Domestic violence survivor, 69, reveals how she fled the life that made her suicidal to become a nomad in her 60s and says ‘I haven’t been afraid since the day I left’
A woman who spent most of her life feeling worthless has revealed how becoming a nomad in her 60s has finally brought her a peaceful life filled with joy and happiness.
Appearing on last night’s episode of Ben Fogle: New Lives in the Wild, Dee, 69, revealed how she now travels the deserts of Arizona after fleeing from her controlling and coercive husband in Modesto, California, five years earlier.
She now lives in a 6ft by 10ft box van, which she renovated all by herself, and shares her life on her YouTube channel to encourage others to get back to nature.
This is despite battling a string of health problems, including a stroke, chronic pain and breakig her back, as well being close to going blind after four eye surgeries.
However, Dee told Ben that she was suicidal when she left her ex-husband and that life on the road has finally given her happiness.
Viewers were hugely impressed by Dee’s story, hailing her as ‘inspirational’ and ‘extraordinary’, saying she proves it’s never too late in life to make a change.
In last night’s episode of New Lives in the Wild, Ben Fogle traveled to the mountains of Arizona to meet Dee, 69, who has been living as a nomad for the past five years
Dee escaped her life in Modesto California after she couldn’t take anymore abuse from her husband. He controlled everything she did from when she went to sleep to what clothes she wore
Bon in Washington DC in 1952, for most her life Dee lived in the city working a variety of jobs from a poker dealer to making Venetian masks, but she found that happiness eluded her.
She suffered several failed marriages and was limited by serious health problems.
It all came to a head five years ago when the pressures of her abusive marriage and the pain she was experiencing from her illness made her life more and more of a struggle.
Dee who now lives in the mountains near Lake Havasu City said: ‘Five years ago I got a divorce, tried living on my own. It was very hard, it was impossible.
Viewers were impressed by ‘strong’ and ‘inspirational’ Dee and said she proves it’s never too late in life to make a change
‘It got to the point where I couldn’t pay the bills and I couldn’t buy food. I couldn’t buy anything so I took off.’
She revealed to Ben that she left everything behind with little more than the clothes on her back.
She is no stranger to the nomadic lifestyle, explaining that she grew up with seven people in a station wagon and traveled from when she was six-years-old.
However, she was bullied as a child and called ‘white trash,’ leading her to believe that she was unworthy of love.
Throughout the episode she revealed how this feeling only become stronger over time and how she felt her life had no value.
‘Truthfully, when I left Modesto, California a little over five years ago, I didn’t want to go on, I really didn’t want to go on,’ she admitted.
In this week’s episode Ben joined Dee in her box van, experiencing what it is like to live without a base. He joined in cleaning her solar panels and helped to build his own bed for the back of her car
‘I was miserable. I was in a very abusive relationship, marriage. I hate to talk about him as he’s just passed, but I didn’t want to go on anymore, I wanted to quit.
‘I couldn’t do anything. I had no control when I wanted to go to bed, when I wanted to get up, when I ate, or what I could wear. I just knew I had to get out.’
Recalling how she finally took the leap, she said: ‘It was breaking free from so much. I didn’t want to be a victim anymore. I wanted to find some joy.
‘I wanted to make some choices in my life, even if they were wrong. I have not been afraid since the day I left.’
She said that she felt her choice was ‘either I end it all or I get moving’.
‘I got moving and I’m glad I did that. I’m free, how many people can say that?’ she asked.
Dee, with her small dog Maxie, has since taught herself how to live in a small vehicle, in which she is exposed to elements.
She has had to become self sufficient and is an excellent carpenter, which she proved by making Ben a bespoke bed for the car after he was ‘twisted’ from one night of sleep on the back seat.
Dee built her van herself after living in her car for six months. She even built a copper toilet for the vehicle
‘When I first started my journey, I lived in a car for six months,’ she said.
Dee took out the back seat and the passenger seat made a wooden frame for the car.
In the early days she was surviving on just over $800 a month from social security.
