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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I really hate change

One thing I don’t deal with very well is change. I think this is something that many people with mental health problems can probably relate to. I, like many, need some semblance of routine and order in my life. When something comes along that unsettles the carefully balanced apple cart of my life, my brain is sent scattering like the aforementioned apples bouncing away from the safety of their cart.

Yesterday, I discovered that change is afoot, and I am not coping with it at all. In fact – given how depressed, lost, confused and alone I’ve been feeling over the last several weeks – I’m a bit of an emotional wreck, truth be told.

Basically, the mental health organisation I’ve been utilising over the last eighteen months has had its funding pulled by the government; which means I will be losing my support worker in mid-late June. This may not sound like much, but it took me a long time to build a trusting relationship with this person and the thought of losing their support has totally freaked me out.

I have no idea how this is going to impact on my life. I’ve been told they will try to help find me a new support worker via a different organisation, but this is fraught with difficulties (given my lack of psychiatric support and anxiety issues) and may ultimately amount to nothing.

In fact, all I do know at the moment is that I’m not happy about the change and wish it wasn’t happening.

But it is… :(


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Reflections on being homeless, Part 7

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

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

And I still don’t.

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

For this is the story of Marcus Kelman*.

-●-

I need a hug! (Day 682)

On the 21st June 2011 I sat in a small alley near Southern Cross station. It was drizzling with rain. I was tired, exhausted, confused and in desperate need of a hug.

It had been a long and emotional weekend, partly because of the far-too-obvious ending to A Good Man Goes To War, mostly because reminders of my past life were everywhere I turned; my Sunday ritual had prompted a smile followed by a panic attack; a walk down a random street had flustered me with un-needed memories and I discovered something that forced me off of a website I had grown to love.

As I sat in that damp, cold alley, I talked to my father on the phone and he decided enough was enough and, after leaving me and my bag to find somewhere safe to sleep for the night (my old park, for the first time in many months), he sent some emails.

Huh?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All of them in my handwriting.

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

The life (and times) of Marcus Kelman

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

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

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

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

Putting the pieces together (Day 828)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dazed and Confused (Day 832 – 898)

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

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

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

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

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

-●-

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

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

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

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

 


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So can anybody tell me how you do it?

The only way I can begin this post is to acknowledge how weak my posts have been this week. Every day I’ve returned to my blog to re-read what I’d written the day before, and each day I’ve come away disappointed. This dislike of my writing is hardly new. In the five years I’ve been writing this blog I’ve only ever been truly happy with five or six posts, the remainder becoming ‘things I failed to write properly’ or ‘things I failed at’.

Deep down I know this is my illness, the perpetual cycling of mood making it difficult to focus on what I’m doing. But knowing this isn’t the same as believing it.  And the more I believe in my worthlessness, the harder it becomes to create the content I yearn to produce.

So as I lie here after only six hours sleep in the last thirteen days, after four anxiety fuelling appointments in three days, after a 10km walk at 5am, I have already begun berating myself for not being able to voice my opinions on the issues of the week.

In Australia same-sex marriage dominated the press, a topic I have been passionate about for years, yet all I can think to write is:

1) Same-sex marriage should be legalised, effective immediately.
2) Same-sex marriage will not lead to an increase in bestiality.
3) Bestiality is spelt as I have just spelt it, not beastiality as large swathes of people seem to think.

Because nothing will ever change my mind on this topic and I’m tired of the endless debate surrounding this issue. Like unemployment benefits, like abuse, like the majority of issues that the media reports on, sooner or later the conversation needs to end and action taken.

I’m also tired of the media watering down events. Last week it was revealed that whilst at university, Tony Abbott punched a wall inches away from a female rival. Such an act of aggression, of violence, is disturbing. Yet some of the coverage it received was far too forgiving and sympathetic, once again reinforcing the belief that domestic violence is both acceptable and deserving. Which it isn’t, under any circumstances!

Of course, the issue of religion reared its ugly head once again, but my brain is too weak to voice my opinion on this. Similarily for the ongoing misogynistic culture Australia is promoting; the debate about reducing the alcohol drink-drive limit; and (as above) the ongoing cost of power crisis that is causing untold mental and physical health problems amongst Australia’s most poverty-stricken families.

I have opinions on them all but can muster only: I hate misogyny in all forms and am so tired of men who think they can treat women so grotesquely; I don’t like alcohol or what it does to people so make the blood alcohol limit zero; how many people have to die before we do something serious about the energy bill crisis?

Thus, because of my failings, there is no issue of the week today. Instead, a request for help.

Yep, I wrote help…

I hate asking for help.

I hate having to go to a food bank and humiliate myself by admitting I’m too pathetic to be able to afford food.

I hate having to go to a pyschdoc to embarrass myself with endless discussion over my life’s mistakes.

I hate having to go to a friend and admit I am too weak, pathetic and stupid to deal with life’s problems.

