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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Courage doesn’t always roar

cour·age [kur-ij, kuhr-] noun

1. the quality of mind or spirit that enables a person to face difficulty, danger, pain, etc., without fear

2. Obsolete: the heart as the source of emotion.

Too often courage in today’s society relates only to people who carry a wounded soldier 14km across a raging battlefield or the plucky police officer who takes on a group of terrorists that have taken a high-rise hostage on Christmas Eve.

The smaller acts of bravery people undertake on a day-to-day basis are rarely, if ever, celebrated; the individual who goes six months without self-harming in spite of the desire to do so, the single mother raising two children whilst the Government pushes her further into poverty to ensure their re-election or the agoraphobic who walks to the supermarket to purchase a packet of licorice allsorts.

Unless their courage leads to financial gain or momentary fame, it is considered unimportant.

For the last four years I’ve lived alone, my life governed by social anxiety and ruled by Queen Kathy, who constantly drags me kicking and screaming into the abuse I received half a decade ago. The trauma created from this abuse led to insomnia, a deep distrust of humanity, a complete inability to engage with society, near permanent psychosis and annihilated my sense of self to the point I’ve had no idea who I am for over five years.

It led to years of homelessness, social isolation, (at times) daily self-harm and suicide attempts. But rather than focus on the courage I’ve showed – battling severe depression and glandular fever to get into a college course, overcoming anxiety to increase my social network, battling through three years on the street to get accommodation – society focuses only on my failures; the fact I am ‘lazy’ because I’m unemployed, ‘selfish’ because I became suicidal, an ‘alcoholic drug addict’ because I’m homeless, a ‘bludger’ for existing on benefits.

After all I’ve been through it would be easy to slip into those stereotypical insults, but my desire to become who I know I could be, keeps pushing me ever forward. I may not succeed as much as those privileged enough to have gone to university or be part of a social network, but the courage I constantly show is something I feel I should be proud of.

Straight to the pool room

Last week, after nearly four years of being completely on my own, I attended three social functions. The first of which occurred on Tuesday courtesy of GT House, an organisation I mentioned last week.

After a courtesy reminder phone call (which I didn’t need as it had been on my mind all day/evening/night/morning) I showered, shaved and headed down the street to the pub we were supposed to meet in. Given my anxiety had been intense all morning the attack I suffered on the way was not unexpected and I did consider walking home with my tail between my legs.

But, twenty minutes of breathing exercises on the side of the road (where a kindly police officer stopped to ask if everything was okay; it was. This wasn’t my first public panic attack) sufficiently calmed me down so I could complete my journey, albeit arriving half an hour late.

There were about ten people in the group – all men aside from a GT House worker and a young student attending as part of her course – and for ninety minutes we played pool. Given there were only two tables we were playing in doubles so in the first hour I had approximately eight shots (about five minutes of table time) with the remaining fifty-five minutes standing nervously by myself whilst everyone else talked sport.

Regular readers of my blog will know I’m not an avid sports follower. Yes, I have an AFL team, but I chose this by throwing all the team names into a hat and drawing one out. When I randomly picked the team I was going to support I immediately put it back in the hat and drew another, but ended up drawing the same team, so figured fate was trying to tell me something. But even though I support a team I don’t really understand the rules (none of my girlfriends followed the sport, aside from the occasional game where they could ogle the tiny short wearing players, so I’ve never had anyone to explain it to me).

As for other sports; Rugby reminds me too much of my school PE lessons, hockey is something I’ve never had the opportunity to watch, fencing doesn’t receive any airplay, cycling is fun to do but boring to watch, I’m too distracted by the sexy posteriors involved in swimming to focus on the sportsmanship and snooker – the only sport I have any interest in – is considered too complicated for an Australian audience so we only ever hear of it when an Aussie wins, which isn’t very often!

Thus, I stood there, wondering why I was stupid enough to believe I would be able to socialize given it had been nearly four years since I’d last done any. Especially given the high ratio of men to women – the latter being a gender I have far more in common with and, in spite of my anxiety, find it easier to talk to.

