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“I didn’t think anything was wrong, I never saw her anyway.”
July 27, 2011 8:54 AM   Subscribe

"The call to the Sheriff's Office came on Nov. 18, 2010, just before noon. The townhouse, deputies learned, had belonged to a woman named Kathryn Norris, and the 1987 silver Chevy Nova was registered to her, too. She had used a normal amount of electricity in July 2009 and much less in August and none after that. She had paid her mortgage in August and then stopped. Her head was on the floor and her feet were on the seat. The corpse, deputies wrote in their report, was wearing a dress."
posted by Chrysostom (80 comments total) 52 users marked this as a favorite

 
I read this yesterday and as a warning: VERY DEPRESSING.
posted by ghharr at 8:55 AM on July 27, 2011


In human terms, the Great Recession reads a lot like a Stephen King novel.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:58 AM on July 27, 2011 [8 favorites]


.
posted by shakespeherian at 9:01 AM on July 27, 2011


What I wondered after reading the article:

The bank foreclosed. People hired by the bank went inside and took pictures of her stuff. They took pictures of her car. That happened twice. "Diligent search and inquiry," they wrote. "Confirmed residence is unoccupied."

They took pictures of her car - twice. But they didn't notice the dead woman in the passenger seat? Diligent search and inquiry, my foot.
posted by WalterMitty at 9:03 AM on July 27, 2011 [11 favorites]


This wasn't really about the Great Recession though was it? It's the story of a lonely woman with mental problems that the drugs didn't fix, who had no-one around who cared enough to keep an eye on her, perhaps because they simply didn't know that she needed watching out for.

A sad story. Look out for each other out there, because it's a lonely world otherwise.
posted by pharm at 9:03 AM on July 27, 2011 [26 favorites]


This wasn't really about the Great Recession though was it?

I think it is partly, because it's partly about the bank (or its contractors) not really searching diligently, probably because they're dealing with so many foreclosures in Florida.
posted by Jahaza at 9:05 AM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


This article makes me feel sad and a bit guilty, because I can see it happening to my sister who is mentally ill and also verbally abusive -- once my parents are dead, am I really going to make huge, significant efforts to keep in touch with her? Whether or not I should, I am not sure if I will, because I do not think I am that good a person.
posted by jeather at 9:06 AM on July 27, 2011 [9 favorites]


What? This has nothing to do with the great recession and everything to do with mental illness.
posted by Silentgoldfish at 9:06 AM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


who had no-one around who cared enough to keep an eye on her
What were they to do ? break down her door ?

Mental illness is a terrible thing. Is this more or less inhumane than institutionalization and forced medicating ?
posted by k5.user at 9:06 AM on July 27, 2011 [4 favorites]


"because I do not think I am that good a person"

It's amazing what you can find yourself capable of when you're finally presented with a situation. You'll probably surprise yourself.
posted by phytzee at 9:07 AM on July 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'll be honest, she sounds a lot like me sometimes.
posted by shakespeherian at 9:10 AM on July 27, 2011 [8 favorites]


It's possibly not too surprising the bank guy didn't see the body. After a year I would expect there to be a layer of dust on it that would obscure the contents (plus some soot on the inside of the windows). The bank inspector saw a dusty car in the garage of a somewhat messy house and failed to conclude that there might be a dead body in it.
posted by justkevin at 9:14 AM on July 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


Diligent search and inquiry, my foot.

Oh, we see this kind of thing all the time in my line of work.* Here's how it usually goes.

Homeowner submits property claim for damage to his house. Adjuster heads out to the house and gets the distinct impression that the house has been vacant for a while. This is important, because almost every insurance policy excludes claims for buildings that have been vacant for more than a brief amount of time. The reason is that vacancy is incredibly bad for property. Not only is the owner not there to prevent things like vandalism and theft, but he's also not there to engage in the normal kind of everyday usage which actually keeps properties from going straight to hell very quickly.

Anyway, the adjuster looks into records to see how long the house has been vacant. Here's one from the last loss control guy they sent out there. And it says that he saw personal property on the porch, so he marked it "Occupied."