She has since upgraded to a 6 foot by 10 foot box van, which she renovated all by herself.
She told Ben that ‘it is a home’ explaining that she has everything she needs.
‘I have a bedroom, I have a kitchen, I have a bathroom.’
She even built herself a copper toilet and has solar panels on the roof of the van for electricity.
She said: ‘I love working with wood. I built a handicap van when I was in the wheelchair.’
Asked to expand on this by Ben she explains that she was in a wheelchair for five years after being diagnosed with chronic pain in different parts of her body and losing the strength in her legs at the same.
Ben questions how she overcame this adversity and started walking again.
She says: ‘I got tired of not living my life. I got tired of dying basically and I decided “I’m going to live”. So I got out of the wheelchair and started walking a block, then two blocks.
The 69-year-old explains how she has never been happier and for the first time ever has found love for herself
‘It was painful at first, then I started dance. I danced three times a week and I loved it! I did the swing, twirling around the floor doing the twist, I had a blast.’
However, it is revealed that Dee continues to suffer with ill health and had a stroke, broke her back and is close to going blind, even after four eye operations.
It is bittersweet that after finding joy in life, at nearly 70 years of age, in the unrestrained life of a nomad that Dee has to consider the reality of her situation and admit that her lifestyle is unsustainable.
When asked if she will find somewhere permanent, she says: ‘I don’t like the word permanent. Because of my eye, because of my health I am afraid I will go blind. So I have rented a space in an RV camp so I have a home base.
‘You learn to deal with changes out here, my life changes every day of my life, so I just adapt. I may not like everything to start with, but I learn to accept it and find joy in it.’
Dee has named her box van Dee-lightful, which she says is for ‘Dee-lightful adventures.’
When questioned about the etiquette of traveling she explained that there are ‘unsaid rules,’ and that you want to ‘respect’ you neighbours and do not approach them without warning.
Ben questioned Dee about her safety, to which she responded that she has a ‘what they call a sapper’ and can shock someone if she needs to
She also has a pepper spray and a ‘good knife, with a jagged edge’
She said: ‘Something could happen, but I just don’t let it stress me out.’
In the early days of nomad life Dee started a YouTube channel, Box Van Dee, which now has more than 18,000 subscribers and earns her just over $4,000 a month.
‘I just share the way I live and if they like it it’s great, and if it’s useful that’s also great. That’s what my channel is about, inspiring others how to do and how to survive in a life when not everything’s perfect.
‘To show them how they can survive no matter what their circumstances are, no matter where they come from.’
In yesterday’s episode Dee put Ben to task as chief solar panel scrubber for her YouTube.
She explained that ‘more and more’ people are getting on the road, due to loss of their jobs or just simply because they love it.
Ben asked if those who don’t choose this life for themselves grow to love it.
‘It’s a very difficult life at times, so I wouldn’t say that many grow to love it, but some do, like me,’ she said.
Towards the end of the episode Dee introduces Ben to her friends who have chosen this lifestyle after finding her YouTube channel.
Derek and Tanya were living in California when Tanya came across Dee’s YouTube channel.
She says: ‘I was really inspired by her, she had a lot of issues and obstacles with her health, but she was thriving and I thought, “Why couldn’t we?”.’
Dee who has experienced many health issues in her past fears going blind and has rented herself a spot on an RV camp for when she will need a permanent base
Derek, who has been in a wheelchair for eight years, could easily relate to Dee’s story.
He explains that he worked in the Navy before moving to Federal Law Enforcement, where he had an accidental discharge with his weapon at the bottom of his neck, just missing his spinal cord; but close enough to cause permanent damage.
On hearing their story Dee said: ‘I want to show people that it can be done. Don’t let a day pass that you don’t find joy.’
Dee loves the landscape of Arizona, on her favourite spots is Plomosa Road, she said that the environment makes her feel good inside and whenever she finds a new place to camp she likes to walk and immerse herself in the landscape around.
Ben Fogle: New Lives in the Wild airs Tuesday at 9pm on Channel 5.