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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Eleven memories of Christmastide throughout my life

Christmastide

The Christmas Festivities (from Christmastide by W. Sandys)

1. There was definitely a reindeer in the house! (Christmas Day, 1985)

My earliest Christmas memory occurred in 1985 when, after running downstairs to tear open our presents, my siblings and I discovered a reindeer hoof-print on the living-room carpet. We were adamant that this proved Santa was not only real, but had ridden his sleigh through our front room.

Of course, the reality was our parents had decided to draw this hoof-print on the carpet in order to keep the magic of Christmas alive in their little darlings for another year. Or did they?

2. The punishment cushion (Somewhere between Christmas and New Year, 1986[?])

I’ll admit that as memories go, this one is rather random. I’ll also admit that I’m not entirely sure of the date, but am adamant that it occurred sometime in the days between Christmas and New Year.

It was one during one of those post-Christmas Day lunches that was made up of a metric ton of cold meat, boiled potatoes, salad and (the ubiquitous) Brussel Sprouts. Feeling somewhat frustrated and annoyed I was acting up; flicking food over the table, stomping my feet and generally being an annoying little devil. Although I had been told to behave on several occasions, nothing had worked, so, after a potato had splatted against a wall my parents had had enough. Informing me that I’d get a smacked bottom if my behavior continued in this manner I did what any child would have done – pushed them even further!

This caused my mother to rise sternly and move around the table. I found my feet and made a bolt for the living room door, only to have her grab the back of my trackie-dacks and pull me face down onto the floor. Expecting her to soundly smack my rather vulnerable backside I panicked; only to become immensely relieved when she pulled a cushion over my butt before smacking that.

As punishments go, it could have been worse!

3. Starter for Ten (Boxing Day, 1992)

Back when I was but a cherub-faced teenager, various members of the Lake family used to gather in the one location on Boxing Day. At its peak, these annual days of celebration would draw nearly twenty people vying for attention, gastronomic delights and entertainment. In order to oblige the latter, we would often dip into the board game collection, cramming around the table for epic games of Pictionary, Trivial Pursuit or Sorry.

After a couple of these family based funfests, I decided to up-the-anti and began concocting elaborate quizzes (usually film and television based) in order to test the knowledge of my respective family members and prove how utterly awesome I was when it came to the field of film and television.

The questions generally ranged from quite difficult to utterly impossible and very few people ever scored more than half a dozen from the fifty odd questions posed to them. But it was always a joy to create and chair those quizzes.

In fact, in these days of lonely, isolated Christmases, it is those quizzes that I miss the most.

4. Sausage, Egg and Chips (2 January 1991[?])

This is one of those stories that will no doubt be passed down from generation to generation within the Lake family.

Various members of the Lake family had gathered at a five-star restaurant to celebrate the birthday of my Aunt. The food, as you would expect from such an esteemed establishment, was all top of the range ingredients and intricately prepared dishes. But I didn’t like the sound of any of them. I’ve never been one for veal, I’ve never been a big fan of lamb and the descriptions of the items – which came with more adjectives than any menu should have – did nothing to entice me into eating any of it.

Getting a bit grouchy, my father asked me what I wanted, so I answered with what was at the time my favourite dish; sausage, egg and chips. Hearing my request, the birthday woman summoned one of the service staff, who scooted off to the kitchen to inform the chef. Shortly after, as everyone else was being brought extravagant gastronomic creations, I was brought a plate of sausage, egg and chips; with the eggs being served fresh to my plate via silver-service.

This was the only time I ever made a personal request at a restaurant and, I fear, my anxiety will prevent me from making any further random requests in the future. But, believe me, did I feel special that night!

sausageeggchips

“I was brought a plate of sausage, egg and chips; with the eggs served fresh to my plate via silver-service.”

5. Meadhbh has her way (Christmas Day, 1995)

For as long as I can remember, Meadhbh has encouraged me to wear women’s clothing. In her opinion it’s more exciting, more colourful and more adventurous than the stale, boring and uninspiring options available for men. In fact, if Meadhbh had her way, women’s clothing would be the only thing I’d wear.

Generally, I’m strong enough to withstand her constant badgering, but there have been occasions through my life when, weakened by depression, I’m unable to. One such occasion occurred when I was a teenager, when Meadhbh decided that I should be wearing a purple polka-dot skirt, white blouse and make-up to celebrate Christmas with my family.

She thought I looked stunningly good, my family (and I) however, didn’t.

