I was grappling with divorce when I learned that 1300 miles away my mother was losing her mind. Alzheimer's disease had been stealthily stealing it from her.
As a daughter, my decision was as swift as it was inevitable. As a parent, my task was heart-wrenching. My son was in middle school. His father resided in another state. I would ask my boy in the midst of unprecedented emotional turmoil to relinquish what fragile stability remained for him: I wanted to move across the country to live closer to my parents. So much to expect of a 14-year-old, and yet, he didn't complain. We left Nebraska and relocated to North Carolina. Thus, began a decline in my already tenuous mental health that I had refused to acknowledge for decades.
As her disease progressed, I helped my father care for my mother until the two of us could no longer manage without assistance. Her final years and subsequent death triggered a life-altering and profound depressive episode that nearly killed me.
As I struggled to survive, I experienced a genuine epiphany.
My son was nearly finished with college. My father’s health was good. I realized I had a unique window of opportunity to break convention without adverse consequence to anyone else. With nothing more than the longing to escape the tyranny of depression, certainly without a practical plan, I seized that opportunity.
I abandoned a secure job. I sold, shredded, and shipped off twenty years' worth of stuff that I no longer wanted, and may have never needed. Essentially, I upended nearly every semblance of stability to downsize to a tiny, 320-square-foot home with the goal to live a life of travel. Travel for the love of it, yet in pursuit of peace and better mental health.
I managed to achieve that goal. I do live on the road. Now my home is the 148 cubic feet inside a 2010 Toyota Sienna.
I’m building a brand new me and a life to love. It has sparked a nearly forgotten sense of hope. Depression and anxiety do their best to extinguish that spark; the effort to protect the dream is often discouragingly exhausting.
That hope, though. Even when it's elusive, there is yet a flicker. On my worst days, imprisoned by a crippling sense of worthlessness, crushing despair and nearing surrender, I hold on. Because I’ve done it; I’m on the road. I will prevail.
My hope is to share an honest accounting of my experience so that readers also suffering from depression will feel less alone and less strange. Perhaps readers will learn to recognize the symptoms in someone they know. Perhaps more of us will admit to being depressed. Perhaps mental illness will no longer be dismissed and stigmatized simply because others can’t see what’s broken.