Dealing with Depression and Death

When the economy crashed in 2008 I started to get letters from people who were going through very hard economic times. As time has passed I continue to get  letters that have a tone of depression and hopelessness. In my website and this blog I consider offering people help and hope in these terrible times one of my primary goals.

Sometimes the depression and hopelessness can seem overwhelming. I recently went through some of that myself and so in today’s post I’m writing about something that is not normal for blog posts, I’m going to write about depression and death. Quite a downer, huh? But what can I say, it’s on my mind right now and a big part of my life. Last year in May 2011 a very close member of my family took his own life, and as you would expect, it was devastating to me. It was much more difficult because of the suddenness of it. There was no warning or preparation, one morning I got a call telling me he was gone by his own hand. To say it came as a shock would be a total understatement.

I guess we should have known this was coming; my family member had started to display mental illness when he went away to college. It became increasingly difficult to hold a conversation with him because his thoughts didn’t seem to work like everyone else’s. At first we would notice him mumbling under his breath to himself, but it steadily got worse until he eventually would go outside for a smoke or go into the bathroom and we would hear him arguing and even screaming at someone, but he was all alone.

He had more-and-more problem working until he simply wouldn’t work anymore. We thought tough love was the solution so we told him he couldn’t live with any of us until he got a job, and he still never got a job. His rent was just about up at the hostel he was staying in, and we had no idea what he was going to do then. We found out the hard way that the mental illness was much worse than we had ever suspected and that he was so hopeless and full of despair that he had decided to end his life rather than face the problem.

The problem with mental illness is that the disease convinces the victim that he is okay, it is all the people around him who are messed up. Family members tried repeatedly to get him to a mental health professional and he refused to even consider it. One time my ex-wife tried to trick him into going to a VA clinic but he was a very intelligent young man and saw right through it. It was all very confusing, here was this very intelligent, wonderful person slipping away from us.

One morning it was all too much for him, he took his gun and went to a place near where he had grown up and took his life. I can’t tell you how many times I have tried to put myself in his shoes and get in touch with the pain and hopelessness he must have been feeling on the bus ride over. It’s unbearable.

It’s easier for me to get in touch with his pain than you might think. I have never been a happy person; in fact, for the most part I have been unhappy most of my life, bordering on depressed. During a mid-life crisis in my 40s I got some help and my life started to turn around. Then I discovered vandwelling and it got even better. Before my relatives suicide, my life had gotten really good. I’m still not a truly happy person, but I wasn’t at all unhappy. On a fairly regular basis I felt actual joy from my life in nature.

However, the last year has been very hard for me, I was bordering on suicidal myself. I was lucky because when I found out I was on my way to work as a campground host in the Sierra National Forest. That kept me busy and I was spending time with old friends and people I really cared about so in my typical way, I tried to avoid feeling all the pain I was going through by stuffing it down. Then on August 4th I severely broke my right elbow and wrist in a motorcycle accident. I spent August and September flat on my back elevating my arm and having absolutely nothing to do. My pain and depression started to deepen. In October I started physical therapy which brought me some relief, but I still cried a lot. In November I found out for the first time that my arm wasn’t going to fully recover, that I would have some permanent disability.

That was too much! Up until then every day had been a struggle to keep going, but at least I thought I would recover if I worked really hard. At the time my fingers hadn’t loosened up and I couldn’t touch my thumb to any of my other fingers, I couldn’t write or type with my right hand. I couldn’t tie my shoes, wipe my butt, feed myself, drive with my right arm or lift anything over 1 pound (today, after a lot of hard work, I can do all those things). Things were very dark. I gave up, that was too much; I wasn’t going to keep fighting the pain (of either my broken heart or from my arm) any more. I told God (as I understand God) that I was through, if I was going to live, it was up to him to make it happen.

