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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Melbourne 2015: Day 07. A rather solemn affair

My final day in Melbourne was a rather solemn affair. It began innocuously enough; sliding myself out of bed, stepping into the shower, slipping my clothes on and then sidling out the motel room for another day exploring and relishing in the greatest city in Australia, but as the day progressed and time ticked slowly on, I was overcome with a melancholy that I wasn’t expecting. The fact of the matter was I didn’t want to leave. Since being in Melbourne my mental health had, for the most part, not been an issue. I was walking past hundreds of people a minute and my social anxiety was nonexistent. I was in constant connection with memories of the most traumatic periods of my life – abusive relationship, homelessness – but my PTSD had barely registered. Being in Melbourne, it seemed, was good for me.

Unlike the other days of my Melbourne adventure, my final day in Melbourne saw no tourist attraction being explored. I considered going to the zoo (but that was too expensive) and I looked into going to the Old Melbourne Gaol (but that also proved too expensive) so instead I just meandered around the city. I undertook a laneways tour; reacquainting myself with the alleys and back streets that I used to know so well. I explored the Queen Victoria Market; and felt ashamed by the grotesque prices being asked for tatty tourist merchandise. I meandered various shops that I once knew so well; PLAY, a DVD shop selling rare and hard to find titles, JBHIFI, a music/DVD shop selling mainstream titles and various booksellers at the top end of Bourke Street, whose collections were interesting and diverse. Alas, I couldn’t buy anything. After seven days in Melbourne my finances were low and I needed what little money I had left for food and beverages.

Flinders Street, Melbourne.

Flinders Street, Melbourne.

It may sound boring, just walking around a city, but it was anything but. Melbourne may not be the prettiest city known to humankind, but once you get past the hipsterfication, it still heralds many architectural and retail gems. Walking around the city was something I used to do every week, and as I strolled around the CBD that final day, I was overwhelmed with memories of my past lives. Of when I was overwhelmed and excited upon arriving in Australia. Of when I was happily in a relationship with Louise. Of when I worked my arse off at the backpacker hostel. The memories flowed thick and fast that final day in Melbourne, but never once tipped me over the edge, never once did the PTSD overwhelm me. For once, I was in complete control.

By 1:30pm I was settled into Federation Square, shocked at how fast time was moving, so decided to slow things down with a final visit to one of my favourite places in the city, the NGV: Australia in Federation Square. It would be my third visit since arriving, but I didn’t care. There is something calming, something altogether relaxing, about roaming around the gallery, soaking in the majestic, inspirational art on show. To add some diversity to my visit I decided to undertake one of the free gallery tours they offer, in which a volunteer guides you through the gallery, regaling you with stories and history of various, important artworks. There were only two of us in the tour, but the information provided was interesting and informative. It cast the artwork in a new light; adding life and vitality to work that I have grown to love and care about.

Inside the NGV: Australia

Inside the NGV: Australia

After the tour I left the gallery and, on Audrey’s request, returned to the secondhand bookstore we had found days earlier. Bookshops, like galleries, are also a calming and relaxing venue for me. There is something about being surrounded by books that fills me with happiness. For nearly half and hour we scoured the shelves for anything that sounded interesting and, eventually, left with two books; one for Audrey (Riders in the Chariot, Patrick White) and one for me (Glencoe, John Prebble).

After a brief visit to ACMI we still had time left on our hands so, spontaneously, decided to return to the NGV: Australia, where we spent another hour roaming the halls and photographing the various artwork that spoke to us the most. It still amazed me how calming I found the NGV to be, and it hammered home just how stressed I have become from living in Wodonga, and how much I desperately need to leave that rural backwater town.

We ended the day in our usual way; a canister of Irn Bru, a visit to the Little Library and a relaxation session on a bench in Flagstaff Gardens. This bench, like many places in Melbourne, I had a personal history with. When I was homeless in 2007, following a year of abuse, breakdown and mental catastrophe, it was the first place that I called my ‘home’, with many nights spent curled up upon it trying desperately to sleep through the night. But I sat there, that final night in Melbourne, reflecting on my life now and my life then; how far I have come in certain respects, and how similar I remain in others. After solemnly leaving the bench I meandered to the pizza shop, treated myself to another beautiful potato and rosemary pizza, and returned for a night of relative calmness in the motel.