6. Silent Night (New Year’s Eve, 2000)

To say I’ve never really celebrated New Year would be an understatement. It’s one of those contemporary traditions that I’ve never quite understood. We don’t celebrate the end of a month, or the end of a day, so why do we feel the need to crack open the champagne and cheer on the change of a calendar’s digit at the end of a year? As such, my New Years are generally quiet and laid back affairs, often spent chilling in front of the television or conversing with (when I had them) friends and girlfriends.

Of all the New Years I’ve celebrated, the one that is most memorable is steeped in silence. When it came to mark the 1999/2000 New Year I was living in a backpacker hostel in Inverness. Although alcohol was a large component of that period, there was little of it drunk that night, instead four of us sat on a wall in the back garden of the hostel, silently watching the fireworks ignite the Scottish sky above.

One of the most peaceful (and memorable) moments of my life.

7. Losing my virginity (1 January 2001)

Some people I’ve spoken to would rather not remember the time they lost their virginity. But for me it’s one of the happiest moments of my life, for I lost my virginity at the beginning of the new millennium, on my favourite Scottish island, to someone I had genuine feelings for.

An unequivocally blissful moment of my life.

8. Happy Feet (Christmas Day, 2006)

This was, in retrospect, my last ‘happy’ Christmas. For the first time in eight years – courtesy of traveling and emigration – I was able to spend the day with my family. Although my parents wanted to spend Christmas on the beach – as many travellers from the UK want to do – the truly appalling weather that battered Melbourne that year meant we were forced to alter our plans. Instead of the beach, we spent the day meandering around Crown casino; opening presents, playing the pokies and eating dirt-cheap fish ‘n’ chips.

Once the limited appeal of poker machines had faded we decided to head upstairs to catch a movie and, after much deliberation, decided upon the newly released animated classic ‘Happy Feet’. Although I fell asleep half way through the film – courtesy of soon-to-be-diagnosed Glandular Fever – the positive memories of the movie, and the entire day, have never faded from my mind. For, unlike all other Christmases that I’ve spent in Australia, this one actually saw me happy for the majority of the day.

happyfeet

“For, unlike all other Christmases that I’ve spent in Australia, this one actually saw me happy for the majority of the day.”

9. Who wants a relaxing Christmas (Christmas Day, 2006)

Unfortunately, the happiness that overwhelmed me on Christmas Day 2006 (see item [8] above) could not last. Within an hour of leaving the cinema and bidding farewell to my parents, I had a conversation with my then girlfriend; the girlfriend who would soon become known as ‘the abusive one’.

Within twenty minutes of talking to her she had criticized what I had done throughout the day (which wasn’t as adventurous as she wanted me to be), pointed out how I wasn’t making enough effort to wish my friends happy Christmas (even though I’d wished as many as I was able a happy Christmas) and attacked me for how I’d worded a Christmas e-card greeting I’d sent her earlier that day (she took offense to my use of the word ‘relaxing’).

By the end of the conversation, all sense of happiness and Christmas joy had dissipated, replaced with an overwhelming frustration and deep sense of worthlessness.

10. The worst Christmas present I ever received (Christmas Day, 2008)

It is only in recent years that I have become a staunch anti-Christmas Grinch. Many moons ago, I was the first person to hang tinsel from the walls, throw a tree into the corner of the room and annoy everyone and their dog by loudly singing Christmas tunes at all hours of the day and night. But all that changed when my girlfriend gave me the worst Christmas present I’ve ever received; a present that, no matter what I do, haunts my Christmas Days from beginning to end.

In 2008 I was living in Alice Springs. I had a job, I had a girlfriend and I was – aside from the depressive episode I’d slipped into – coping relatively well. In the lead up to Christmas we’d decorated my unit with a tree, hung sparkly decorations and planned for the best Christmas we could possibly muster.

The only problem was I hadn’t realised that my girlfriend’s idea of ‘best Christmas’ entailed sleeping with one of our friends. Now, for those of you who’ve never had someone cheat on you, be very, very thankful – for it hurts like an absolute bitch! There I was, cooking the roast for the two of us to chow down on that night, and there she was, rollicking and rolling around in bed with our friend.

But to be honest, that wasn’t the worst of it. What hurt even more was that when she finally returned home she decided that it was my job to fix her broken heart because she felt like she’d been “used” by our friend. Given the practice I’d put in during my prior abusive relationship, I dutifully slipped into appeasement mode, doing everything I could to cheer her up and ensure her day ended on a high. All the while feeling like my very heart had been torn from my body, thrown into a gutter and carried off by a rabid pack of dingoes!