That week my friend Steve showed up in camp. He had spent a week camping with me in the Sierras before he had gone back to Washington to take care of some business. He was the answer to my prayer. He became one of my best friends. Just having him around to visit with every day made all the difference. Later Blars joined us and that made it even better. Then in January I went to the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous in Quartzsite and that was a turning point. Seeing so many wonderful people and knowing I was making a difference in their lives was extremely helpful. I have been depressed since then, but I don’t think I have been truly suicidal.

I had a specific reason for going to Alaska last week; September 19 was my relative’s birthday and we followed his wishes and scattered his ashes over the Talketna River, 100 miles north of Anchorage. Being home where my relative grew up and seeing my family and ex-wife again was incredibly healing for me. My ex is very open about what happened and talks about it openly and freely. I am just the opposite, I don’t talk about it and I have told very few people about it (I told Steve about it yesterday). Her example and encouragement have greatly helped me. I think I am ready to talk about it now, and so I am writing this post.

To give his death some meaning, I want to encourage you to not take mental illness lightly. If someone in your family or one of your friends is giving signs of mental illness, don’t ignore it or just hope for the best. Do anything you possibly can to get them to help. If they simply refuse and end up taking their life, get help for yourself. Depression, sorrow and guilt are inevitable and sometimes overwhelming. Don’t let them stand in the way of finding someone to talk to. There are survivors of suicide groups that can be wonderfully beneficial.

If you suffer from suicidal feelings, please, get help. There is no shame in saying “I need help.” Had I not done that in my 40s, I’m certain I would be dead today. By failing to say it last year, I came far too close to being dead anyway.

One of the things I did in my 40s was made a decision that for the rest of my life I would live it as much as I possibly could in a way that would make other people’s lives better. I had already filled my allowed quota of hurting people; from then on I could only help them. That’s where the websites, RTR, forum, book and this blog come from. By working to make other people’s lives better, mine was the one that benefited the most.

You are important! Your life can make a difference. Many, many people will be hurt by your loss. If you don’t think that’s true, dedicate yourself today to making it true. Find a way to make other people’s lives better. In my every interaction with other people I try to look them in the eye, smile, and say thank you. Whenever someone comes into my life I look for a way to make their life better. I take that interaction as the Universes way of making me responsible for them.

If you think a friend or someone in your family may be suffering from mental illness, the worst thing you can do is nothing. The best thing you can do is reach out for help and support. I strongly encourage you to go to these websites and search for local help:

http://www.nami.org/

http://www.suicidology.org/home

If you need someone to talk to, feel free to write me at akrvbob@gmail.com. I have no training or qualifications to help you, but I can listen and empathize, sometimes that helps. Bob

Bob
About

I've been a full-time VanDweller for 12 years and I love it. I hope to never live in a house again!

40 comments on “Dealing with Depression and Death
  1. Hi Bob, Nice post and you are very successful at what you set out to do…make peoples lives better… I truly think you help far more than you will ever know, and that is as it should be. Keep up the good work my friend and keep on truckin’ on……
    Br4i

  2. Linda Sand says:

    One of my best friends committed suicide. Fortunately for me he was not mentally ill and I understood his reason and his situation really was hopeless so I was able to not lay a guilt trip on myself. I still miss him, though.

    • Bob Bob says:

      I’m sorry for your loss Linda. I think we are starting to realize as a society that there are times that suicide is a valid “life choice.” I’m very glad you were able to see that. Bob

  3. Well Bro this was a surprise that you write about this, I know and see the pain… I think this way of purging your thoughts/emotions on this matter is healing and good for you… You know my loss and I firmly believe God set us about on the path to meet. We be best friends and live this life style to heal, grow, and sort of give us a break from the Matrix… Lets look forward, remembering the past, but living our second chance at a life free from woes… Hey us four bachelors gotta look out for each other, right…

  4. Kim says:

    Thanks for the honesty it took to write this post. I think you might be right in thinking that sharing your personal story may help someone else.