The first bench I slept on when I was homeless in 2007.

The first bench I slept on when I was homeless in 2007.

Unlike my other days in Melbourne, this last day was far more reflective and quiet. I didn’t undertake any lengthy walks, I didn’t spend a huge amount of time doing the tourist thing. I just allowed the city of Melbourne to wash over me and, in turn, reignite my love for the Victorian capital. As I drifted off to sleep, filled with a cantankerous malaise over the end of my holiday and my inevitable return to Wodonga, I realised once and for all that I would need to leave that suffocating country town. For the sake of my mental health, for the sake of my sanity, for the sake of my life; I needed to leave Wodonga.

The next morning I awoke early, switched on breakfast television, and put off packing for as long as possible. I knew that packing would mark the end of my holiday and, truth be told, I didn’t want it to end. I wanted to be walking back into the city for another day exploring the urban landscape and relaxing in the concrete jungle. But I couldn’t. All I could do was stumble out of bed, throw my possessions together, and make the long, slow walk to the train station where a stressful four hour train journey awaited me.

My holiday was over…and it saddened me greatly.

The small library I acquired in Melbourne!

The small library I acquired in Melbourne!

It had been seven blissful days of excitement, exploration and (occasional) extravagance. I had seen centuries old artwork, chillaxed in gardens, played with penguins, fought my demons and reacquainted myself with a city I once called home. It had been exactly what I needed; a break from my mental health, a break from stress, a break from Wodonga and a break from myself.

My holiday was, in one word, blissful.

A week I will never forget.

 


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Melbourne 2015: Day 06. A day of two halves

My sixth day in Melbourne was a day of two halves. Half of it was pure bliss straight out of the bottle. Half of it was a nightmare of anxiety and PTSD. But it is still a day I will look back on with fond memories.

Half One: Pure bliss straight out of bottle…

The day began like all my others in Melbourne; leaping out of bed, throwing myself into the shower, quickly dressing so as not to see my naked self in the plethora of mirrors and then hurtling out the door to commence another day of adventure and excitement in my favourite Australian city. On the cards today was a visit to the Melbourne Sea Life Aquarium and I couldn’t wait! Sitting in Federation Square waiting for the Aquarium to open was pure hell. Why didn’t it open sooner? Why had I left the motel so early? To pass the time I ended up treating myself to a cheapo cooked breakfast in a cafe I discovered whilst homeless – $7.50 for bacon and eggs, bargain – before meandering slowly toward to the Aquarium hoping it would open early just for me. Alas, it didn’t, but I only had to wait ten minutes or so before they opened their doors.

The only downside of going to the Aquarium is the price. For some inexplicable reason they have decided that the optimum price for adult admission is $38 which, even though you’ll be spending plenty of time admiring the cute liddle fishes, is somewhat extortionate. Especially for someone like me, who lives in abject poverty on a daily basis. But I stoked up the cash (Meadhbh would never have forgiven me if I hadn’t) and headed into the dimly lit building to begin the tour.

First installation was a huge tank full of grumpy looking giant fish and perky looking tiny fish. Perhaps the giant fish were so grumpy because they couldn’t swim as fast as the little fish, Meadhbh chimed in, before shrilly shrieking in my ear as she saw the next set of exhibits were crabs. We spent nearly fifteen minutes examining these crustaceans of all sizes, colours and shapes. Big crabs sat motionless in their aquatic wasteland, whilst tiny crabs scuttled across the sand of their domain in a hedonistic state of excitement. Why are all the big animals so still and un-entertaining, Meadhbh asked. I didn’t know. Perhaps they were tired. Perhaps they were biding their time to break out into a spontaneous dance number when no-one was watching.

