I have three days left of work, so my big plans over the next week include dying my hair denim blue and possibly spending some time in Santa Cruz. My hope is that I can start putting forth an effort to write about social justice and van dwelling in an urban setting. That also means coming out publicly as a van dweller – and I’m really excited about that!
My coming out process really started in May. It was then I realized that quitting my job was a viable option. I’d been suffering some terrible grief and depression over losing my parents during the past six months, and both of my cats (I had them for almost 20 years) just a year ago. This was compounded by my inability to find meaning in my work.
One Monday morning in May, after I’d visited my parents’ gravesite for the first time since their funerals, I just could not get up and go to work. There wasn’t anything physically wrong with me, and I wasn’t crying or feeling any of the usual symptoms one associates with sadness, but I couldn’t get up. I couldn’t go and face the day at work and I wondered if I’d ever be able to do so. Then I knew what I had to do – something I’d been avoiding for a long time – I called in sick and made a crisis appointment with behavioral health services at Kaiser. My thought in doing this was that maybe I could get some temporary disability.
I showed up to the intake and was referred to three different professionals including a psychiatrist, a psychotherapist, and an outpatient therapist for my intensive grief therapy that I would be doing over the next three weeks.
My first appointment was with the psychiatrist since they thought it imperative that I explore the option of medication. She asked me the various required questions, and finally came to the living situation questions. These are typical questions they ask everyone as they want to be sure the person is not in a domestic violence situation and that the person feels safe in her environment. I had a choice to make – I could be honest and tell her I lived in a van, and endure the judgement that was sure to follow, or I could tell a white lie about my living situation, as I had been doing all along, in the interest of maintaining normalcy at my job and in public. For the first time this year, I decided to tell the truth and just see what happened.
Predictably, her main concern was that I get out of that situation immediately (as if everyone living in a van has the option to get out of the situation) and she began to start a brainstorming dialogue about living with friends or maybe finding a roommate. I attempted to assure her that living in a van was the one thing that was going right in my life. Even after 9 months (at the time) I had not regretted my decision to live in a van. My words passed by her unnoticed. I went back to her twice during my outpatient program, and each time, the main inquiry was about actions I was taking to find housing.
And just to be clear for the whole world – I am taking no actions at all to find permanent housing, or even temporary housing! I don’t see myself taking action to do this in the near future!
My secret was out and in my medical record by the time I spoke with the outpatient grief therapist, so no point in telling the little white lie – as if it’s anyone’s business anyway! Yes, I am safe. No, I’m not with a domestic partner who is abusive (all valid questions by the way, I don’t want to criticize that they ask these) – and – I’m living in a van. Yes I’m safe, yes I’m comfortable, yes, I take a shower and eat regularly. To her great credit, once I’d assured her of my safety, she validated my living situation and moved past it, a reaction that started to give me confidence that, yes, I could live in a van and I could tell someone about it without the sky falling.
Finally, the psychotherapist they assigned me, after asking all the required questions, was actually interested in my situation, and not only validated me, but expressed some envy of my situation. Because of my own education and training, I know that for both the grief therapist and the other psychotherapist, validation and normalizing a client’s situation is part of their job. But beyond that, I do think that there is a sense of wonder and sometimes envy of those who seem to have some freedom in their lives. What it gave me was the understanding that not everyone will judge me for my living choice. Some will! There is no question about that, but that judgement is on them, not on me! Other’s will have curiosity, and still others will wish that they had that as an option, or had the courage to do the same. But regardless of anyone’s reaction, it is really all about them, and not about me at all!
That was a good start for me in what I’m about to do – openly live in my van, tell my family I live in a van, and tell anyone else who asks! The truth is that I have really valid reasons for doing so, and I’m really happy about that decision, even a year later!