    I am a nurse who has worked & taught in inpatient mental health for years; I’ve also been personally affected by suicide. A vital step for anyone experiencing depression and suicidal thoughts is to obtain a prescription for anti-depressants. They work!!!

    • Bob Bob says:

      Hi Kim, anyone who can work with the mentally ill is an angel come to earth! Thank you! I do agree about medications, we had hoped desperately to get my relative on schizophrenia drugs. If we had been able, he might still be alive, maybe even healthy and happy. Unfortunately, he wouldn’t even consider it. Bob

  5. cyndi says:

    We are never alone. Sometimes reaching out (i.e. admitting we need help or allowing someone to help) can be the hardest thing in the world. Especially when the depression makes it almost impossible to believe we’re worth it.

    Thanks for sharing your journey. People that share make it easier for others to feel less hopeless.

    And thanks for all you do to make this lifestyle accessible to anyone with a dream.

    PS
    I am soooooooooooooooo looking forward to those AM and PM walks!!!

  6. Sam says:

    Super post, Bob. Someday I hope to once again breath the same campfire smoke as you after a nice afternoon walk.

  7. CAE says:

    You’re a good man.
    It took me a lot of years to realize that by helping other people, I was really helping myself as well.

  8. GARY GREEN says:

    bob,so sorry for your lost love one.there is alot of that going on now day’s.hard economics along with self worthness,make it hard for poeple to find there spot in life,an the fact that some never see life as being a good thing.better to discussion this around a campfire,fellow travler. gary

  9. Libertad says:

    Thank you so much Bob for sharing such an intimate part of your life. You are very brave in admitting your sincere feelings & struggles. Growing up my parents being european told us we didn’t talk about mental illness in the family. My dad would tell me that depression was a sign of weakness & you had to “tough it out”. It was taboo to admit that a family member was depressed or had been in a psych hospital. My aunt had committed suicide years ago & I was told she died of heart trouble. I’m glad today we can have this open conversation. Thank you Bob for being you.

    • Bob Bob says:

      Thank you Libertad. Fortunately, times have changed and we are much more inclined to be at least somewhat in touch with our emotions. I think that is especially true for men who once were not allowed to have or express any emotions. I’m sure your father was a good, loving man, but he was a product of the world he lived in.

      A saying I try to live my life by is “We are only as sick as our secrets.” Most of my life I was so terrified that if people really know me, they would hate me, so I kept everything bottled up inside; everything was a secret. Fortunately, I found a way to live that requires that I not keep any secrets. The day I started digging up and telling my secrets, was the first step toward real happiness. Generally, secrets aren’t told in this large a forum, but sometimes they need to be. Bob

  10. Cheryl says:

    Bob, I am sure this post helped people! And there are probably people trying to make this life change and feeling depressed and overwhelmed … Sometimes just change can depress me ………seems the older I get the more I hate change.

    If I hadn’t been taking antidepressants for years I don’t know where I would be. Probably not here. I do believe in chemical imbalance that can be hereditary. It use to be more people thought of depression as a weakness but oftentimes it is just the chemicals in our brain out of whack.

    I have been so many places that ….I understand everything you are talking about. I am not living in my bus but part of me really wants to. I hope to just GO somewhere here one of these days but there are too many things to do to it……….

    Just want you to know, I had strict plans to get out there right away and paint the inside of my bus, and when I got the email I could not resist coming to this blog and reading……..so keep up the good work!

    and hey hang in there everyone……….like they say, no matter what “Ice Cream Cones Still Taste Good! ”
    Cheryl

  11. Cheryl says:

    Oh I meant to say also, that being depressed even without chemical balance is NOT a weakness! Life is nasty sometimes……for sure!

  12. Calvin R says:

    Bob, thanks for allowing us to see so deeply into you. I know very well how difficult it can be to share this kind of emotional state, and I know from experience. My worst depression happened more than 20 years ago now, and the only kind help I could accept was outside “the system.” It worked for me all the same and still does, but I suspect that medication and counseling would have made my journey easier and more certain. I was just not able to trust “traditional” help when that was available. In any case, I am in about the state you describe. That is, I’m not as “naturally” happy as some people I know, but joy is part of my life and I’m reasonably stable.

