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…


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Reflections on being homeless, Part 8

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.

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, the end of my homelessness nears…

PREVIOUS INSTALLMENTS
| PART 1 | PART 2 | PART 3 | PART 4 | PART 5 | PART 6 | PART 7 |

Christmas Under Canvas (Days 898 – 903)

It was the Salvation Army who helped me get a tent. After years of having no shelter, having something that resembled a ‘home’ was a totally new experience for me. Seeking some security for the Christmas period I checked into a campsite (paying somewhat extortionate fees for the experience) and pitched my new home amidst a sea of caravans and cabins.

I can remember this Christmas more clearly than virtually any other during my homeless experience. I can remember curling up in my blankets on a chilly Christmas Eve, rain pouring onto the canvas above my head, reading Ben Elton’s Past Mortem. I can remember being thankful for my tent during such a vicious storm, having been drenched by so many of them in the past two years. I can remember vividly attending a locally run Christmas Lunch for people in need; how succulent the turkey tasted, how the vegetables melted in my mouth, how the custard smothered the Christmas Pudding. And I can remember how bizarre it was that a local journalist interviewed me for a piece in the local newspaper, which featured one of the few photographs taken of me during the last seven years.

The rain lasted well into Boxing Day, and I sheltered from it reading more books under the cover of my tent; Jason Pinter’s The Stolen, Frank Perretti’s Monster and Robin Bowles’ Justice Denied. However lonely I felt, however lost I was, being able to hide from the world for the first time in years was a prize I relished. It had provided me with a truly relaxing Christmas period; a period that I will remember always as being one of the highlights of my homeless experience.

But as with everything in my life, such peace was not to last long, for by New Year my recent Marcus Kelman interlude rose its ugly head and drove me to turn to alcohol for the first time since becoming homeless in 2009.

My last suicide attempt (Day 907)

The last time I attempted suicide was on the 30 December 2011. I had spent much of the day sitting in my tent drinking through several bottles of wine before deciding to ‘go for a walk’ (read: stagger) very late in the evening. Not knowing the locale all that well, I meandered along a couple of roads, discovered a cemetery and then stumbled upon a railway line. Given my inebriated state, I don’t recall the moment that I decided my action, I just remember thinking that if I laid down on the railway line sooner or later a train would come and dismember me as I slept. So I positioned myself over the sleepers and, after a while, allowed myself to drift off to sleep knowing that it would be one I would unlikely wake from.

So when I woke up the next morning, several hours later, I was deeply surprised that I was still intact let alone breathing. Realising that I had failed once again I got up, shook myself down, had a quick vomit and began to slowly make my way back to my tent.

It wasn’t until several days later that I learnt the flaw behind my ‘train will hit me as I sleep’ reasoning; the train-line I had slept on was no longer in operation, replaced instead by one a couple of kilometres away.

New Year, New Outlook (Days 909 – 939)

Having spent another New Year homeless, lost and isolated, I vowed to myself as the calendar turned to 2012 that this would be the final New Year I would spend homeless. Sitting in the cemetery watching the fireworks blaze up around the town I realised that I had to syphon what little hope I had left (which at this point wasn’t much) into trying to find a way off the streets. I couldn’t handle another boarding house, so I knew it would have to be my own place, however difficult and impossible this seemed.

By now I was slowly starting to get to know the new town I had found myself in – Wodonga – and decided that I should return to applying for private rentals. Early in my homelessness I had spent many hours applying for such apartments and rental units, all to no avail, but thought that being in a smaller town may prove more fruitful in my search.

Thus, shortly after New Year, I began applying for whatever property I could reasonably afford. I spent my days scouring the local paper, visiting real estate agents and trundling along to viewings. I submitted application after application, all the while hoping that someone would take pity on the life of a homeless wretch and honour him with the opportunity to prove he was more than capable of renting his own property.

After a couple of weeks with no luck my initial flourish of activity began to fade. There were only so many affordable units in such a small town and with nothing offered to me so far I began to realise it was doubtful anything would be.

One of the main problems with being homeless is that most of society pigeon-hole you into the ‘no chance’ category. You’re not considered for rental properties in the same way that someone who works is because you are viewed as being no longer ‘part of society’. It’s the same mentality that governs work and friendship; it is much easier to find work and make new friends when you already have work and friends, because otherwise people wonder what’s wrong with you. Instead of being considered for my merits, people would have seen my homelessness (not helped by the recent newspaper article) and tossed my application aside.

