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Bipolar disease and chronic homelessness all wrapped up in one or Bipolar Disease and Chronic Homelessness – a Treatise About Trauma First Care

September 9, 2015

Bipolar disease and chronic homelessness all wrapped up in one


When I was born I came into the world rocking my cradle rocking the cradle to bits and pieces, climbing out getting up at all hours opening the doors and going outside in the middle of the night, needing to be protected safe and albeit no one was overwhelmed by my intensity.  


I lived predominantly in my own special sphere making up brothers and finding it difficult to relate to peers.  Neither of my parents had any inkling as to what caused my desperate behavior.  Psychologists insisted that I needed more assertive discipline.  In this unquieting mind I grew and was treated and labeled as being “retarded.”  As much of a stigma exists for me at this time and place in my life as then.


The only distinction is that I have learned to stay away from people, few of whom I have ever felt at ease, safe, and less vulnerable. Work, family, children, marriage, every convention of living according to status quo was irrelevant because I was seen as I am as incorrigible.


I loved learning and found the only outlet that existed in exploring nature and in drinking in everything.  My consciousness is crystal clear from an early age, remembering factually and in pictures every nuance of my life.


I learned as early as possible how to protect my innocence and avoid being trampled.  I have never been self-sufficient, always prone to loss, great pathos, repeated failures, mistakes that plunged me further in despair and doubt, always expecting to be dismissed, shunned, scorned and loathed.  


In 1995, after a divorce of bitter rancor and an attempt to carry on in the same vein twice, my youngest child Leila was in a near fatal car accident in Philadelphia where she had been planning her sweet 16 birthday celebration.  I was living here, gardening, teaching swimming at Morey and National Jewish at Gove Community School, and for the American Red Cross.  I also tended the Gove Community Gardens and had a business called Rottin’ ReLeaf in organic gardening and composting.  When the news came I was tending the garden for Denver Urban Gardens.  I was sent word not by my family but by a friend who was making the sweet 16 invitation for my daughter.  I was already 48 years old and first diagnosed with this disease, which I had coped with for most of my life.


After the trip home to see my daughter Leila I became suicidal.  I had always been surprised that I lived this long.  Over the next 6 years I experimented with dying, to quote Sylvia Plaith, “It felt so good.”  It was a panacea for the constant struggle to sustain my meagre existence.  Edna St. Vincent Millay described everything I felt, I burn my candles at both ends, it will not last the night, but ah my friends and oh my foes, what a lovely light.”  The only exception was that life was never lovely.  My life is a taunting unending prison without windows, doors, a ceiling or a floor.  

Medicine has never been a strategy that helped at all. Neither safety, neither sanctuary, neither common ground ever was sufficient to hold me steadfast and feel secure.  No one ever held me until the pain subsided, many though attempted to get through the layers that insulated me.


This is fundamentally what makes being without a place, a way to rest, to be safe, to feel secure that this will not be shattered and taken away.  I was once asked, “Why I felt such uncertainty?”  This was by an employer who was about to dismiss me.  There is nothing to say.  I was a teacher at the time with adjudicated youth in a school for Adventures in Change in Sheridan near Ft. Logan Mental Health Center.  Much earlier I had been a chaplain in the Adult locked in ward.  I had an empathy for the patients who suffered from suicidal ideation.  I came to the aid of many emergency room families who had lost a loved one at Swedish Medical Center.  I said prayers and helped people with the ultimate issues of loss, but I never understood my disease.


When I finally ended in a coma at Presbyterian St. Luke’s Hospital at the advent of Sept. 11, 2001, I had breached the gap between being dead and alive.  A neighbor who worked with me at the Denver Homeless Voice pulled me from my deadly wake by breaking in my door and having an ambulance take me to ICU. I remained there for nearly a week.  When I was released the next morning the Twin Towers and the Pentagon were destroyed and damaged. 


It was obvious to me that like the film the “Shawshenk Redemption,”  I’d better get living.  That was when I became a witness to shattering the stigma of both this disease and homelessness.  I have never looked back.


All of us need purpose, to feel wanted, to be wanted, embraced, have a means tested reason for our being. My choices led me to be more gentle, to feel blessed, to forgive and to struggle always for equilibrium through contemplative prayer, by dignity and grace, remembering that what matters most is that you breathe.  We never forget where we were, we cannot, some choose to obfuscate their past.  I choose to echo the sense and terror that is inescapable in being alone, afraid, as it has been said, “fear, trampling and sickness unto death.”  Most of us sense that if we die that no one will know.

This is what we are doing every December 21, the Longest Night, when we say, “we will remember, and light a candle and murmur, “we will remember,” we are giving a place of stature that we belonged, we mattered, our lives count. One day I have promised that a memorial bench be placed at the State Capitol in the circle that has a person in snow covering up their clothes as the person lies asleep on a bench.  The plaque will say, “Here one of our family, our neighbors, our friends spent the night.” Blessings always.

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