“Close you eyes and tap your heels together three times. And think to yourself…
…there’s no place like home.”
It was the Cowardly Lion I always used to relate to. The social anxiety which has ravaged me since my early teens eradicated my confidence to such a degree that even walking down the street was enough to induce a panic attack, let alone begin a conversation.
I used to lie awake at night dreaming of being able to share my feelings with the passion and commitment in which I believed in them. For years people would attack me for acting ‘superior’ for not talking or for being ‘pathetic’ because I was silent the majority of the time.
These days I lie awake at night relating more to Dorothy, eager to inherit a pair of ruby slippers (or silver ones if you’re more inclined to literature) Not because I would look stunning in such attire, but to have the opportunity to close my eyes, click my heels and wish myself away from the nightmare my life has become.
When I became homeless in August 2009 I did so because I had no other choice. My money had run out, my lack of qualifications combined with the GFC had made finding a job impossible whilst my mental health could be described as ‘fluctuating’ at best.
I remember standing on Princes Bridge, the rowdy parties raging in Federation Square to my left and the ominous darkness of my future to my right. On that bridge I was determined this was only going to be a small nap in a field of poppies during my ongoing journey.
If I had known back then what would happen over the twelve months, I would have jumped off the bridge and let the muddy waters of the Yarra carry me toward hell. For hell must surely be better than the “life” I allegedly have now.
Being homeless is one of the hardest, most painful and horrendous experiences you can ever go through. People who claim that the homeless choose this life for its adventurous excitement are deluded. They are living in a fantasy world I’d very much like to be whisked into via a tornado one day, just so long as their fantasy world contains a sexy witch and flying monkeys (as all good fantasy world’s should!)
To say I chose to become homeless means you would also have to say I chose to:
- Suffer from bipolar; a mental illness I had no control over developing.
- Suffer from social anxiety; ditto.
- Be emotionally abused; a period which destroyed my self-esteem, self-worth, self-confidence and caused a suicide attempt.
- Lose everything in my life as a result of the events of February 2007.
You would also have to say I chose to:
- Develop PTSD as a result of being physically and sexually assaulted (and you try telling a woman they chose to be raped and see how far you get!)
Homelessness is caused by all manner of issues and events. I will concede that some people do choose to become homeless for whatever reason, but those I have met did not.
They, like me, were victims of circumstance, of a society that fails to offer the help that some people need; a society that favours and rewards the privileged rather than protect and help the less fortunate.
My first night homeless was on a park bench with a blanket barely 2mm thick. It was 3 degrees celsius that night. I wanted to die.
My second night homeless was spent on a different bench (trying to shake it up a bit). Again, it was 3 degrees celsius; I was so cold I thought I had died.
Every night after that I moved benches, positions, locations. Sometimes, if a good night, I would sleep on the grass. Other times I’d huddle into doorways. On the nights when the wind howled and the rain poured I would wait until the early hours of the morning and secrete myself into a 24 hr toilet; making sure to set my alarm so that I was up before the cleaners.
Each night the sleep was painful, fitful and almost non-existent. When sleeping in such an open place it doesn’t matter whether you’re male, female, child or wombat – you are vulnerable to anything!
In those early months I was physically attacked on a half-dozen occasions merely because I didn’t have a home. And before anyone cries goading, there is a greater likelihood of being attacked by that Toilet Paper Puppy than there is me, so think again. Confrontation is the last thing I, or other homeless people, need.
Throughout the entire twelve months verbal abuse has been consistent. For some reason people think it’s acceptable to insult the homeless. These occasions hurt more than the beatings. At least with the beatings I could substitute the inflicted wounds for those I was going to inflict on myself anyway. The insults fed directly into the abuse I’d already received, my social anxiety, other mental illnesses and further eradicated my self-worth to the point that it was now non-existent.
Then there are the ‘looks’ and ‘stares’ that hurt even more than either abuse.
By November 2009, I’d given up. In that month alone I attempted suicide three times. My final attempt was prevented by another homeless man who happened upon me in the early hours of the morning. I’ll never forget the jogger who meandered past me minutes before as I prepared my noose; a look of ‘meh, whatever’ etched on her face.
This reaction alone sums up the collective treatment society gives the homeless. It doesn’t matter what they do, how hard they work, what they are going through or what they are dealing with. Because they are living on the street they are failures; worthless to the world and considered sub-human.
Following those suicide attempts I was finally able to find some accommodation. I had tried dozens of times in the past but had been met with nothing, and in early December I moved into a small bedsit style ‘apartment’ in a hotel complex. It was basically a cupboard with a bed and en-suite, but I wasn’t going to complain.
