and government. I realized that these beliefs are not exclusive to Montanans, they are widely held throughout the country. When faced with my need for food, healthcare, and shelter, my subconscious beliefs became a hindrance. In my mind my independence was integral to my self-worth, as one diminished so did the other.

When I sustained my Traumatic Brain Injury in 2003, little was known about treatment, conditions, post-care, and recovery. My condition worsened over time, compounded with the stress of maintaining gainful employment, retaining health insurance, paying out of pocket medical expenses, affording rent, and having money for food and living.

By 2010, I exhausted all personal savings and formulas in which to maintain gainful employment with my declining health. I was out of options for sustainable shelter. I was at the mercy of friends, family, and a boyfriend, all of whom chose to discard me without aiding in a long term plan. Unable to support myself, I was an inconvenience. I was broke and homeless, but at my core was the deeply held subconscious belief structure encased in the American myth of rugged individualism. Homeless and out of work, I was worthless and the world let me know it.

This was also the year a shift occurred. America was beginning to take note of brain injuries. American troops in technologically advanced body armor were returning home with the three conditions wreaking havoc on my life: Traumatic Brain Injury, Post-Concussive Syndrome, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. And, the NFL could no longer ignore the long term effects of head trauma. Players with repetitive head injuries in their 20’s were now exhibiting complex behavioral symptoms, attempting suicide, and ceased to be contributing members of society in their 40’s.

Slowly, one need at a time, I found help from government. I had no education or exposure to support services and an indoctrination that ‘welfare’ was bad and for those people. I had never investigated who those people were. The change of administration from a Republican to a Democrat made social support systems more transparent. The Obama Administration, coined “Our First Tech President” prioritized government digital services. Subtle tweaks improved government transparency and I discovered resources available to me, all I had to do was ask. When I applied for help, my internal world became violent, an inner conflict of an indoctrination clashing with urgent need.

When I see homeless people beg for food, money, and shelter on the street, I can relate. The desperate energy I exuded from my body was a repellent. I was sick, scared, and without a roof. I was repeatedly questioned, judged, and punished for how I arrived at my current situation. The constant criticism I endured for a medical catastrophe came at me from all directions. I am not alone. A friend recently told me of a relative’s appeals hearing for Social Security Disability after she broke her neck. She was criticized for having two children from two different fathers' out of wedlock.

By the time I had patched together Social Security Disability, subsidized housing, energy assistance, student loan disability discharge, Medicare, Medicaid, Ticket to Work, SNAP aka ‘food stamps’, and a prepaid cell phone, five years had passed. I had navigated federal and state government programs and been vetted multiple times by doctors and bureaucrats. There was no integrated system informing me of all the programs available to me and there was often a deep systemic resistance to releasing them. I look back at my learning curve, the time spent, the tedious persistence and I seethe with rage. This time could have been devoted to my actual rehabilitation process, honing new professional skills, and above all else, rest.

In the two decades I have spent navigating health, work, and livelihood, we’ve seen homeless encampments across American cities explode and a severe decline in overall health and well being. How we work isn’t working. How we think isn’t working. We as people are harming ourselves by our beliefs and by extension our government is not serving us as people.

Our economic structures do not benefit from the lag time and bureaucratic maze to apply and retain support. But the myth remains, steeped in cowboy culture, romanticized, and trickling into every facet of society.

In the upcoming Smelling Red essays I will share how I discovered each program, navigated the application process, and dealt the emotional and psychological cost.

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