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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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.


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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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2013: My year in blogging

Weekly Photo Challenge - Forward

My favourite of the “Weekly Photo Challenge” photographs (23 February 2013)

Over the course of the last twelve months I’ve published in excess of 265 blog posts. By some bloggers’ standards that’s nothing, but for me, blogging as I do about such niche topics as mental health, homelessness and the (occasionally kinky) life of a socially isolated outcast, it’s an achievement to be proud of. Although a large proportion of those 265 odd posts have been forgettable, time-killing garbage, some have shone my soul to the world for all to see.

As we approach the end of the year, I’ve found myself in quite a reflective (and uncharacteristically positive) mood.  To mark the end of twelve months of blogging, I’ve decided to share with you my favourite blog posts of the last twelve months.

So if you missed them on first publication – or have simply forgotten their unqualified brilliance – now’s the chance to (re)discover the blog posts that I’m especially proud of.

~ in order of being published ~

01. February 14thBeating Addiction Out of You…literally!

Courtesy of a lengthy depressive episode over the Christmas/New Year period I didn’t write all that many posts during the first month of this year, and what I did write was self-loathing, borderline suicidal ramblings. But that all changed on the 14th February when – after being inspired by an article in the Siberian Times – I wrote a piece that explored a rather radical form of psychological treatment; corporal punishment. Of course, being the somewhat random and obscure human being that I am, I concluded that I would be willing to give it a go. What about you?

If I were being completely honest – as I always strive to be on this blog – I would definitely be willing to give this course of therapy a chance. Over the years I have taken many different medications, undergone countless different therapies and tried every last thing I can think of that could help me get my life back on track. So far, very little of this has worked.

With my episode worsening and the recent collapse back into alcoholism, I’ve reached a point where I’m willing to give anything a shot – even if it means sacrificing my ability to sit comfortably! Although thinking about it, I’d much prefer this to some of the more severe side effects I’ve received from medication over the years!

02. February 14thHearing Voices: Introducing the People I Hear

This post was a turning point not only in the history of my blog, but also my life. Aside from a brief post back in 2007 and the occasional non-specific mention, I had never written about my voices before. But in this post I blew the secret wide open and introduced the primary five people who communicate with me on daily basis. So if you’re confused by the frequent references to Meadhbh (pronounced as Marie), Audrey, Vanessa and Shay, you can find out who they are here!

03. February 21stCoping Skills

In which I posted my responses to Indigo Daya’s superb ‘Coping Skills’ resource. To my surprise, over the last twelve months this post has become the second most read post on my blog!

04. February 25thCoping Skills: The Negative Thought Challenge

During the aforementioned ‘Coping Skills’ post, one of the coping skills featured was to make a list of all the negative thoughts that plague your mind and then write about how (and why) they are not true. Although I found it easy to list all the negative thoughts that my mind throws at me, convincing myself they weren’t true was a little more difficult, especially when it came to how I would react if a friend treated themselves in the manner that I treat myself.

If any of my friends thought like this I’d put them over my knee and spank some sense into them!

But once I’d been released from prison on assault charges (unless the spanking had been consensual, that is :p) I would sit them down and tell them how unhealthy it was to think like that, how brilliant, beautiful and awesome they are and how these thoughts were the product of low self-esteem, low self-confidence and (possible) mental health and abuse trauma related issues.

05. April 10thMi Recovery: The Biopsychosocial Model

Between April and June I underwent a psychosocial rehabilitation group called Mi Recovery. It was a peer led group that allowed sufferers of mental health issues to share their life’s experiences and create new coping mechanisms to help them deal with this crazy little thing called life.

One of the first things we looked at was the biopsychosocial model; specifically applying the causes, symptoms and treatment of our mental illness to this model. In this post I shared my own personal biopsychosocial model and encouraged others to create their own, based purely on how helpful the exercise had been for me.

06. April 14th101 Things that make me happy

As I’ve been writing this blog for over six years, I’m always looking for new challenges to undertake. In April of this year I decided to challenge myself to come up with a list of 101 things that make me happy. Some of them were poignant, some a little kinky, others completely random…but I did succeed.