What that means is that he saw a child's big wheel, or an old couch, or a fridge or rusted bicycle and didn't bother to get out of his car despite the fact that there were a dozen notices on the door from utilities. Bank inspectors as part of the foreclosure process are even worse. If they see anything outside, they'll frequently just mark the thing as occupied and drive on. So we see cases where the former owner actually tore out the entire kitchen, cabinets and all, before abandoning the place, or where there was actually a whole in the roof that no one had bothered to patch or report, resulting in major water damage to three rooms.

If one is of a mind to believe in such things, one is tempted to say that there's something almost spiritual about people living in a place, and that the absence of humans is metaphysically bad for places. Sure, we all expect buildings etc. to run down when people leave, but the rate at which this happens can be pretty shocking. We've all been a bit surprised at how our own places seem somehow different if we go away for a week; imagine what might happen if one was gone for a month. The curve of degeneration does not seem to be linear.

*Minus the corpses in the garage. That's a new one.
posted by valkyryn at 9:14 AM on July 27, 2011 [55 favorites]


shakespeherian: I know what you mean, this really struck a chord with me. I'm having a hard time trying to figure out what I really want to say.
posted by phytzee at 9:15 AM on July 27, 2011


OK, I'm going to go find someone to give me a hug now.
posted by davidjmcgee at 9:18 AM on July 27, 2011


Content aside, that was a really well-written piece. Loved the narrative style.
posted by jbickers at 9:24 AM on July 27, 2011 [14 favorites]


Well, to be fair, the lady was laying on the floor with her legs on the seat so i can see how they could have missed her without opening the door.
posted by dozo at 9:24 AM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


I spent most of last year holed up inside my house. I stopped answering the phone and let my voicemail fill up so nobody could leave new messages. Friends came to my door and I told them to go away. Eventually they stopped bothering.

I know how hard it can be to keep caring about someone who behaves this way, but this is what can happen when we completely give up on people. I'm glad I'm still alive, but it was a close one.
posted by Gator at 9:27 AM on July 27, 2011 [48 favorites]


Her brief obituary said she would be missed.
posted by orange swan at 9:29 AM on July 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


Yeah, that last line is a heartbreaker.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 9:30 AM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Adjuster heads out to the house and gets the distinct impression that the house has been vacant for a while.

the last loss control guy they sent out there. And it says that he saw personal property on the porch, so he marked it "Occupied."

What that means is that he saw a child's big wheel, or an old couch, or a fridge or rusted bicycle and didn't bother to get out of his car despite the fact that there were a dozen notices on the door from utilities.


I like how in your story only people who can deny payment on insurance claims have the right answers. Anyone else who has a "distinct impression" must be wrong.
posted by DU at 9:35 AM on July 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


Thank you for posting this.
posted by fugitivefromchaingang at 9:37 AM on July 27, 2011


What a well-written, sensitive story. Thank you for sharing it.
posted by orrnyereg at 9:38 AM on July 27, 2011


What a heartbreaking story. :(
posted by zarq at 9:39 AM on July 27, 2011


.
posted by everichon at 9:40 AM on July 27, 2011


Very touching.
I think it's wonderful that a newspaper had a journalist reconstruct her life.
Somehow the fact that people notice her life, if only in retrospect, lends dignity to it.
posted by joost de vries at 9:41 AM on July 27, 2011 [7 favorites]


We need better and more accessible mental health services in this country.

.
posted by rmd1023 at 9:43 AM on July 27, 2011 [7 favorites]


They took pictures of her car. That happened twice

That's some fine work there, Lou.
posted by Old'n'Busted at 9:45 AM on July 27, 2011 [4 favorites]


Wow.. what a well written piece. Just wow. Thanks!
posted by Debaser626 at 9:50 AM on July 27, 2011


I like how in your story only people who can deny payment on insurance claims have the right answers.

The hell?
posted by valkyryn at 9:50 AM on July 27, 2011 [7 favorites]


What a tough read. I think the worst part of all is the phrase "wife-type services and support" which sounds like a line on an invoice.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 9:51 AM on July 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


.
posted by trogdole at 9:52 AM on July 27, 2011


Whoo boy, this post is a daymaker. Totally heartbreaking. Well written.
posted by nevercalm at 9:57 AM on July 27, 2011


The best mental health services are useless to someone who wont engage then. It's really sad.
posted by fuq at 9:59 AM on July 27, 2011 [4 favorites]


This article is the best sort of journalism.
posted by killdevil at 10:00 AM on July 27, 2011


jbickers: "Content aside, that was a really well-written piece. Loved the narrative style."

