I live safe in a house now, with four walls, and a mattress, with locks on the doors, and a bathroom that I can use whenever I want. I've been safe in a house for a while, long enough that I am out of survival mode and able to write again. And so, I'm going to share some things about what I learned before I got out of being homeless, and the things it changed in me.
I am not the same person I was.
How It All Began
It began for me last August, about a year ago now, when I was working for a company that I will not name, unless you name it first and ask me if you should work there, in which case I will tell you to run screaming in the opposite direction.
I was making decently good money, I worked 8 to 5, it was a twelve minute commute, the office was filled with people I liked, and I was absolutely and completely miserable every moment I was there.
There are a lot of things I could attribute the misery to. There were people constantly quitting, on a daily basis, so many that the company had to and still has to hire a room full of twelve to twenty people every week to replace the ones they hemorrhage on a daily basis. It is a company that hires a lot from a local university town, and therefore prefers volume over quality, pressure over training, and numbers over many other things.
When you have so many people in need of a job, you can afford to turn your company into a meat-grinder. If you do, may Heaven have mercy on your soul. On the other hand, there is a very good chance they will have greater need of your particular talents in Hell, so either way, your post-mortality career options look good.
I jest. Sort of.
This sort of culture oozing down from the owner, combined with a daily regimen that required me to attempt to multi-task filling out two forms at once while simultaneously managing the wandering conversations of dozens of the most unpleasant and entitled people in the United States over the phone, insane monotony combined with insane pressure to perform all day, falling further behind every day and never catching up, made it an absolute hellhole.
Towards the end, for about a month, every day I would go into the bathroom multiple times shaking, trembling, sick. I woke up in the morning wondering why on earth I was getting up again and going back to that hellhole, and every night I could barely relax because I knew I had to go back the next day and be a failure at work again. A well-liked, pleasant failure, but a failure.
It sounds rather a lot like many people's experiences in Corporate America.
They finally transferred me to a department where I was informed that I would not be required to multi-task. :) It was worse. I lasted four hours in the new position, and finally I ended up in the bathroom, sobbing soundlessly, unable to cope with going back and facing one more minute.
I walked out, thanked them quietly for trying to keep me, told them I was leaving and not coming back, handed my badge to their poor HR person (who was so appallingly used to this by now she accepted it without any sort of surprise, business as usual, thanks and have a nice day) and then I left the building.
I would not have a stable job again until the following February.
How It Really All Began
I said at the beginning that this all started for me last August, but really, it started for me when I was a teenager, when I developed major depression and mood swings that would go without diagnosis until I was in my early twenties.
:) Not something I really share with a lot of people either, because I'm still going through it in many ways, and it's easier sometimes when no one knows. I used to actively hide it because I was afraid of what people would think, but now I just don't tell people because it's not really their business and there is nothing they can do anyway. That is another blog post in it's own right, and when I am feeling up to it, I may write it, after this series.
The depression was a big factor over the following months. Finding a job can be hard. Finding a job when you don't really want to live any more is even harder. Not having a job can make even a normal guy depressed. But I am not normal, I am gifted with a weighted soul, and it sunk me so deep into the blackness there were many times I contemplated taking my own life.
I was also on the wrong medication, and had been for two years. It made me slow, dull, and zombie like. I couldn't stop sleeping, and never felt rested. A doctor, well-meaning and trying to save my life during a prior low time when they were very concerned that I might kill myself, had put me on a medication that was completely wrong for me. He was desperate, and although the medication made it so that I wasn't on the edge of a dark place any more, I never came back into the light.
It was around that time that I dropped out of college, too empty and dark to even give the college notice that I was leaving. I just stopped going.
I understand now, more than ever, that there are people all around me who smile through their day, who put up a perfect facade of normalcy, who when they have left the presence of the people around them, sink down and wonder if they'll be able to do that again.
For six months following my self-termination, I was unemployed. There was about a month of that time when I had part-time holiday seasonal employment with a calendar store, making nowhere near enough to get by.
Sometime during that six months my mother helped me to get my medication changed, and I started to come back to life. But in December, right before Christmas, I became so sick I could not drive home for the holidays, and remained bedridden (coughing and unable to speak) for two and a half weeks until I finally broke down and went to the doctor, who I could not afford to see but could no longer afford not to see. Antibiotics broke the stranglehold the disease had on me, (some sort of pre-pneumonia bronchitis) and after another week I was back to full health. I had lost about thirty pounds in the course of the sickness.
I still could not find a job.
In the beginning of February, there was no rent money in my account. There had not been money there for some time, and I knew that month I would not be able to pay. I had sold anything of value that I could sell in order to pay it for prior months. My landlord, who had been very kind in working with me, asked me to either be able to pay by a certain day, or to leave.
It was only fair, and I want to reiterate, he was not the bad guy. In fact, I've gone back and visited him - we even sat around playing video games one night. :) He was not the bad guy, and there really wasn't one to begin with. If there was one, it was me. I was my own bad guy. But looking back objectively, I had done the best I could. I was a broken, frightened, physically and emotionally and mentally ill human being, who was only just starting to get better from years of being ill.
A week before the day came, I quietly packed up everything I owned, which fit into my two-door Honda Civic, vacuumed my room, left a thank-you and a homemade banana cream pie in the fridge for my landlord, and I walked out the door. I asked him if I could still claim his address as a place of residence and a place to get mail, and he said I could. I did not tell him where I was going, because I didn't want to worry him or make him feel bad.
Sort of the story of my life, actually. :) But there was nothing he could do (landlords have to pay the bills too you know!) and I did not want to worry him about what was coming next in my life.
Why I Didn't Tell You
I haven't told a lot of people I was homeless, especially people who knew me before. Homelessness brings out strong reactions in everyone who used to know the person well. When I was actually sleeping in my car, I didn't tell anybody who didn't absolutely HAVE to know. My parents knew, and there were maybe two or three others besides them.
There are a lot of reasons why I didn't tell anyone, and they vary from person to person.
There are some people who would feel guilty. I didn't tell those people because it wasn't their fault.
There are some people who would become angry that I didn't ask them if I could come live with them. I didn't tell those people because I was tired of being beholden.
There are some people who would only have felt afraid and anxious. I didn't tell those people because I know what it is like to be helpless.
There are some people who would have thought unpleasant thoughts and said unpleasant things. Those people I had already cut out of my life sometime before, so why would I tell them now? Ha ha...
There were some people who simply wouldn't know what to do with the information... and this is what I experienced the majority of the time when I did have to tell them. We are used to perceiving the homeless as the crackhead on the train, or the bum in the cardboard box. A stranger who we did not know before and who we will forget soon after. But how do you handle it when you knew the homeless as a little boy, or as a missionary for his church, or as a friend?
I chose it myself, and I kept the choice to myself.
I could have gone home to my parents in Idaho, and I very nearly did so on that day when I packed up everything I owned. I would likely have returned to my old job working at a grocery store (which was soul destroying in it's own right), to being a 25 year old still living in his parents basement, depressed out of my mind.
I love my Mom and Dad. They would have taken me in again, and I could have been safe in my childhood home. But I was twenty-five years old. I was someone who knew that I had to be my own person, now, and so I chose to not go home to them, where it was safe, but to try to stand on my own two feet, where it was not.
In a series of posts (and I don't know how many there will be) I want to share with you these things I learned. The economy sucks right now, and it isn't going to get better. My experience might help you, or someone you care about, and if it does, great. If not, then just think of this as notes from a friend, sharing an experience with you that cost me a great deal to obtain, but who gained so much more than I lost from it.