I’ve hated Christmas ever since.

11. A Homeless Christmas (Christmas Day, 2011)

There are few things in life as depressing and lonely as a homeless Christmas. Not only do you not have anyone to spend the day with, you don’t even have a home to hide away in. Instead, you roam the streets like an unloved hobo wishing upon whatever you believe in that the day would just disappear.

My last homeless Christmas was spent enjoying a Christmas dinner cooked by a local charitable organisation before relishing in the quiet desolation offered by the local cemetery.

However much I hate Christmas now, I am eternally grateful that I have a home in which to seek solace throughout the big day, for this, and the other Christmases I spent homeless, showed me what real loneliness feels like. And trust me; you don’t want to experience it. Ever!

~◊~

Previous installments of the Twelve Days of Christmas Blog Challenge:

| Day One | Day Two | Day Three |
| Day Four | Day Five | Day Six |
| Day Seven | Day Eight | Day Nine |
| Day Ten |

~◊~

Other wonderful bloggers participating in the Twelve Days of Christmas Blog Challenge:

| Marci, Mental Health and More | Many of Us |
| Looking for Lucy |

If I’ve missed you from the above list, please let me know in the comments field below and I’ll add you as soon as humanly possibly so everyone can read your magnificent responses! :)


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Two foods I can’t get through Christmas without…

Ever since making Australia my home I’ve been locked in a constant battle between the Northern and Southern hemispheres of my soul; a battle that reaches its peak every Christmas time. For however much I love the chance to relax in the warm weather, surreptitiously ogle the beautiful women wearing next to nothing and relish in the frequent thunderstorms, a part of me deeply misses cozying up in front of a fire, surreptitiously ogling beautiful women doing Eskimo impersonations and relishing the endless dark nights.

So it doesn’t surprise me that the foods I crave each and every Christmas reflects the eternal struggle between my lust of Australia and love of Scotland.

Since moving into my unit nearly two years ago I decided that one of the safety measures I could implement to help me survive this upsetting and lonely time of year was to create some new traditions. One of these traditions was the cooking (and eating) of Yorkshire Puddings each and every Christmas day.

These simple, delicious mounds of light, crispy batter have been one of my favourite foodstuffs for as long as I can remember. In fact, many of my UK memories revolve around the eating of these heavenly orbs of mouth-watering perfection; the Yorkshire Puddings as big as your plate that a pub in Inverness served up, the mini-puddings that my father made from scratch, the addition of sausages into the mix to create Toad in the Hole and the ‘eat as many as you like’ offer in numerous mid-market restaurants.

I never eat Yorkshire Puddings at any other time of year, only Christmas, because I want the flood of memories; of family, of friends, of laughter, of bliss, of nostalgia, to be something special, something unique, something that comes only once a year. For this way, it gives me something to look forward to amidst the bleak, depressing nothingness that floods my soul during the festive season.

Christmas Dinner 2013

Yesterday’s Christmas Dinner…complete with scrumptious Yorkshire Puddings! :D

The second food – the Southern hemisphere’s weapon of choice – is the humble Calippo. There is a reason that this triangle of frozen water, reconstituted fruit juice, cane sugar, glucose and numerous flavours and additives made my list of 101 Things That Make Me Happy; because sucking on one fills me with a level of bliss that few other foods even come close to.

Whether it’s the cooling effect these icy treats contain on a 30-40 degree day, the fact they remind me of sunny days with bikini clad babes or simply the additives playing havoc with my mind, it is categorically impossible for me to eat a Calippo without an ear-to-ear smile on my face.

Hence why, as with the Yorkshire Puddings above, a box of Pineapple and Raspberry Callipos has become a tradition during my Christmas Eve food shop.


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One thing I got for Christmas

By now, many of you will have spent the day waking up at the crack of dawn, ripping open your presents and slaving away in a baking hot kitchen preparing a roast dinner to end all roast dinners. You will no doubt have had numerous moments where you wished you were sunbathing on a beach instead of partaking in the traditional family Christmas and occasions where you’ve snuck off for a sneaky cigarette so your Great Aunt Doris doesn’t find out about your nicotine addiction.