So after three or four weeks I gave up and began spending what little money I had in the local pokie venues.

The thrall of light and sound

My first foray into the world of gambling in Australian pokie venues occurred in the months after my breakdown in 2007. It was a means of escaping from the pain and trauma that was happening to me. I would take a small amount of money and spend hours losing myself to the sights and sounds of the various machines, relishing each small victory and cursing every major defeat. I knew it was something I should not be doing, but it was the only joy I had during such a painful and destructive time.

So it came as little surprise to me that, after weeks of trying to obtain secure accommodation to no avail, that I would turn to old habits to ease my pain. It’s not something I’m proud of, but it is something I’m glad happened, for it led to me contact a gambling help line, who referred me to a local counselling service and, for the first time in years, I began seeing a counsellor who I slowly began to open up to about everything that was happening to me.

This counsellor helped me realise that I shouldn’t give up on applying for rental properties. That although my life had been fraught with pain and devastation for longer than most could deal with, it didn’t always have to be like that.

The phone call (Day 957)

I was sitting in the local library, reading the daily newspaper, when my mobile phone rang. Usually the phone only rang during the evening, when my parents would call from the UK, so at first I thought something catastrophic had happened at home that had forced them to call in the middle of the night (their time). But it wasn’t. The person at the end of the phone worked for a local real estate company and their message was simple; my application had been approved and I could move into my own unit, just so long as I paid them the bond and two weeks rent in advance.

At first I couldn’t believe it. I thought it was a joke. I thought it was someone’s sick idea of humour. But a visit to the real estate agent proved these fears untrue. All that work, all those years of hardship, all those 957 days of pain and torment would soon be over.

The Last Days of Homelessness (Days 958 – 960)

Kindly, my parents and relatives helped organise the bond and rent that I needed to secure the accommodation. They, like me, were overwhelmed with the chance I had been given and knew that I couldn’t pass it up. I spent much of the next three days lost in a mist of productivity; organising money transfers, signing forms, paying money, smirking like a lunatic hyped up on some form of illegal narcotic. And by the Thursday (trust me, it was definitely a Thursday – the 23rd February in fact) everything was sorted and I could move into my new unit.

Walking into the building for the first time, tossing my meagre possessions to the carpet and closing the door behind me, are all memories that I’ll remember for the rest of my life. After years of living in parks, alleys, boarding houses and hovels, I had a place that was ‘mine’; a roof that was ‘mine’; a home that was ‘mine’.

With no furniture I slept on the floor that night, overwhelmed with the week’s events and unable to process the results of my hard (hard) work. I remember a phone call from my dad waking me up and I just told him it was over; I had moved in and everything had worked out.

The relief in his voice was palpable.

A new life (Day 1…)

Home

~ Home ~

 


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Reflections on being homeless, Part 7

In early 2012 I began a series that looked back on my homeless experience. This series began from when I found myself sleeping rough in August 2009, continued through my boarding house nightmares and ended with me still living on the streets of Melbourne in 2011.

There were several reasons why I stopped the story there, primarily because I discovered that writing about this period of my life was immensely difficult; the traumas too recent, the pain too raw for me to adequately deal with. But there was also a more simple reason; I had no idea how to tackle what happened next in the story of my life.

And I still don’t.

For what happened next is something I’ve never told anyone. Not psychiatrists, support workers, counselors or family…no matter how trusted they are. And the reason I never told anyone is simple; I have no idea what was happening, why it was happening or how people would react if they found out.

For this is the story of Marcus Kelman*.

-●-

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.

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 had flustered me with un-needed memories 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 and my bag to find somewhere safe to sleep for the night (my old park, for the first time in many months), he sent some emails.

Huh?

When I woke the next morning I was lying on rain-soaked grass staring up at a cavalcade of fluffy white clouds. I could make out the sounds of distant traffic, the morning chorus of bird-song and the incessant screeching of a never-discovered species of insect. My whole body ached as if it had just run a dozen marathons and my two bags were carefully hidden beneath the single brown blanket I was using as cover.

