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 02. A good day in the Victorian capital

So after yesterday’s arrival in Melbourne, it was on Thursday 20th August that the real fun began. My first full day in Melbourne since November 2013 was jam-packed with beautiful art, nostalgic reminiscence and photography sessions by the Yarra river. So why not join me as my adventures in Melbourne continue…

20th August 2015, 6:19pm
Room 211, Flagstaff City Inn

BIG day! I was über-keen to leave this morning. Up and out by 8:45am – in the city by nine! Seriously, I couldn’t believe how early I got going this morning. It was nice. I had an early (unhealthy) bite to eat at Hungry Jacks (which reminded me of my homelessness as, when I could afford it, I would treat myself to a sausage and egg muffin to kick-start my day) before chilling in Federation Square whilst waiting for the The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia to open. Once it did I was in the door and rampantly seeking out The Pioneer. It wasn’t on display last time I was in Melbourne but today it was – and it was magnificent! Easily one of the greatest paintings of all time. After snapping off several photos (including some hideous Pioneer selfies!) I embarked on a tour of the rest of the building. Some of the galleries were closed but there was still a plethora of beautiful art on display including several Fred Williams and Sidney Nolan’s.

Pioneer Selfie!

Pioneer Selfie!

Various (Sidney Nolan)

Various (Sidney Nolan)

Fred Williams Selfie!

Fred Williams Selfie!

After having my fill of the gallery I set off on a walk around the city and – shock! – discovered a second-hand bookstore hidden away down a rickety flight of stairs on Flinders Street. I didn’t buy anything – there will be time for that later – but I did savor being around so many lovely, beautiful books again. It made me realise how much I miss bookshops. Wodonga, alas, has none – which is yet another reason I hate my adopted ‘home’.

City Basement Books; the only second hand bookstore in Melbourne CBD!

City Basement Books; the only second-hand bookstore in Melbourne CBD!

With literature on my mind I strolled across Princes Bridge and began my tour of the NGV International. I’ve noticed over the years that the collection doesn’t change as much as the Ian Potter Centre, but what a collection! I couldn’t see The Banquet of Cleopatra all that clearly as a school group was camped out in front of the painting, but I fell in love with a painting depicting the aftermath of the Glencoe Massacre and then fell in lust with a ravishing patron who was studying a painting in the 20th Century section. Shay took great pains to inform me of her spectacular arse, which I had already noticed as, last time I checked, I had eyes!

After the Massacre of Glencoe (Peter Graham)

After the Massacre of Glencoe (Peter Graham)

After I’d suffered art overload it was time for a comedown, so I meandered over to my old home at the Kings Domain and spent half an hour wallowing in memory and nostalgia. The bridge under which I slept is now awash with water but all my other sleeping spots were relatively unchanged. Various fences, however, have sprung up and the only reason for them seems to be as a homeless deterrent, which is a shame, but it was exceedingly strange being back in my old stomping ground. It’s been five years since I was living in the Kings Domain. Another life. Another Addy. Sometimes I can’t believe I actually survived that brutal, unforgiving time. Perhaps I’m stronger than I think I am.

To ease my mind after the onslaught of memories I took some time strolling around the city: Swanston Street, Collins Street, Bourke Street. Amazed at how much it’s changed. Stunned by how similar it is. I did break my budget by buying two DVDs from one of my old haunts (Jericho and The Guild) but they were super cheap ($12 for the two) and I’m not able to get them in Albury/Wodonga so I don’t feel too bad. After a miniature coke break it was time to wander Birrarung Marr, take photos along the Yarra and then a mini jaunt through ACMI and its two free displays. By this point I was pretty tired so window shopped down Elizabeth Street on my way back to the motel.

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It was bittersweet being in Melbourne today. I’ve always loved this city but is has has changed. It’s more posh, more hipster. It’s lost some of the cheap and cheerful vibe it used to have. Presumably so Melbournians can continue their pointless quest to prove themselves better than Sydneysiders. The sad fact is they don’t need to try so hard. Melbourne is better than Sydney. Always has been. Always will be. But if it keeps changing to placate the will of the hipster brigade it’ll screw with what makes it so beautiful, so unique, so charming. Anyway, what I did notice today was that the only happy people I encountered were tourists. Locals – Melbournians – were a right miserable, grumpy lot. All frowns and despondent faces. They’re supposed to live in the most livable city in the world. Surely they should be happy about that. But no. Grumpy, grumpy, grumble bums – the lot of them!