By now, you’ll probably be wishing for an oasis of calm amidst the riotous nature of the contemporary Christmas Day, a few moments to recharge your batteries and prepare for an evening of board games, temper tantrums and overly drunk relatives. So why not seize the opportunity to partake in a little blogging? For today marks the commencement of the Twelve Days of Christmas Blog Challenge!

And as its Christmas Day, we begin with: one thing you got for Christmas!

Now, given the fact that I live in relative isolation, surviving Christmas is always a difficult task for me. I don’t get to enjoy the hectic Christmas dinner, children throwing toys across the room or the random person in the corner of the room that may or may not be one of your relatives. I just have to find whatever outlet I can to survive this most insidious and lonely of days as safely as I can.

One of the things I do to get through the day unscathed is buy myself a present. In 2009, when I was homeless, I treated myself to dinner. In 2011, when I was still homeless, I purchased a couple of books from a local second-hand bookstore to provide me with a distraction from the big day. This year, I decided a DVD box set was the way to go.

As regular readers of my blog will be aware, my favourite animated movie of all time is the Studio Ghibli classic My Neighbor Totoro; which celebrated its 25th anniversary this year. Not only is it one of the most perfect films of all time, it is also a film that has tremendous sentimental attachment, for this was the film that Samantha and I chose to watch during our day in Glasgow.

My Neighbor Totoro

My favourite of the six exclusive postcards

To mark the film’s 25th anniversary, Madman Entertainment saw fit to release a limited edition box set, consisting of: the film on DVD and Blu-Ray, an exclusive matchbox diorama, six exclusive postcards and a 176-page hardback book showcasing the art of My Neighbor Totoro.

This box-set was my Christmas present this year; and I am overwhelming happy with my decision! The book – a generous collection of concept sketches, fully rendered character designs and background paintings – is one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen! The matchbox diorama, of a sleeping Totoro, is beyond cute. And I fully plan to frame the postcards in order to brighten up my rather drab cream walls.

Sure, some people may think that for someone living in poverty this purchase was a little excessive, but I do not. Since waking up this morning the urge to self-harm has been omnipotently present throughout each arduous hour. But after transporting myself into Totoro’s world, that urge has dissipated; replaced with a broad smile and a renewed spring in my step.

My Neighbor Totoro

The box set in all it’s divine glory! :)


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Tears before Christmas

Every year for the last few years I’ve had a little weep on Christmas Day. For people like myself who don’t have someone to have Christmas cuddles with, who have no-one to give presents to and who’ll be eating their dinner alone, Christmas is not a day of celebration, but survival.

It’s the one day of the year that you’re expected to spend with your friends and family. So much so that when you tell people you’ll be spending the big day alone they look at you in complete, dumfounded bewilderment. Their minds unable to process that there are people on the planet who have no-one. People who are living in poverty; people who are homeless; people struggling with mental health issues; people who society have deemed to be irrelevant, inconsequential or so badly broken that it’s dangerous to become their friend.

Tomorrow there will come a time when my inconsequentialness strikes home and I collapse on the sofa for a half-hour crying session, wishing for the one thing many people take for granted; loving companionship. It’s become such a holiday tradition that nothing I do will stop it. The tears will come…but I’ll be ready for them.

What I wasn’t ready for were the tears that started to fall this afternoon, tears that quickly descended into a full on bawling session, complete with ghost-like wails, breathing difficulties and the occasional hiccup. And the reason behind such an unmanly response? Personally I think it was a combination of the anniversary of Samantha’s death, a release of the emotional stress that Christmas brings and because the triggering greetings card had cut through my heart and challenged everything I believe about myself.

And yes, you read that right, the trigger behind such an over-the-top reaction was a simple greetings card. A home-made card that members of the Hearing Voices Support Group I attend had made and signed with a variety of challenging words of affection:

Andrew, you are so very wise and motivated ♥ 
I admire your wisdom and the joy you bring to the group
You are a very valued member of the group, wise, creative and independent
You have been so brave this year

Hours later I still can’t quite comprehend what people have written in the card. I’ve spent the better part of the last twelve months believing that my presence in the group was irrelevant, and as a result, that I am irrelevant. I’ve believed that my contributions were inconsequential, that no-one had noticed I was there and if they did notice my presence, they’d quickly come to wish I wasn’t.

But I was wrong. And I’m not sure what to do with it. I’m not used to hearing nice things about myself, I’m not used to other people giving me compliments, I’m not used to believing there are people in this world who actually notice my existence and who, for some inexplicable reason, occasionally enjoy being in my company.

