I certainly never thought I would be homeless in my lifetime.
I grew up in an upper middle class family.
I have a college education.
When I lost my job in 2009 I was making 62K a year. In Cincinnati that is comfortable for a single person.
I had an excellent management job that I expected to keep and continue to be promoted in.
I had lots of friends and family. In fact a few month ago, I found something I wrote about being grateful which included something to the effect that I was grateful that I would never face homelessness because I had family and friends, so if everything else went south I was at least safe from the depths of hell.
I think no one would think that I was the person who would be homeless. So what happened?
Non Functional Depression.
It didn’t start as nonfunctional, of course. It started as an irritant in an otherwise rather lovely life. I found myself unable to focus. I didn’t want to go to a job I loved. I began to call in due to the depression more often.
But I didn’t do anything about it. Because Depression. That’s what it does. It makes you both irrational and unmotivated. And I was convinced that I wasn’t depressed because my life was pretty damn good AND because I was big on projecting how strong I was and I didn’t want people to know I was actually a fucked up mess.
So I ignored it. And it got bigger and stronger until one day – I couldn’t get out of bed at all. That’s when I thought it might be a good idea to call the doctor. She referred me to the psychiatrist who told me to take 6 weeks off and get my brain back online.
This is a career melting thing to do, but I didn’t have a lot of choice. I wasn’t getting out of bed. When I got back to work I was feeling pretty vulnerable and exposed and I was NOT feeling a whole lot better. But I was DETERMINED.
Until I fell apart again 6 months later. And took another 6 weeks off. At this point my career was shot, but I still had a job. They sidelined me and this gave me a chance to work on a project dear to my heart. It didn’t require much interaction and allowed me to just wander down a labyrinth of writing up documentation. I also spent a good deal of time training people.
My project was a success and the VP decided to forgive me, so she gave me a department that was drowning in a backlog of work and bad process. So, despite not really loving that job, I did it. While I did the job, the work got caught up, I got the employees engaged in making a better process, promoted several who needed the recognition, and improved the overall quality of the work.
And I was late to work everyday. To be fair, I was actually late because I was working from home, but this wasn’t a particularly enlightened company and my new supervisor was both very old school and not particularly fond of the fact that I fixed a department she had run for 10 years without any change of the issues I fixed in 6 months. But you know. Different styles. I cared and I asked the folks doing the work what would make it better. She showed up on time but couldn’t be bothered to talk to them. But I’m sure being on time is helpful.
Anyway, she didn’t like seeing emails from me timestamped 630am and then having me walk in at 9am. I liked working at home because I wasn’t interrupted. At the office, if I wasn’t in a meeting, I was on the phone, or there was a line of people at my door waiting for me to solve a problem. Its impossible to do any productive things in that environment. And there were things I needed to get done.
So. She put me on warning for being late. Eventually she fired me.
I should have been on time. She had a boundary and I couldn’t seem to make myself adapt to her boundary. That was the depression. You see in depression – its hard to change direction. Imagine you are driving somewhere and you realize you missed your turn. The fastest solution would be to turn around but instead you feel compelled to drive 6 miles out of your way to get there by NOT turning around. Depression is like that. Its on a track and once its on the track it doesn’t want to turn around or change tracks.
That’s why people with depression don’t take out the garbage or clean the house or get lots and lots of things done. Because they are in a track that doesn’t include that task. Its sort of like OCD but usually without action. Usually the track is just non-movement.
For me getting ready for work was a change of track. I was sitting in my pjs at my home computer getting a lot of stuff done. But getting ready for work was an a different track. And it was so hard to do. So I decided to stop doing the work at home. But then it was hard to get out of bed and get ready.
In anycase. I lost the job. And the depression then enveloped me like a black fog. I got in bed and lay there. If my mother hadn’t become bed ridden I don’t think I’d have moved.
But she did and so my life took on a new purpose. I cared for her. But she died 2 years later and that was the last tether holding me up. I sank into the abyss and I haven’t been out since. I lay in bed for 2 solid years until I had no money left and I was evicted from my apartment.
When I told my sisters I was deeply ashamed. I was expecting to be evicted in 10 days when I finally made the call. They came over to my apartment and this is what they said.
You need to put your animals to sleep.
You need to go into the hospital for depression.
You need to go to a homeless shelter.
I only heard the first part. For the first time in 5 years all of my soul roared and I exploded in anger. I refused to kill my pets because I was broken. It was unfair. It was wrong. It was awful. One of my sisters agreed to take the dog because she thought her son would adopt it. But the cat, Lily, was not part of the deal.
I called my friends and one of them agreed to take Lily until I could find a way to get her back.
That relief was palpable but it was followed by the realization that the last part of their plan was for me to go to a homeless shelter. They didn’t want me in their homes. They were rejecting me.
They used terms like “you have to hit rock bottom” and “tough love”. But I firmly believe that those are just ways to make their choice feel righteous. They certainly had the right not take me into their homes. I recognize that. I even understand why they would be reluctant to do it. But I HATE that they want to feel righteous about it. Because the act of putting a mentally ill person on the street is NEVER the helpful choice. EVER.
I was spending 23 1/2 hours a day in my bed and they put me in a situation that would overwhelm a mentally healthy person. I couldn’t cope with even minor things.
I drove myself to the hospital and they never visited me in the week I spent there. I’m not sure what their logic there was.
They put a bit of a cherry on the rejection by renting a uhaul and a storage locker, packing up most of my stuff and putting it in storage. They paid to keep my things safe and sheltered after I had already told them it didn’t matter to me if I lost all of it. I just watched them numb and useless.
They drove away from me after handing me some money and a map to the homeless shelter. I slept in my car. It was early March and it was cold.
On the 2nd or 3rd night I was arrested because I hadn’t filed my taxes in the town where I lived. I went to jail for a night. The judge, upon recognizing that I didn’t actually OWE any money, I just didn’t file the form for 3 years (yeah depression), let me go. When my sister picked me up from the court afterwards, she asked me if the friend who was taking care of my cat could take me in. She also said it God’s blessing that the judge was kind and that I was arrested on the night that it snowed 6 inches so I was inside on that night. I was arrested at 3am.
She gave me a gift certificate for a couple hundred dollars and I used it to get a night in a motel, so I could wash off the jail and sleep. It turns out sleeping in a car was mostly NOT sleeping for me. And there is NO sleeping in a jail.
My friends on tumblr set up a fundraiser and got me 3 weeks in a motel. And then I was in the car again. I did that for about a few weeks when my friend who took the cat in, got me a job with her sister. The job I currently have.
Another friend got me a week in a hotel after I got the job. His position being that as long as I was trying he was willing to help me with some money.
After I had the job a couple of weeks I got a paycheck and was finally able to move into a rooming house.
I have just barely sketched out what happened. I was homeless for about 2 months. Its was a terrible experience from a lot of points of view, but it doesn’t even come CLOSE to how terrible it can be for people who live on the street. I own my car outright and I lived in it. I never went to the homeless shelter because I was terrified of them.
In the end, I was still depressed, I had a dramatic increase in Anxiety and whole new boatload of emotional pain associated with my sisters. I am now functioning. Sometimes barely, sometimes reasonably. But I am not well.