All that I am, all that I ever was…

I am more than my mental health. I am more than my homelessness. I am more than any one aspect of me. I am Addy. And this is…

Reflections on being homeless, Part 5

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In August 2009 I became homeless. It was not a choice I made, it was a situation born out of mental illness, the trauma of emotional abuse and other factors beyond my control.

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.

In this series I am 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. Some memories are stronger than others, some more painful than others whilst some have been blocked completely.

Today, I try to shine a light on some of the darker months of 2010…

PREVIOUS INSTALLMENTS
PART 1 | PART 2 | PART 3 | PART 4

Every life is a pile of good things and bad things (Days 274 – 365)

King’s Domain, Melbourne

In late May 2010, three weeks after my memory triggered weekend of alcohol and sadness, I was rained out.

At the time I was sleeping under a small bridge in the King’s Domain. This bridge was under a pedestrian walkway between two ponds so when it rained heavily it had a propensity to fill with water as one pond overflowed into the other. On one particular night in late May such a thing happened and I awoke to find my blanket, clothes and possessions saturated with water.

Cursing my inability to act fast I discarded my sodden blankets and spent several hours drying my clothing courtesy of the hand dryer in the nearby toilets. My agenda for the day was confirmed – I had to find a new blanket, thus I needed to visit a homeless charity.

After queuing for nearly and hour and a half I sat in the small room and asked them for a blanket. They seemed a little surprised I wasn’t asking for anything more and duly located a blue blanket that I could use before referring me to another part of their organisation who offered to find me some accommodation.

With the events of Frankston still heavy in my mind I was weary about the sort of accommodation they would find me and explained in detail my history of mental health and PTSD resulting from abuse and assault. I was told it wasn’t a boarding house, but a stable environment to live; a quiet location, only two other people, free of drugs and alcohol and impeccably maintained.

Upon arrival the room hadn’t been vacuumed in at least three decades, the window was broken with nothing protecting me from the outdoor elements, there was six people in the house and every single one of them was a user. Aside from a mattress on the floor the only furniture was a bookshelf in the corner. Feeling overwhelmed by the presence of such an item I gently caressed the upper shelf whilst imagining filling it with beautiful tomes. The moment my hand touched the wood the entire contraption collapsed painfully onto my foot and I was limping for five days.

Not an auspicious start.

A day after arriving I realised moving into this house was a monumental mistake. Walking into the kitchen to make myself some two-minute noodles I flicked on the light and “TURN THE FUCKING LIGHT OFF!”

Unknown to me a fellow housemate was in the kitchen, standing motionless in the corner. A little bewildered I didn’t respond immediately and once again, more aggressively “TURN THE MOTHER FUCKING LIGHT OFF!”

This time I flicked the light switch and plunged the kitchen into darkness. Never having used it before I stumbled to the kettle and felt totally uneasy about boiling the water with a John Bunting lookalike watching my every move from the corner. Not even waiting for it to boil properly I hurriedly filled the cup of noodles and walked at speed out of the room.

For the next two days I remained in my room.

On the third day I decided I needed some air and took myself outside for a walk. As I returned home I stood outside my ‘house’ whilst finishing my cigarette when I became aware of a shadow moving across the lawn towards me. As I began to turn the shadow stopped, and I realised it was him from the kitchen; standing in the middle of the garden with a metal pipe being knocked menacingly against his left palm.

For the two minutes I smoked he just stood there and watched over me. My heart raced, my anxiety trebled and I felt light-headed. Stubbing the cigarette out I walked slowly across the lawn without making eye contact and into my room, staying awake for the remainder of the night with my unlockable door blocked with the remnants of the bookcase.

I remained like this for a week. The presence of this man, from overheard conversations through wafer thin walls, a heavy drug user who had several convictions of rape and abuse, unsettled me to the point of psychological shutdown. I refused to leave the room to cook food (I ate uncooked pasta) or use the toilet (I used bottles) in fear of encountering this man in the hallway.

Whilst housed in Preston five months earlier I’d visited GPs, mental health organisations, wrote countless stories and articles, improved my concentration and mental functioning.

Here, I sat in a room pissing into a bottle, staring at four blank walls and talking to the mice and cockroaches that resided in my room. I think it’s a safe bet to say I wasn’t operating with the full deck.

For weeks I existed in this stationary state, occasionally walking to nearby Northland to gather cigarette butts to smoke or visit the library to catch up on Doctor Who courtesy of iView and streaming websites. My housemate’s history of violence and sexual assault had triggered memories of Adelaide which, in addition to the heavy drug use and dealing that occurred from the house, was heightening my anxiety to terrifying levels. Every night I barely slept, and when I did, they were full of lucid nightmares that had me waking in fits of screaming and sweating.

I know I should have left the house immediately, but I had been stunned into a state of inaction.

Everything came to a head in early June when, returning from a walk one evening, the John Bunting lookalike attacked me in the corridor; punching, kicking and throwing me against a wall (I honestly don’t know why) before taking what little money I had and ransacking my room. Bruised, bloodied and hurting I gathered what little possessions I could and immediately left the house, never to return.

I spent that night sitting in a small park off Plenty Road, Preston. I’d sat in the park to write many times during the period I’d been accommodated over Christmas and I couldn’t understand how things could have gone so bad, so quickly, given the efforts I’d made. The next day, after patching myself up, I walked the short distance to Merri Creek, where I camped out for the night and discovered I had a nephew, before slowly working my way back to my ‘home’ in the King’s Domain.