From the crabs we took in starfish, coral reefs and numerous tanks filled with all sorts of bright, iridescent fishes. There was, of course, tanks full of Nemos and Dorys for the Finding Nemo obsessed kiddies and tanks full of jellyfish for the Ooo, dangerous obsessed adults. I loved the jellyfish. Watching them slowly power themselves through the water was hypnotizing and had a delightful calming effect on me.

Next up was the giant tank filled with sharks, manta rays, sting rays and all manner of strange-looking fish I couldn’t identify. Then was the turn of the Aquarium’s new star attraction; a giant salt water crocodile, who lay motionless on the floor of his enclosure, no doubt biding his time for when he can break out and munch down on all the kiddies that squeal and oooo in his general direction.

Then came the surprise. For some reason the head-honchos at Melbourne Aquarium have decided that lizards are now considered amphibious animals, so we were thrilled by blue tongued lizards, snakes and the graceful awesomeness of the Shingleback (Sleepy) Lizard, who is my personal favourite of the reptile kingdom. There were also spiders; and the only reason these have been included in an aquarium is to freak out arachnophobic individuals such as myself.

The final exhibit was Meadhbh’s favourite. In fact, she was so excited she was unable to speak properly. Her usually eloquent and considered words replaced with shrieks, squees and strange, indecipherable, high-pitched noises. For Melbourne Aquarium, unlike on our last visit in 2007, now has a penguin exhibit. A large, ice ridden enclosure filled with Emperor Penguins who stood around looking regal and awesome. Like Meadhbh, I love penguins, and relished the opportunity to get up close and personal with these magnificent creatures. We spent a good twenty minutes just staring at the birds through the glass, watching them waddle around, swim in their personal pool and just be magnificent. Meadhbh also loved watching the children who were pressed up against the glass trying to get the penguins attention; waving and jabbering incomprehensible excited child noises.

Penguins! :D

Penguins! :D

All in all, although the $38 is too expensive a price, we relished our time at the Aquarium. Meadhbh loved it. I loved it. Easily one of the highlights of our trip; especially because of the Shingleback lizards and Emperor Penguins.

Half Two: A Nightmare of Anxiety and PTSD

Alas, the excitement of the morning’s escapade to the Aquarium did not extend into the afternoon. For the first time since I’d arrived in Melbourne I began to feel overwhelmed with anxiety. I was tired. I was exhausted. And I began to freak out at the sheer number of people who were around me. This increase in my anxiety led to my PTSD beginning to flare up, and I found myself overwhelmed with memories of my brutal homelessness and of the abusive relationship that destroyed my life. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know how to control the growing malaise that had overpowered me. So I sat for a while in Federation Square, taking (somewhat dodgy) photos of the architecture and maintaining a conversation with myself, and the ghost of my abuser, which drew strange looks from passers-by as they wondered why this strange, overweight man was talking to himself.

As the PTSD symptoms began to overwhelm me I knew I needed to do something. I was starting to feel as isolated, ostracised and judged as when I was homeless. My conversation was drawing not only strange looks but also muttered comment and this attention just made me feel worse. It increased my anxiety and, in that cruel, vicious cycle, increased my PTSD symptoms. So I packed up my camera and took myself to a place I knew would ease my troubled soul; the NGV International. It would be the third time I had visited this magnificent attraction since being in Melbourne but I didn’t care. It was free. It was calming. It was exactly what I needed.

Looking through the NGV International's Water Window

Looking through the NGV International’s Water Window

Within an hour of being amidst the beautiful artwork displayed my anxiety was easing. I was having fewer PTSD symptoms and the conversations with the ghost of my abuser were diminishing. By the time I left the building and sat on the wall out the front for a medicinal cigarette, I was feeling in control again, so I smoked my cigarette and then walked back into the city for a spot of window shopping and my daily canister of Irn Bru.

By now the day had drawn to a close and dusk was settling over the city. The streetlights had come on and the neon signs that decorate the various intersections of the city were casting their alien glow across the city. I’ve always loved the city at night. During my homelessness I would spend many hours just drifting around the city, seeking out the shadows to hide in as I soaked up the energy and vibrancy of a city after dark. So this is what I did now. Just floated around, people watching, building watching, relishing in the excitement of a city come alive.

