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My Mental Illness Left Me Homeless. Here's What I Want Others to Know Now.

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I never thought I’d survive. I chomp on cigarettes and carry an extra 80 pounds in weight because I never thought I would survive my suicidal thoughts. Both were attempts on my life.

I never thought I could handle it. Walking from place to place in the elements, panhandling for food and necessities, eating out of trash cans. It was too much to bear, to even think about. I wouldn’t survive.

But, here I am — seven years after the worst year of my life. Breathing. Heart beating. Smiling and laughing. Hanging out with friends. Listening to country music. Following the 2016 presidential race. Reading. Contemplating life and my values and my beliefs.

One of the movies I found in my post-suicidal life was one about mercy, the 2012 musical, “Les Miserables.” In it, Jean Valjean is given two acts of mercy — one is a place to stay after he gets out of prison, and the second is a bag of silver to start a new life, after he stole it. He is asked to see the “higher plan.” He vows to become a new man, and, spoiler, goes to heaven at the end of the film. He is not bitter, at least, eventually, about spending 19 years in prison. He learns compassion and mercy and helping others is the lesson, not hating the world.

This spoke to me because searching for soda cans (10 cents a can in Michigan) to feed myself, running into the police every two days, sleeping in the library or Starbucks, searching for a job, getting one, but having no place to shower, and losing the job, opened my heart along the way. Old “Star Trek” movies I memorized as a kid and mistakes I made in my life played in my head. Tears and wanting comfort because I was tired — I reached a new level of mental and emotional exhaustion — made me realize people on the street are doing this every day.

It wasn’t until I bought a piece of art that the first spark of hope was reignited in me. I didn’t believe it at the time, but I said, “This will hang in my apartment when I get my place.” I’ve been here seven years.

But those people are still out there. They are rarely talked about. The suicidal man who is homeless — that was me. It was like I was a ghost. No one saw me. They aren’t mentioned on TV, unless they want to pull at your heart strings around holidays. I’ve never heard them are mentioned by politicians. But I want to help. I’ve been there. I want to do something to help those people.

So, I guess I didn’t survive. My misconceptions about poverty and my misconceptions about having a mental illness are in a grave, with my heart and empathy exposed. That was a seminal event, that year of mine. It changed me. Big moments continue to teach. So, push forward. Life is a mystery — what you can handle, what you will learn and the beauty you will find — just put one step in front of the other. Sometimes, courage comes in getting from one second to the next. Remember, I have been there and I won’t say I’ll never be there again, but I saw a way out. And there is help. Hold on. Please, hold on. 

People with untreated serious mental illness comprise approximately one-third of the total homeless population. For more important, click here

If you or someone you know needs help, please visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

The Crisis Text Line is looking for volunteers! If you’re interesting in becoming a Crisis Counselor, you can learn more information here.

Originally published: March 28, 2016
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