    Your story also points out the value of people. People on the road can have a particular problem with isolation, and I suspect that many of us need to be reminded about being connected to others who can support our spirits.

    I’m not glad that you have needed to cry, but I’m glad that you can do it when you need it. Crying is a release that I had to learn in my 30s. When I need to cry, nothing else will do the same job.

    • Bob Bob says:

      Calvin, I’m glad you found help when you needed it, wherever it came from. Our word is changing so fast, and in many ways it is for the worse, but men being allowed to express their emotions and even cry is one very positive change. Isolation is a very real problem for vandwellers, but the internet is making that much less of a problem. Bob

  13. Tim McDougall says:

    Good article Bob. It’s hard to imagine what life would be like without the cheaprvliving websites, blog, and forum. I always view it as what would be called “the industry standard.” Your articles and links provide not only information but much encouragement to those that are lucky enough to find them. The forum seems to be the “family comunication center.” Not only is it a place of information but it is a place strength for meeting the challenges of daily living. Your experience and insight provide much hope and direction for your “family members.” You seem to have a way of taking lifes lemons and making lemonade. Thanks for your efforts and all you do for all of us.

    • Bob Bob says:

      Tim, your kind words are very much appreciated! I am very pleased with the forum, but I deserve very little of the credit, all I did was set it up initially. TwoKnives Katie (and the other moderators) do ALL the hard work to make it work. But it is the wonderful people who contribute (like you) that make it such a great place.

      There are lots of really good people out there, we just need a way to find each other. Bob

  14. Drtrisha@ymail.com says:

    Awesome. Like so many folks here it seems I too have a similar story. Though I am truly sad when I hear of others suffering I am also encouraged by the support i see so lovingly given. I haven’t met any of you yet in person but I already feel like I am a part of the tribe and look forward to starting to meet as many of you as I am able to in a few days and at the RTR in Jan. keep up your good work Bob. This is so obviously why you were put on this world at this time and why you are still here. You are so needed!
    P.s. It is a fact that there is a chemical imbalance that causes depression and there are many illnesses such as thyroid disease lupus and others that symptoms include depression. In these cases meds are the only answer. Though in many cases therapy can be a big help in addition to meds. I am also available to anyone who needs assistance for dealing with the down times. I am a

    retired psychotherapist
    ; (psychologist). I am not licensed as I am retired but I can still be there for my fellow tribesmen and women.

    Dr.T. aka Trisha aka Tea aka T (lol).

  15. Blars says:

    You helped me as well, at both Quartzsite RTRs, visiting you least year, and your website. While I still get depressed at times, it has not been as bad since I moved into my motorhome.

    • Bob Bob says:

      Blars, I think you are so right about the air in homes. It’s another symptom of being separated from nature. Modern living is extremely stressful and home ownership is at the top of the list of stressors for the very reason you say; it cost so much money. Stress causes a cascade of chemical reactions in our bodies that physically changes the brain and physically causes depression. Vandwelling can bring relief from the stress and drastically increase our mental and emotional health.

      Has your campground closed yet? Did you like campground hosting? Steve and I are still in the Sierras south of you. We will leave here sometime this month. Our tentative plans are to stay in Victorville until it gets too cold and then head over to Quartzsite. My friend, you are always welcome in my camp!! Bob

  16. Blars says:

    While the campground I was hosting isn’t scheduled to close until Oct 7, I was let go since they didn’t think the occupancy would warrent an on-site host. Currently I’m visiting family and trying to get some projects done on my motorhome, I’ll start heading south mid/late October.