It’s all a little too much for me to deal with at such an emotional and mentally challenging time of year, but it’s yet another event from the last twelve months that has me questioning how I view myself in comparison to how other people see me.

It’s yet another event that has me quietly commenting that maybe I’m not such a bad guy after all; that even though I’m spending Christmas alone, I may not be as badly broken as society would have you believe.


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Thirteen tips to help you survive Christmas

If you’re anything like me, Christmas is not the all-out happy family and friends fun fest that the media would have you believe. Instead, it’s a time of loneliness, emotional triggers and wishing to whoever will listen that the whole ‘holiday period’ would just bugger off and leave you alone.

Well, help is at hand. For today’s Thursday Thirteen I’m going to share some of my plan for getting through this insidious time of year relatively unscathed. Who knows, perhaps you will pick up a few ideas to help you survive this year’s silly season.

Christmas

~ in no particular order ~

1. Take steps to minimize self-harm

Because of the sheer number of emotional triggers that occur for me during this time of year (e.g. Samantha’s death, my girlfriend cheating on me on Christmas Day, not very pleasant memories of my abusive relationship) there is always the very real chance that I will resort to self-harm in order to get me through the days. However, as this is something I am trying not to do this year, I’ve taken steps to minimize the possibility.

Firstly, my random assortment of cutting implements have been given to my support worker to keep locked up in an impenetrable building during the holiday period. Secondly, I have placed on the fridge and bathroom mirror a list of distractions that I can utilize instead of self-harm. And thirdly, I have given myself permission to forgive myself should I take a misstep and actually self-harm.

Should this be a problem for you, other possible things you can do are: have a help-line number on hand in-case things become too difficult to control, make sure you have a trusted friend (or friends) that you can turn to if needs be, organize a ‘tool box’ of coping and distraction implements that you can use instead of your usual self-harm implements.

2. Seek out other people…

Most major towns and cities will have a charitable organisation that organizes a Christmas event for people in need. In my town there is a community lunch being offered, where people who don’t have anyone to spend Christmas with can enjoy a cooked meal in the company of other, like-minded souls.

Although I didn’t attend last year’s event – for reasons I shall divulge in a moment – I did head down in 2011, so this is an option that’s on the table if I can handle being around other people this Christmas.

So if you don’t fancy being alone for Christmas, why not do a little bit of local research and see what community events are planned for your towns or cities this year. Even if you do have people to spend Christmas with, you can always volunteer your time to help make Christmas a special time for those who are most in need.

3. …or spend the day on your own

The reason I didn’t attend last year’s community Christmas lunch was because my anxiety was so extreme that I couldn’t handle being around other people last year. There is also the trigger of being reminded just what I’m missing the most in my life; the company of others. However bizarre it may sound, being around others will often amplify my feelings of isolation and loneliness, thus making it more difficult when I return home alone.

As such, there is the very real possibility that, like last year, I will be spending Christmas Day alone. Although this sounds rather sad and pathetic, it really isn’t.

One of the best Christmases I ever had was spent completely on my own. I didn’t see friends, I didn’t see family, I didn’t see anyone. Instead, I chilled out watching movies, reading books, going for casual strolls in the snow and treating myself to a blissfully tasty home-cooked Christmas dinner.

Given the media make it abundantly clear that you should be spending Christmas Day with family and friends it’s all too easy to forget that there is nothing wrong with being on your own.

So if this is how you are choosing to spend Christmas, don’t let anyone make you feel guilty for it. Not even yourself!

4. Limit your alcohol consumption

Last year, I found myself turning to alcohol as a means of surviving the Christmas period. Normally I will drink alcohol on only four days of the year – my primary triggering anniversaries – so after last year I am acutely aware that this could become a problem again this year.

The plan I have in place to prevent this from happening is very similar to that of the self-harm issue above. I have resolved not to keep any alcohol in the house, I have my list of distractions to turn to in times of distress and, once again, I’ve given myself permission to forgive myself should a misstep occur.

So if the holiday period is a depressive one for you, and you feel you may be turning to alcohol to ease your pain, remember that alcohol is a depressive, so all you’re doing is making it harder for yourself!

5. Distractions I: Watch an uplifting movie

One of my primary methods of distraction is film and television. In preparation of the Christmas period I have made a list of films and television series that I want to watch; all of them being titles I can utilize to help me survive; all of them being ‘uplifting’ or ‘comic’ in nature.