I knew from the geography of the park that I had woken up somewhere other than where I’d fallen asleep…I just had no idea where or how I’d come to be there.

By now I was well and truly set in a morning ritual. I rose from the grass, neatly folded up my blanket and stuffed it into one of my bags. After tidying up the rest of my possessions I walked around the park I didn’t recognise, found a spot in which to stash my blanket-bag and then rolled a cigarette from the collection of butts I found in my pocket. As the nicotine burned my throat I realised that I didn’t recognise anything. Not a tree, bush or blade of grass was familiar. So, in order to find out where I was, I followed the sounds of traffic to the nearest road and meandered the streets until I found a railway station; Fairfield.

But that didn’t make any sense. I had lived in Fairfield with Louise for over three years. I knew every street, every alley and every park; especially those within walking distance of the train station.

It wasn’t for several more minutes that it dawned on me; I wasn’t in Victoria, I was in New South Wales.

This revelation completely floored me. But not as much as the next piece of information that shouted its way into my mind courtesy of a discarded newspaper; it was October.

So not only was I in a suburb of a city that I detested, some several hundred miles from Melbourne, I had no recollection of the previous three and a half months.

Desperately in need of answers – and with no-one I could ask to get them – I turned to the only thing I could think of; my backpack. It was the same bag I’d had when I was in Melbourne so if anything was going to contain answers, this would be it.

Unfortunately, it seemed that the writers of Lost had taken hold of my possessions, for the only things I discovered in my backpack (besides dirty clothing, a stench that would knock you on your ass and a fly swatter) were several A4 sized note-books; all of them displaying the name Marcus Kelman.

All of them in my handwriting.

So having nothing better to do, I read them all.

The life (and times) of Marcus Kelman

Marcus Kelman was born on the 28th November 1978 in the Scottish city of Inverness. He grew up not far from this city, in the town of Nairn with his mother, step-father and step-sister. His childhood was a relatively tame and uneventful affair, marked with mischievous behavior and a close friendship with his best friend, Natalie. In his teenage years this friendship became something more and, for several years the two of them built a rewarding relationship. However, the relationship would not last and, after it ended abruptly, he left his hometown and began working in Inverness. After saving every spare penny he could he decided to travel, gallivanting around Scotland, the UK and Europe before heading to Northern America for a jaunt across Canada, where he would meet the love of his life, Joanne.

After eighteen months living in domestic bliss, he and Joanne returned to the UK and began living in his home-city of Inverness. They became engaged, moved into their dream house and, shortly after, discovered she was pregnant. However, several months into the pregnancy tragedy fell when Joanne lost her battle with depression and committed suicide, killing both herself and their baby.

Marcus inevitably spiraled into a deep depression. For months he isolated himself, refusing contact with everyone, until his cousin stepped in and set him off on the long road to recovery.

After realising there was no future for him in Scotland, Marcus decided to emigrate to Australia to start afresh, where he worked a series of hospitality and retail jobs until he suffered a relapse in his mental health and ended up homeless.

Putting the pieces together (Day 828)

In spite of some obvious differences, anyone who has had even a cursory glance around this blog will realise the similarities between my life and Marcus’s are plentiful: his birth day, the Scottish connection, the relationship with a girl named ‘Natalie’ (his school-hood crush), the travelling, the time he spent in Canada (where he fell in love), the tragedies of mental health, suicide and homelessness.

Also eminently noticeable is the high level of wish-fulfillment between my life and Marcus’s; such as the teenage friendships, domestic bliss, marriage, the dream house and becoming a father.

Even though I was confused, exhausted and distressed, I was determined to discover as much about Marcus Kelman as I could, for it was the only way I could think of that may reveal my actions of the previous few months. So I headed to an internet café and began logging into his blogs and email, the addresses for which I had found squirreled away in his notebooks:

  • For the previous few months he had been writing three blogs about his life and observations.
  • He had been in regular email contact with several people.
  • He was the owner (and user) of a Twitter account.
  • He had been in contact with people from my past.
    and
  • For nearly three months he had been in almost daily phone contact with someone in Sydney.

Even though it could have been a revelatory experience, one that could have helped put all the missing pieces together; I decided not to phone this person. Instead, I read every single blog post, every single email and every single tweet, finally coming to a number of conclusions:

  • People seemed to like Marcus Kelman.
  • People seemed to lust after Marcus Kelman.
  • He was a better, and more varied writer, than I.
  • He had more followers on Twitter than I’ve ever had.
    and
  • He genuinely felt like a ‘real’ person.