Looking down the Yarra River toward Melbourne CBD...

Looking down the Yarra River toward Melbourne CBD.

As for the rest of my evening, it’s just gonna be a quiet one in front of the TV I’m afraid. Which is a luxury in itself, given I don’t get reception at home! Doctor Who is on, followed by The Weekly, The IT Crowd and Good Game. All in all though today’s been a good day – one of the best for quite some time, in fact!


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25 Songs, 25 Days: Journey of the Featherless

Day 08: A song that makes you hopeful

Journey of the Featherless | Cloud Cult

whenaddywashomeless2

My home; circa 2010.

One of the most desperate and hopeless periods of my life were the five years I spent homeless. I had no security, no comfort and no love. My days were an endless cycle of survival and time-killing. My nights, a bleak nightmare of little sleep and total discomfort.

In order to survive the nightmare, I would spend my days in the Melbourne City Library. I would read the newspapers, browse the book stacks and listen to CDs on the in-house music system. Sometimes I would listen to music I knew, music that soothed my soul and showered me with waves of contentment. Other times I would take a chance, pulling a CD from the shelf that I had never heard of, just to hear something new, something different.

One such CD was Feel Good Ghosts (Tea-Partying Through Tornadoes) by a group I had never encountered before, Cloud Cult. I was immediately taken by the intricate blend of instruments and canny, clever lyrics. Over time it became a CD I turned to when feeling lost, when feeling hopeless, because I knew it would enliven me to keep going, to keep fighting the good fight. Over time it became an anthem for my homelessness.

I still turn to the CD when feeling lost and overwhelmed. It reminds me of a bleak and disparate period of my life. A period of my life that I thought was going to consume me until, with much assistance, I found the strength to break free of its bonds.

This CD, more than any other, reminds me that hope is the one thing you can never lose, for without it, you are nothing.


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Reflections on being homeless, Epilogue

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, in this special epilogue, I look at an aspect of homelessness many people overlook…

PREVIOUS INSTALLMENTS
| PART 1 | PART 2 | PART 3 | PART 4 | PART 5 | PART 6 | PART 7 | PART 8 |

The first week

The first meal I cooked in my new house – on the 24th February 2012 – was jacket potatoes with cheese and butter. Ever since I was a teenager, this has been a tradition of mine. Whenever I move into a new place, I cook myself my favourite meal in celebration. I used to do it when I moved rooms in my parent’s house. I indulged in it throughout my backpacking odyssey and in every new unit/home I’ve had since. Usually I would have a table to eat off. Usually I would have a plate and cutlery. But on this occasion, after moving into my new unit from homelessness, I had nothing. All I had were my hands; so consuming such a meal was a decidedly messy (though thoroughly enjoyable) experience.

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Me; not long after moving into my unit in 2012.

In fact, that first weekend, the only thing stopping people from realising I was homeless was that I had a roof over my head. I had nothing else. No furniture. No nick-knacks. No nothing. I didn’t even have electricity for the first 24 hours I was in my new home. All I did was sit on the floor, sleep on the floor and stare at the ceiling of my new abode. It wasn’t until the Monday after I moved in, five days of being in my new house, was I able to organise for some furniture for this next chapter of my life. Courtesy of a local charity, I was able to obtain a bed, sofa, table, fridge, portable cooler, crockery and cutlery, and moving these items into my new premises was a delightful and (dare I say) orgasmic experience.

No longer would I have to sleep on a hard surface wrapped in disheveled blankets. No longer would I have to sit on a carpeted stone floor. No longer would I have to eat my food like a mindless savage. I could live like other people did.

So why did I spend the next four weeks sleeping on the floor?

The mindset of a homeless man

I had been sleeping rough for nearly three years when I moved into my unit. My bed had been benches. My bed had been patches of grass beneath trees. My bed had been the cold hard concrete beside toilet blocks. All I had for comfort and security were my blankets. I had no mattress. I had no duvet. I had nothing that most people would associate with sleeping comfortably. And throughout it all, complete strangers to me, random people on the street, had continuously hurled comment after critique after insult at me; they had abused me into believing I didn’t deserve to have any of the comforts most ‘normal’ people take for granted. So when I moved into my unit, when I gained a bed that I should have been overjoyed to sleep in, I wasn’t able to enjoy the comfort. I felt I needed to be punished. I felt I didn’t deserve to have a bed. So I didn’t sleep in it.

