Speaking to Sound Client Paul Pink, it is obvious that he is even-tempered and amicable. At 66 years old and with a calm, measured style of speaking, it may be easy to overlook the fact that Paul has had struggles in his life. Surviving through depression, substance use and homelessness, he’s done very well for himself since coming to Sound in 2009. Today, Paul lives in independent housing in Seattle and visits Sound typically once a week, where he meets with Jim Nielsen, a Sound clinician with the organization for more than 30 years.
Just because he’s doing really well, though, doesn’t mean that external events, with the COVID-19 and protests against racial injustice sweeping the nation, haven’t gone unnoticed.
“I try to keep a level head about all of it,” he says about the isolation and concerns about the coronavirus pandemic, remaining determined to focus on his wellness and recovery. “I live alone, but I don’t mind. I haven’t been sick yet,” he says with relief in his voice.
Regarding the recent high profile police brutality against Black Americans, though, he has stronger feelings. “I just wish something would be done about it,” he says. “I feel worried because it can happen to you (me). I walk a lot and I’m out in the street and … anything can happen.”
He and Jim Nielson, his clinician for the past three years, talked about it a little, he notes, as a way to have his voice heard and have an opportunity to work through any challenges it may present.
“I acknowledged the history of racism in the country,” says Nielson, “and acknowledged that while our ages are comparable, our experiences of growing up in the United States and living in the US were not. I acknowledged that as a White man, I could not meaningfully say I understood his experience, yet it was important to acknowledge that to him and to identify both my sadness and express my condolences. He expressed appreciation for this.”
The struggles in Paul’s life doubtless have given him the perspective and quiet calm that he is relying on today, with all the turmoil taking place in our community. After serving his country and being honorably discharged from the Air Force in 1975, Paul lived his life simply, working with his hands as a handyman. Based on his recalling his life, he did not seem to experience mental health issues during this time. It really was over the past 15 years, however, that things began to gradually change for Paul, giving him the growing sense that things just were not right. He says that the gradual feeling just seemed to grow stronger until he could no longer ignore it.
“I would just kind of get depressed, because for some reason, something happened and I couldn’t work no more or couldn’t do nothing no more. I mean, I said ‘Wow, what happened here?”
Paul finds it hard to pinpoint if the depression, substance use and homelessness were related, or which seemed to come first, but acknowledges that some deaths in his family (a nephew died) were key and central elements to his struggles. Still, he kept trying to live his life, dealing with the challenges he faced with determination and still not really considering his depression as a bigger issue, something that was lurking beneath the surface.
He recalls that when those feelings would crop up, he would tend to ignore them and put the thoughts out of his mind. But still, he recalls now, it caught up to him.
“The lowest point for me was when I got up one morning and I didn’t feel like going to work. I didn’t have any energy; I said ‘man, I don’t feel like it.’ I knew that wasn’t right, because I always loved to work.”
His first steps toward getting better started when he went in for health check-ups at a free clinic downtown. That, screening questions and some heart-to-heart conversations with the staff there opened his eyes and persuaded him to examine and come to grips with what was ailing him.
“It took talking to some people that got me to that point, that got me some direction on which way to go. It took a little work but I think that was what it was.”
After overcoming his own conflicted feelings about seeking help, Paul decided to give Sound a chance and visited the Capitol Hill location. “That’s right…I just walked right in.”
This was in 2009, as he recalls. Since that time, he’s received counseling, payee services and case management.
He receives medications from his primary care doctor external to Sound.
Once at Sound, he flourished. It didn’t take long for him to learn to manage his depression, communicate what he was feeling and get back to his life.
“Shortly after beginning services at Sound, Paul obtained his own apartment. He has the satisfaction of having a place of his own and being able to live independently. He maintains a close connection with his family in California, and has a circle of friends in Seattle. He is an avid sports fan and is well informed about current events. Paul has developed and maintained a meaningful and successful life, the goal that Sound has for all the people we serve.”
Paul is now living independently and on his own, away from a transitional housing situation that wasn’t ideal for him.
“It feels pretty good,” he says of the place he is living now. “You have your up and down days, but it feels pretty good.”
When asked what hobbies and interests he’s doing these days, he jokes that he’s too old to play most sports. “I’m at the age now where I can’t say ‘I’d like to go out and play basketball anymore.” He just appreciates doing everyday things, saying that taking walks, reading books and watching television bring him enjoyment.
Even with all that is taking place worldwide, and in our community, Paul Pink today feels good about his life and knows that he matters. He knows that his clinical team, particularly Nielson, has played a big part of that.
“Jim has been a great help. I don’t know what I would do if he wasn’t there; he helps me out with things, he helps me figure out things…its things like that that put your mind at ease. So yeah, he’s been a great help.”