|*Not the person represented in this story.|
It was an argument in a small town outside Kalispell that finally set her off. She pummeled her sister with her fists, grabbed a pocketbook and a change of clothes, and fled. Lori was out of options.''I had to go,'' the girl in her early 30s, recalled. ''I was really beginning to lose it. I had lost it.''
That day in May marked the final phase of her journey into homelessness which had begun more than a decade ago. It was a slow, methodical descent that, in hindsight, she can now see. It eventually took an official diagnosis to give her problem a name: manic-depression.As mental health experts learn more about mood disorders, it is becoming clear that depression and manic-depression, with its wild mood swings, are significant contributors towards homelessness. Shelters have long been filled with schizophrenics, people whose hallucinations and delusions force them out of jobs and homes and relationships. But the link between depression and homelessness is only now becoming clear.
Many doctors say manic-depression (also known as bipolar disorder) responds to a variety of mood stabilizers but diagnosing it is difficult because it can appear, in its later stages, like schizophrenia. During highs, manic-depressive people can become delusional, like schizophrenics. Because schizophrenia's symptoms are easier to diagnose, emergency room doctors and shelter operators are much more likely to classify someone as schizophrenic than manic-depressive.During the low points for manic-depressives, extreme fatigue is common and there is little desire to do much of anything. It was nearly impossible for Lori to earn any money because she lost her job due to excessive absenteeism and poor performance. Even with the appropriate diagnosis and medication, the complexities of manic-depression are such that patients live in denial. Sometimes they stop taking their medicine when they start to feel better, leaving them open to more intense episodes.
Lori’s story is a demonstration of how manic-depressives can drift into homelessness. How an entire life can spiral out of control when a person doesn’t know what particular issue they are dealing with. But it also shows the element of hope for those who discover they suffer from mental illness and, if their problem is recognized, they can reclaim their lives. And she ruminated about how manic-depression can ruin a person's life.''I can't believe I didn't think I had this,'' she said of manic-depression. ''It's so obvious to me now. I wake up to whatever the plan is for that day. I have no baggage from the day before. I can deal with things. That's a big plus. It is so awesome that I can deal with things that used to grip me for days.''
Lori is one of the fortunate ones because she was able to be diagnosed and receive treatment for her condition. Living with a mental illness can be tough enough but adding homelessness to the equation compounds things to an almost unbearable degree. It is easy to stereotype people when we don’t have all the information and only view them in part. Please remember each person has unique and individual circumstances.
*Not her real name