For four long weeks I slept on the hard, carpeted stone floor next to my bed. It was uncomfortable, to say the least, but the years of abuse had made me believe this was all I deserved. Whenever I thought about venturing into the bed, my mind was quick to rehash all the abuse I had received, it was quick to point out dozens of reasons that I didn’t deserve to sleep in the bed. So I didn’t. I just kept sleeping amidst my assortment of disheveled blankets.

But that wasn’t the worse of it.

On three nights, after moving into my unit, after finally gaining somewhere secure and indoors to sleep, I ventured outside to sleep rough in the park close to where I live. It was because of the abuse I received, it was because of the same reason I slept on the floor; I didn’t feel I deserved anything better. Parks had been my home for years. Parks had been kind to me. They had offered me protection.  So in those early days of ex-homelessness, I returned to the solace of the outdoors to soothe my troubled soul.

I can still remember the day I stopped doing this. I can still remember the moment that I decided, finally, that I should start sleeping in my bed. It was late one balmy summer’s night, the heat had been suffocating me all day and I was dead-tired after four weeks of little to no sleep. All I wanted was to sleep through the night. All I wanted was comfort. Was security. All I wanted was to feel loved. So after tossing and turning on the floor for several hours, unable to get comfortable on the hard, carpeted stone, I threw my blankets aside, rose up and jumped onto the bed. It felt weird. It felt wrong. It felt anything but natural. But I stayed there, curling up into the mattress, covering myself with the duvet, and almost instantly fell asleep.

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My bed, and improvised bedside table, circa 2012.

From that moment on something must have tripped in my mind, for the next night I immediately went to the bed, rather than the floor. And the night after that. And the night after that. I never slept on the floor again. I never ventured outside to sleep in the park. My days of homelessness, of lack of comfort, of not-sleeping rough, were over. I had a home. And, finally, I had a bed.

The Meaning of Life

When you are homeless your life revolves around one thing; survival. Everything you do. Everything moment of your life is about that one thing. It is about surviving the minute, surviving the hour, surviving the night. You don’t have time to do anything else. You don’t have the energy to do anything else. You sleep with a weapon close to your body in case someone assaults you during the night. You find somewhere to stow your bags during the day, hoping that your hiding place will be good enough to keep them hidden. You fill your time with pointless activities, such as reading newspapers at the library, or the odd spot of begging on the street. Everything you do becomes about survival. Everything you do revolves around keeping you safe. You don’t have conversations with people out of fear they will abuse you; and they often will. You don’t do anything that ‘normal’ people do, such as work, such as meet for drinks, such as kill time with friends. All you do is survive the minute, survive the hour, survive the night.

But when you get a home. When you finally succeed in doing what everyone has been telling you to do; to get off the streets. What do you do?

My life was no longer about survival; I had a roof over my head, I had access to cooking facilities, I had space and time to do what I pleased.

But I did nothing.

For three long months I did absolutely nothing but stare at the walls, stare at the ceiling, stare at the floor, and go slowly insane in my ‘home’. I couldn’t muster the energy to do anything. And even if I could have mustered the energy I didn’t know what to do. My life had been about the same thing for so long, my life had revolved around survival for so many years, that now I didn’t have to survive – now that I could live – I didn’t know what to do. I read some books. I read some more books. I twiddled my thumbs. I didn’t have a television so I couldn’t watch TV. I didn’t have a computer so I couldn’t surf the internet. I had nothing to do but stare at the walls and wile my hours away.

And it was boring; really, totally, unimaginably boring.

What saved me was my counselor. For months I had been seeing him to deal with my gambling issues. Every week, without fail, I would venture down the road and spend an hour discussing ‘life’ with my counselor. We would talk about what I had done (nothing), what I wanted to do (something) and what I had been doing for the last few years (surviving). We talked about how difficult it was to live after spending so long surviving. How people don’t understand how difficult it is to learn how to live again after being homeless for so long. People seem to think that you get a house and everything is better; but we talked about how this wasn’t the case. How it’s not as simple as that. How difficult ‘life’ is after feeling like death for so many years.

