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Need to Live Free; No Nursing Home!

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I’m Debra Dickinson and I've been a VanDweller since 2014. I joined Bob Wells' camp in 2015 when I started full-time on the road. I immediately fell in love with the vandwelling community and enjoy sharing that love by helping others through my YouTube Channel (Debra Dickinson ) and blog (TBIVanGirl ).

I live with the effects of a traumatic brain injury (TBI), but am able to thrive while living in nature with my two dogs. This simple, quiet, stress-free lifestyle dramatically reduces my symptoms which, in turn, has apparently stalled the growth of scar tissue in my brain. At some point, the scar tissue and my symptoms will presumably progress to the point that I will need to live in a nursing home. And that, my friends, is why Bob has asked me to write this blog post: to help me stay free for as long as possible.

I am asking for your help, through a GoFundMe Campaign, to maintain a stress-free lifestyle, in my van and in nature. In order to maintain this lifestyle, my van needs repairs and improvements.


Almost two decades ago, I was beaten by a foster son. The traumatic brain injury that I sustained caused me to be in a coma. As a result of my injuries, I was hospitalized and spent several months in rehab. I was able to rebuild my life though, and had a successful career and even purchased a home. I also remarried. I was living the American Dream! And then seizures started…

The seizures are NOT epileptic in nature which means they do not affect my ability to drive. They are not that kind and do not have sudden onset. It took doctors almost 2 years to identify the problem. It turns out that scar tissue was building up on my brain from the original injury. I had brain surgery to remove what scar tissue they could. It was a one-time shot. Luckily, it worked, but through it all I lost my career, my home and my husband.

I rebuilt my life once again and even earned my certification to teach. I taught junior high science and I loved it! But the stress was too much and the scar tissue began to grow again. As the scar tissue accumulated, I was determined to remain independent. I refused disability, even though my doctors and social workers advised me that I should no longer try to work. However, this time, it was more and more challenging to be successful at jobs. I tried various odd jobs and even moved to small town USA to work in a State Park. My hope was to stay there until I retired. It was, after all, a small, quiet town and the State Park put me near my healing place: Mother Nature.

Unfortunately, it didn’t last. My health began to decline once again and my doctors were clear: nothing else could be done. It was 2015 and with a diagnosis of Impact-induced Hippocampal Sclerosis (HS) that produced Mesial temporal sclerosis, my doctors told me to get my affairs in order, assign a legal guardian and trustee, and basically just wait it out. I was devastated.

No longer able to work, I tried staying with family and friends but the TVs, the noise and the city, all combined, took a toll on me and was creating multiple seizures. In an effort to get my seizures under control I started staying at State Parks in a tent. I was on several waiting lists for subsidized housing, but the wait (depending on location) ranged from 2-5 years. After almost 2 months of tent camping, I decided it was time to make a change: my disability kicked in and I bought my cargo van.

Life as a VanDweller, with my furbabies, has been healing for me. At the very least, my seizures are far less frequent and I can think and process when I am in the peace and quiet of my van and out in nature. The simplicity has allowed me to remain independent for over a year now because it is a lifestyle I can maintain.

With nowhere else to go, to sustain my health after this, my next step will be assisted living or long term care. I am trying desperately to stall that outcome for as long as I absolutely can. I honestly don’t think I will survive being locked up in 4 walls. I hope I don’t have to find out.


Although I have been fortunate to experience a reduction in my symptoms this past year, I am currently unable to hold a job. After expenses, such as insurance, etc., I live on about $650/mo in Social Security Disability payments. I paid off all my medical bills and tried to save my house, which means that I am debt-free, but it also exhausted all of my savings. Because so many people have been so good to me through all of this, it is devastating for me to ask, but in short, I now need help to keep my van livable and dependable.


Vehicle Repairs - $1500 (ball joints, rear seal leak, brakes & windshield)
          To have a dependable van, travel with good weather, go to the back country to be in quiet and nature, and heal.

Rooftop Solar System - $1250 (solar panels, controller and 2 batteries)
          My current 100w suitcase solar system is inadequate. Furthermore, it's difficult for me to deploy and put away, especially if in a hurried or confused state.

Cabinets - $200
          Organization is key for me to keep my stress low and symptoms at bay. A designated place for everything will help keep my van's interior uncluttered, and there won’t be the danger of forgetting to bungee something down.

Small Fridge – $550
          Eating fresh healthy foods is key to good health and prolonged independence.

Emergency Fund - $2000
          This will be temporary seed money while I build a savings fund for future needs.

GoFundMe Donation Fees – appx. $500 (7.9% + 30 cents/donation)
          This is the cost of running a campaign on GoFundMe.


I will not give up. I am always trying to find jobs I can do. For example, in Quartzsite recently I went to at least 50 vendors. The jobs were too complicated or noisy for me, but I tried. I will find something I can do. I just know it. I just need more time!

A friend helped me start a YouTube channel and I hope it will be a source of supplemental income for me. I hope to be completely independent and off disability some day. We’ll see. I’m trying to be realistic. The doctors say no, but I haven’t given up hope. In 2015, when they told me to get my affairs in order, they also told me that I might see 2016 but would probably not be aware of it. Here it is 2017 and I’m still going!

If you give me this extra time out here that I am asking for, I will keep working to find ways to become self-sustaining. I will keep you updated on that progress through my videos and my blog for as long as I am able. I will also show all of my expenditures on my website on a tab labeled (My GoFundMe). You will be able to see every penny accounted for.

If something happens to me, I have already made provisions for my furbabies and Leslie, my BFF and legal guardian, will see to it that any money remaining in the fund goes to my continued care. It will all be put to good use. I promise. I thank you from the bottom of my heart.


If you are willing, please consider giving to this campaign with joy and love. If you are unable to contribute financially, please send your joy and love through prayers. As always, it a great life out here. I’ll see you down the road!


Debra Dickinson
Georgetown, TX

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