I live not far from where this woman lived (same county), and I was going to come in here and apologize for the writing, because the first paragraphs are just horrendous, honestly ("He went to see his purchase he hoped to fix up and sell" is really awkward, for example).

But as I read on, I realized the style suits the story. There's very little here beyond the factual information; no grandiose or hyperbolic prose. She's an ordinary woman, with an ordinary life. She lived quietly and died alone, and no one even noticed she was gone.

There's no way to polish that up and make it prettier.
posted by misha at 10:00 AM on July 27, 2011 [5 favorites]


It was depressing but I couldn't stop reading it. The article reminds me of this post, which coincidently, is from the same paper. I'm glad they have so many great writers.
posted by phyrewerx at 10:01 AM on July 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


Reference to this post.
posted by phyrewerx at 10:02 AM on July 27, 2011


.
posted by burnmp3s at 10:07 AM on July 27, 2011


Double depressing... my iPod decides to serve this up right as I finish reading the article.
posted by FatherDagon at 10:07 AM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Very difficult to get through. I spent much of the last two years cutting off lots of connections, and I wonder if I'll ever get them back, and I wonder if I'm further along this woman's path than I realize. I'm slowly trying to get back up and reach out to those I've pushed away and apologize for the way I've been, but some have already rebuffed me. I need to value the links that I do have remaining.
posted by miomiomio at 10:08 AM on July 27, 2011 [11 favorites]


Whoa.
posted by chinston at 10:12 AM on July 27, 2011


Back in my freshman year, the Dilworth Minnesota Radioshack fired me over the holiday break. I went a few months without work, in and out of telemarketing jobs and some tough times starting out in art school. One of my sculpture projects involved a microcassette recorder, but I didn't have any blank microcassettes and I couldn't afford new ones.

I went to the local Savers and found a mess of tape-based answering machines for prices like 50 cents. After all, digital answering machines were replacing them. And if you came on the right day, blue tags would be 50% off. So I started a small collection of these machines, and listened to each and every tape. Total cost was maybe $6 and I had over a dozen.

The tapes were all the same. They would start out with a few personal messages - a friend or daughter calling. And then they would go on, for 30 minutes on each fluttering side, with the utility companies calling. And near the end of each side would come the collections agencies.

It took me five or six tapes to understand that it was the emergent grimace of those who care the most about the lonely, isolated, and ill.
posted by fake at 10:12 AM on July 27, 2011 [118 favorites]


Just a note to those who see some of this woman in themselves: my aunt (father's side) decided, shortly after my parents sold her their first house, to become a recluse. It happened quickly, and it happened completely; she sold her car, she holed herself up in the house, and she refused to talk to anyone who showed up to her door. Everyone in the family eventually gave up, which wasn't many people; her mother and father has passed long before, and she only had one sister (living many states away) and one brother (my father.)

A couple of decades later, my mother went to pick up a prescription and my aunt was the pharmacist. She wouldn't acknowledge my mother, despite looking her in the eye and reading the extremely unique last name that they both shared. My mother didn't press the point much, but kept going back until my aunt finally gave in.

Since then, she's come back into the family, attending my niece's baptism and other functions, and she's spent the last several years slogging through old records trying to piece together the family tree -- having been so long away from the family, she's quite attached to learning more about it -- and finding things to do with her life. Earlier this year, she got married. And she seems genuinely happy.

So starting down this road doesn't guarantee this kind of outcome, and it didn't have to be a chance meeting and my mother's persistence that brought my aunt back into the fold. She might just as well have decided one day that it was time to come back, and we would have embraced her. Never forget that just because you're gone doesn't mean you're forgotten, and feel free to reappear out of nowhere.
posted by davejay at 10:26 AM on July 27, 2011 [33 favorites]


FatherDagon, here's an antidote for that Swans song.

(Coincidentally Jon & Vangelis's "I'll Find My Way Home" is the most hopeful, least depressing song in my personal musical universe.)

But about the story itself...

This woman needed to be in the care of a psychiatric social worker, a case worker, who could check on her, get her therapy if and when she needed, get her to a psychiatrist to adjust her meds if she needed it, talk to family about how she was doing.