Then, out of the blue, he phoned me one afternoon. The organisation he worked for was upgrading their computer system and there was a PC going free, if I wanted it. I leapt at the opportunity immediately and within days he was bringing me a computer. All I had to do was obtain a copy of Windows and it would be good to go. This was achieved with a phone call to my parents, who tracked down a free copy courtesy of a contact they had. Weeks later it arrived in the mail, the disc was inserted into the drive and within an hour it was up and running.

And the first thing I did was type in a website address: http://www.wordpress.com.

My blog had saved me once before. My blog had given me direction when all had felt lost once before. Hopefully, it would do it again.

After months of feeling lost; after months of doing nothing; after months of nearly giving up; I had found hope again.

The first year

Being homeless had been one of the most brutal, unforgiving, periods of my life. There had been little pleasure. There had been little joy. What there had been was days of endless, incessant abuse; weeks of non-sleeping on concrete floors; months doing nothing but survive; and years feeling like a sub-human animal, an entity that deserved nothing but punishment and pain.

Getting my unit had taken time. It had taken energy. It had taken a huge amount of hard, dedicated work.

But finally I was able to start living again.

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My lounge room, about ten months after moving into my unit.

It wasn’t easy. It never is. That’s what people don’t understand. They think that getting an apartment, obtaining a home, is the be all and end all of homelessness. That if you just give a homeless person a home that will see their life sorted completely. But it isn’t as simple as that. Homelessness is all-consuming; it affects every aspect of your life, it affects your ability to live. Your life, when homeless, is nothing. It is beyond nothing. You are nothing.

After homelessness you not only have to learn how to live again, you have to learn that you deserve to live again.

Without my counselor, without his sage like advice and dedication toward helping me, there is a good chance I would have left my home and returned to life on the streets. It would have been easy for me to do, really easy. On the streets my life was sorted; it was all about survival. I didn’t have to worry about bills. I didn’t have to worry about what to cook, what to do or how to fill my day, because all of that is decided when you’re homeless. You don’t have choice. You have nothing but yourself.

But I was determined to live again. I was determined to learn how to live again. And with my counselor’s help I was able to get there. It took time, very nearly a year, but I was finally able to get to a place where I felt comfortable in my home, where I felt I deserved to have a bed and was able to fill my days with useful, worthwhile activities.

My time on the streets was in the past; and my future lay ahead of me.

But it wouldn’t have been without the support I’d received from my counselor. Without my counselor I would have ditched my unit, packed a bag and returned to life on the streets. That’s what people don’t understand. That’s what people need to start understanding. Giving a homeless person a home will not fix their problems. It will do nothing but give them a roof over their head. What homeless people need, what homeless people deserve, is support. Someone who will listen to their issues, understand the complexity of the problem, and assist them to start living again.

Fortunately, I had someone to help me. But not everyone does.

The solution to homelessness isn’t just housing; the solution to homelessness is continuous, professional support.

And people need to start understanding that for anything to change.


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Reflections on being homeless, Part 8

In August 2009 I became homeless. It was not a choice I made, it was a situation born out of mental illness, the trauma of emotional abuse and other factors beyond my control.

I was homeless until March 2012, when I finally gained a privately rented unit. In that time I slept in parks, alleys, boarding houses, tents and everywhere in between. I attempted suicide, lost all sense of reality and learned to both despise and love this world.

In this series I am looking back on my homelessness in an effort to understand what has happened to me as well as holding onto the hope that others will learn from what I have been through. Some memories are stronger than others, some more painful than others whilst some have been blocked completely.

Today, the end of my homelessness nears…

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

Christmas Under Canvas (Days 898 – 903)

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

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

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

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

My last suicide attempt (Day 907)

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

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

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

New Year, New Outlook (Days 909 – 939)

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

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

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

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

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

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

The thrall of light and sound

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

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

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

The phone call (Day 957)

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

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

The Last Days of Homelessness (Days 958 – 960)

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

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

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

The relief in his voice was palpable.

A new life (Day 1…)

Home

~ Home ~

 


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Reflections on being homeless, Part 7

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

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

And I still don’t.

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

For this is the story of Marcus Kelman*.

-●-

I need a hug! (Day 682)

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

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

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

Huh?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All of them in my handwriting.

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

The life (and times) of Marcus Kelman

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

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

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

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

Putting the pieces together (Day 828)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dazed and Confused (Day 832 – 898)

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

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

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

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

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

-●-

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

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

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

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

 


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World Homeless Day: Thirteen ways you can help the homeless

In addition to being World Mental Health Day, today is also World Homeless Day; a day to draw attention to homeless people’s needs and provide opportunities for the community to get involved in responding to homelessness.