So this year, in times of distress, I will (hopefully) be entertained by Monsters University, Due South, The To Do List, 30 Rock (S7) and The Lone Ranger.

Perhaps you too could benefit from preparing an emergency movie list! :)

6. Distractions II: Play an engrossing video game

Last year, I saved Hyrule twice and prevented Lego Middle Earth from total annihilation. This year, I plan to save Hyrule again (courtesy of a replay of Skyward Sword) and will no doubt play in Lego heaven once more courtesy of Audrey’s favourite game, Lego Batman. All the while reminding myself that there is nothing wrong with having a bit of playful fun over this time of year.

So if video games are your thing, perhaps you could plan to play through a particular title, or have a few old favourites up your sleeve in case of distressing times.

7. Distractions III: Write…Write…Write

As everyone is rushing around cooking Turkeys, tripping over presents and trying not to look silly in flimsy paper hats, blogs the world over will be desolate wastelands. But if you’re on your own, there’s nothing to stop you posting whatever meaningful thought that comes to mind. Writing is, after all, one of the most therapeutic practices there is and there will always be people like me waiting to read your words.

So if things are getting too much, remember that not everyone is with their family and friends, some will be sitting in front of their computer looking for things to read and people to spend Christmas with.

So get writing!

PS…if you’re stuck for things to write about, I will be undertaking a blog challenge of my own creation during the twelve days of Christmas, so you’re more than welcome to play along with me! :)

8. Treat yourself I: Gift for you

Christmas is a time for giving…so why not give something to yourself?

As I know Christmas is going to be a vicious period for me, I always try to buy myself a wee present to reward myself for all the good work I’ve done throughout the year. In the past these presents have ranged from a cherished music CD, items of clothing, a much wanted book or watchalicious DVD box set.

As yet I haven’t decided what my present will be this year, so if you’re not sure either, get your thinking caps on as Christmas is only six days away!

9. Treat yourself II: Food for you

As with item 8 above, one of my other personal traditions for Christmas, especially since my homelessness ended, is to treat myself to a particular foodstuff that I wouldn’t normally buy throughout the year. This foodstuff is something that always makes me happy, that I think is the most delicious thing in the world and something that I actually look forward to eating; namely, Yorkshire Puddings! :p

So why not reward all your hard work this year with a delicacy you wouldn’t normally buy, a foodstuff that will put a smile on your most worthy of faces.

10. Treat yourself III: Shower yourself with self-love

This is hard for me to do at the best of times, let alone during the most insidious and unpleasant times of the year! But this year I am going to do my level best to love myself as much as humanly possible.

Whether this is allowing myself an extra-long shower with sweet-smelling body lotion, indulging in half a dozen candles that are just as odorlicious as the body lotion or other, somewhat naughtier delights, this year I am going to try to make Christmas all about loving Addy.

So why don’t you do to? Love yourself, I mean, not me! Single out a few things you love to do but rarely get the chance – candlelit baths, massages, other, somewhat naughtier delights – and relish in the act of showering yourself with the love you rightly deserve.

11. Sleep!

With all the stressors and triggers ravaging your body, you may not be getting as much sleep as your body needs to function properly, so do your level best to get at least a few hours sleep each night.

Your body (and mind) will thank you for it if you do! :)

12. Remember that you’re not alone!

When the demons of isolation and loneliness consume you, remember that you are never alone. Even if you don’t have family or friends to turn to, most help-lines are operational throughout the Christmas and New Year period so don’t feel embarrassed to call them if you need to talk to someone.

But if you’re anything like me, when things become too overwhelming you completely forget your own name, let alone mental health help-lines. So one way you can remind yourself of this option is to create a helpful list of numbers – such as, Lifeline, Suicide Prevention Helplines, the Salvation Army, your local hospital or mental health service – that you can call if things get too overwhelming. Once you’ve created your list place it on the fridge, next to the TV, on a prominent mirror, so that you always know where it is should you need it.

13. Be prepared

If, like me, you know that the Christmas period is going to be a challenging, stressful and unpleasant time, channel your inner-boy scout and be prepared.

Hopefully this list will have given you a few ideas you can put in place to ease the stress over the holiday period, but if not, perhaps sit down and try to come up with a few ideas that could ease the loneliness, anxiety and depressive thoughts; and once done, perhaps consider sharing your ideas in the comments field below.