Which makes me happy! :D

07. September 19thIf you care about what other people think, you will always be their prisoner

Of all the password protected posts I’ve written this year, this was my favourite. Not only because it was immensely personal, sharing as it did a rather private and embarrassing pastime, but because it revolved around memories of my friend Samantha and the life lessons the simple act of self-love had taught us.

08. October 6thPublically raising awareness of mental health

On the 7th October millions of things happened all over the world. In a tiny little hamlet in Australia, one of those things was me performing my first ever public talk. What I shared was intensely personal, (most likely) triggering and – as many people told me afterwards – made the audience sit up in their seats and take notice. In this post I shared with the blogging community the exact words that I would go on to share with the public; a letter to my younger self.

My name is Andrew, I’m 34 years old, I exist in Wodonga and I’ve been fighting on the front line against mental illness since I was thirteen years old.

I’ve cut myself to sleep more times than I can remember; I’ve exploded boxes of matches in my hand; tried to hang myself; suffocate myself and drown myself. I’ve forgotten what it feels like to be touched, hugged or kissed. I’ve been a sufferer, a carer, a survivor and a nobody. I’ve had more conversations with people only I can hear than I’ve had conversations with people who actually exist and I’ve believed for as long as I can remember that the mythical realm of Death is the only place where I will be accepted for just being me.  I’ve had to deal with more crap than I’d wish on my worst enemy; neglect, emotional abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, social isolation, homelessness and – rather obviously – PTSD from…well…all of the above!

09. October 9thAll of life’s most important events

One of the exercises I completed as part of the Mi Recovery program I undertook this year (see item 05) was to draw a timeline of the major events of my life. It was in this post that I shared my intricate (and somewhat elaborate) drawings with the world.

10. October 10thWorld Mental Health Day: An older person’s perspective

The focus of this year’s World Mental Health Day was ‘older people and mental health’. In order to commemorate the day I decided to conduct an interview with two people who have worked closely on both sides of the mental health community for over twenty years; my parents.

DAD: To be a parent of someone with mental illness is horrendous. A parent always wants to make things better but we can’t. No matter how hard you try, it’s impossible in most cases to completely make someone with a mental illness completely “better”. It’s a matter of coming to terms with the condition your child has and accepting their new persona and capabilities, but this is extremely hard.

11. October 22ndMy (not very high) opinion of psychiatric medication

As the title suggests, I’m not a big supporter of psychiatric medication. In fact, I’m not a strong supporter of the psychiatric model, period. In this post I elaborated upon six of the reasons why I don’t like meds of any description, even though I take them on a daily basis!

12. December 22ndOne Day in Glasgow

Yep, it’s the post that’s so random hardly anyone read it. But it’s one I’m immensely proud of, not only because it’s gloriously personal (and rather self-indulgent) but because it’s one of the rare occasions on this blog where I focused purely on happy memories. In fact, I think I smiled more times whilst writing this post than all of the other posts combined!

Samantha was an incredible woman; intelligent, charming and ravishingly beautiful. She had a mature, almost philosophical outlook on this crazy thing called life, yet despite this maturity there was a delicious immature streak running throughout her soul; equally at ease playing with crayons as she was debating the age-old question of why we’re here.

It was almost impossible to meet Samantha without falling in love with her on some level. She never judged, never held grudges and had an almost super-human ability to draw the best out of people.

But none of this means she was perfect, far from it. Samantha worked too hard; filling almost every moment of her life with a project, scheme or double-shift at work, all of which leaving little time for play or relaxing. And when she did relax, she ventured far too easily into the world of illegal narcotics, with ecstasy and speed being her drugs of choice; a choice that would ultimately spell her untimely end.

But this post is not about her death, nor my reaction to it, that will follow in good time. This post is about my memories of her. It is about the day Samantha took time off from her life to hang out with a slightly overweight, mentally ill man who, according to her journal, made her feel happiness like no-one she’d ever met.

-♥-

Thank you all from the bottom of my heart for your support, readership and affection over the last twelve months. I hope that the New Year begins in a suitably awesome fashion for each and every one of you and I look forward to entertaining, enlightening and (hopefully) inspiring you throughout 2014.

