From the Streets to Full-Time College Student
Ron, a native of New Jersey, struggled financially growing up. His alcoholic father was in jail and his mother had a hard time making ends meet on her own with three kids. Off and on, they lived with his strict aunt and uncle. Life there was difficult for Ron.
He first began noticing signs of depression when he was 16 and developed an intense fear of school. Despite being a good student, Ron felt terrified and refused to go for months.
Ron explains, “I wasn’t equipped to handle people and couldn’t understand what was wrong with me. I’d be ecstatic one minute and an hour later incredibly depressed.”
When thoughts of suicide overwhelmed him and caused him to become hysterical and cry uncontrollably, his anguished family brought 18-year-old Ron to a crisis stabilization unit. He was hospitalized for a week and treated for depression and adjustment disorder. Therapy and medication helped for a time, but he eventually stopped doing both.
Unmotivated and directionless, Ron bounced from job to job, home to home and town to town for the next several years. At 19 years old, he became homeless for the first time. It wouldn’t be the last. And each time was more devastating than the one before. The more desperate and stressful the situation, the more suicidal and depressed he became.
During Ron’s periods of success, he enjoyed a large circle of friends and drank too much. At 23, despite having an apartment and a good job working in technical support for a software company in Cape Coral, he was only one paycheck away from the streets. When his brother stopped paying part of the rent, Ron had no one to share expenses with and no ride to his job 17 miles away. He quit his job. And he began to isolate himself from the world.
Ron says, “I tried to cheer myself up and decorated for Christmas. When I found myself making a noose out of the lights, I knew I needed help quickly.” He checked himself into two different local Crisis Stabilization Units, his combined stay coming to more than two months. Ron was diagnosed with bipolar disorder which he says “just fit.”
While in treatment, Ron took time to understand his illness. He finally had an outlet for all his pent-up thoughts. Until now, Ron had suffered in silence because he didn’t want his friends to know he was sick. Ron realized that his fear of failure had caused him to never really try to help himself. He saw that he had been afraid to be honest with his mother because he didn’t think she was strong enough to handle how bad his mental state really was. Ron had learned the hard way how destructive his silence was to his stability.
Ron now understands that self-awareness and a clear head from consistent use of the right medications let him manage his illness and reduce the warning signs.
He says, “It was like night and day.”
After discharge, however, Ron moved to Naples without a housing plan, a job, transportation or a new doctor. He started drinking and began to feel hopeless. He went off his medications for a week and knew instantly he needed help. Ron came to the David Lawrence Centers Crisis Stabilization Unit and his plea was answered.
After being stabilized, Ron was referred to St. Matthew’s House for housing and into DLC’s Project for Assistance in Transition from Homelessness (PATH) Program. The PATH coordinator immediately saw that with the right support, motivation and confidence, Ron could go far. In therapy it was reiterated that, “he just needs to stick with what he knows works and he will be okay.”
Now that Ron was off the streets and feeling more stable, he found a job, began seeing an outpatient psychiatrist and worked with DLC to create a plan for his future. Thanks to strong encouragement from the PATH coordinator, Ron applied to FGCU for a degree in software engineering. Once he was accepted, the PATH coordinator helped Ron secure financial aid and campus housing. Together, they met with the dean of the college and all his professors. Together, they toured the campus. Ron felt ready and excited to start this positive, new chapter in his life.
“I’ve learned to manage my stress,” says Ron. “I don’t let myself become isolated and I know I have people I can talk to when I have an issue. If I feel myself going manic, I get busy cleaning or putting a computer back together.”
In just eight months, Ron went from cycling in and out of crisis units and living on the streets to full-time college student with permanent housing. Now stable and sober, he is armed with the skills he needs to manage his illness, a support system in place if he needs it, and a plan for a bright future.
Says Ron, “I used to be terrified. Now I’m not even scared. This has been an awesome experience for me. DLC has given me a huge step up in my life. No one else has ever tried so hard to help me.”