After spectacularly missing every shot I took the group drew to a close and everyone went their separate ways. For the walk home I wondered how I had become such a terrible pool player; back in the day I used to be able to clear the table from a break! Yet that morning, I hadn’t sunk one ball.

To say the word failure was bouncing around my brain for the rest of the day would be an understatement. But, the simple fact was, I had still attended the event in spite of my anxiety!

“Qi” is a valid Scrabble word

The second group, again organized through GT House, was on Wednesday.

Although the anxiety was high, there was no panic attack on this occasion. The group is held in the library – a haven for me – so I felt safer there than I had in the pub. Plus, I adore Scrabble.

On my first word I scored twenty-five (with two letters); on my second word I scored thirty-five; on my third, twenty-one. On my fourth word I scored six and then hovered around that for the remainder of the game. Not because I couldn’t score any higher – I really, really, could – but because the people I was playing with hadn’t played much Scrabble before and it didn’t feel right to keep playing the kick ass awesome words that would have guaranteed me hundreds of points.

Instead, I came third, but the look on the winner’s face more than made up for this sacrifice.

Would it have been nice to win? Absolutely. It’s been so long since I’ve won anything I could have done with that burst of happy emotion, but I have no regrets about throwing the match to make someone else feel that happiness.

In fact, doing this stopped me from experiencing the feelings of failure that had overwhelmed me the day before.

Beware the Ives of Munch

The third – and most stressful – of the events I attended last week was the much mentioned social network gathering on Thursday evening.

To say this event consumed every waking (and sleeping) moment of thought last week would be an understatement. In fact, the anxiety I felt in the lead up to this event made the anxiety over the pool and scrabble groups feel like a tiny, insignificant mosquito bite.

Unlike those two groups this was not a ‘safe’ environment. There were no moderators, no trained professionals capable of dealing with mental health issues and should a panic attack occur, no-one to do anything but laugh and point. Throw in the fact it was the first time I’d been to a pub on my own since the night I was raped in 2007, I was positively terrified by what ‘could’ happen.

But, true to my courageous self, battling through half a dozen anxiety attacks on the walk to the pub, I managed to attend.

Walking into the bar all I could see were several youngsters in tiny outfits celebrating an eighteenth birthday. I was already half an hour late so approached the bar and ordered a coke from the beautiful women behind the bar (who was wearing a gorgeous teal shirt) and then stood there looking awkward.

From across the room a brunette woman met my gaze and we stared at each other for a few moments before I summoned the courage to find out if she was part of the gathering. Approaching the table I muttered “Are you…?”

“…part of the munch?” She finished with a smile.

Glad to know I wouldn’t be standing there like a guppy all evening, I slid onto the couch opposite this woman and begin talking. At first she led the conversation, but soon I was asking questions and offering opinions with a confidence I hadn’t expected. In retrospect, I think it was serendipitous that this gathering fell on the day my DSP approval came through. The high I’d been riding all afternoon bled into the evening and numbed the anxiety I was feeling, allowing me to communicate as confidently as I was.

After half an hour another person arrived, someone I can only describe as a stereotypical male. His gaze often drifted to the tiny outfitted youngsters who were buzzing around, his facial expression bringing to mind Jon Voight’s Oscar worthy leer from Anaconda.

The moment he sat next to me, my anxiety rocketed through the roof. Over the course of several minutes I found myself edging closer and closer to the arm of the sofa and my conversation dried up and became the random blurted lines I had expected from the beginning. At one point he suddenly slapped me on the back, an act that triggered a sudden flashback and nearly caused me to drop my coke (as I said, this was the first time I’d been in a bar without protection from a ‘friend’ since the night I was raped by a man!)

Now three of us, the conversation ducked and dived over various topics until a fourth person arrived about an hour later. The moment she did, the other woman left and shortly after she left, so did the man. The moment he left, I began drinking alcohol to calm my heightening anxiety.

