*Trigger warning: this post contains mentions of self-harm and suicidal ideation*
I was homeless until March 2012, when I finally gained a privately rented unit. In that time I slept in parks, alleys, boarding houses, tents and everywhere in between. I attempted suicide, lost all sense of reality and learned to both despise and love this world.
I have yet to come to terms with the last two and a half years and in spite of my current accommodation, still feel homeless to this day.
Throughout this week I will be looking back on my homelessness in an effort to understand what has happened to me as well as holding onto the hope that others will learn from what I have been through.
Denial (Week One – Two)
“I feel fine.”; “This can’t be happening, not to me.”
For the first several days of my homelessness I did nothing but what I would have done anyway. I visited art galleries, read books, went to the cinema. I continued logging into social networks and job hunting. Not once did I visit an NGO or food van.
If I couldn’t afford to eat, I wouldn’t.
If I couldn’t afford or find my own housing, then so be it.
My life revolved around one thing, never wanting to admit that I was homeless.
Anger (Weeks Three – Four)
“Why me? It’s not fair!”; “How can this happen to me?”; ‘”Who is to blame?”
After failing to sleep in any way shape or form on the benches I’d found a small patch of grass beside a low wall. This wall, I discovered, blocked me from view from all but one angle of the park. The problem was there was a path above it and unless you were looking down you wouldn’t have known I was there.
A few weeks into my homelessness, in the early hours of the morning, I awoke to find a heavy stream of warm liquid soaking my blankets, belongings and person. At first I thought it was a sudden onslaught of rain until the tell-tale odour reached my nostrils and I realised someone above me was relieving themselves.
After waiting for them to leave I exploded. I hurled my blankets across the park, kicked the wall, punched a tree and, after venting all the emotion I’d bottled up for weeks, collapsed to the ground and found a cigarette. Sitting there in the moonlight, the park deathly quiet, stinking of urine, my mind attacked anything and everything it could blame for my position; namely, myself.
- If I had worked harder at school then I’d be curled up in a nice warm bed rather than being pissed on in a park in the middle of the night.
- If I had fought past the social anxiety and gone to university then I’d be sharing pints in a pub instead of starving in the dark.
- If I’d worked harder to dance, socialize and study whilst suffering from glandular fever I could be living a more connected, happy life.
- If I hadn’t allowed my mental illness to overwhelm me I could have been someone.
- If I had been a stronger person I wouldn’t have fallen victim to abuse and thus I’d be able to think of myself as a human rather than a nothing.
- If I had killed myself in 2006 or 2007 I wouldn’t be here to suffer this degradation, humiliation and pain.
This night was a turning point for me. I was no longer in denial about my situation; I was homeless. I had become the lowest of the low, the most hated of the hated, the most maligned of the malignant.
My life, once something so full of promise and pride had become nothing but the urinal of socety.
Bargaining (Weeks Five – Eight)
“I’ll do anything for a…”
As my anger and self-hate faded I sought to find ways out of my situation. I turned to both government and non-government organisations to assist me in finding possible pathways but there was nothing. Waiting lists for public housing were 10-12 years long and as I didn’t have the money to sustain a hostel or boarding house there was little they could do but suggest places to visit for food and/or blankets.
In my desperate state to get out of homelessness and prove my strength I was willing to do anything. So I did. After all, it wasn’t as if anyone had never been there before.
Engaging in this money-making activity did nothing but make me feel vile and amplify every facet of my mental health. My anxiety skyrocketed, my hallucinations veered out of control and the PTSD blew into the stratosphere.
If I’d had my head screwed on I would have realised this would have been the outcome, if I hadn’t been so lonely I wouldn’t have rationalised my ‘decision’ with the use of terms such as ‘human contact’, ‘social interaction’ and ‘maybe you’ll make a friend’.
If I could have my time back I would never have done it for it did far more damage than good.
Depression (Weeks Nine – Eighteen)
“I’m so sad, why bother with anything?”; “I miss my loved ones, why go on?”
Toward the end of September 2009, nearly two months after becoming homeless, I decided to walk to Sydney. For those unfamiliar with Australian geography, Sydney is approximately 900kms from Melbourne.
One day I packed my clothes into my backpack, slung my blanket into a black bag and headed off. I roamed through the Northern suburbs and out of the city before collapsing after fifty odd kilometres by the side of the road. Unfurling my blanket I curled up beneath a tree as cars sped by sporadically and prayed for death.
After hitching to Albury I spent the night sleeping near the Murray river before a second in a small suburban park. On the third day I set off toward Sydney and made it all of 5kms before I threw myself under a tree and looked for something to hang myself with. In the old days I would normally have had a scarf or belt but being so destitute I had neither. Instead of carrying on toward Sydney I turned back to Albury to buy some rope but could find nothing in any of the shops that were open. Instead, I turned back and this time didn’t return.
For a week and a half I roamed the back roads and highways of rural NSW. I slept under trees, in ditches and under bushes. Several thunderstorms soaked me to the core and I developed a heavy flu that had me vomiting and barely able to move.
Before I’d left I’d suggested my desire to walk to Sydney had been to ‘find a reason to live’ looking back, it was probably more because I knew it stood a good chance of killing me.If it hadn’t been for a sudden call to attend an appointment in regarding benefits I think it would have done.