We don't have nearly enough people like that because we don't fund social services for crap, so the ones we do have are terribly overburdened with huge caseloads. But short of institutionalization, they are the bulwark against this kind of thing.

My wife was a psychiatric social worker for a long time before she became disabled (and she hopes to again as she recovers) and this is *exactly* the sort of situation she was employed to deal with: an actual human being checking up on somebody who needed checking up on and getting them help as they needed it.
posted by edheil at 10:26 AM on July 27, 2011 [7 favorites]


Oh man, this was terribly depressing to read. I think a lot of people (myself definitely included) have a latent Boo Radley tendency inside them, which in itself it not too bad, but coupled with untreated mental illness, it's clearly pretty fucking devastating.
posted by elizardbits at 10:30 AM on July 27, 2011 [4 favorites]


That story scared the crap out of me.
posted by JanetLand at 10:30 AM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Mental illness is a terrible thing. Is this more or less inhumane than institutionalization and forced medicating ?

This, a million times.

Yeah, I thought the style was awkward, stunted, dry. That was probably the point.
posted by Melismata at 10:42 AM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oh, luckily my little musicbox has a variety of things to help me bounce back.
posted by FatherDagon at 10:44 AM on July 27, 2011


This is heartbreaking. And I have read that it is much more common with the elderly in Japan.
posted by Theta States at 10:45 AM on July 27, 2011


In the US, 31% of people over the age of 55 live alone.
posted by shakespeherian at 10:49 AM on July 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


"I have learned I attach myself to one person," she said, "and they become my safety person."
And if there's no safety person?
"I stay within my home."


Wow, this is so sad. I empathize with her not only as a sort of closed-off person, but also because I know as a single woman there's this extra layer of anxiety about being victimized that can be so, so hard to overcome. I have no doubt that compounded her mental illness. When she writes about being unable to sleep becaue she hears noises in the night that "sound like dogs" and she gets paranoid about people breaking in, my heart just wrenched for her. I know that feeling, and it's so hard to have the one mode of "protect yourself" which is endorsed by society and the other of "let people help you" doubly so when you're living alone as a woman. The line gets blurred.

She was on the Internet, leaving wee-hours posts on genealogy forums like Cousin Connect and Ancestry.com.

She was not who she was. The Internet didn't have to know.
"I am the grandchild of Joseph Mulford and Elizabeth Downey," she wrote on Ancestry.com.
"I am the granddaughter of Zelma's oldest sister."
"I have copies of many of the Yenger family records."
"I am very eager to talk with you."
"Contact me."


When I first read this, I didn't get it, and I thought she was more or less just trolling. Then it hit me that she obviously really wanted a family, so much that she went to the extent of faking distant blood ties to strangers in the hopes that they would invite her into theirs.

But this was the line that really got me:

She did go outside and leave the townhouse, occasionally, to go to the doctor, to go pick up pills, to go get takeout from Olive Garden or Outback, to go to Walmart to buy things she didn't need, like eight of the same dresses, mostly so she could take them back later.
posted by Nixy at 10:51 AM on July 27, 2011 [5 favorites]


I'm adding this to my favorites list, but I don't know if I want to get to it today because of how sad it seems to be.

edheil: We don't have nearly enough people like that because we don't fund social services for crap, so the ones we do have are terribly overburdened with huge caseloads. But short of institutionalization, they are the bulwark against this kind of thing.

One of my personal heroes is a social care worker in Maryland who even though she is fighting a cystic fibrosis relapse that has severely impacted her ability to get around, she is still working within in the system. I think she's in a managerial capacity now instead of working directly with the kids and their sometimes very crappy biological parents.

Though she has wanted to many times, this is the reason why she hasn't quit working yet, which she wrote six years ago after a New Year's Eve party in Toronto:
The people around me right now are drinking Moosehead and sangria, listening to music and laughing—laughing so very much. They lean into each other, hugging and touching affectionately. They are, at least for the moment, confident and secure in themselves.

This is a world my children have never experienced. They are just beginning to learn security, safety, stability, the feeling that the person next to you will not harm you.

This is what I want them to have. I want them to grow up into friendship and security, fondness and stability, affection and safety. So when I look around this room, I see what I am fighting for.

I do not fight to solely to minimize damage. I do not fight simply for the cessation of trauma, I fight for the beginning of living. I do not fight simply to stop crying, I fight for laughter to start.