By the time I left the internet café I was exhausted. Whatever ‘Marcus’ had been doing for three months had left me physically spent, whilst the revelations of the day had eroded what little mental energy I had left.

It was one of those situations where there were more questions than answers: where had Marcus come from? Why had I become Marcus? What other things had he been doing that I didn’t know about? Was I finally completely losing my mind? How could I tell anyone about what had been happening? What the hell was happening?

These questions – and many more besides – plagued me through a sleepless night, and the only conclusion I came to was a simple one; I had to get as far away from Fairfield as was possible.

As far away from Fairfield as was possible (Day 831)

After a distressed (and ultimately futile) phone-call to Lifeline, I hiked into the middle of the Australian bush and spent several hours having a meltdown. Once I was fresh out of tears, I pulled my belt from my jeans, wound it round my neck and attempted to hang myself.

Alas, because this belt had been with me for the entire duration of my homelessness, I had failed to realise how threadbare it had become and, after a few seconds, it snapped in two and sent me cascading back to the hard, thirsty earth.

Dazed and Confused (Day 832 – 898)

For the next two months I was lost; physically, mentally and emotionally. As the Marcus Kelman months hung over my head, demanding explanation, I roamed the Australian bush. Eventless days were spent in small towns, big towns and nation’s capitols. Parks and alleys were slept in, soup-van produce and discarded scraps consumed. What little energy I had left was spent trying to solve the conundrum of Marcus.

Unlike the bipolar, unlike the PTSD, unlike even the social anxiety, I had no explanation for what had happened during the months I’d been Marcus Kelman. I was in entirely new (and entirely terrifying) territory. So, despite several appointments with mental health services, psychologists and psychiatrists, I told no-one about my alter-ego. Not because I feared they would lock me up and throw away the key, but because I feared they would think I had manifested this character intentionally; which I did not.

So, like my homelessness, like my everything, I decided the only safe thing to do was deal with this problem on my own.

By now I had become incredibly tired of sleeping in parks so acquired a tent and retired beneath the canvas to contemplate my past, my present and my future. For on that 22nd December – the anniversary of Samantha’s death – my life felt utterly (and completely) out of control.

Little did I know then that the end of my homelessness was only a few months away.

-●-

This post has been one of the hardest to write since the early days of my blog back in 2007. Admitting that, for a period of months I became someone else; someone completely fictitious yet close enough to me to be noticeable, someone who maintained relationships with real (unsuspecting) individuals is tantamount to admitting I am completely (and utterly) insane.

I know people will immediately think that I’m making this up; that I created Marcus Kelman intentionally. But I did not. The only explanation I’ve come up with is that I became Marcus as a way to dissociate from what was happening to me. That – following the weekend of triggers in June 2011 – my brain decided it needed to become someone else in order to feel safe.

Hopefully by writing this post I am taking the first step toward piecing together the confusing events of the most baffling chapter of my life.

* Please note that I have changed the name of the person I became to protect myself and the innocent.

 


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Reflections on being homeless, Part 6

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 skim through a barely remembered period of breakdown and talk about something that heals me…

PREVIOUS INSTALLMENTS
PART 1 | PART 2 | PART 3 | PART 4 | PART 5

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.

and

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

 


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Reflections on being homeless, Part 5

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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Reflections on being homeless, Part 4

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, we are in early 2010, the beginning of the second worst year of my life.

PREVIOUS INSTALLMENTS
PART 1 | PART 2 | PART 3

The Beasts Below (Days 157 – 273)

Yesterday I wrote of triggers. The things that send my mind reeling back into past trauma and pain. Sometimes these are physical things that can be avoided, other times they come out of the blue in the form of newspaper articles or blog posts. But from time to time they are dates, mere digits on a calendar, that remind me endlessly of the pains that I have experienced.

In 2007, my life was in disarray. After a year of battling through severe depression I had clawed my way out the tunnel and refocused my life. I had returned to college, formulated a five-year plan for the future, approached each and every one of my passions and foibles and devised ways to embrace and/or dissolve them. My social network was increasing, not just in terms of strengthening the friends I had, but extending it on two different fronts. In spite of glandular fever and other physical illnesses I had continued to work, as much as I was able given the illnesses, and push onwards with these changes.