  17. Well done Bob. I recently connected with your ex on fb and learned of all the sadness. I am so sorry. But I was glad to see she had people to love her and was processing in healthy ways … and now I find this and see the same for you. Is God good or what?! … the answer is yes. I’m going to post a short story that tells a little bit about her healing process and what you all shared on Sep. 19 on my site – I think it will encourage others.
    Living to give to others … it really is the secret to happiness … keep it up and God bless.

    • Bob Bob says:

      Hi Barbara, it is very nice to have you here! The trip home to Alaska was a real turning point for me. Seeing my ex-wife’s openness and strength greatly changed me. She encouraged me to be open about what I have been through and I have followed her advice (to the best of my limited ability). And she was right (as usual) it was the best thing I could possibly do.
      Spreading his ashes on Sept. 19 was both the most horrible thing I have ever done, and the most positive.

      Thank you for all your work to help others. As we both have found out, when life knocks you down for the count, the only way up is to serve others. Bob

  18. Mark says:

    [Source: NewScientist.com]
    [Link: http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg18825252.500-television-adverts-for-antidepressants-cause-anxiety.html%5D

    This myth pushed by the BigPharma companies needs to be kicked hard in the A$$. People are popping these harmful pills like M&M’s and it is NOT proven, has no factual evidence at all and does more harm than good to the human body.

    ADVERTS that claim depression is caused by a chemical imbalance, and that antidepressants correct it, are false and should be banned, say two mental health specialists.

    Popular antidepressants such as Prozac and Celexa block the uptake of the neurotransmitter serotonin and have been shown to be slightly better than placebo in treating depression. But low serotonin levels are no more the cause of depression than low aspirin levels are the cause of headaches, argue Jonathan Leo at Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine in Bradenton, Florida, and Jeffrey Lacasse at Florida State University in Tallahassee (Public Library of Science Medicine, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pmed.0020392).

    “It has become an absolute mainstay of popular culture,” says Leo. “But there’s very little support for this. We really don’t know what chemicals are involved.”

    Wayne Goodman, chair of the psychopharmacologic advisory committee of the US Food and Drug Administration admits they have a point.

    Lets try not sitting all day, switch off the TV, get some exercise and throw out the junk food and cola and I am sure that the depression rate would go down. People need to stop using the big wooden crutch of “Chemical Imbalance” and see that some clever marketing geeks created a wonderful marketing plan that is hard to dispute and the Investors are laughing all the way to the bank.

    • Bob Bob says:

      Mark, there is a lot of truth in that, but there is more to the story. I agree completely that for most people, lifestyle changes (especially with the guidance of a mental health professional) will work much better than drugs and without any negative side-affects. In many studies the steps outlined in the book were just as effective and sometimes more effective than drugs. Taken as a whole, they are much better. In fact, very often placebos do just as well as drugs.

      However, in cases of severe depression it is a totally different story. Placebos had no affect but the drugs very often worked extremely well. There are times when nothing will work but drugs and I am very, very glad they are around. I am not anti-drugs or anti-big pharma. Just the opposite, I am very grateful for both. In my case, and in many cases, true lifestyle change did and will work, but for those people that can’t make the changes or the depression is simply too severe, nothing else will work.

      I also firmly believe that many mental illnesses come from physical defects in the brain. There is no question that depression actually physically changes the brain and makes a recurrence of depression a great deal more likely. Bob

  19. MichaelinOK says:

    Bob,

    What a heartfelt and wise post!

    I’m sorry for your suffering, both in the loss of and sadness over a loved one and in your struggles with your own depression.

    I am so glad, though, that you’ve transformed such pain into altruism and warmth. That takes a special man.

    Beyond the courage and compassion involved in writing a post like this, you also incorporated wise and interesting and non-sugar-coated advice. I particularly liked this passage: “Many, many people will be hurt by your loss. If you don’t think that’s true, dedicate yourself today to making it true. Find a way to make other people’s lives better.”

    I’ve admired you greatly for a while; I admire you even more now. Keep up your inspiring journey. Your current life is both an encouragement and a practical model for others.