This is real. This is living and laughter and a reason to keep going. This is what makes me go back to my job every day and look my children in the eye and tell them honestly: "It gets better."

And then I keep fighting to make that true.
So very many times I wish that the U.S. placed more of an emphasis on spending money to help people instead of spending money to entertain ourselves (and others). But I fear that's a conversation for a different thread (or is it?).
posted by TrishaLynn at 10:52 AM on July 27, 2011 [9 favorites]


The story, the woman, her death - amazing stuff. But what really blows me away is the fact of the article itself. In most (all?) other papers, that story would have been a five or six-line story. Maybe a few column inches at best.

Major props to Michael Kruse, for daring to look beyond the standard "this lurid thing happened" blurb. And to the St. Petersburg Times for running it. I hope this article wins all the awards, because it deserves it!
posted by ErikaB at 11:07 AM on July 27, 2011 [7 favorites]


Reminded me of this article btw.
posted by joost de vries at 11:19 AM on July 27, 2011


I read this the other day and really liked the writing as well, although the story is pretty depressing.

One observation, though: I can't help but feel like the advent of longform.org has made metafilter a bit predictable in terms of content. Not knocking the OP, because this is a totally worthwhile article (and the OP may not have found it via longform), it's just something I've noticed.
posted by broadway bill at 11:39 AM on July 27, 2011


I like how in your story only people who can deny payment on insurance claims have the right answers. Anyone else who has a "distinct impression" must be wrong.

Adjusters investigating an actual claim have to look into things in greater depth than people working in something preventative like loss control, DU. Particularly for relatively small losses like a single dwelling rather than a large building. There's nothing there that precludes anyone else from making the same discovery.
posted by Hoopo at 11:44 AM on July 27, 2011


Superbly written article. Thanks for sharing.
posted by wowbobwow at 11:47 AM on July 27, 2011


fuq: "The best mental health services are useless to someone who wont engage then. It's really sad."

She tried. She was diagnosed as bipolar, and took medication, but after she was fired from her job she probably didn't have insurance. She married someone and that didn't work, and then she lived on disability and Social Security, and I don't imagine she could pay for all the medications she needed--the article says she had a thyroid condition by that time.

I know from experience that depression and hypothyroidism is...a challenge.

I couldn't hold onto my thoughts. I'd speak and the words wouldn't come to me. I couldn't read because I couldn't concentrate on the words on the page. Besides, reading put me to sleep, and I wanted to sleep all the time already. I didn't write for over a year. I thought it was "just the depression," saw a therapist.

On anti-depressants, I ate next to nothing and put on weight. My hair started falling out. Now, I know something else is wrong. Doctors don't seem to listen--hypothyroidism runs in my family, but I was thin to begin with, so I'm not yet 'clinically overweight'. Metabolisms slow down with age, they tell me, I'm depressed, I probably don't realize I've been eating more. Meanwhile, I gain 40lbs in 6 months. I pester them, keep food diaries and exercise charts. Finally, they diagnose me, I get meds. It stabilizes things, mostly. I'm not gaining weight any more, but I'm not ready to run any marathons, either. And I still have all those pounds to lose. I want to go around wearing a big sign that says "It's not my fault! I didn't just let myself go!"

I beat it and lost the weight, finally, but it's been a long haul to get back to myself.

So. That kind of thing takes a toll on even a mentally healthy person after a while. No question this poor lady is sick; she's living on social security disability and I doubt she could afford meds or keep up with therapy or healthcare. I think that's how all the lawsuits started. I hate that, in debt, she was still making contributions to the "Christian Broadcasting Network."

I think she tried to reach out in other ways, too (the Scrabble games, genealogy sites, the phone calls to relatives), but she couldn't bring herself to face the world any more. Depression can be brutal. Shame factors in. She didn't want even her nephew to see what she'd become. She just stopped answering the door.

She called to say there was somebody outside in the dark, pounding on her windows, and she was home alone and scared, and now there were two voices, and the pounding was getting louder. A deputy was sent to Cherie Down Lane. Nothing. She didn't answer the door.

That's just once of several times she called the sheriff, and then wouldn't answer the door. Each time, they just went away.

