... I was a pretty shy kid. I am still pretty shy, but have learned how to use humor and sarcasm pretty well. I grew up on the river and when it would flood, I would end up taking a canoe down to the bus stop. I was kind of embarrassed to be picked up on the school bus from my house, but now that I am older I realized how cool my house was and how awesome it was that I got to live there.”
Shawn explained his current family relationships and how they have molded him into the man he is today. “I’m still really close with my family. I have two younger sisters that I am in close contact with. I am super proud of both of them and family has always been really important to me. Sometimes, it is hard to stay together through all of the drugs and drinking, but it helped make us who we are. I would like to reconnect with some of my extended family, but I have isolated myself. It’s a lot more than addiction, but it [the addiction] certainly doesn’t help. I wish I was closer with my godmother. She has my Border Collie/Australian Shepherd mix, Luna, I love that dog. That dog just loves everybody. She got to go with my godmother when I couldn’t care for her anymore. She [my godmother] is one of the most important people in my life. I used to call her every week and I still should. I know my own role in that part of the relationship.”
When discussing his life’s course, Shawn shared a sequence of events that led him back home--his parents’ house. “When I was 18, I got in typical fights with my dad. You know, ‘you don’t like it, then leave.’ So I did. I was 18 and finished high school. I was out on my own. Most of the time I had a decent job, but I have also had every sh**ty job under the sun. I didn’t go to college right away or ever. I experienced a lot of the same feelings that people in their 20s and 30s feel after not going to college. I tried to decide what to do and made excuses not to go. I realized pretty quickly that I should have done something else, but just didn’t know what. I was in a relationship with the same woman for 10 years. It was rocky after the first two years and we didn’t put each other first, so we broke up. Then ran into each other about a year later and we were still in love. We bought a house, had a couple of dogs, and a nice lawn. We had what people strive for. After about 10 years, things were not going great, but we weren’t going to break up. I let a buddy of mine move in when he needed a place to stay and she ended up cheating on me with him. So I packed a bag and at the age of 37 moved back into my parents’ house.”
A compilation of events rather than one moment, led Shawn to homelessness. “I moved in with my parents because I didn’t know what else to do. It was hard living with my parents. Eventually, I had to leave. I don’t know anyone who is going through depression and addiction and can comfortably live with their parents. For a lot of people that are homeless, drugs and alcohol are the main reason. I’ve done a lot of drugs and drank a lot in my life, but I never let it define me. I was still able to have relationships with my family, and I was never homeless until my late 30s. I still consider myself to be an addict even though I’m not using [drugs]. For me, depression and anxiety play a big role in my homelessness.”
The rain clouds of depression cut deep. Shawn walked us through the past three years of his life. “I gave up when I broke up with my ex. I could not snap out of my depression. I was embarrassed, and I was drinking to pass the day. I didn’t do drugs and drink to escape, I did it to feel better. I was self medicating. I didn’t drink and do drugs into oblivion, but I was still using them. I no longer use opioids. I didn’t want to feel sick every morning. I wanted to be able to eat, sleep, and most of all not have it consume my life. Using could have driven me to the streets a lot earlier than it did. There were also more emotional issues that led to my homelessness.”
Shawn discusses his last three years on the streets and what homelessness feels like to him. “Since I left my parents’ house, I’ve been on the streets. I don’t spend every night outside, but most. This will be my third winter outside. I slept on that [points at a bench] park bench last night. I don’t usually sleep in the park, but I had to sleep on that sidewalk for two nights last week. It was embarrassing for me. I also stayed in the Warming Center, which is an amazing resource, but it made me feel trapped. There are so many different personalities crammed into one room and it just feels weird. Since it has been getting cold out, there is a sense of panic and everyone is on edge. It makes things harder.”
Shawn highlights the complexity of not holding a permanent address when searching for and maintaining a job. “I have been working pretty much the whole time I have been homeless. In the summers, I work for my dad doing siding and windows, I have also done masonry work for the last few years. It’s hard to have a job when you’re sleeping outside. You don’t have anywhere to shower before or after work. I look forward to days that I am not in physical pain. If you’re 40 and don’t have some aches and pains you probably haven’t worked hard enough. Another big thing for me is that my back is pretty messed up. I am really afraid of hurting myself again. I can get a job as a masonry, but I couldn’t physically do it every day. If I can’t work every day, then I am not going to be able to keep a job.”
A final message from Shawn echoes that we are never alone and help is often closer than we realize. “There’s a lot of things that have added up to my being homeless. With my depression, it is really hard to not give up a lot of days. I can feel it coming on, kind of like a common cold or the flu and then all of a sudden it hangs over me like a rain cloud for the next few days. In my future, I want to have a job, a car, and a house with all of the utilities in my name. It’s so hard to do though when you are so f***ing sad. Things spiral faster than you will realize. There’s a lot of help that I was not ready to take. No matter how alone you feel, you are never alone. Even when you’re at the bottom and you don’t see anyway out, someone will be there to help you. That person probably isn’t as far away as you think either. When people offer to help, let them.”
Authors’ Note: Many of us felt and still feel the challenges of this year and others. We face new, sometimes unimaginable challenges. We want to take time to recognize that no one should have to deal with those thoughts or that pain alone. We are providing some resources that can help. Reach out to those around you and take time to care. Love each other and be kind.
National Alliance on Mental Illness
Artist’s Note: Some days are harder than others, but Shawn lives every day helping others. There is always sunshine in the distance. Never give up hope of having that sunshine on your face.