The Vicious Cycle: Grief and Depression

Guest writer was part of the "invisible" homeless in the Conejo Valley at the time of writing this post. He has since regained his footing and is doing great.

(Photo Credit: Lesley Bryce Photography in Camarillo)

Why do I feel the need to regularly return to the last place that made me happy?  I can’t afford the gas to drive there, yet I believe that I have too.  I sometimes think it’s therapeutic, and all I have left.  I guess it’s because I miss my dogs terribly, and driving there brings me marginally closer to the good times I had with them.

My dogs loved and cared about me even with all my problems.  They didn’t want to leave the minute the money ran out.  They didn’t blame every bad choice or unfortunate circumstance on me.  They unconditionally stood by me during the good and bad times.  They truly are a man's best friend.  Sadly, they’ve been gone for nearly six months now, and my grief offers me no relief from their loss.

The vicious circle.

I believe unresolved grief, which I feel when I’m reminded of my dogs, can complicate my depression, just as the reverse may be true.  I think of it as a kind of “vicious circle” in which depression can impair working through grief; the intensified grief then “feeds” the depression, which may further impair grief resolution, etc., until the “loop” is interrupted by some therapeutic measures.  Sadly I’m caught tightly within the grasp of this circle that often seems to spin unchecked.

The writer William Styron, in his book, Darkness Visible, describes depressed individuals as having “their minds turned agonizingly inward.” Their thoughts are almost always focused on themselves, usually in a self-negating way.  The severely depressed person thinks, “I am nothing. I am nobody. I am rotting away. I am the worst sinner that ever walked the face of the earth. Not even God could love me!”

I guess I should be pleased to know that I’ve not fallen to that level.  But the grief and depression sure do complicate my life, often silencing my ability to do anything meaningful.  It seems the minute I start to become motivated about something, perhaps reach out for help, the depression stands in my way.  I guess you have to experience major depression in order to understand just how debilitating it really is.  Most people who know about my depression cannot begin to understand it much less sympathize with it.

Three strikes and you’re out.

No one could have prepared me for the magnitude of loss that accompanies unemployment, homelessness and depression.  What most don’t realize is that the unemployed are today’s lepers in society.  Add in a healthy dose of depression while living homeless, and you might as well move to another planet.  The judgment and apathy you experience from nearly everyone is indescribable at best.

I walk with truth and honor.

I am completely and unequivocally on my own.  Single in the truest sense of the word.  Oddly enough, the few friends I knew disappeared first, within the first two months of homelessness.  And as each month passed, the offers to help slowly disappeared and all my e-mails soon went unanswered.

Although the isolation, rejection and abandonment by my family is unbearably painful some days, I did find a unexpected sense of empowerment in my life. There is comfort in knowing that all of my false pretense, half truths, and lies are gone.  When someone asks me a question, I no longer have to consider the answer to determine if it’s undesirable to tell the truth.  I’ve lost all my pride long ago and thus have have learned the truth is no longer unwise.

Don’t be afraid to see what you see.

I walk a daily tightrope in soiled clothing to my usual destinations.  There is something powerful about knowing that while I walk that rope alone, I at least walk it in truth with honor.  I continue to agonizingly fight my depression, with medication, periodic therapy and God’s will.  I desperately want qualified spiritual, and emotional guidance from those caring individuals who wish to better understand me.  Ronald Reagan once said “Don’t be afraid to see what you see,” which suggests to me that every man at some point in their life may need some help and guidance.  Sadly, many men including me, lack the wherewithal to simply ask for it or seek it out.  My “vicious circle” waits for the day I lose my resilience, what resources I have, and cannot go on.