Now, some of the calls were just minor complaints. But when an elderly lady tells police her house is under attack, and a cop goes there to check it out and no one answers the door, shouldn't he force it open? She could have been a hostage in her own house (well, in a way she was, but it was her own doing), and they just went away?!
posted by misha at 12:00 PM on July 27, 2011 [9 favorites]


I think she tried to reach out in other ways, too (the Scrabble games, genealogy sites, the phone calls to relatives), but she couldn't bring herself to face the world any more.

You could see the sentence, "She posted a series of comments on a variety of topics to a "community weblog" called MetaFilter" added to that story quite easily. I think there are probably a lot of people her who are closer to her end of the sociability spectrum than the other. I know my most "productive" times on MeFi are probably the times of my life when I was least socially connected in the real world. If there are MeFites out there who need to reach out to someone, please do so. I don't want to read more of these stories.
posted by Rock Steady at 12:13 PM on July 27, 2011 [10 favorites]


Rock Steady, I think that is true for many of us. Just look at the strange transformation that happens here on weekends and holidays. People feeling stressed and alone, reaching/lashing out.
posted by fake at 12:26 PM on July 27, 2011 [6 favorites]


broadway bill: "and the OP may not have found it via longform"

FWIW Dept.: I can't remember where exactly I saw it, but I didn't get if from longform-I don't read there very often.
posted by Chrysostom at 12:36 PM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


You can be safe on the Internet. Safe and so sad.
posted by storybored at 12:37 PM on July 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


I know my most "productive" times on MeFi are probably the times of my life when I was least socially connected in the real world.

Profoundly true...now I'm sad for me.
posted by sweetkid at 12:42 PM on July 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


I wanted to say that the article left me feeling hopeless and heartbroken. It reminded me of something that I seem to keep bumping up against lately, and it scares and depresses me. I don't know how to describe this thing (witholding? human avoidance?), but to give an example if I may. I'm in a battle with an airline and a online ticketing company over a change fee. I'm jumping through their automated hoops. I haven't been able to talk to a human for weeks. The person I spoke with last - a young woman, probably my age-ish, similar dialect - literally and didactically read me the fine print from the policy. When I asked her if what she would do were she in my situation, she faltered. She couldn't say anything. Probably because i took her off script and to answer honestly on a recorded call could put her job in jeopardy. So we two humans started talking in soulless, coded language - much of which I could barely decipher, though it was a plain and simple English of sorts. I hung up, drained. It was dystopic. I had spent 20 minutes explaining some off-print circumstance to a proxy for a policy. For whatever reason, since that call I keep finding myself wondering how people in the world with mental illnesses get by with all this. They have to go places and pay their change fees too. They have to deal with the same soulchipping exchanges all day. So maybe they just stop going places. They stop doing. Dealing. Talking to people. It just gets too hard, right?

It's not necessary to extend your hand to another. To put yourself at some sort of risk. To step out, to reach out to others in ways that make you vulnerable and potentially open you up for their wrath, their confusion, their backlash. Or simply to receive their lack of response. We can all get by shielding ourselves from that. To some point. We can avert our eyes from the wreck. We can rationalize away all the reasons a stranger looks sad. Maybe we're sad too and we don't have much to offer in that passing moment anyway. It goes by so fast.

This piece was written with so much care, so much humanity. It didn't have to be. It didn't have to be at all. But there it is. And it makes me so hopeful to think about how many people he reached with it.

Michael Kruse is my hero today.
posted by iamkimiam at 1:06 PM on July 27, 2011 [27 favorites]


shakespeherian: I'll be honest, she sounds a lot like me sometimes.

It's depressing but oddly comforting to read that. On bleaker, lonelier days I've secretly suspected I'm the only one who risks my fears of dying alone and being found three weeks later half-eaten by an Alsatian.

Thanks for posting, Chrysostom; this is a beautifully written and thoughtful article. And new incentive to add Avenue Q to my morning wake-up music.
There is life outside your apartment
I know it's hard to conceive
But there's life outside your apartment
And you're only gonna see it if you leave...
posted by nicebookrack at 2:28 PM on July 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


But when an elderly lady tells police her house is under attack, and a cop goes there to check it out and no one answers the door, shouldn't he force it open?

Actually... no, probably not. A couple things.

