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 skim through a barely remembered period of breakdown and talk about something that heals me…
A New Life (Days 440 – 446)
In October 2010 I caught a train from Southern Cross Station to Sydney, via Albury. It was to be the start of my new life. A new beginning after four hundred and twenty-nine days of pain and misery on the streets (and boarding houses) of Melbourne. My months working to rebuild my confidence and self-belief via Twitter and social networking were paying off.
I can clearly remember getting off the train in the early hours of the morning and relishing in big gulps of Sydney air. After I’d finished choking on the pollution from the heavy rush hour traffic I slung my bag on my back and walked from Central Station to the only part of Sydney I love in order to commemorate my ‘new life’ with a photograph:
Seven days into my new life, I took another photo:
I was back in Melbourne, back in my park, back under my tree, sharing my nights with possums and my mornings with the daily keep-fit brigade. All I can remember from that period is sitting on a train as it drew into Melbourne thinking ‘what the fuck just happened’ with tears streaming my face and a renewed hatred of social networks.
As I lay trembling in the park – a physical reaction from the stress and pain I was feeling – it dawned on me that Facebook, Twitter, blogs and other online shenanigans are for people who already have social networks, they are for beautiful, talented, loved human beings.
They are not for socially phobic, mentally ill, lonely, ugly, grotesque people like myself.
It was time to end this part of my life, once and for all.
Breaking Down (Days 447 – 681)
On Friday 29th October 2010, I logged off of Facebook and Twitter for the last time. I erased my blogging presence and effectively went dark in both the online and real world; I’d had enough.
For the first time since my assault at the boarding house I returned to a homeless organisation I had visited several times and, for the first time, was offered emergency motel accommodation and, for the first time, given a $10 food voucher. It is highly likely that the only reason I received these two things was because I spent the entire time physically shaking and crying uncontrollably.
After leaving with directions I slowly made my way to the motel they had organised for me. I had never been to the suburb this motel was located in, besides fleetingly drifting through it whilst cycling with my ex-girlfriend, but as the following months were to play out, it would become a suburb I’d get to know well.
By the time I arrived at the Coburg Motor Inn I was exhausted, emotionally drained and in dire need of some tender loving care. But first, I needed food – and alcohol. The voucher I had been granted could only be used in Safeway/Woolworth’s stores and – after a conversation with the motel operator – was informed the closest supermarket was in Preston, some several kilometres away. With blisters on my feet and a desire to drink myself to death, I hiked the distance and purchased a few packets of noodles, some coca-cola, bread and processed cheese slices, before returning to the motel via Cash Converters, where I sold my camera, in order to buy as much alcohol as possible.
After a brief couple of months where things had looked like they were coming together, I had descended back into the mindset of mid 2010. Little made sense, cohesive thoughts were few and far between, hallucinations reigned supreme and I was drinking vodka as if my life depended on it. Which, I guess, it did,
I had no idea what to do, who to talk to or where to go. Conversations with Centrelink social workers went nowhere – the contacts they gave me for food weren’t valid, the accommodation options either unavailable or my mental health was not a serious enough risk for acceptance. As for more mental health specialised services, either contact was not returned, or because I had no-one to validate my words, my tear fuelled conversations fell on disbelieving and unhelpful ears (the story of my life); if I was mentally sound enough to make a phone call, I was mentally sound enough to manage all other areas of my life.
That weekend I spent the days sitting in the motel staring at the walls and the evenings sitting in a park nearby staring at the trees. When it rained, I didn’t care, I just sat near the creek gazing into the fast flowing waters hoping there would be a sudden flood and my pitiful life would be swallowed for good.
After leaving the motel, the organisation who had organised it, offered me accommodation in yet another strange suburb. For the first time I put my foot down – it was way too far from anything I knew, it would isolate me even more than I was, the rent was very nearly my entire benefit check, there was a forty-five minute walk to the nearest supermarket and the room had no windows or ventilation. I was NOT coping. I COULD NOT deal with this.
I was told that if I didn’t take this accommodation I would be on the streets as there was nothing else available.
There was no choice; the streets would definitely have killed me. Despite my desire for death, my gut instinct to survive reigned supreme…so I took the accommodation.
By now, with everything that had happened, boarding houses were not safe havens for me. After a few days of heightened tension following weeks and months of escalating chaos, I shut down.
I remained in my room for over four weeks; the lack of windows making it feel like a prison cell. I used bottles, boxes and black bags for a toilet. I ate raw oats mixed with raspberry cordial for food. I cried on a daily basis for no reason whatsoever. I self-harmed with a pair of scissors for tender loving care.
A marathon of Young Indiana Jones reminded me of my youth, a marathon of Veronica Mars reminded me of better days and then…with nothing left to watch…I inserted the first DVD of the first season of One Tree Hill and, as I wrote in a previous post:
“In a single week I watched the first four seasons back to back. I fell in love with Brooke (one of the best female characters in the history of television), Peyton (one of the other best female characters in the history of television) and developed an on-again/off-again bro-mance with Lucas’ hair.
More importantly this show reminded me of who I once was and wanted to become. As the episodes ticked away, I was reminded of my love of music, of television production, of story arcs and obsession with mind-blowing writing.” [from Hope, the greatest weapon of all]
The desire to see season’s five and six of this show is what drew me from that room, blinking back into the sun. Although still deeply disturbed I attempted to right what was happening. Over the coming weeks, leading up to Christmas, I tried to write again. My early attempts resembled the oft-disjointed posts that are published on this blog, but, over time, I began re-immersing myself in a world that had always healed me; the world of my Chronicles.
