WALLA WALLA -- Ryan Meyer has the face of an outdoorsman -- ruddy and rugged under his knit beanie that advertises Walla Walla Builders Supply. His ski jacket adds a sporty note and his cheeks bear the pink of exposure to frosty air.
For the 31-year-old, however, there's no time for sports or outdoor activity, other than walking the streets.
Just day-to-day living takes up all of Meyer's time. Until recently, looking for work, managing relationships and trying to keep his life from unraveling used up most of the daylight hours, explained the Walla Walla man, adding he'd been looking high and low for employment of any kind. "I've been living on my tax refund. I have $100 left and it's stressing me out."
Meyer recently landed a part-time job at The Home Depot, working 20 hours a week. He is still looking for additional work, he said.
Spare time is devoted to drowning his sorrows, at least right now. On this day, proof of that wafts from Meyer in the scent of consumed alcohol. His speech occasionally stumbles. "During an episode I drink more," he volunteered.
It's been worse. Six years ago, Meyer was living on the streets of San Diego, strung out on meth. His lifestyle was funded by Social Security payments he received because of a childhood kidney disease, he explained. Plus, he had been dabbling in the occult after a childhood severely structured around religion, home school and submission to a domineering patriarch.
The chaotic combination peaked on Mother's Day that year.
At the time, Meyer was unaware that he was living with mental illness -- he blamed himself for not being able to pull out of the "funk."
It was then he decided to touch base with his mom, who had remarried and moved to Walla Walla.
"She offered me a room for free if I was really trying to change," he recalled.
He was ready to try and he accepted the offer. Meth has been off his back ever since, although tobacco and alcohol continue to bedevil him, Meyer said.
Sitting at a table at Rising Sun Clubhouse after lunch has been dished up, he seems unclear about his mental-health diagnosis, which came six years ago, Meyer said.
"It's like schizophrenia but different. The doctor told me not to talk about it because what I have is so rare."
Whatever the exact illness is, Meyer is grateful for what it does allow. After getting a GED at Walla Walla Community College with an eighth-grade education, he was able to enter college and complete the two-year diesel technology program after starting with "just one class," he said. "I had to take Math 50. I wanted to quit, but I toughed it out." He finished certification last year.
Nothing would make him happier than to use it. "I do better when I'm busy. I need to be incorporated. My work was my life because of how ... I am."
But Meyer understands his limitations. Any job he goes into will work best if he's in a entry-level position, he believes. "Because of my condition, I need a little extra ... with my condition I need a safe place. It takes a while to make my safe place, maybe a month, then I'm comfortable."
His goal is to work on trucks, someplace, anyplace. Best of all would be Australia, Meyer said, scooting his chair forward, his head tipping up. "Working on mining equipment there. I don't even know if they have mines there."
His uneasiness with people is no small hurdle to employment and social situations, he said, looking at his hands, then tucking them away under crossed arms. After several minutes in thought, Meyer offers up an explanation. "I have a problem making friends because of living on the streets for so long."
He would like to see if tweaking his medication will help his anxiety, but his doctor won't consider it now, the young man said. "He said he won't adjust it until I cut back on my drinking."
In the meantime he worries about his mother's health and a multitude of other issues, Meyer said, his blue eyes intense. "It's like 'what am I gonna do?' I'll get through this. This is a tough time in my life.
"One reason I gave this story is, my life is a shambles right now ... I have nothing left to lose. Sometimes the best thing for a person is to break that person, you know? I'm undisciplined, I know I'm undisciplined."
As well, he's desperate to lighten his personal black cloud, he said. "Like a feather. So I'm not so depressing."
As lunch ends at Rising Sun Clubhouse, the room begins to clear. Meyer leans back in his chair at last. His next words come in a rush. "I feel really bad about 10 years of doing meth. I really did terrible things to my family. I'm trying to right my wrongs," he said, his voice going quiet. "I feel like I had no control in life."
The next minute Meyer brightens. "Wait, this is going in the paper, right? Then people will know ... then I can deal from reality."
Sheila Hagar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 526-8322.