When 911 gets a call, they don't know jack about what's going down. So they send a cruiser around to investigate. He's going to be cautious and avoid jumping to conclusions either way. They don't know who made the call, or that the person making it is who they said they were. They have no idea what the actual facts are. But a distressingly high percentage of 911 calls are not actual emergencies, and a lot of them are placed by people with mental issues. Some operators estimate that something like 30% of 911 calls involve mental health issues, and every community has people who call 911 every day, sometimes multiple times. Then there's stuff like this. It's actually getting to be a real problem.

So when 911 gets a call about an attack in progress, and they send someone out to check it out... and there's nothing going on... knocking down the door might not be an awesome idea. It could be someone with a mental health issue. It could be a neighbor with a grudge. But it probably isn't probable cause to break into someone's house. If the police broke down the door every time there was a 911 call suggesting that something bad might be happening, we'd be hearing about a lot more police brutality and Fourth Amendment violations.

In this case, we've got a notorious abuser of the local legal system who had made what amounted to dozens of crank calls to 911 by that point. The police department was actually going easy on her for not arresting her for making false reports or abusing 911.
posted by valkyryn at 2:36 PM on July 27, 2011


iamkimiam:

Speaking as a person who's struggled for, what seems like a long age now, with depressive issues: Yes. That is basically exactly it.

It gets far, far too difficult to deal, and I become more reclusive, which makes me feel cut off and vaguely guilty, which is depressing, which becomes something of a self-fulfilling circle.

I've gotten out of this, to some degree, by engaging in some bootstrap levitation, going back to school, and generally making a nuisance of myself to various people and agencies. Even so, it's easy enough to see how I could have gone another route.
posted by Archelaus at 2:37 PM on July 27, 2011 [5 favorites]


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posted by limeonaire at 4:29 PM on July 27, 2011


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posted by benito.strauss at 4:48 PM on July 27, 2011


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posted by jcreigh at 4:54 PM on July 27, 2011


If I didn't have the mister I would be far down this road.
posted by deborah at 6:52 PM on July 27, 2011 [4 favorites]


Heart-wrenching piece. Michael Kruse has made her forsaken life so vivid.

Can't help saying that it reminds me of another story of loneliness on the path to death. Although, with this story, there is an additional intrigue factor: detectives could never trace her back to anything. A whole different league of reclusive behavior. Who was Mary Anderson and why did she die?
posted by stroke_count at 8:08 PM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Archelaus: It gets far, far too difficult to deal, and I become more reclusive, which makes me feel cut off and vaguely guilty, which is depressing, which becomes something of a self-fulfilling circle.

This has described it really well.

I just wrote a huge, confessional post but couldn't bring myself to post it.

Though i'm much younger that lady could have been me, 4 years ago. Mine was sparked off by a confluence of horrible events but the result was similar - though at the worst of it, I couldn't leave the house for anything more than basic food and necessities. Even then, I could only make myself go to the small corner grocery two blocks from my house.

But that cycle Archelaus describes, that was exactly it, in a nutshell.

After years of work, i'm much better and can more or less function in society but I go through waves of it still, periods where things i'm ordinarily capable of handling suddenly feel so hard. It feels like where normally you have a lake of mental resources to deal with shit, suddenly that lake has shrunk to a small pool.

And when it happens I retreat into my house and start to avoid the outside world, in an effort to hoard the resources. Unfortunately in my case (and many others, i think), when this happens it also feels begins to feel like everything drains that pool and thus becomes difficult - so things like household chores, showering, eating properly...they all suddenly become hard to do.

After a lot of work, i've learned to recognise when this is coming on and have some strategies in place to stop myself falling down the hole, but it took a long time. And the pure luck of having had a devoted partner before i became this way, who could force me to get the help I needed in the first place.

Left to my own devices I would have just kept falling farther and farther out of society, I expect. Much like this lady.

(If you're reading this and feeling a little sick/guilty because you recognise yourself, and a familiar sensation of wanting to close the thread and retreat is hitting you...don't. You can memail me instead, i'll listen to anything you'd like to say. What it's like for you, your pet mice, your thoughts on the terrible abomination that is Michael Bay's hair, anything at all.

Maybe that single step of reaching out will make it a little easier to take some other step you want to take, but don't think you can right now.)
posted by pseudonymph at 8:39 PM on July 27, 2011 [11 favorites]


The woman whom I consider to be my best friend in the world will disappear off my radar for months at a time, during which she answers no calls or emails. She moves a lot so I don't know where I'd even start to look for her. This article put into words one of the things I fear I'll see when I google her name. I know she's not in the most mentally stable place all the time and every time I see her I just try to tell her that she always has a place in the world with me if she needs it, but I'm not sure she always hears me.