The first week or so was spent trying to adjust to ‘normal’ life. For the first time in months I had a “bed”, a “pillow” – “four walls” around me. I didn’t have to worry about night-time attacks, random bottle throws or possum urine. In all honesty I didn’t sleep much that week, my brain was still hardwired into the sleeping rough mentality. As time went on I began to adjust; I registered with a GP to sort out physical and mental health complaints, I worked myself into a mental health programme and registered with a job agency.
I spent my days trying to rebuild my life. I tried to remind myself of the good things about life that homelessness had erased; I joined a library and tried to read, I watched a few movies & TV shows and tried to write again. Photography was still something that burned deeply within me but without a camera I could do nothing but look to the future with this.
The way I see it there are three days you never want to spend alone; your birthday, Christmas and New Year. In 2009, I spent them all alone for the second time in my life. On Christmas day, my mother told me Happy Feet was on the television in the UK and reminded me of the Christmas we’d shared in 2006 when we’d watched the film at the cinema. How could I forget? That was my last good Christmas.
Several weeks passed, I was eating better, sleeping better, feeling better and for the first time in months was not actively considering suicide every few days. Until I was kicked out of the complex along with twenty or so others because of ‘over-booking’; being first and foremost a hotel their priority was to paying guests and not those trying to get their lives back on track.
After working so hard to get settled to be back on the street was like a drop kick to the head. Knowing I needed a job I kept applying, eventually scoring a gig as a general office dogsbody. I lost this after the company found out I was homeless; only a few days before payday would have provided me with accommodation.
I managed to get a rooming house in Frankston, uprooting the connections with health I’d made in Preston and forcing myself to start all over again in a part of the city foreign to me. I hated the majority of Frankston with a passion and wish to linger on it not a jot, I will however say it’s reputation is deserved.
Back on the streets in time for Anzac Day I was slowly losing all will and hope. My physical health was failing and I developed cold upon exasperating long-term conditions upon cold, all feeding into my already fractured mental stability. Through an agency I was able to find accommodation, but after the events of Frankston I’d made my stance on rooming houses clear. I was promised that it wasn’t a rooming house, that it was a quiet place free of drugs and alcohol.
It was a rooming house.
It fed into my mental instability.
It caused a mini-breakdown.
It forced me back onto the streets, where I have been since.
Being homeless was never my choice. Despite my situation I’ve continually worked hard to fight my way back into a life where I could be treated like a human being again.
I’ve sought employment and found it, only to lose said jobs for the reason I had no house. I’ve sought accommodation and found it, only to lose said accommodation for the reasons of money, health and external factors I had no control over. I’ve sought social networks and found them, only to lose them again due to irregular internet availability and mental illness.
And yet I am continually met with the same comments you should just get off your lazy ass and find a job…there’s accommodation out there if only you could be bothered going to look for it…homeless people don’t deserve to be helped until they help themselves…ad infinitum.
Yet more examples of the superiority complex swathes of society have toward the homeless.
Homeless people are just the same as everyone else; human beings. Each with their own flaws, qualities, foibles and positives. Yet the moniker Homeless is often applied as if describing a new species of animal; part of me is surprised there isn’t a movement to introduce “Homeless Hunting Season”, maybe there is.
Over the last twelve months it has continually stunned me how educated people in Western society treat the homeless. There is so much contempt and disinterest toward them. Blaming the homeless for their situation is merely deflecting the issue away from what are really the root causes; a flawed society and failure to realise that the only difference between people is housing.
Several months ago I wrote a piece entitled “Homelessness and My Mental Stability” in which I talked about the initial few months of my homelessness and how it had affected me psychologically. I had hoped to write a follow on article titled “Homelessness and My Mental Stability (Reprise)” where I looked at what damage a year of homelessness had inflicted on me.
But the answer to that is simple, and would have been a much shorter and succint post (which would perhaps have been the better option!)
I have no mental stability.
I want to die now more than any other time in my life, just as much as I want to live, but I know deep down the latter will never happen. People are too pejudiced against homelessness and mental illness. I think about death constantly, plan ways in which I could do it and hope every day fate will just intervene and end the agony.
I talk to myself almost constantly to counteract the silence of the world around me and the deafening roar in my head. It doesn’t matter whether I am in public or not, I will just do it.
My mood swings are the most inconsistent and unpredictable I’ve ever seen them; I’ve never been this scared of my bipolar since winter 2007.
Whilst the social isolation I endure (now 14 months since my last face-to-face conversation) gnaws on the gristled bone of my once rebuilt confidence.
But for some unknown reason I’m still here.
Like I said earlier, anyone who thinks people choose this life is an idiot living in a fantasy world. It’s not a ‘life’, it’s barely even existence. It’s a group of people fighting to survive whilst society watches on. A society unwilling to intervene in fear of upsetting the nature documentary being played out to make themselves feel better with their lives.
I guess, in some respects, my dreams to be the Cowardly Lion came true in more ways than one.