Oftentimes in life, things don’t go as we planned. Here I am 52 and sleeping on an inflatable mattress at my mom’s place and working to get into the local mental health care system. My journey to that inflatable mattress was a long one, my reasons for deciding to move to southern California are also long, and my continuing battle with mental health problems even longer. One thing I’ve learned these 50+ years of dealing with mental health problems is to recognize the warning signs. The warning signs are saying bad crap is brewing on the horizon.
Bad Crap Brewing on the Horizon
One thing I’ve learned in life is that mental health problems rarely go away. Yes, there’s a pill for that. The problem is most pills only mask the symptoms and don’t solve/cure anything. Another is I have reoccurring major depression and it’s that reoccurring part that makes dealing with my depression hard. I seem to have a natural cycle of major depressive episodes every 4 to 6 years. Its been five years since my last major episode and the warning signs show that another has started. I seem to have missed the early warning signs and now fear a full-blown major depressive episode is unavoidable. Add that I stopped taking my meds sometime back and things get more complicated.
In hindsight, which often seems to be where most of the life lessons lay, my isolating myself starting last fall was the first, uncaught, indication of the onset of a depressive episode. Isolating and sleeping a lot are both indications of depression. But they are common during the winter in the Midwest. I failed to see them for what they were; warning signs.
Two Major Warning Signs I Couldn’t Ignore
I might have missed a few of the early warnings of my relapse into depression, however, two major warning signs woke me up to reality. Well, one is a definite major red flag, the other perhaps not a major warning for other people, but it is for me based on my experience.
Some years ago, one of my therapists suggested I take up hiking and spending more time outdoors to help my depression. So, I took up hiking, which means having to spend time outdoors away from cities and people. I really took to hiking and loved hiking so much I upped it to backpacking; multi-day hiking trips in the backcountry. My love of backpacking led me to Idaho this spring, where the landscapes are beautiful, permits aren’t required, and the trails are relatively empty.
During two different backpacking trips, warning signs presented themselves. While hiking through some of the most beautiful mountain forests and sitting next to a pristine alpine lake, I couldn’t see the beauty around me. It was as if a shade had been pulled and I could only see the world in muted shades of grey. I didn’t find what I normally find enjoyable and it was affecting how I saw the world around me, so much so that it was becoming clear in my photography. My photography had taken on a dark, muted tone and more than anything it was going through the pictures that shouted at me that something wasn’t right. While perhaps not a major indicator in the grand scheme of the universe, I recognized it as a warning sign.
It was during my next backpacking trip along the Bruneau Canyon in Idaho that another red flag would wave its ugly self in my face. Standing atop the high canyon walls, looking down at the river 1,000 feet below, I thought of jumping. no one was around and it would be days before anyone would notice I’m not there. My dead body could feed the local wildlife. I, obviously, didn’t act on the thought of jumping to my death, but it did wake me up to just how bad I am doing mental health wise. It was a warning I could not ignore; thoughts of suicide, especially given my history, are never a good thing.
Why I Move to Southern California
With thoughts of suicide flashing through my mind, I hiked back to camp, packed up my car and headed for civilization (and yes, there are part of Idaho that are civilized). But just where to go? I’d been living out of my car since February, so where does one go when they need help but don’t consider any place home?
While I maintain a room with some friends in Kansas City, if I went back there I would most likely isolate and not interact with people. Isolating is bad for depression. I also didn’t have anything except my room to go back to in Kansas City, so I’m not tied to that place.
In Southern California on the other hand, I have family there so isolating would be harder. There is also a larger mental health network available in SoCal, so getting into the mental health system would be easier. The downside is I already know the mental health system in Kansas City, where to go, who to talk to, and the like. There are more therapists who focus on a couple of my specific needs, so I can try to get care more focused on my needs. And another reason is I would get a bit more disability since the cost of living in California is so high.
After a lengthy pro/con session, talking to a close friend, and talking with my mom, I decided the best place for me right now is in Southern California. Will I make California my home going forward? I am not sure. I hate cities, traffic, crowds, and earthquakes. I do I think I can put up with those things while I focus on getting me better. That is all that matters, getting me better and if my care options are better in California than California is where I need to be. For now at least.
So I find myself in Southern California, sleeping on an inflatable mattress at my parent’s place, working to get into the local mental health system, and trying to figure out a way forward. On the bright side, I have family around me and am focused on getting myself better; those are both good things which help in dealing with the crap a little easier…