The Ghosts that Haunt Me
In February 2000 I visited the Outer Hebrides with two friends. On my second evening there I went for a walk around the town of Stornoway whilst these two beautiful women rested in our B&B room. As I walked the darkened, chilly streets, I came up with the idea of combining two-story ideas;
1) My autobiographical re-telling of my time backpacking in Scotland.
2) An urban romantic-fantasy based in and around a backpacker hostel in Inverness.
On that night, on that distant isle, Dust in the Wind was born. For several years it gestated, grew and strengthened in my mind. The characters became more real, their backstories fleshing out with finer and more intimate detail. The romantic elements dissipated to greater reflect the tale of loss and redemption I had envisioned.
As 2006 drew to a close I was finally content with both life and mind to write the book that had lived within me for nearly seven years. Glandular fever, my college course and a novella I was writing for my then girlfriend as a personalised birthday present, pushed this novel onto the back-burner until post breakdown, when I would force myself to write with lengthy periods of self-harm and alcohol.
The combination of breakdown, self-harm and alcoholism meant the first (renamed) draft of The Ghosts that Haunt Me failed on several levels. However, as my mind returned, I returned to it many times over my life in Alice Springs and Inverness (circa 2009) until I finally had an umpteenth draft I was happy with.
One of the stronger memories of this period of job hunting and isolation is me sitting for a day on a bench near the River Ness reading my novel from cover to cover. Although far from Pulitzer or Whitbread material I thought it was rather good, as did most of the people I sent copies for ‘opinion’ to. In spite of several rejections from publishers, I’ve always been proud of myself for completing that novel, especially in regard to all that was happening during that period.
Today, after my copies were lost in the early months of my homelessness, the sole surviving copy lives on a USB stick in my parent’s attic.
Spurred on by One Tree Hill and a desire to do something other than self-harm myself to death, I threw myself back into the healing qualities of writing and creating. Knowing I was not focussed enough to write actual prose, for weeks I wrote plot outlines, character histories and family trees. I fine tuned both story and character arcs and, for the first time ever, wrote a lengthy document that consisted of a comprehensive chronology of the entire Chronicles as they existed in my mind; a series of interconnected novels, films, TV series and websites that detail the lives, loves and losses of several dozen characters over three generations.
Back on the Streets
As I wrote this document, the ‘life’ within a boarding house continued to frustrate me. In the weeks since I’d moved in the room beside me had been occupied by three different people. The first, trashed his room upon leaving; smashing a television, damaging the walls and throwing urine over the floor. The second, remained for only a couple of weeks, whilst the third formed the habit of continually knocking on my door at all hours of the day and night. On one occasion, she knocked on my door thirteen times in half an hour to make sure I was ‘okay’ whilst on another, at three in the morning, she woke me up to ask if she could eat my eggs.
In spite of the pride I was taking in my writing work, the ‘life’ I was living was continuing to destroy my mental health. I missed conversations with friends, trivia quizzes and pub nights. I missed walking the streets lost in conversation and being needed and wanted by people who cared about my life.
All I had were the power games, endless bitching, stolen food, sudden explosions of violence, constant verbal abuse and continual drug and alcohol problems that plague all boarding houses. After the events and assaults of 2010, I kept completely to myself but, as I expected, as things within the house worsened I began to once again lose control. My hallucinations returned in force and my screaming fits in the night started up again (as pointed out by fellow housemates.)
I am (to this day) continually stunned that these boarding houses are basically the only option for homeless people in Melbourne; environments that are totally unsuitable for anyone, let alone for unmedicated, unsupported people with a lengthy history of abuse and mental illness.
Eventually, these issues overpowered me, and I was once again sent hurtling into the abyss of inaction and unstable mental ill-health. As my moods cycled rapidly, and with no support from anyone, I began blacking out again. Entire days and weeks lost to the darkness of my mind until, one day, I found myself back on the streets.
Unable to deal with the city I lived for a time in a park close to the boarding house, before tiring of this area and returning to the park that had served me well during my nights in the motel.
For weeks I lived up and down the corridor between Coburg and the city, visiting the city only rarely (once a week mainly) to stock up on food van sandwiches and bread to feed me throughout the week. My days were spent reading newspapers, scribbling artwork (around this time I took to using my skin as a canvas with a red pen to try to curtail the increasing self harm) and talking to rogue possums and the occasional pigeon.
With the amount of rejection I had received from mental health and homeless services over the years I was adamant I would never return to them. I was tired of rejection. I was tired of being spoken down to. I was tired of being treated as a statistic; a meaningless non-entity who didn’t deserve to be alive.
I need a hug! (Day 682)
On the 21st June 2011 I sat in a small alley near Southern Cross station. It was drizzling with rain. I was tired, exhausted, confused and in desperate need of a hug (which, as of today, I have yet to receive.)
It had been a long and emotional weekend, partly because of the far-too-obvious ending to A Good Man Goes To War, mostly because reminders of my past life were everywhere I turned; my Sunday ritual had prompted a smile followed by a panic attack; a walk down a random street in East Melbourne had flustered me with un-needed memories of years gone; and I discovered something that forced me off of a website I had grown to love.
As I sat in that damp, cold alley, I talked to my father on the phone and he decided enough was enough and, after leaving me to find somewhere safe to sleep for the night (my old park, for the first time in many months), he sent some emails.
Note I: This post was written over eleven hours and fifty-two minutes because of my current mental state.
Note II: I’m considering posting the chronological timeline of the Chronicles mentioned above. Let me know if you’d like to see it :)
Note III: All photographs used in this post are my own (including cover photograph), and cannot be reused without my express written permission. I have pixellated the photos because I look better this way :p