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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SOC: How do I live the life I deserve to live?

This post was written as a Stream of Consciousness on Tuesday 8 September 2015 between 9:52 – 10:24am. Apologies for any grammatical or spelling errors that occur throughout, they are part and parcel of stream of consciousness writing.

Federation Square Abstract

Before going on holiday, I was apprehensive. Melbourne has been the staging ground of some of the worst, most abhorrent, actions that have ever been inflicted upon me.

It was in Melbourne where I was emotionally abused to the point of suicide and homelessness; emotional abuse that cost me my tertiary education, my income, my social and support network, every possession I’d ever owned and left me a terrified, hollowed out shell of the person I once was; emotional abuse that has caused a lifetime of lost opportunities and trauma of the like I’ve never before, or since, experienced.

It was in Melbourne where I found myself homeless, eking out an existence on the streets of Victoria’s capitol, scrounging for food in bins, begging for loose change on the streets, and doing whatever I could to survive in spite of my new-found station in life as the world’s biggest loser. This too caused untold psychological damage and trauma that I haven’t even begun to deal with.

It was in Melbourne where I was physically assaulted, not once, not twice, but several times. On some occasions I was doing nothing but sitting in a park when a gaggle of alcohol/drug fueled sociopaths set upon me for their own entertainment. On other occasions the assaults were warranted; when I intervened upon seeing a boyfriend beating up his girlfriend, when I refused to hand over money in a run-down boarding house. But whether warranted or not, each assault inflicted emotional damage, each assault traumatized me.

So before going on holiday I was apprehensive. How easily would my traumas be triggered? What emotional pain would I find myself revisiting? How would I control the surge of PTSD symptoms that would inevitably overpower me? How much of my holiday would be lost to the memories of nightmares past?

So colour me surprised when nothing happened. Walking around the Kings Domain, my old ‘home’ throughout my homelessness, brought back memories, but they didn’t come close to overwhelming me as much as I thought they would. Traipsing around my old haunts of Carlton and Fitzroy, major locations throughout my abusive relationship, became more nostalgic than triggering. Even lazing around the city’s alleyways and open spaces, key locations of my various assaults, were more relaxing and subdued than nightmarish or painful. The PTSD that I expected to overwhelm me was only a problem for a brief few hours, brought on by tiredness and exhaustion instead of memories and triggers. And even when the PTSD overwhelmed me, I was able to control it, I was able to occupy my mind with beautiful art or a canister of Cherry Coke, instead of losing myself to the pain of times past.

All of my fears. All of my apprehension. All of my nervousness about Melbourne. Everything I feared proved unnecessary; a complete waste of energy.

My time in Melbourne, rather than being a carefully balanced nightmare of trauma and psychological distress, was a wonderful escape from the terror that (usually) dominates my mind. It was not Melbourne that I should have been afraid of…it was Wodonga.

Since my return two weeks ago, I have been so stressed, so wound up, so overcome with nervous energy, that I’m surprised I haven’t had a heart attack! Not a single minute, not a single second, has seen me as calm, relaxed and happy as I was in Melbourne. I’ve just been well and truly overwhelmed by anxiety, by depression, by PTSD symptoms and the resultant stress that these conditions create.

Hours have been lost to violent, volatile conversations with the ghost of my abuser. There are no triggers in this town of her sociopathic narcissism. There are no reminders of the vile, cruel attacks that she used to direct upon me. But flashbacks, reliving and nightmares have dominated since I returned to this quiet, sleepy little town.

In Melbourne, I was regularly walking past hundreds of people a minute, but not once (not once) did my anxiety present any problems with this. There were no anxiety attacks. There were no panic attacks. There was just me, losing myself into the breathing heart of the city. But since my return, the anxiety has reigned supreme. Within an hour of returning I walked to the supermarket, passed one person, and suffered a crippling panic attack that left me a jittery, bawling wreck on the side of the road. Hundreds of people in Melbourne I could deal with; but one person in Wodonga overwhelmed me.

Throughout my week in Melbourne depression never entered the equation. I was happier than I’d been in years. I was skipping down the street, singing songs to myself and, unless I was taking selfies (I never smile in photographs), had a stupid grin plastered to my face. But back in Wodonga? I don’t remember how to smile; I walk around with a glum and gloomy expression on my face because happiness has escaped my soul; replaced with a dark, black, bleakness as I topple on the abyss between life and death.

I never once though of ending my life when I was in Melbourne; but since being back in Wodonga, the suicidal thoughts have returned, overpowering my belief that I’m a decent person and leaving me convinced that this world, and everyone in it, would be better off without me. After all, what do I bring to the world? What magic do I pass on to the lives of others? I’m just nothing. A nobody. This world would be better off without me. That I’m convinced of; when I’m in Wodonga.