One glass was all I needed – not having eaten anything all day – for my mind to become tipsy. On ordering a second glass I complimented the gorgeous bar woman on her gorgeous teal shirt (something I would never do whilst sober) and began oversharing with the remaining woman on a scale that would be best described as biblical. Mental health, homelessness, anxiety, unemployment…all the things I’d promised myself would not be brought up out in case they caused people to flee in fear, were vomited from my tipsy, anxious mind.

Three glasses later we left the pub and given I lived 5kms or so from the bar, she gave me a lift. Another drink at her place led to her looking up my blog and after an awkward hug where I froze more rigid than a rabbit in headlights, began the walk home.

There were no feelings of the failure that had raged after the pool group, or the euphoria of allowing someone else a moment of happiness as with Scrabble. I had enjoyed myself, but I couldn’t stop Queen Kathy whispering in my ear about how much I was kidding myself. Walking through the quiet, pitch black night, I wasn’t focused on my success but processing the emotions of the days gone and wondering what was going to happen next.

Had people liked me? Had I made a complete arse of myself? Was Kathy right? Should I just keep to my own safe isolation? Or should I continue making an effort to push for change?

The battle’s done, and we kinda won, so we sound our victory cheer…

Whether it’s arrogant or not to celebrate my courage of attending these groups, I don’t care. Beating back the anxiety and the safety of my isolation to re-engage with society was a huge achievement for me – even though it’s left me emotionally exhausted and added to my current unease over the changes that are happening in my life.

This week, I will be attending both the pool and scrabble groups again as well as a Hearing Voices group that is held on Friday morning. Already comments have been made on the social networking site about organizing another event within the next few weeks so it’s possible I will have something else to attend.

Over the years I’ve noticed the more I take on in one go, the more likely it is that I will collapse. As such I need to be careful not to throw myself in too deep. The pride I have of the courage I showed last week amounts to nothing if it pushes me back into a dysfunctional state, something I’ve already started to notice is happening.

But for now, I’m happy.

Happy that I still have courage in my heart; even if it is more of a mew than a roar.

 


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The only thing we have to fear is…everything!

Franklin D. Roosevelt once said:

The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

This is absolute bollocks!

Tomorrow, as I mentioned on Monday, I will be attending my first social gathering in almost four years. I’ve had maybe half a dozen conversations with people other than MH and homeless workers in that entire time and I have no idea who the people I’m meeting are other than the brief messages we’ve exchanged on a random social networking site I can’t name over fear of being laughed at.

With every minute that passes, I can feel my anxiety increasing in strength and severity, overpowering every waking thought with its deafening voice. The only thing we have to fear is fear itself? Really?

In the last three days my mind has come up with plenty of things to be afraid of about tomorrow night:

• The strangers I am meeting could turn out to be a motley band of serial killers who have lured me into their trap for an evening of torture, cannibalism and death.

• Spiders. There are always spiders looking for a cute man to snack on somewhere!

• The strangers I am meeting could turn out to be members of the Alan Jones Appreciation Society.

• One of the strangers I’m meeting could turn out to be Alan Jones. Shudder.

• What if the strangers I’m meeting don’t like my clothes and insult them all evening?

• Given I’ve never been to the pub before I could spend the entire evening sitting in the wrong venue.

• What if one of the strangers I’m meeting brings a puppy? Hmmm, what do I do then?

• The strangers I am meeting could turn out to be all part of an elaborate practical joke orchestrated by my abuser with the goal to humiliate me in public and destroy me once and for all!

• Given I’ve never been to the pub before I could get spectacularly lost and die of dehydration.

• This will be my first time in a pub by myself, with no-one I know, since the night I was raped. Oh joy.

• Maybe the strangers I’m meeting will take a dislike to my weight and call me Mr. Fatty McFatty Fat Fat all evening.

• The strangers I am meeting could turn out to be Elvis Presley impersonators.

• One of the strangers I’m meeting could turn out to be Elvis Presley. Shudder.