:-)


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Try Looking At It Through My Eyes – Day 09: Questions for Heaven

Day nine of the “Try Looking At It Through My Eyes” challenge asks:
what questions relating to your mental health would you ask God and why?

Monty Python God

Religion is a topic I tend to shy away from talking about, not because I’m scared of broaching the subject, but because I am not a religious man. If I had to define myself, I would lean toward agnosticism, for I neither believe nor disbelieve in the existence of a deity.

The other reason I tend to shy away from talking about religion is because I find it a triggering issue. Throughout my homeless existence I had daily contact with religious organisations, as it was these organisations that operated the drop-ins, food services and soup vans that I would frequent. In order to access the services or receive the food, we would often be forced to pray or attend religious services, with refusal to do so leading to the denial of the help we most needed. This was something that I had a serious issue with, as I felt that the organisations were forcing (or manipulating) people who were most in need to ‘convert’ to a particular religion in order to receive the help that they desperately needed.

I’ve never held anything against those who choose to believe in a particular religion, but I have had (and continued to have) issues with people who forced their faith on others, especially those who are lost, without voice and most in need of help.

With these issues in mind, I am choosing not to answer today’s prompt.

Sorry.

~◊~

If you’ve missed any of the previous posts in this challenge, you can read them here:

| Day 01 | Day 02 | Day 03 | Day 04 |
| Day 05 | Day 06 | Day 07 | Day 08 |


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Day 14: Have you ever experienced stigma?

Day fourteen of the 30 Days of Mental Illness Awareness Challenge asks:
Have you ever experienced stigma?

Time to Change image

“Mental illness is a figment of your imagination. It doesn’t exist.
You’re just being lazy, selfish and not working hard enough,”

~ My abuser, 2007 ~

This quote has reverberated around my mind since it was first spoken to me during a phone conversation six and a half years ago. Her words caused me to bottle up my emotions and hide my experiences for fear of other people judging me in the same light.

This is what stigma does; it forces someone into hiding, it forces them to question who they are and, ultimately, isolates them from a society that could (and should) help them.

Being someone with mental health problems…

Several months after I began writing this blog, in mid-2008, I began noticing that people were finding my blog by typing variations of my name into search engines. At the time I found it odd that people were doing this, especially as they were typing in my middle name (or middle initial), which very few people know. It didn’t take long for me to work out (with the added benefit of being able to see the ISP location of the people searching) that these searches were being conducted by people I had recently interviewed for a job with. Needless to say, I never heard from these people again.

Granted, I have no firm evidence for the above, but the coincidences involved are too great for me to ignore. Just as my friends fleeing as fast as they could shortly after my breakdown, never to be heard from again, is too coincidental for me to chalk up to chance.

However much I dislike being the recipient of this sort of stigma, when it comes to mental health, the one aspect I cannot abide is when mental health services discriminate against someone with mental health problems. To be told that I should have understood the complexities of my sister’s mental health problems (when I was twelve) and that it was my fault that I allowed it affect me the way I did; to be told that there was nothing wrong with me; to be told that I was fabricating everything that ever happened to me; to be told I was play-acting mental illness in order to escape homelessness; to be told that I didn’t deserve to have children; all of which made me feel far more alone and isolated than my abuser’s comment ever did.

Being someone who was homeless…

During my time on the streets I was refused service from several shops and food outlets who informed me they didn’t serve “people like me”, I was continually judged as being an alcoholic, a drug user and a criminal, simply because I didn’t have anywhere to live and people would spit on me, pour coffee over me or attack me whenever they felt, as if me being homeless gave them the license to treat a human being in such a despicable manner.

And, much like with the mental health services outlined above, there were even homeless services – organisations whose sole aim was to help those less fortunate – who discriminated against me; refusing me assistance because I didn’t share the same religious values that they did or because I wouldn’t admit to my (non-existant) drug problem.

Being someone who was a victim of abuse…

As a male victim of abuse, the level of victim blame mentality I’ve received over the years is epic; friends who informed me I deserved to be treated the way my abuser treated me, housemates who told me I deserved to be beaten for being the victim of an abusive relationship and more individuals than I can count (both personal and professional) who will not believe I was sexually assaulted, simply because I am a male victim of multiple forms of abuse.