My appointment had to be in Melbourne so I boarded a train and journeyed back to the city a failure. Not only had I been unsuccessful in my attempt to walk between two major metropolises, I was still drawing breath.
The appointment, at 9am, lasted all of ten minutes and I spent the remainder of the day sitting in the park I’d called home crying, smoking and being incredibly ill. It wasn’t just the homelessness that was getting to me. It was the loneliness, the isolation, the hunger, the pain and the black dog that was tearing out my innards with its vicious, razor-sharp teeth.
For the umpteenth time since being homeless I ended up in the waiting room of a housing organisation. After telling me there was no accommodation available they allowed me to have a shower and I was sent back to the park where I spent the remainder of the day self-harming.
By this point I was self-injuring on a daily basis and talking to hallucinations 20 odd hours a day. The remaining four I was either too exhausted from the incessant noise to respond or crashed out in fitful nightmare-plauged sleep. Efforts were made to admit myself to hospital but I was told I was too ‘well’ to be admitted or there were no beds free.
As October drew to a close I could no longer recognise the person staring back at me in the mirror. The flu had lingered for weeks, my feet were blistered and infected after weeks of wearing the same shoes and socks and my moods were swinging wildly.
At times so confident I was trying to talk my way into hotels and writing several hundred pages of (what I believed) coherent prose in a week.
Whilst at others my anxiety was so extreme I couldn’t bear to be around a single soul. On one occasion I remained in my park for seven days, taking refuge under my bridge like the fairytale troll I believed myself to be.
It was early in the morning when I sat under a tree in the King’s Domain shredding a T-Shirt into a make-shift noose. I had been homeless for nearly three months. I’d asked for help, searched for accommodation, job hunted and done everything someone who follows the ‘pull yourself up from the bootstraps’ approach to homelessness suggests to do. And yet, nothing.
I didn’t just want to die because I wanted the pain to end. I wanted to die because I was nothing.
And never would be.
It was too early to be interrupted by the joggers and their maniacal personal trainers and I figured by the time they arrived to tone their abs and buns I would be beyond help. Unfortunately I hadn’t counted on someone who genuinely cares about the homeless coming along; that being, another homeless person. Perhaps it’s the “we’re in this together” mentality, perhaps you cannot truly understand the pain, shock and loneliness of this ‘life’ unless you have experienced it yourself, but I dread to think what would have happened if he hadn’t shown up.
The first thing he did was steal my Noose-Shirt and then he sat, handed me a cigarette, and pulled out his bible. Now, I’m not a religious man. I used to be, many years ago. When I ran away from home and during my backpacking days of ’99 I kept a small bible in my pack. But sometime since then my beliefs shifted. I didn’t turn my back on religion, nor do I begrudge anyone their beliefs, but they are just no longer my own. Normally I am turned off by someone forcing their views onto me, but I was so lost, so alone, so desperate for human company I just sat there and listened to him read from the scripture.
I wasn’t processing the words but the soft sound of his voice as it rose in fell in emphasis. By this point I hadn’t spoken to anyone besides a few organisations and my parents via the phone for months. It was the first time since I was homeless someone had taken time to speak to me in person and that, more than religion, is what stopped me from committing suicide that day.
After finishing the passages he placed the bible back into the pack and took out a portable DVD player. He asked if I wanted to borrow it to take my mind off the darkness. With thanks I took it and, after ensuring I was okay, he departed.
That day I watched The Dark Knight and half a dozen episodes of Skins courtesy of the library.
That night he found me in the park and we shared some food from the soup van. After we ate I went to hand him the player back but he said to keep it, he was heading out-of-town for a while and would collect it on his return.
Acceptance (Week Nineteen)
“I can’t fight it, I may as well prepare for it.”
By November I had no idea who I was. The DVD player helped occupy my days but my mind was still lost in a maze of confusion, depression and instability. No matter what path I ventured down it just ended in a dead-end; whether it be housing, health, employment or loneliness.
Toward the end of the month my family wired some money to me to assist in celebrating my birthday. My original plan was to accommodate myself in a hotel as all I desired for my birthday was to be indoors and in bed. Unfortunately, due to price gouging on the weekend, this proved impossible. Thus, I booked a room for that night.\
It was the first time I’d been indoors for months. The moment I checked in I stripped naked. The moment after this I showered. For the remainder of the evening I remained naked for all but thirty minutes, a half hour in which I walked to the pizza shop to treat myself.
If you’ve never eaten a pizza in the nude after sleeping in various parks for three months you cannot begin to understand the sheer joy and pleasure I experienced that night!
It was an emotion I had forgotten existed, something that felt altogether ‘wrong’ but naughtily enjoyable at the same time. Even though I had to check out of the hotel the next morning I carried that joy with me for the remainder of the day for I knew it could be a long time before I felt it again.
I accepted now that I was – and would no doubt always be – homeless.
What I didn’t know as I walked away from the hotel that morning is that I’d have the opportunity to be naked again very soon. And not in a creepy get-yourself-arrested in a park kinda way!
Because four days from that night I obtained accommodation…which means tomorrow’s post will be much happier. Honestly :)