• Public panic attack. Is there anything scarier than those three words?

• Rogue panthers. They apparently live in the Australian bush somewhere.

• My trousers could fall down without warning forcing me to accidentally flash the entire bar.

• What if I can’t think of anything to say and sit there all evening like a mute donkey?

• The strangers I am meeting could turn out to be part of a cult looking for someone to sacrifice to appease their deity.

• What if the pub has decided to screen Watership Down on repeat all evening?

• Given I’ve never been to the pub before it could be built on an ancient burial ground and suddenly implode with me trapped inside for all eternity.

• Meteors. You never know when a rogue meteor will target you from outer space.

• What if the pub turns out to be not a pub at all, but the Black Lodge?

• The strangers I am meeting could turn out to be fans of Fifty Shade of Grey.

• One of the strangers I am meeting could turn out to be E.L James. Shudder.

• What if all of the above turns out to be true? Hmmm, what do I do then?

Although come to think of it, if all of the above does turn out to be true – what a spectacular blog post that will make come Friday morning! But yes, if you can’t tell, I’m fucking petrified about tomorrow night!

But if we don’t challenge ourselves to become the person we want to be…what’s the point in living?

The chances are it will be a rather fun and wonderful evening and all this worrying is just a monumental waste of time and energy!

(But I still think Roosevelt was talking out of his arse!)

 


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The Ballad of the One Who Got Away (or how I hope to tackle my fear of writing with an insane flash fiction experiment!)

Watership Down: the only film that has ever scared me!

Spiders, Puppies, G&T…oh my!

Courtesy of my anxiety I have many fears and phobias, including:

– Spiders
– Heights
– Dogs (including puppies)
– Women
– Men
– Humanity in general
Watership Down
– Gin and Tonic

and

– People reading my writing

Every time I go to publish a blog I’m overwhelmed with a terrifying fear of people reading what I’ve written. In those moments between hovering the mouse over the ‘publish’ button and clicking the button my mind races with the tens of millions of possible reactions the post could receive; will I be humiliating myself, will people laugh, will they think I’m insane, will they hate me with an intense and fiery passion, will they want to tie me to a chair and force me to watch Watership Down with a small puppy on my lap as punishment for inflicting such dross on them?

And then I click the button and sit in fear.

Sometimes nothing happens.

Sometimes people accidentally click the ‘like’ button.

Sometimes people seem to mistake my blog for someone else’s and leave praise worthy comments.

Always that endless, all-consuming fear that I’m no good, that I should have stopped writing in primary school because my abuser told me I was a pathetic, worthless writer who had nothing interesting or unique to say. Which I know is absolute horse shit! But the trauma is deep and it’s this trauma that dictates my fears and holds me back!

I KNOW I’m a good writer because I’ve been published and a publisher would have to be stoned to publish someone who can’t write!

I KNOW I’m a good writer because…well, look at this blog. It’s pretty awesome :)

Yet the fear persists…

…especially when it comes to my fictional writing!

It was this fear that drove me to use a pseudonym when I was published in 2009. If it succeeded, I could bask in the glory without anyone making me the center of attention. If it failed, I could scurry back into my shell safe in the knowledge that no-one would know the words were mine!

It is this fear that has been blocking my creative writing for so many years; locking me into the endless cycle of frustration over not being able to do something that has brought me pleasure for more years than I care to remember. So, when it came to organizing the posts for this week, I knew I had to tackle one of the biggest barriers on my road to recovery; my fear of my writing.

And the only way to tackle such an obstacle is to challenge it head on!

In the early hours of last Thursday I happened upon just the way to do this: a flash fiction novel!

Challenge Accepted!

When I began writing this blog again in May 2012 I started a 365 Day Blog Challenge. This challenge failed less than two months later but I have never forgotten the list of ‘goals’ I had to write for the year ahead. Nestled amidst break the isolation I’ve found myself in and watch ‘The Avengers’ and ‘The Hobbit’ in the cinema was an item so epic in its ambition I think I slipped it in there as a means of self-sabotage; a sure-fire way to guarantee my failure:

Given it had taken me nearly ten years to write a readable final draft of The Ghosts That Haunt Me, it seems inconceivable that I would knock off a novel in a mere 365 days – especially given my mental instability and lack of professional support to achieve such a desired state.