And that is the crux of the issue, the life lesson that my holiday in Melbourne taught me; the major problem in my life isn’t my anxiety, isn’t my PTSD, it isn’t my depression, bipolar or suicidal ideation. My major problem in life is Wodonga, this sleepy hamlet where there is nothing to do, nothing to feed my passions and nothing to occupy the cravings of my mind. For me to get better, for me to recover, for me to live the life I deserve to live, I need to leave this place. And I need to leave soon, before the stress-caused heart attack strikes and I am taken from this world forever.

But how?

How does someone living in abject poverty move house?

Yes, I’ve reached the conclusion that I need to leave this suffocating town, but there is no way I can. The money I receive from the government doesn’t  cover my costs as it is. Last week I had to humiliate myself at the food bank as I couldn’t afford to feed myself. Whilst I’m walking around with a hole in the crotch of my jeans so big that I can put my hand through it, but the measly DSP I receive won’t allow for the cost of a new pair. So how do I realise my realisation and leave this unhealthy place when I can’t afford accommodation, can’t afford deposits, can’t afford anything?

The thought of being trapped here stresses me out something rotten, but that’s exactly when I am; trapped. Enslaved within a town that is damaging and detrimental to my mental health because, as I live in abject poverty, I have no choice of where I live or what I do with my life. Life. I don’t have one in Wodonga. I just have pain and trauma. I just have stress and depression. I could have a life somewhere else. Somewhere like Melbourne or London or Glasgow or Edinburgh or Inverness. Somewhere where my heart would be allowed to sing and I could occupy myself with cultural, artistic and inspirational pursuits. Where I could distract myself from the trauma of my life and allow myself to skip and sing and be happy.

But how?

Before going on holiday I was apprehensive. I thought I would be overwhelmed with pain, but instead I was showered with happiness. The pain came when I returned to the town that I hate; the town that, for better or worse, I have been forced through poverty, through lack of choice, to call home.

A town that will continue to suck the life from me until I’m nothing but the empty, worthless, shell of the man I once could have been.

 

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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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Roadblocks to Recovery: #4. Home is where the heart is

Being homeless is more than just being without a roof over your head. It is being without comfort, without security, without love. It is being without any of the things that most people take for granted in life. When you’re homeless, your life becomes about one thing; survival. It is about finding food to provide sustenance, it is about finding water to imbibe, and it is about doing whatever you can to get through each day and each long, never-ending night. Some homeless people sleep with knives and/or clubs to offer a layer of protection should someone attack you in the night. Some homeless people have the emergency services on speed dial on their phone, just in case the daily onslaught of abuse you receive from those more-fortunate than you turns nasty.

I know this because I was one of those people. For years of my life my home was a park just south of the Melbourne CBD. I slept with a stick that I wrenched off a tree; I had the emergency services on speed dial. My ‘home’ was a patch of grass; no comfort, no security, no love. It was, without question, one of the most brutal periods of my life – but it was a period that taught me something; it taught me the value of ‘home’.

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My ‘home’ was a patch of grass beneath a tree; no comfort, no security, no love.

Ever since I moved into my unit in February 2012, I have felt grateful for having a roof over my head. I’ve felt grateful for not having to sleep with a stick digging into my ribs and for having some semblance of security and comfort around me. In fact, I would go so far as to say that I’ve felt gratitude of the like most people couldn’t even conceive of, because my life has been, almost literally, in the gutter. But this gratitude still doesn’t detract from the fact I don’t – and have never – felt at ‘home’ where I live. It has always been a case of ‘the place I sleep’ or ‘the place I live’ rather than home, and that is because I know – and have always known – that my heart isn’t in it. And home, for me, has always been intrinsically linked with heart.

When I was growing up in Portlethen, on the east coast of Scotland, I liked where I was living. I felt at home in our house. I felt at home traversing the various streets and alleyways of the town. And I felt at home playing amidst the various brooks, burns and open spaces the township had to offer.

When I was growing up in Caldicot, on the south coast of Wales, I didn’t like where I was living. I hated the house in which we lived. I disliked the various streets and alleyways of the town. And I rarely, if ever, played amidst the various fields, parks and open spaces the township had to offer.

So it comes as no surprise to me that the latter – Caldicot – is where my mental health began to deteriorate. Sure, my age had something to do with it, but I have always linked my lack of ‘home’ to my increasing depression and anxiety. Being somewhere so devoid of comfort, so devoid of security, so devoid of love, can have a devastating effect on ones mental health.

After living in Caldicot for the better part of my teenage years, I finally realised that I was able to assert my adulthood and move somewhere that I actually liked. Within months of this decision I was back in Scotland, this time in the north, living in the city of Inverness. And I found almost instantaneous solace amidst the river, islands and back streets of this fair city. Within minutes of being there I felt ‘at home’; I could feel a weight being lifted from my soul, I could sense my depression easing, I could sense my anxiety waning. Years of pain that Caldicot had inflicted on me were being undone, simply from living somewhere that I was passionate about, somewhere that provided me the safety and warmth that I crave from a home.