After a time I treated myself to Lord of the Fries, and their delicious French-Canadian topping, before deciding to wander back to the motel. Although I had managed to control my anxiety and PTSD, their appearance in the day had tired me, and I yearned to rest, to just lay back on the motel bed and lose myself to the world of sleep.

The next day would be my last in Melbourne, and I was slightly overcome with feelings of sadness and melancholy. I loved being in the city. I loved being in Melbourne. It felt right. It felt natural. I didn’t want to return to the stifling, suffocating world of Wodonga and all the mental health insanity that I knew would befall me there. So as I lay on the motel bed I vowed to make my final day in Melbourne something wonderful, something relaxing, something to remember during the monotonous, nightmare laden days ahead.


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Melbourne 2015: Day 04. Chillaxing in Fern Gully

And so we enter day four of my magnificent adventures in Melbourne. Today, the photos outweigh the text as we take a blissful stroll through the Royal Botanical Gardens, chillax in the art galleries and take a tour of Melbourne CBD via some abstract architecture photography. Enjoy! :)

22nd August 2015, 7:51pm
Room 211, Flagstaff City Inn

Another. Busy. Day. It all began at 9:15am when I left the motel for a bracing stroll to Federation Square to visit the (much-loved) Book Market. It’s not the most jam-packed of book markets, but any volume of books is blissful for me. Although there were several books I wanted to buy (Murakami, White, Welsh, Robbins) I showed restraint and purchased only one: The Crow Road by Scottish literary master Iain Banks. This is a book I have loved since I first read it, a book that is firmly in my top ten of all time and a book I’ve been seeking out for years. And, as I’m currently embarked on a quest to attain a copy of each of my top ten favourite books, couldn’t pass up this literary bargain!

My top ten books of all time!

1. Quest for a Kelpie (Frances Hendry)
2. Memory and Dream (Charles de Lint)
3. Northern Lights: A Poet’s Sources (George Mackay Brown)
4. Thirteen Reasons Why (Jay Asher)
5. The Hotel New Hampshire (John Irving)
6. The Stornoway Way (Kevin MacNeil)
7. The Crow Road (Iain Banks)
8. Still Life With Woodpecker (Tom Robbins)
9. Kidnapped (Robert Louis Stevenson)
10. Voss (Patrick White)

~ Bolded titles indicate those I currently own ~

After the book market I decided to return to the NGV and spent a good hour chillaxing amidst the art. Then, after a Cherry Coke break, I decided to head over to the Royal Botanical Gardens for a couple of hours getting in touch with nature. It was so serene and peaceful. And I totally fell in love with Fern Gully; a calm stroll through a pseudo-rainforest that reminded me of the Dandenongs and, by association, that fateful day in October 2007. It also occurred to me as I smelled the flowers and squealed at the cacti that I’d never spent so long in the Botanical Gardens. I’d been there before, when I first arrived in Australia, and a visit with my abusive girlfriend, but never for the length of time I spent there today. It was quite wonderful and easily one of the highlights of my trip thus far.

Following the gardens I roamed past the Shrine of Remembrance on my way to the NGV: International, where I spent an hour chillaxing amidst the art. And today I was (finally) able to get up close and personal with The Banquet of Cleopatra, my favourite painting in the collection. Yay!

Banquet of Cleopatra Selfie - NGV International, Melbourne.

‘Banquet of Cleopatra’ Selfie – NGV International, Melbourne.

By this point in the day my blisters were growing and walking was becoming extremely painful, but I persevered and spent some time window shopping in Dymocks and taking a few photos around the city.

I then hobbled to the pizza shop, treated myself to a (spectacular) potato & rosemary pizza and returned to the motel to gorge myself on carbohydrate and cheese. I’m now exceedingly tired, unable to think straight, my feet are beyond painful and I’m wishing I’d brought more comfortable shoes with me! So I’m kicking back with Total Wipeout and anticipating a beautiful sleep.

On the agenda for tomorrow is another blast from the past – Lygon Street – and a return to the ocean, something I haven’t seen since 2009! :)