Yet, what better way to send the ghosts of the past to the naughty corner than proving to myself I can do what I set out to do?

Cue me deciding to write a flash fiction version of this novel whilst lost in some insomniacal state!

And yet, when I think about it, it’s a win-win situation; even if it failed spectacularly I would still be writing fiction again, plus, even if people hate it, how many flash fiction novels have they ever written?

So, I accepted my challenge in a heartbeat.

The Rules

For those of you who don’t know what Flash Fiction is, the idea behind this writing style is to sit down for an allotted period of time, write a story on the fly, edit it, then post it for the whole world to see.

In adapting this concept to novel form, I will sit down for an allotted period of time, write part of the story on the fly, edit it, then post it for the whole world to see. Repeat each week until the novel is finished.

All of which makes the rules quite simple:

1. There is to be no brainstorming, notepad keeping or planning outside of my own head.
2. Each week I will write for three hours (either in one block or across several days).
3. The only overflow of this time allowed will be if I get caught up in a sequence, which I will continue to write until a suitable moment to end the session presents itself.
4. After writing I will edit that section (no revising the plot of previously posted segments) for grammar, spelling, content etc.
5. I will then post the update for people to read, should they so desire.

Will it work?

Who the hell knows?

Am I scared?

Hell yes!

I haven’t really written fiction for years, so to say I’m rusty would be an understatement. Factor in my intense fear of sharing my work even years after refinement and my decision to do this novel ‘on the fly’…yep, I’m positively terrified.

But if I am to stand any chance of demolishing these roadblocks to secure a better future for myself, I must face my fears any way I can.

For what’s the point of living if we don’t stand up to what scares us?

Should you wish to read along…

New installments of this flash fiction novel will be published every Friday, 8pm AEST (Starting 26 October 2012)

Click the image above to read The Ballad of the One Who Got Away (A Flash Fiction urban fantasy novel)


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What does recovery mean to you?

As one half of my psyche lurks in the dangerous yet intoxicating world of nostalgia; recanting the painful, pleasurable and painfully-pleasurable events of the last five years, the other half of my psyche continues on its journey down the road to recovery. This week, I will be looking at what my future holds – and the various methods, attempts and therapies I am undertaking to get me there.

What does recovery mean to you?

A few weeks ago I was filling out a referral for a mental health organisation called Mind. One of the questions on this form was what does recovery mean to you?

Much umming and ahhing ensued until I decided upon:

Recovery means living; not existing or surviving.

And then I got a bit carried away, as I am prone to do from time to time:

Recovery means allowing myself to be better version of myself. To not be controlled by the demons, anger and confusion of the past. To accept that these events happened and that I was strong enough to not let them drag me into the undertow. To understand that mistakes were made and to learn self-forgiveness. To give myself permission to move on from these mistakes and not let them define me.

Recovery means learning how to love myself. To accept that I do not deserve to be alone for the rest of my life because I am a caring, loving, talented and passionate human being with much to offer the world. To not allow the abuse I received to continue defining my personality. To understand that I am a wonderful person who deserves everything his heart desires.

Recovery means believing in myself. To set realistic goals that I can work toward; goals that I know I deserve to achieve. To stop endlessly belittling and playing down my achievements and realize that I am a man of many talents and skills. To give myself permission to be the man I know I am in my heart.

Identifying the roadblocks

Although sabotaged by oscillating moods and deeply embedded abuse trauma, over the years I have been working as hard as I can to repair not only my sanity, but my life. In doing so I have identified a number of roadblocks that are hindering my road to recovery.