I’ve been like this my entire life. When I was self-harming as a teenager I hid it from the world. When I became suicidal I thought I needed to fight through it myself. When I was struggling after a breakdown I felt I couldn’t talk to my friends in fear of ridicule and abandonment. When I was raped I felt I had to keep it secret out of shame. When I became homeless I refused assistance in case it was confirming my worthlessness. Over and over in my life I convinced myself to cope with everything alone to prove I was worthy.

Only, it just made everything worse.

So can anybody tell me how you do it? Not just how you ask for help but everything.

How do you summon the confidence to connect with the world? To communicate and converse with people you like; to not spend days on end re-writing comments or tweets; to put your opinion out there without suffering a panic attack?

How do you curb self-critical behaviour? To just believe in yourself and what you’re doing; to find the courage to be who you want to be regardless of what other people may think?

How do you forgive yourself? To embrace your inner-self with warmth over the wrongs you’ve done rather than dwell on them for an eternity?

How do you control the demons within you? To summon the focus without flitting between thoughts at a million miles an hour?

How do you beat the triggers? To be able to listen to the radio without freaking out; to be able to read articles on suicide without becoming overwhelmed; to be able to listen to a song without a minor-breakdown?

Never did I think I was perfect, but I thought I was doing okay. I thought I had implemented a decent array of safety measures that enabled me to cope with the bipolar, anxiety and chaos that reigns in my mind, but recently I’ve been questioning this. Each day the loneliness cloaks me like a dense fog and obscures my thoughts to the point of stagnation. I read Twitter feeds and envy the ease at which people write witty retorts, marvel at the focussed beauty of other’s posts, admire the ease at which people voice their opinion, and scold myself for being a failure, for being wrong, for being everything but normal

I guess I’m just tired of trying to do everything by myself. Balancing bipolar with severe anxiety whilst trying to access help, support services, disability pensions whilst trying to figure out what I did that was so wrong whilst trying to be a productive member of society whilst spending every minute of my life alone. I’m trying to put myself out there, connect with people, build the life I want, but it just feels like every step I take I end up four steps backward.

I guess I’m just having a whine as it’s one of those days.

Sorry.

But if you have any advice I’ll bake you a virtual cupcake – with the topping of your choice :)

Five things I learned this week

dead SIM

1. SIM cards will just inexplicably stop working for no reason causing you to have to buy a new one.
2. Trying to write a comprehensible blog post after six hours sleep in thirteen days is nigh on impossible.
3. “Digital Estate Planning” is one of the most brilliantly bizarre episodes of a sitcom, ever!
4. One person found my blog using the search term ‘advice on women who dance because of being homeless’.
5. Brian Cox was in Frasier.

Five things I plan to do next week

Bipolar Disorder

Once again my fluctuating moods had an adverse effect on my plans this week. I gave up on reading The Comfort of Our Kind not because it was bad (I was quite enjoying it) but when I’m so unfocused I can’t concentrate on reading. This lack of concentration also saw it impossible for me to focus on Homeland, instead resorting to Frasier marathons to keep me sane.

However much I want to, I can’t blame my moods on my failure to post a weekly series this week. Most of the posts are written, I just couldn’t muster the courage to post them. Perhaps next week. Whilst in the social world I did make two new friends on the social networking site, took a few steps closer toward attending an actual social event (I’ll keep you posted) and managed to post comments – which is something to be proud of, even if it wasn’t an every day occurence.

I also directly mentioned the author of an article I liked in a tweet, which is a very rare occurence for me!

Perhaps next week, if my moods settle, I will be more productive:

1. Write better blog posts!
2. Import the original Blogspot posts to increase the archive of this blog.
3. (Re)complete my DSP application and submit.
4. Post at least one constructive comment a day, anywhere on the internet.
5. Increase my Twitter followers to at least 200.

Linky Love

My five favourite posts I published this week, in case you missed them, are:

1. My Sister and Me (2): Anorexia Nervosa
2. My Sister and Me (1): Childhood, the most beautiful of life’s seasons
3. 20 Dreams I have…
4. Twenty of the Best: George Mackay Brown, A Poet’s Magic
5. 19 Quotes I love…

and five posts that other people wrote that rocked my world, are:

1. The Age (Daily Life): The Undiagnosable
2. Bipolar Burble: Escaping a Bipolar Brain
3. Anne Summers: Her Rights to Work: The Political Persecution of Australia’s First Female Prime Minister (R-Rated)
4. The Conversation: Housing stress and energy poverty – a deadly mix?
5. The Age: The science of a break-up

And finally…

My three favourite photographs of the week:

View from Stac Pollaidh, Assynt, Scotland

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Mama in the Corner

Disclaimer
I do not claim ownership of these photographs.
Copyright remains with the individual artist.
Please click each image to view their Flickr gallery.