    I’m so glad you stayed…

    Michael

  20. Rae says:

    Thank you so much Bob for your post and your willingness to help those in need. You are like my brother from another mother.
    It is amazing how many similarities we (and many of the others here on the website) have in common. Its nice to know we aren’t going through it alone and there is someone out there who understands the pain. By you sharing your ordeal you’ve made me realize that not only can we triumph over the pain, we can grow from it and that there’s not only light at the end of the tunnel but beauty as well.
    Two months after my step-mother died from a long and damaging disease of schizophrenia, my sister was murdered in a truly horrible way. This all happened 6 months after leaving my midwest life and moving to Alaska. Two months later, my long time boyfriend left me because as he stated, “You changed”.
    My saving grace, was grace itself, the Alaska outdoors, training for a half-marathon (which my sister was to attend with me), and my job as a home health and hospice nurse. I never knew why I survived because I hurt like hell (and still do at times), but you have pointed out that I unwittingly applied those 6 principles you described.
    Because the outdoors is the arm around my shoulder when I hurt, I’m having difficulty waiting until vandwelling fulltime becomes a reality. If it weren’t for your creation of “cheaprvliving forum” the wait would be excrutiating. Here I draw strength from others who know just how I’m feeling. I use to think I was crazy for wanting to live this lifestyle, but because of you and your creation, I realize I’m just as nuts as the rest of you! HaHa!!!

    • Bob Bob says:

      Rae, welcome to the nut-farm!! If I have made your life even a little bit better, every minute spent at the keyboard is well worth it!! You really got beat up there, I am so glad you found your way through it. If your boyfriend couldn’t go through 2 months of hardship with you, you may be better off without him.

      Having lived in Alaska for nearly my whole life, one of the main reasons I needed to leave as soon as I retired was the darkness. It became really oppressive to me at the end. If you don’t have one, maybe you should consider a light box. There is an abundance of research showing sunlight is totally necessary for our mental health.

      I can’t wait to give you a big hug at an RTR in the near future!! Bob

  21. Kalani says:

    We love you Bob and glad you’re here and healing. Crazy how one event in our lives can change us (for better or worse…and then for better!) We are blessed to have a man like you in our lives. Thank you for being a great friend!
    There is a kind of beauty in imperfection.
    ~Conrad Hall

    Love Kalani & Tribe

    • Bob Bob says:

      Hi Kalani, thank you so much for the kind words. But I don’t know how to take that quote, are you implying that I am not perfect!!?? You guys have blessed me as much as I have blessed you! Whereabouts are you now? It turned cold here so we are planning on going to Victorville, Ca if the weather turns worse. It is high desert so it is cooler than most the of the desert. I know of a great campsite where you can’t see any sign of humans but still get cell and internet. Maybe you can join us again! Bob

  22. Willowood says:

    Hello Bob,
    I’ve been checking your original website periodically while saving funds and researching for an RV suitable for me for future full-time habitation. I’ve learned a lot from your info and tips. Thanks for putting this info out there.

    So today, I discovered your blog. And then I discovered this topic and thread. And then I knew the hand of God was in this, for you see, I’ve had a string of “less than” days (<), where I feel less than my usual self in every way I can think of. And today I just wasn't measuring up at all, but I thank God for guiding me through the day and to here where so many people have expressed empathy and compassion for sufferers of mental illness. Finally, I've turned the corner into a place where there is more light. Isolation is tempting, but never a good thing when depression is lurking.

    I'll be checking in more often to see what's going on. I have my RV now and have started preparing to transition from house living to full-time RV living. There is a lot to learn and a lot to accomplish and a lot of stuff to get rid of (LOL). Thanks for all the info and God bless.

    • Bob Bob says:

      Hi Willowood, I am so glad I played some small role in your feeling better! Good for you on finding an RV, now the work really begins, especially in getting rid of stuff! let me know if there is anything I can do to be of help! Bob

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