With all the media hubbub and consumerist shenanigans that occur over this time of year, it’s all too easy to get caught up in the hurricane and swept away. But it doesn’t have to be like that.

Remember, we don’t plan to fail, we fail to plan; and this year I am planning for a healthy, safe and relatively stress-free Christmas. How about you?


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The Twelve Days of Christmas Blog Challenge

We all know the song, especially the undeniably contagious “Five gold rings!” line, but how many people know that the Twelve Days of Christmas are also known as Christmastide (or Twelvetide) and begin on Christmas Day, not (as the commercial calendar would have you believe) on the 14th December?

The Twelve Days of Christmas are celebrated in different fashions the world over. In Eastern Christianity, the Great Feast of Theophany (Epiphany) on 6 January is considered a higher-ranked feast than the Nativity (Christmas), and commemorates the Baptism of Jesus rather than the arrival of the Magi. Whereas in Western Christianity, each day following Christmas Day is a feast in memory of a Saint or event associated with the Christmas season.

In contemporary times, many in the UK still celebrate aspects of the Twelve Days of Christmas, whereas in the US, the traditions have been largely forgotten, replaced by more secular traditions and the ever-popular New Years Eve celebrations.

To celebrate this auspicious time, I’ve decided to begin something which I hope will become an annual tradition; the Twelve Days of Christmas Blog Challenge! A challenge that will see reflections on the year just gone and anticipations of the (no doubt) glorious year ahead!

This year marks the inaugural appearance of this challenge and it will commence on the 25th December. As with all blog challenges, it would be magnificent if other people played along (unless you’re all too busy munching on mince pies) so feel free to do so at your leisure! :)

The prompts, should you wish to play along, are outlined below and can be interpreted however you wish:

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The Twelve Days of Christmas Blog Challenge

Twelve Days of Christmas Blog Challenge_Large

Day 01 – 25th December – 1 Thing you got for Christmas
It might be something you got this year, last year or perhaps a favourite present from Christmases past!

Day 02 – 26th December – 2 Foods you can’t get through Christmas without
Are you a stickler for a traditional roast or do you favour a more eclectic array of food?

Day 03 – 27th December – 3 Favourite songs of 2013
I don’t know the actual figures but surely there have been tens of thousands of songs released over the last twelve months…so picking a mere three of them should be pretty simple. Or at least you’d think it would be!

Day 04 – 28th December – 4 Favourite movies (or TV Shows) of 2013
Are you a Game of Thrones fiend or an Iron Man aficionado? Now’s the time to share your pick of the entertainment industry’s output of the last twelve months.

Day 05 – 29th December – 5 Life lessons you learnt in 2013
Whether we realise it or not, we all learn something new every single day of our lives. So what have you learned in the year just gone?

Day 06 – 30th December – 6 Regrets from 2013
Today’s prompt is not about looking back with negativity, it is about identifying where we went wrong so we can take a more positive route in the future.

Day 07 – 31st December – 7 Wonderful things that happened in 2013
How many awesome things happened to you during the last twelve months? Surely picking just seven should be a piece of cake! :)

Day 08 – 1st January – 8 Minutes to share your opinion on New Year’s Resolutions
Some people swear by New Year’s Resolutions, others think they’re somewhat pointless…you have eight minutes of writing to outline what your thoughts on this annual tradition may be. And if you do make resolutions, why not share them?

Day 09 – 2nd January – 9 Places you’d like to visit in 2014
Take a moment in this hectic period to forget about your credit card statement and financial situation. If money were no object – where would you like to visit during the oncoming year?

Day 10 – 3rd January – 10 Books you’d like to read in 2014
Maybe you’re itching to read an upcoming release or catch up on some literary classics, whatever books you’re looking forward to reading, why not share them so others can add them to their list of books to read next year?

Day 11 – 4th January – 11 Memories from Christmastide throughout your life
This time of year is often seen as one of reflection, so why not spend a few moments reflecting on your life so far and share eleven memories that occurred at some point during the various twelve days of Christmas you’ve lived through so far.

Day 12 – 5th January – 12 Goals for 2014
And for the finale, the biggie: what do you want to achieve throughout the year ahead?

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So there we have it, twelve (relatively) simple prompts to keep yourself (and others) entertained throughout the Christmas and New Year period. If you do decide to play along, please remember to link up via the comments field so I can keep people abreast of all the magnificent answers that are floating around in cyber-space.

I for one am looking forward to embarking on this challenge…probably more so than the big day itself!