After having been promised a “quiet”, “safe”, “drug free” boarding house, the events of the last few weeks had eradicated my trust in homeless organisations and for the next five months I refused to visit them, regardless of how bad things became. The only thing I used was the Vinnie’s soup van, and only when I had no other option.

My Home, mid-2010 | © Addy

In the weeks after this event I descended into a nightmare realm of pain and exhaustion. I didn’t eat, I didn’t sleep; I hoped a tram or lorry would collide with my shattered body to end my sorry existence, my mind veered wildly and I wrote dozens of increasingly more incoherent blog posts to fill the emptiness of my “life”; I walked aimlessly around the streets blocking out all around me in the hope I would physically disappear from existence in the way I’d been erased mentally and emotionally from the minds of all.

One night in July, with tears streaming my face, I tried to cut my wrists open. Having no knives and no ability to buy one I used sticks I found in my park ‘home’. Unable to penetrate the skin I stabbed and scratched in a vain attempt to draw enough blood from my body to delete myself from the world; all it did was give me several splinters that I left unattended in the hope they would turn septic.

I had been beaten – physically and mentally – spat out and forgotten by society. I no longer had the energy or strength to keep fighting.

On the anniversary of my homelessness I wrote a blog post called There’s No Place Like Home that looked back on my first year homeless. Reading it back now, I realise how hard I was working to hide the extent of the pain I was experiencing.

The above assault was described with a mere “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.”

My ‘stick based suicide attempt’ and subsequent mental break was shaken off with a simple “I have no mental stability” and my time in Frankston batted away with a succinct “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.”

Reading it back now I realise how I have no memory of writing it. This period of my life has become lost in a haze of deep depression, suicidal ideation, trauma from the abuse and self-hate. I remember sitting in Fed Square laughing at the incomprehensible decision of the Australian public to vote in a hung parliament. I remember the night I awoke to find a possum sleeping on my head. I can recall with intimate clarity sitting in a motel in July drinking countless litres of whatever alcoholic substance I could find to alleviate the pain of the memories from 2007.

I remember hating myself and my existence completely and wished I was no longer here.

I Am Visible (Day 366 – 429)

Given my lack of memory surrounding vast portions of 2010 it’s impossible for me to recount with accuracy the turning point. I’ve long put it down to a combination of things:

1. My erratic mood swings.

2: Season three of Chuck; like I said here this show gave me hope through my homelessness – and this sequence is one of my favourite moments of television ever (especially 7:06 and the last twenty-five seconds)

and

3. Twitter.

The latter being something I had rarely used but threw myself into around this time, mostly because I had nothing else to do but create ever increasingly bizarre ways to kill myself (such as ‘how many soup van sausage rolls would I have to ingest to end my life?’)

What Twitter did was remind me of what it felt to be connected with the outside world again. Seeing movements such as @WeAreVisible and the work of @SydneyHomeless gave me hope that there were people out there fighting for the rights of the invisible population that I had become a part of.

Through Twitter I began talking to people again, slowly at first, but with ever-increasing regularity as time went on. Over the months I began to care about the people I tweeted with and slowly formed the belief that I could have a better future; that it wasn’t always going to be pain, assault, boarding houses and misery.

Using my experiences of writing All That I Am, All That I Ever Was as a template, I created a new blog that would see me – for the first time – venture into the world of homeless blogging. To this day it remains my personal favourite of all my blog titles; The Secret Diary of a Homeless Romantic.

My, shall we say, eccentric writing style saw the usual mix of ‘serious’ articles (Homelessness still a statistical issue for Australia; 3/10/10 ) sharing space alongside more ‘Addy’ articles (Addy’s (Slightly Tongue In Cheek) Guide to Dealing With Having A Home After Being Homeless; written 9/10/10) and as a result few people read my work, but as with the initial incarnation of this blog, it served as a means to resurrect my defeated soul.

Two days after posting my chirpy guide to having a home after being homeless I treated myself to a motel room. As mentioned in my previous post there are days that I need to take care of myself, then it was a suicide attempt/anniversary of a friend’s death, now it was the anniversary of the day I should have died; a day that saw me hike to the Dandenong rainforest for the sole purpose of hanging myself (I wrote about it here, back in 2007.)

After the year I’d had, the day wasn’t as bad as it could have been, but I knew I had to treat myself kindly as I was still in a too-fragile state of mind. After a year of assault, mental instability, suicidal desire, lack of support, distrust and black/block outs things had started to look up – all courtesy of a social network that had re-connected a disenfranchised, destroyed, forgotten soul with the world.

And with friendships blossoming and the possibility of professional support in Sydney, I had decided to head east for a fresh start in a new city.

For the first time in ten months things were taking a positive turn.

Mother and baby possum, 2010 | © Addy

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3 thoughts on “Reflections on being homeless, Part 5

  1. i wish the government would care!! so brutal!

    Like

  2. Very powerful! Perhaps these words here will give others like ourselves who have been homeless some sort of hope..and a desire to keep moving forward..it may sound cliche to some…but there is a saying in the military “NO RETREAT, NO SURRENDER”…if we don’t keep moving forward, may as well lay down and die,,,,

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    • My reason for writing about my homelessness (as honestly as I was able) was two fold:

      1. That it may inspire others who are homeless that, as you say, there is hope and to keep moving onwards without giving up completely.
      and
      2. That it may inspire those who aren’t homeless that it’s time something was done about it.

      If just one person is helped by my life, then it’s all worth it :)

      Like

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