To celebrate World Homeless Day 2013, I have decided to share thirteen ways in which you can help the homeless, most drawn from the five-years I spent as a person experiencing homelessness. This way, you have no excuse for not helping a homeless person on this most necessary (and often forgotten) of days! :)

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My ‘home’, circa 2010 | © Addy

1.  Educate yourself about homelessness
One of the first – and best – things you can do to help the homeless is find out who they really are. They may be someone who has lost their job, someone who is suffering from mental health problems or someone escaping an abusive relationship. They are rarely, if ever, the stereotype of the alcoholic-junkie who has chosen to be homeless that many people continue to believe in.

2. Donate money
This can either be given directly to a homeless person, or preferably via a charitable organisation whose soul aim is to assist the homeless. This money will then be used to provide food, clothing, emergency shelter and other necessary items, all of which go a long way to helping a homeless person on a day-to-day basis.

3. Give food
If a homeless person is asking you for money for food, why not offer to buy them a sandwich or some other foodstuff instead? It is a misconception that every beggar is looking for money for alcohol or drugs, many are simply hungry and will all-too-happily take you up on your generous offer. And remember: if you offer someone a ‘big mac’ and they refuse, they may not be lying to get money out of you, they may simply be a vegetarian or someone who doesn’t like red-meat (see item 12, below)

4.Donate clothing
Never underestimate the importance of a clean pair of socks or deliciously warm jacket. If you’re not comfortable donating money or food, why not donate clothing (or some new pairs of socks) to your local homeless organisation. These are items that are always required and will be most gratefully received.

5. Donate groceries
Homeless charities are always looking for donations of good quality, non-perishable foodstuffs. So why not organise a bag or box and donate them to your local food bank? Better yet, if you work for a food manufacturer, perhaps consider organising a regular donation to assist those most in need.

6. Volunteer at a soup kitchen or soup van
Virtually every major town and city in the world has a soup kitchen or van of some description. Why not take a few hours out of your week to volunteer at one (or both) of these. You’ll not only be nourishing a homeless person’s stomach, but nourishing their soul with your kindness.

7. Buy the Big Issue (or if you’re in the US, Street Sheet)
These magazines are sold by homeless people in virtually every major city. As well as being a cracking read, a percentage of every issue sold goes directly to the homeless person selling them. What could be better than that?

8. Organise a fund-raising event
Why not organise a charity event through your local school or business to help raise funds for your local homeless services. Car boot sales, raffles, trivia nights or cake stalls are always well received by the community, even more so when people know their time and money is going toward such a worthwhile cause.

9. Volunteer your services
Are you a doctor? Lawyer? Dentist? Psychiatrist? A homeless person may require some or all of these services, so why not donate your time to offer your professional services to those who are most in need of it?

10. Educate yourself as to what services are available in your area
Every town and city have organisations whose specific aim is to assist the homeless. If you were to find out where these organisation were and how they helped (i.e. whether it is with food, emergency housing, counseling etc.) you will be able to pass this on to a homeless person as and when the situation arises. Remember, just because they are homeless does not mean they are aware of all the services available to them. Some may just need a helping hand to get their life together again.

11. Don’t ignore a homeless person
Walking past a homeless person and pretending they are not there is cold, callous and shows them a complete lack of respect. Simply acknowledging their presence will be showing them a level of respect that they rarely, if ever, receive.

12. Treat a homeless person as the unique individual they are
Many people continually refer to homeless people as the homeless; a term that strips them off their uniqueness as a human being. A homeless person is just like you, your friends or family members. They have loves, passions, hopes, dreams, aspirations and everything else in between. So why not treat them as the unique and wonderful human being they are?

13. Talk to them
Quite possibly the simplest item on this list, but is still the one many people forget about. A homeless person is not only starved of food and shelter, they are also starved of human contact. The simple act of talking to them will most likely make their day in ways you couldn’t even begin to imagine! :)

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This moment – which saw me realise a life-long dream of hugging a wombat – was taken the same day as the photograph above. It would never have happened without the kindness of the wombat’s keeper, who treated me like a unique individual instead of just another one of ‘the homeless’, | © Addy

A selection of other articles I’ve written about homelessness: