Inspection Days

… are absolutely horrifying when you live in poor housing. It’s especially bad if you have chronic illnesses and you’re only given a 24-hour notice — quietly taped to your door that they assume you’ll discover eventually — and you have to scramble to clean an entire apartment in time. After a year and a half of a pandemic that left a lot of people homebound, who still may be as well, it’s a nightmare. And if you don’t see the notice taped to your door, you may just wake up to random people walking into your apartment. I learned to lock my screen door a few years back because I am not about that kind of intrusion, mandatory inspections or not. The screen door, at least, is only able to be locked and unlocked from the inside.

Having chronic fatigue syndrome flare-ups, as well as severe mental illness, can really make all of this ten times more difficult with a 24-hour window to clean. Even less than that if you don’t discover the notice until later in the day. Last weekend, my chronic fatigue episodes were triggered, and Monday I kept nodding off during a visit with a friend. I remember… not most of it. I couldn’t even find the energy to shower due to falling asleep repeatedly the next day.

So comes Tuesday, when I find the notice on my door because I just happened to peek out the window to see the weather. It’s vague about days and times, and I have no clue if my apartment is included. I don’t even know if I passed the last pre-inspection as they told us and our case managers nothing. It’s all silent and mysterious, apparently.

Just now, there were multiple sets of footsteps outside my door. They paused. I sat with bated breath, traumatic memories rushing back from when I had to be hyper-aware of my father’s footsteps when I lived at home. It reminded me of the days when I’d hear his truck wheels on the gravel, and I jumped up to grab any snacks, use the bathroom, and shut myself in my bedroom. Footsteps. It was always the footsteps that set me on edge. Across the fake wooden floor, his boots thumped around a quiet house as my mom wasn’t home yet. It was early evening.

I would sit poised, on edge, still. My ears were attuned to sound of those footsteps, and my heart beat frantically in my chest as my body went into a fight or flight mode. I knew what those footsteps would bring. An intrusion into my bedroom without knocking. Another fight he would start because I didn’t clean up after him well enough. Another round of insults and reminders of how I was a failure and lazy, and I needed to stop writing my silly stories and get a real job, despite me being disabled and fighting the courts to get SSDI. Yelling about how I was a loser and I was pathetic, and so many other things my brain chooses to block out.

When I heard his office door shut directly across from my bedroom, I’d release the tension and turn back to my computer. I’d breathe. I kept the volume on my speakers so low I could barely hear it. I typed quietly. I didn’t want him to hear me doing anything out of fear of it triggering more verbal abuse. I wanted to erase the thought that I even existed in that room at all.

Sometimes after an argument, I’d hurt myself and curl up in bed, headphones on, and tears streaming down my face. I listened to The Irrepressibles a lot during that time, the beautiful tones and calming music lulling me into a peaceful midday sleep.

Inspection days bring back all of that. The muscle memory of just knowing someone could walk into my home at any time sets me on edge. And they’re here to judge me and my ability to clean well enough. They threaten to keep coming back if you don’t meet their standards. And then there are the moments when I hear footsteps hovering around my door, and I freeze whatever I’m doing. I become a statue, chanting repeatedly, ‘please don’t come in, please don’t come in, please don’t come in.’ I feel fear. I worry I’ve done something wrong and will get in trouble. Muscle memory again.

PTSD rears its ugly head. And when they don’t enter, I know this is going to repeat for two more days until they’re done, according to the notice. They listed no times. They didn’t say if I was included or not.

I am usually an anxious, exhausted mess after these inspections due to how powerfully triggering they are. They mirror all of the sounds and patterns my previous trauma did, and ironically, it also has to do with the worry of not cleaning well enough. Not doing good enough. Add on chronic illness, which kept me in bed over the last day when I should have been cleaning but physically could not, and I’m a grand mess. The cyclic thinking starts again. I’m falling down a spiral of traumatic memories and anxiety, and I know the coming few weeks are going to be hell. I have to come down from this again. I have to convince my body, again, it’s okay. It’s safe.

The saddest fact of all, is this place is owned by the very mental health clinic I go to for treatment. Irony at its best.

©2021 Shane Blackheart


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