Then, in the space of nine days, everything fell apart. I lost my girlfriend, college course, social network, income streams and suffered a breakdown. Over the subsequent three months I lost everything else: my possessions, my passions, my ability to think, my future.

And throughout all of this the emotional abuse was raging, forcing me to believe I was the most useless, worthless, selfish, despicable, grotesque piece of human excrement that had ever existed.

In May of that year, a few short months after I had felt so spectacular about my life and future, I downed every pill I could find and collapsed onto my bed praying for death. I wanted the abuse to be over. I wanted the pain to stop.

I wanted to die.

Obviously, the attempt failed; I lived.

In 2009, my life was once again in disarray. After two years of fighting to rebuild my life, I had failed. The words of my abuser had been proved correct. Living in a boarding house in Inverness I spent my days job hunting, scrimping and self-harming. Whilst online one day I received an email from a woman in Australia who had read my blog and needed help.

I have written of her in the past, and thinking of her now is still painful. The short version is I failed to help her and she took her own life; she died. And to this day I have blamed myself for her death and carried the guilt ever since.

These events, separated by two years of time, occurred on the same day. An anniversary that was marked by day two hundred and seventy-three of my homelessness.

It had been one hundred and sixteen days since I had left the accommodation I’d called home. A period of time that had been marked with some of the deepest periods of depression and isolation I had experienced in my life on the streets thus far.

My ability to function had become so bad I barely existed in the real world. My mind endlessly cycled in and out of fantasy, delusion and hallucination. I was now talking to myself almost constantly. Whether it be when I was on my own in the park or surrounded by others as I walked the streets in a cloud of illusion, the two and a half years I had spent isolated, with little to no human contact was taking it’s toll.

This period marked several events that became defining moments in my homelessness:

  • After obtaining a new mobile phone through a JSP (Note: Job Service Provider, not Janet Street Porter) I was attacked on the street a few short hours after I had collected it. My two attackers had decided I was photographing a woman without her knowledge for nefarious purposes. It didn’t matter to them that I did not have a camera on my phone!
  • For the first time since 2007 I blacked out. For a period of five days I have no memory of where, what, how, who or where I was.
  • This boarding house was a nightmare, but not the worst I ever stayed in. It had only one toilet and bathroom for the twelve people living there. On weekends, when various friends, partners and family members came to stay, this number could increase to anywhere from 14 to 19.
    The house itself was invested with mice that would regularly eat through walls, food and possessions. It did not have a proper bed (merely a rodent faeces invested mattress propped on the floor with bricks) and several dogs lived in the backyard whose droppings were never cleaned up by their respective owners.
    My reasons for leaving this boarding house were several fold:

    • The money I was paying for rent made it impossible to afford adequate medication and food, let alone anything else.
    • My hallucinations and PTSD fuelled nightmares were causing issues for other members of the house.
    • The night before I left my door was kicked in by a fellow housemate and I was thrown against the wall by this person, demanding I give him money as he’d run out of alcohol and I’d just been paid. Only I hadn’t just been paid and had even less money than he did; a fact proven when he went through my wallet and found nothing but lint and moths. The black eye he gave me, I was told, was a warning.
  • One evening, whilst sleeping rough in a park in Melbourne, I witnessed a couple having an argument. Normally I would turn the other cheek for all couples argue from time to time, but when he began physically assaulting her I decided to intervene. As far as I’m concerned no-one has the right to abuse anyone; physically, sexually or emotionally. As he was beating the shit out of me all I could think was ‘at least he’s not hitting her’
  • For the first time I was awakened by police whilst sleeping rough. They were actually quite decent about it and, after checking my ID and running me through their computer, advised me of certain areas to stay away from and let me be.
  • This incident however sunk into my paranoia and I began sleeping in other locations to avoid any further police contact. Sometimes drifting miles away from the park that had kept me safe for so many months into areas that were even more unsettling and dangerous.
  • Also during this time my recently renewed passport was stolen along with other items whilst I slept. For the first time since being homeless I had no photographic identification.

