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One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

As for the depression, when I am in its grips, at the bottom of the abyss, well, suicidal ideations are equivalent to happy thoughts.

Some readers of this column have asked for some background about why I am still on the street, since I’m not crazy or on drugs. It seems this is counter-intuitive to a lot of people who thought they understood homelessness. I’ll do what I can to enlighten you.

The most immediate and obvious answer is poverty as it regards permanent and long-term housing. Without the financial resources to provide (and the luxury of being able to save up for and set aside) the usual minimum payment for an apartment or room and a first-and-last month’s security deposit—in most cases equaling three month’s rent—it is nearly impossible to get mainstream housing. Even people who are working and who can afford a monthly rent payment often find it difficult to both survive in the present and try to save money for the future. In my case, when I was receiving Temporary Disability Assistance Program payments as my only cash income, it was impossible to put anything significant away or even find a weekly room on $185 a month. Now I am receiving an income from these columns but am not receiving food stamps, so the situation is the about the same.

That is the financial picture, probably the simplest piece of the puzzle. There are also mental and emotional issues I deal with and, to be brutally honest, DO NOT deal with that affect my situation in ways both voluntary and involuntary. I have long known that I am afflicted with severe clinical depression which, over the years, has prevented me from taking advantage of opportunities to make changes in my life. Between the addict’s “want it now” need/desire for instant gratification—both before I was in active addiction and, of course, during the nearly 30-year run of active addiction and now, though to a lesser extent, while I am NOT in active addiction)—and depression’s insidious “you’re not worthy anyway” reaction to failure/disappointment, plus a fear of change (because “things can only get worse”), it becomes very easy to settle for living in circumstances and places no one in their right mind would ever consider, i.e., the infamous shed I spent three and a half years in. (See former columns and/or my blog, at the web address below, for more info.)

My illness (which has now been postulated to be not just depression but bipolar II disorder by two separate health care professionals) and the fact that I am high-functioning has at times led me to make what I thought were reasoned and rational choices were actually self-defeating excuses not to make or even attempt change. Fear of embarrassment, fear of ridicule, and an at times overpowering and debilitating anxiety have kept me from pursuing options that would improve my situation. A prime example is that it took me almost a month and a half to walk into the Social Security Administration office to submit some (already filled-out) paperwork to continue my Supplemental Security Income claim. And two weeks ago I finally screwed up the courage to go into the SSA office, shaking like a leaf and soaked with a cold sweat. Luckily, I had an encounter with a caseworker who was beyond patient, kind, and compassionate). My food stamps and Temporary Disability Assistance Program payments lapsed this summer (due to a Department of Social Services error!), but I did not go in to reapply and restart the benefits until today.

As I write this, I am at a high point in my cycle—hypomania, as it is known—where my manic episodes, though noticeable, are not abnormal. My highs merely bring me to the middle-ground level on which most others walk. Because of this, I am taking the ball and running with it while I can. I have been to my primary physician, gotten a CT scan to address some physical issues, met with my SSA specialist caseworker from Health Care for the Homeless, taken advantage of an offer from a former director of the agency to grease the wheels (as it were) in order to help me sidestep a part of the cattle-call initial-intake process that my severe anxiety keeps me from moving through to get an actual appointment with a social worker for a psych evaluation and another actual appointment on the 29th of this month to go through intake.

To some, this may seem no big deal, but if you have ever had a real anxiety attack, you know how debilitating and enervating they can be, and as for the depression, when I am in its grips, at the bottom of the abyss, well, suicidal ideations are equivalent to happy thoughts. If I do not do this now and take advantage of an opportunity see even the slightest measurable result, the next bout of depression’s downhill slide may be the final one.

Dave blogs about life on the street at

Recently in Homelesscide
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  • One Step Forward, Two Steps Back As for the depression, when I am in its grips, at the bottom of the abyss, well, suicidal ideations are equivalent to happy thoughts. | 10/24/2012
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