Please please please, if you find yourself barricading yourself this way, think back to people in your life who have said things like, "If you EVER need me, you know where to find me," because they really meant it and they really want to help, and they would feel honored and loved and grateful if you chose to call them in a time of need. And if nobody's ever said that to you, I'm saying it now. Memail me. I'm not the queen of social skills or anything, but I am probably the least judgmental person I know, and I like to think I meet people where they are, most of the time. I won't give you crap about your choices, and I want to listen to what you have to say.

I guess this story really upset me. I know a lot of people who live alone and aren't getting any younger, who've experienced bad things in the last few years, and I worry so much about all of them...
posted by troublesome at 10:29 PM on July 27, 2011 [6 favorites]


Oh, we see this kind of thing all the time in my line of work.

I very nearly had my home insurance canceled due to the laziness/carelessness of the inspector (not really, because I caught the problem right away, months before the cancelation notice would have been sent. Nevertheless I still have managed to receive two cancelation warnings because the central office has taken its time adjusting their records). Before insurance is approved I guess they have their own inspector come by. So I receive a call from my agent, "Yeah, we can't approve your insurance request. There's a lot of damage to the house. And there's dry rot in the porch." We don't have a porch. I told to her to send me the report, clearly something was wrong. As soon as I saw the pictures I realized what happened. The inspector had gone to the wrong house. The dumbest part of all of it? That picture of the porch includes a shot of the house number. So it's obviously not our house. That didn't stop the insurance company from trying to cancel our coverage. This was all back in May and we're *still* dealing it.

It's a good thing that I carefully read every letter that comes in the mail. I can see how it'd be pretty easy to suddenly find yourself uninsured through no fault of your own.
posted by Deathalicious at 11:13 PM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


I can see how it'd be pretty easy to suddenly find yourself uninsured through no fault of your own.

For the record: if that does happen to you, you have the basis of a lawsuit. And if a claim is denied as a result of a cock-up like this one, it has the potential to be a very lucrative lawsuit. There's no cap on damages in bad faith claims in most states.
posted by valkyryn at 2:04 AM on July 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Holy shit, fake, that's right up there with the funeral and burial from Titicut Follies.

Also, keep an eye out because that anecdote is exactly the sort of you-can't-make-this-up that's gonna find its way into a story. (If I were a writer, I would totally jack it.)
posted by whuppy at 6:54 AM on July 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oh God, I need to call my aunt in Iowa.
posted by psoas at 7:44 AM on July 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


After years of work, i'm much better and can more or less function in society but I go through waves of it still, periods where things i'm ordinarily capable of handling suddenly feel so hard. It feels like where normally you have a lake of mental resources to deal with shit, suddenly that lake has shrunk to a small pool. ... Unfortunately in my case (and many others, i think), when this happens it also feels begins to feel like everything drains that pool and thus becomes difficult - so things like household chores, showering, eating properly...they all suddenly become hard to do. - pseudonymph

This. This exactly. I have tried to explain this to others, but it's very difficult. They think that if I just tried harder, I could do these things. Or if I'm explaining that it's 'too hard' to call a friend or 'too hard' to wash the dishes, they may find it humorous. "It's just dishes." "It's just a trip to the grocery store."

But it really is more than that. On a good day, it might take a Herculean effort to work for twelve hours on a 10 page paper, and I might do this for a week straight. No problem. This is normal. But on my bad days, even getting dressed, brushing teeth, or microwaving myself some food is so hard that I may not manage it.

The sad thing is, I'm one of the lucky ones. I have a supportive partner, friends that listen to me, and parents that remind me to take my medicine. I have a therapist, a psychiatrist, and prescribed medications that, thanks to Medicare, I can afford. And I *still* have days like this. I feel so terrible for friends or strangers I meet who don't have all these things going for them. They fall through the cracks, and there isn't anyone to care. I try, but given I'm not managing to take care of myself, I may not be the best help.

One of my biggest wishes is for health care, particularly mental health, to become affordable for everyone, not just me.
posted by Charybdis at 6:59 AM on August 5, 2011 [3 favorites]


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