All of this, combining with the ongoing verbal abuse I was receiving from non-homeless people and the damage that had been caused by having to leave my accommodation, mixed with the upcoming anniversary of Stephanie’s suicide and my own attempt in 2007, I knew I needed to be accommodated on this day.

With my distrust of homeless services elevating and my ongoing lack of support from mental health organisations I saved enough for me to book a hotel room for this weekend. I needed to be indoors. I needed peace and security. I knew if I didn’t all hell could break loose as the trauma triggered a napalm explosion in my mind.

So, as dawn broke on day two hundred and seventy-three, I cracked open my first bottle of wine since becoming homeless. I knew I would be criticised for being ‘just another homeless alchy’ but as nothing else was working, and with no-one to turn to, self-medicating with alcohol was my last and only option.

For months there had been triggers everywhere I’d been – the assault in the boarding house, the attack on the street, the ongoing verbal abuse, the (albeit my own stupid fault) assault in the park – and my mind was now firmly in non-functioning territory. And as I repeat these reasons I wonder why I’m defending my consumption of alcohol that weekend.

Every week people self-medicate with alcohol for far fewer reasons than I had. Perhaps because it made me realise I was now just another stereotype or that I had finally conformed to the abuse that my ex had levelled at me: I was a worthless, useless, unloved human being who deserved nothing but a life on the streets with alcohol his only source of comfort.

Whatever the reason it was the only thing that prevented me from doing something stupid that weekend so I have no qualms about what I did. Lost to a stupor of wine and beer (unfortunately, I couldn’t afford whisky) I drank to the memory of Stephanie, subdued the pain I was feeling and momentarily forgot the pain of my fallen life.

The simple fact was I was no longer coping with being homeless, being alone or with any of the crap going on in my mind. I didn’t know what to do or where to go and, after seeking help, I lost all trust in homeless services.

For where I ended up was the worst place possible.


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Reflections on being homeless, Part 3

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.

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.

PREVIOUS INSTALLMENTS
PART 1 | PART 2

“Pull yourself up from your own bootstraps,” (Days 118 – 157)

Preston, Victoria

Preston, Victoria (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Over the last twenty-four months I’ve heard this phrase – or derivations of it – more times than I’ve had hot dinners. Many ‘social commentators’ (read: nameless individuals hiding behind pseudonyms) genuinely believe that these words are sound advice to give to those suffering from homelessness.

On December 3rd 2009 I obtained accommodation. This room did not fall fortuitously into my lap. I had not been sitting in a park when, all of a sudden, a residential unit tumbled from the sky a la The Wizard of Oz. The room I acquired was achieved after 117 days of hard work.

I had visited every homeless organisation I could find. I had humiliated myself by begging on the streets for spare change. I had hunted for jobs. I had done unspeakable things to try to pull myself out of my situation. I had suffered horrifying periods of mental instability.

The receptionist on that day was a twentysomething brunette wearing a blue skirt suit. She had a red hairpin just above her left ear and a well spoken Australian accent. I didn’t say much, merely signed the relevant papers, showed her my ID and took the keycard.

The ‘thank you’ I spoke was one of the most genuine I had ever said in my life.

Within five minutes I had travelled to the 5th floor and was swiping my card through the electronic lock. Within six minutes I had dumped my meagre belongings on the floor and collapsed onto the bed. Within eight minutes I was asleep; months of parks, thunderstorms, beatings, abuse, suicidal ideation, malnutrition, hail storms and floods had taken their toll.

Thirteen hours later I woke up and…this is where all the believers of the ‘bootstraps’ approach lean back in their chair and feel vindicated…for the remainder of the day I did nothing!

For the entire of that Wednesday I left my bed only to go to the bathroom. I stared at the ceiling. I wept. I watched Angel. I ate stale bread. I wept some more. I watched Primeval. I wept until my ducts were dry. And then I slept.

Yep, a homeless person sat around and did nothing. How conforming to stereotype I became. But as you rub your hands in glee can I direct your attention to three paragraphs above. That wee little bit where I mentioned months of parks, thunderstorms, beatings, abuse, suicidal ideation, malnutrition, hail storms and floods. Could I also remind you of my use of the words humiliation and unspeakable acts. Oh, and that pesky little thing called mental illness.