One of the central roadblocks  is my social anxiety and isolation. It is hard for some to understand how infinitely more complicated everything becomes when you are on your own; when you have no-one to share your problems with, no-one to hug or touch you, no-one to love or care about you, no-one to offer guidance or distraction through the rough patches of life we all have to face.

Hence why this roadblock is the one I need to hurdle before anything else.

Over the last few months, alongside this blog and Twitter, I have been trying to navigate this roadblock on several fronts.

Front #1: Disability Support Pension

I am mere weeks away from discovering if I have been granted the Holy Grail of the Disability Support Pension. For the last two and half years I have been surviving on the pittance that is the Newstart Allowance (a benefit that even the Australian Government announced yesterday was too low given the cost of living increases in Australia, but simultaneously announced they have no plans to raise it.)

This payment has made the triple whammy of rent-bills-food almost impossible to meet and have lumbered me with several hundred dollars’ worth of unpaid energy bills, an inability to purchase clothing or footwear and rendered haircuts and medication luxury items. This making socializing and entertainment an impossible dream.

I’ve been told to expect a decision by mid-November, so until then I must play the waiting game and demonstrate my innate patience.

Front #2: An impending munch

I have mentioned in the past a social network I have been using to try end this insidious isolation. Although I’ve some headway in connecting with people online I have yet to meet anyone in real life. Last night, it came to my attention that a gathering has been organized for Thursday evening; a gathering that I have tentatively announced to the network I will be attending!

Given my desire to build new social connections (and knock ‘item 1’ off the bucket list) this munch is something I’m looking forward to – but I’d be lying if I said the evening wasn’t filling me with anxiety fuelled dread already.

We shall just have to wait and see what happens come Thursday :)

Front #3: GT House

GT House is an organisation in my locality that offers counseling services and support groups for those suffering from mental health problems and social isolation. After several months of languishing on the waiting list I had my first meeting with them last Thursday.

One of the aspects discussed in that session was the view that labels – although they have their place – are not the be all and end all of mental illness. Sometimes symptoms overlap, sometimes the way an illness presents in one person is different to the way it presents in another, so the best course of treatment and therapy will differ from person to person. Therefore GT House looks at the needs of the individual rather than the needs of the illness.

Following a follow-up meeting with them this morning I have registered for three of the groups:

1) Pool: where we gather and spend a couple of hours socializing and playing pool.
2) Stress: where we gather and work through ways to reduce and control our stress of day-to-day life.
3) Scrabble: where we gather and spend a couple of hours socializing and playing scrabble.

As well as expressing an interest in attending three other groups once I have increased my self-confidence and feel more comfortable.

Front #4: Hearing Voices Group

Given the voices I hear have increased substantially over the last several years, and given it is an area of my mental illness few have ever wanted to go near, I’ve registered interest in attending a weekly Hearing Voices Support Group.

The thrust of this group is about learning to understand the voices I hear and developing ways to control such behavior, as well as socializing with other people who experience similar issues.

Although at the present time I haven’t committed to attend – I must be wary of taking on too much in fear of mentally collapsing – it is something I’m working toward for the future.

Front #5: Disability Employment Service

This organisation is supposed to work closely with me in order to help me access part-time study, part-time work, voluntary work and other avenues I want to pursue so I can create the future I deserve.

The drawback with this organisation is that it is closely linked to the DSP and I’m unsure if I qualify for their services if I don’t have this payment approved.

Thus, as mentioned in front #1, all I can do for the time being is be patient.

One of the things I have always been proud of is my determination to work toward a better future for myself. All that I have achieved over the last five years has been out of a stubbornness to give up; something I could easily have done on hundreds of occasions.

Although physically I am in the same (if not worse) position than I was in five years ago, the trials and challenges I have been through have altered my thinking and mental state in ways I had never thought possible.

So as one side of my psyche continues to analyze and work through the events of the past (a necessary part of my recovery), the other will continue, as always, down the long road of recovery toward that beautiful destination named ‘The Future’.

‘The Road to Recovery’ continues tomorrow with:
The Ballad of the One Who Got Away