Mental Health

It’s a heartache. Bonnie Tyler told me so.

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So, I’ve had to scale back on a lot of expenses since this ordeal began, and I’m sure I’ll find a lot more that I have to cut back on. Yet, I’ve kept my therapist. Only in California, right?

Therapy always made me really nervous. I looked askance at the idea for many years, due to a bad childhood experience. My parents had dubbed me a “problem child” and dragged me to a shrink at the age of 9, when I suddenly dropped from an A+ GATE student to a D below-average. She seemed nice and asked me some questions. I wasn’t completely sure why I was there, but I answered them. She asked my parents some questions. I ate the cookies she gave me. To sum up her opinion rather succinctly, she thought my parents were a bit crazy, and had more of a hand in my decline than they were letting on. They dragged me out of there and that night I was screamed at and beaten for “answering the questions wrong”.

Since then, I was leery of this psychiatry thing. Certainly, if I ever went back, someone would blame me again for something.

I was a relatively good kid/teenager. I got excellent grades through high school, never even experimented with a single drug, didn’t drink until I turned 21 and then only socially, never been drunk, never snuck out or partied… you get the picture. But a few months ago, it became clear that several issues in my past were coming out of the woodwork and affecting my day-to-day life, and even my sleeping habits. The fact that I had just lost my job to layoffs didn’t help matters, and I started spiraling downwards into depression. A friend who recently got her human services degree referred me to a local mental health hotline (211 Orange County) that could set me up with a therapist on a sliding scale. I decided I’d go once, so I could prove to myself that therapy was as I remembered it.

I was set up with the most fantastic counselor. She is an incredibly wise woman, and I realized that there was someone out there who would listen to me unconditionally. I could pour out all of my “crazy” to this woman, and she didn’t find it crazy at all. The fact that my life sounded like a twisted soap opera didn’t seem to faze her. She believed me! Finally, after years of hearing that I was a deviant and a lost cause, that I was impossible to love, someone found me intelligent and capable; saw good qualities in me that even I didn’t know were there. I am not perfect, and I still have plenty of flaws, to be sure, but when we discuss them it is always calmly and rationally, and she gently guides me towards new ideas/perspectives/conclusions without blaming, or being harsh and judgmental.

Now, more than ever, I need this kind of support. It is so easy to fall into depression just in regular, everyday life, especially with the current state of the world. When you are homeless, it is about twelve jillion times worse. You can find yourself dwelling on how you got here, how it might have been different, will you ever get out of this… The hours seem long and you can lose all concept of time and days of the week, because there’s nothing to measure them by but this stretching, lonely ennui. I’ve been homeless for about a week, and I already know this. I can only imagine it gets worse the longer and more hopeless your situation seems. After therapy, I feel lighter, like I’ve just unloaded all the worry and fear that I was carrying around with me. Life always seems easier to face after I leave that office. No matter how tight for money I get, I will always set aside that small amount for my weekly therapist visit – I wish that I had caved and gone to therapy years ago. I wasted a lot of time that could have been put towards becoming a better version of myself.

If you’re homeless and feel the need for counseling, there are free/cheap programs and resources available to you. If you’re in the Orange County area, you can dial 2-1-1 and be connected to the hotline I mentioned above. A national directory of mental health resources and services can be found here and here. Need resources outside of the U.S.? Google “mental health” and the name of your country/province. If one particular therapist doesn’t work for you, you don’t like their approach, whatever, you can ask for another until you find someone you click with. Compatibility is key, just as it would be in any other relationship based on trust and confidentiality. I would recommend that everyone try it at least once anyway, but particularly if you are in this kind of life-changing circumstance. Your mental health is so important, and is just another resource that you should do everything possible to protect. It’s your mind that will go the furthest in transitioning you out of homelessness. Take care of it. You are not as alone as you think.