For the one thing people who follow this mythological belief fail to take into account is the mental drain homelessness has on someone. It is not a ribald adventure full of jovial gin swigging individuals. It is a torturous painful existence that has a dramatic effect on mind, body and soul.

Do I feel bad for being lazy that day? Of course I do. Do I hate myself for it? Absolutely not.

I had been through nearly four months of daily hard work, toil and sacrifice; I needed a mental health day far more than your average nine-to-fiver who’s had an argument with his girlfriend.

For without that day I would have been reduced to a dribbling, incoherant wreck instead of, over the coming weeks, beginning to rectify my homelessness and mental health.

As Australia shut down on the approach to Christmas, I set to work doing exactly what people suggest homeless people do. I pulled up my bootstraps:

  • Knowing I needed medication I went to a GP and got some.
  • They put me in contact with a mental health team.
  • Utilising the free gym at the place I was staying, I began getting my ass back into tip-top shape.
  • During the hours I wasn’t comatosed as a result of the medication, I wrote. Sometimes I would do so in bed, sometimes in the park across the road. If I was feeling more adventurous I’d walk the short distance to Merri Creek.
  • After writing I would make use of the free computers at the library and type it up.
  • Whilst there I slid myself gently back into social networking and began talking to people again.
  • I kept my eye out for any job opportunities and applied for any and all I could find.

As Christmas came and went I’d: written the worst novella a human being has ever inscribed, three much better short stories that were published in dark and secluded corners of the internet, was well on the way to stabilising my mental health and – for the first time since becoming homeless – I’d began to feel human again.

I was making headway with my mental health, keeping up with my meds, pursuing employment opportunities, being more social online and ensuring my buttocks were taking on a more desirable shape. After months of doubt, I genuinely believed my hard work was about to pay off and I would be allowed to ‘live’ again.

Until, through no fault of my own, the accommodation I had called ‘home’ was pulled away on financial and over-booking grounds.

I was standing in my room, bags packed, with tears streaming my face. Not a single part of me wanted to leave the hotel. Descending the stairs I was met at reception by the woman who had checked me in. She’d had a haircut since that day and no longer needed the pin. Her accent was just as alluring as we completed the check out and I issued a far less genuine ‘thanks’ as I walked out the building that I’d begun to call home.

English: Picture of the Merri Creek, Victoria,...

Merri Creek (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The shock of leaving the hotel that morning was greater than on August 8. I stumbled through the suburbs until I reached the creek. From there I collapsed on the dry earth and threw half of my possessions into the water; including all the notepads I’d filled with writing over the previous seven weeks.

This time I’d skipped denial and moved straight into anger.

I don’t know how long I sat on the shores of the creek. All I know is that it was long enough to watch my happiness and dreams float away out of sight.

All the happiness I’d created for myself; the joy of being able to write again, the pride of seeing my words on-screen, the satisfaction of carving out a body I didn’t despise, the stability I’d fostered in my mental health, had all dissapated by the time I rose from that shoreline.

It is never a simple case of pulling yourself up from your bootstraps. Anyone who believes this is failing to take into account lack of income, financial concerns, mental health issues, trauma, abuse (current and prior), addiction, the lack of jobs/affordable housing and, despite all of this, homeless people do work incredibly hard to get themselves out of their situation.

In hindsight, giving myself only one day to recover from the months I’d had homeless, fuelled by the belief that by giving myself more time I would be confirming my abusive exes opinion I was ‘lazy’, was stupid. I tried to do far too much after not giving myself anywhere near enough time to recover from the trauma I was suffering, let alone the mental health issues.

But even with this mistake admitted, there was nothing I could have done about losing the accommodation. I did not choose to live, I had to leave. Even pulling the bootstraps until they snapped would not have allowed me to remain there.

As I walked slowly traveled toward the city I knew only three things for sure that day:

  1. It’s all too easy to blame the homeless for their situation, but it is rarely their fault.
  2. I was broken.
  3. Nothing would ever be the same again.


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Reflections on being homeless, Part 2

*Trigger warning: this post contains mentions of self-harm and suicidal ideation*

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.

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.

The Kübler-Ross Model

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?”

English: Homeless man in New York 2008, Credit...

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.

English: Statue of General Sir John Monash in ...

Statue of General Sir John Monash | King’s Domain

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’s a bunny rabbit…eating pizza. Genius!

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 :)