And herein lies one of the fundamental problems that is plaguing my hopelessness today; however grateful I am for the roof that I have over my head, I cannot deny that it does not – and has never – felt like home. Not the unit that I call home. Not the town that houses that unit. None of it stirs my soul. None of it lights a fire in my heart. All this town is doing is slowly depleting my strength. It has become, over the last few years, a major trigger; impacting on my depression, PTSD and anxiety in ways that I could never have comprehended when I ended up here during my homelessness.

I need to be somewhere I feel passionate about; I need to live somewhere that I feel comfortable. It is as important to me as the most necessary components of human life; food, water and love. If I’m not happy where I live, then it stands to reason, that I’m not going to happy within myself.

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However grateful I am for the roof that I have over my head, I cannot deny that it does not – and has never – felt like home.

So what can be done about it.

Firstly, I need to make the difficult decision that has been plaguing me for over a year, a decision that I wrote about just last week; I need to decide whether or not I want to make my future Australia, or whether I’m going to return home to the UK. Both options have their advantages, both their disadvantages, and I have been veering between the two for the last several months. Although I know no-one can make this decision for me, I’m still open to hear your opinions and advice, given this is such an important and life-altering decision.

But until I make that choice, there are other things I could do to improve my sense of home:

Secondly, I could invest some money into decorating my unit. I’m not talking about painting and wallpapering, I don’t think my lease would allow such drastic alteration to the premises. I’m talking about fitting it with furniture and decoration that I have chosen. The only furniture I currently have was donated to me by a charity when I first moved in. They gave me a bed, a table and chairs, and a couch. I had no say in the style of furniture, I had no choice in the matter, I was just grateful for the help. But now I want that choice; I want to live somewhere that looks the way I want it to look.

Thirdly, I need to find the ‘love’ that makes a home a home. And this is where the social anxiety has an impact. I know that if I had friends, and/or a relationship, my sense of home in both my unit and the town in which I live, would improve. Love always has that effect. But to find those friends and/or a relationship whilst suffering from social anxiety is all but impossible, so I need to improve that, in order to improve my sense of home.

Fourthly, I could move to somewhere else in Australia. The only reason I moved to this town was because I couldn’t find accommodation in Melbourne. I didn’t choose this town. I didn’t opt to live here. I just ended up here because I had nowhere else to go. So moving somewhere that was my choice; moving somewhere that I wanted to be, may be the best thing for me. But this opens up a whole kettle of fish in regards to my finances that I’m not sure I would be able to deal with, for the last thing I want is to be homeless again. I may have survived it once, but that doesn’t mean I want to end up back in that park with a stick digging into my ribs night after night.

Fifthly, well, I can’t think of a fifth option right now so I’ll have to leave it there.

Unlike the previous installments of this series, this is a problem area of my life that I do have some semblance of control over. I could decide to leave this town tomorrow – and probably be happier for it – but the constant threat of homelessness prevents me from doing so. I know I need to improve my sense of home, I know that this would improve my hopelessness and other mental health issues, I just need to make some difficult choices.

Previous installments in ‘Roadblocks to Recovery’:


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30 Day Self Harm Awareness Challenge: Day 02

Today’s prompt in the 30 Day Self Harm Awareness Challenge asks
What part of your body is most affected by it?

When I look back on the twenty-two years that I’ve been self-harming, I realise that the body parts most affected have changed as I’ve grown older. As a young teenager I would focus my self-harm almost exclusively on my legs (mainly upper thighs) as I could easily hide the cuts with my school trousers and jeans.

But as I grew older – into my late teens and early twenties – I tended to focus my self-harm on my arms, back and buttocks (the latter two being achieved through self-flagellation with a belt). As it had been when I was young teenager, this was primarily so I could hide the marks from the prying eyes of other people but also because I had become concerned over the scars on my legs and felt I needed to assault a different part of my body in order to give them a ‘chance to heal’.

After my breakdown in 2007 – one of the wildest periods of self-harm in my life – no part of my body was immune to being self-harmed; legs (both upper and lower), feet, arms, chest, stomach, back, buttocks…everything had some degree of injury upon it. Even eternally visible parts of my body (such as my hands and head) were adorned with the clear cuts of self-harm meaning that, for the first time in my life, other people could clearly see what I was doing to myself. But at this point in time I no longer cared. My mind had disintegrated and other people knowing I self-harmed was the last thing I had to worry about.

When I was homeless it was my arms and hands that bore the full brunt of my self-harming, mainly because they were the easiest parts of my body to access whilst living in the various parks and alleys that were my ‘home’ during this period.

But now I am more secure in my living arrangements, I have come full circle and tend to focus my self-harm exclusively on my legs as it is easier to hide the marks from other people (given I never wear shorts) and taps into the memories of my early days of self-harm and the emotional release I used to receive way back when.