It has been a more than a month since we said goodbye to our property in Amherst, NH and began living the life of van dwellers.
Our home, dubbed The Cottage of Possibilities, was the place where we reinvented IPPW (In the Presence of Positive Women), had our meetings and quiet talks about changing the world. I loved it.
However, it was also a place filled with stress. The house itself needed far more repairs than we could ever afford to do, was expensive to maintain and was a place that continued to rob my husband Rick of his sunny disposition. It brought him to a place of sitting in a chair, being grumpy and hardly moving each day.
My loving husband, a Vietnam veteran, has a permanent disability of Post Traumatic Stress. I knew that before I married him, learned about it through the VA and thought I could handle anything that came along. We were told the condition would worsen as he got older, and perhaps we saw his decline as a part of the inevitable. Now we know better.
From the moment we moved into the house, the house stressed him, which stressed me. At our first house, he was also filled with anxiety, but we thought it was because that house was enormous and old. This place was smaller and 100 years newer with a better furnace and lots of upgrades. All of this proved of little consequence to lightening his stress load.
Little by little he was slipping away, not doing anything but sitting and sleeping in his chair. He did keep up with his music, playing his guitar until the wee hours of the night, but that kept him isolated, as I was asleep and no one got to hear his wonderful melodies. I felt like a single woman, taking care of the house as best I could, as I worked to recreate IPPW. Rick did do the bill paying and continued to see his young daughter, but I didn’t realize how much strain and anxiety I was feeling. I’m an “I can do it” kind of gal, never giving in to what was really bothering me.
As time went on, my body was beginning to show the signs of stress, gaining weight, looking older and slowing down. People who suffer from depression tend to lose track of things that really matter, of anything that once gave them joy. That includes family members. I felt not only had I lost my husband’s companionship, I had gained a combatant. Nothing I did was right, good enough or fast enough. I felt picked upon, underappreciated and as if I were walking on eggshells in my own home. I was feeling sadder and sadder each day. The only way I could find relief was food and friends. Thank God I have wonderful friends … not so good that I am great cook.
A few years ago, upon searching for other things that might be contributing to his situation, Rick discovered many of the prescription drugs he was taking had side effects. These effects included depression, fatigue, irritableness and restless legs. He had been put on these drugs to help from (wait for it) depression, fatigue, irritableness and restless legs. Crazy huh?
He decided, without doctor’s approval, to slowly go off the various medications and I supported him. It proved to be a difficult task, but a much-needed risk, taking two years until the weaning was complete. It wasn’t easy for either of us. While he suffered in a constant state of drug detoxification, I suffered with his short temper, angry words and constant curmudgeon-ness. But once he was done, I saw the man I had married begin to surface.
While still going through this process, we decided to take another risk. Sell our home and build a tiny house. Crazy? Perhaps! But owning this albatross of a house was part of the stress. I should note that the house is actually lovely, but we are not maintenance people. We didn’t have the skills nor the desire to fix things. The only way things would get better would be to hire people to do the work. We had already sunk $40 thousand into the house and there was at least another $40 thousand needed to bring it to where it needed to be. We were running out of money and felt enough was enough.
We loved watching TV shows on minimal living, such as Tiny House Nation and were fascinated about what people where doing. To live simply and inexpensively while having a wonderful life really appealed to us.
As cute as those tiny houses are, we realized we had another desire: to travel. A motorized tiny house became our salvation. A Ford Cargo van became the start for our dreams and Rick went to work transforming it into our home.
Rick had told me when we married that he had once been a carpenter. Honestly, I had seen no evidence of that career in the six years we were together, so I was a little apprehensive. I let him do all the designing work, setting it up as he saw fit. My only concerned was it had to be pretty and well insulated so we could be comfortable no matter what the climate.
He did lots of research, figuring out what would best fit our needs. He chose a Colorado Camper Top to rest on the top of our van for our sleeping quarters and to give the van a more spacious feel.
I am happy to say I discovered he really was a carpenter, plus an architect, engineer and interior designer. It took over 9 months for this former couch potato to create our home, but it is beautiful, comfortable and warm. He did an amazing job. He was no longer chair bound, he was art bound … and the van became his masterpiece.
It was my job to sell our house, get rid of our belongings and pack up our storage unit. Not an easy task. I hired an amazing realtor, IPPW member Terry Lajoie and together we decided a short sale would work best for us. Terry guided us every step of the way, even introducing us to a “short sale” financial expert who, after I submitted all the paper work, took on all the responsibility to get everything in order.
There were many glitches along the way, but we tackled every one of them and on December 1 our house was sold to a lovely young couple, the husband being a contractor… the perfect people to own this property.
Even though the house sold on December 1st, we couldn’t leave right away as we had business issues to finish. Our first night in the van was spent at the Nashua Park-n-Ride. It was cold outside, but thanks to Rick’s excellent carpentry skill and insulation, it was warm and cozy inside.
Unfortunately, we woke to our dog, Raskin, being sick all over the van, looking like she had a stroke. We rushed her to the vet’s to find she had developed Lyme disease. We decided the stress of her living in the van was more than she or we could take. Our friend Carol, who loves Raskin as much as we do, agreed to take her along with one of our cats. They are happy and safe, and we can see them anytime we are around.
We left New Hampshire on Saturday, December 12th at 3 PM. Not all our business was finished, but a need to get on the road. We just had to go…to start our journey.
I love the quote Linda Kaye found for our website: “Sometimes the bad things that happen in our lives put us directly on the path to the best things that will ever happen to us.”
That is exactly what I feel. If I was honest in summing up 2015, it was the second hardest year of my life (divorcing 8 years ago from a 30 year marriage still holds the prize). It was a year filled with challenges, stress and sometimes downright ugly situations. But we did it. Rick and I learned a lot, experienced all sorts of emotions and grew together as a couple.
During the past month, we traveled to Tennessee, I flew to California to be with my daughter at Christmas, and currently we are “vanning” in Georgia. I’ve been decompressing and not working much, as I just need to regroup, rest and focus on me. I had no idea how overwhelmed I had become. It was bad…but I believe everything we have gone through has put us on the path to the best life ever.
Rick and I are laughing again, walking a lot and just enjoying each other’s company. I’m finally feeling like writing again and have been brainstorming with my positive counterparts to create a program for Florida (mid March), Montana (July) and California (August). I am creating a Woman of Wisdom seminar troupe to travel the country spreading the works of IPPW and highlighting our members and working on a new way of presenting my Motivation-A-Thon across the country as well.
With our first month behind us, I can tell you that my only complaint is the weather. It seems like wherever I go, it is cold. Yes, even sunny California. But that’s it. I can see all our hard work to make this happen was well worth it. We are calmer, getting more creative and loving living in nature. Just today we took a hike and discovered a beautiful river complete with a comfy bench to sit upon to watch the current majestically flowing over the rocks.
I cook outside everyday and Rick takes care of the inside cleaning… both tasks hardly taking any time at all. So far we have met some interesting people who are also doing this full time. Each day is filled with wonder and adventure with the stress of home ownership is quickly becoming a distant memory. This has been a good idea for us, and maybe it’s a good idea for a lot of others who wish to get back to basics and find themselves.
Although I love to write, I have never done a blog before. But since I’m all about trying new things, please consider this to be the beginning of what will become my blog. I wish to share the life lessons I learn and adventures we have.
Even though I thought I knew this, my lesson this time is to be thankful for everything, which happens in life. If it were not for the hard times I might not have been able to recognize the good times. It has been difficult to get here, but it was well worth the struggles. Life is good – especially living in a van with the one you love.