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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31 Days of Bipolar: Day 25. This endless monotonous repetition of nothingness

Day 25: What state are you in right now, when did it start and what are your goals and hopes about it?

fd5a606c6a0097343cccabaebb79fdd8A little over twelve months ago I attended a camp organised by the mental health organisation I frequent. From beginning to end it was an unmitigated disaster. Shortly before the camp my GP and I decided to change my medication regime, so when I was present at the camp, I wasn’t present, as the new medication I had started to take was unleashing all manner of side effects on my person. My participation at the camp – in part due to my social anxiety – was also lesser than what I’d hoped it would be, with my time spent sitting on my lonesome or helping out in the kitchen prepare each of the meals we were to have. I rarely said anything. I rarely opened up. And I rarely, if ever, participated unless I had to.

The reason I mention the camp now, twelve months after the event, is because it triggered a depressive episode that I am still floundering in. To this day I’ve never been able to work out exactly why the camp triggered such a depressive episode, but trigger it, it did. Ever since I attended that camp my mood has been low, my concentration has evaporated and my ability to function has been questionable at best. To say I’m suffering from an elongated period of anhedonia would be an understatement; nothing, and I mean nothing, gives me pleasure. Not movies. Not TV shows. Not reading. Not photography. Not writing. Nothing. All of the things that I have turned to in the past, all of the things that saw my soul sing and my passion inflame, do nothing for me. They don’t raise a smile. They don’t elicit a giggle. They just produce a shrug of the shoulders and a ‘meh’ sound.

Without question this has been the longest depressive episode of my life. As it enters its fourteenth month, it eclipses even the depressive episodes that permeated my mind during my homelessness, the longest of which was nine months. I have tried mindfulness. I have tried distraction. I have tried medication. I have tried positive thinking. I have tried everything that, in the past, made a dent in my depression. But on this occasion nothing, and I repeat, nothing has worked. I have just continued to be lost to this endless fog of self hatred, monotony and self loathing. Getting out of bed; only occurs because I need to go to the bathroom. Leaving the house; only occurs because I need to purchase food. Cooking this food; only occurs because I should be eating, not because I actually want to. I do nothing for the pure pleasure of doing it. I achieve nothing each day aside from the occasional vomit of words onto my blog. My life is just one endless monotonous repetition. The same actions day-in, day-out. Boredom personified.

Things have got so bad that even hope has left  me. I no longer believe that life will be any better than this. I no longer believe that happiness will find me. I no longer believe that my life will be anything other than this eternal, all consuming, depression. And I hate it. Even when I was homeless. Even when I was living in a park, eking out an existence with the help of soup vans and sheer bloody minded determination, I had hope. I clung to television shows. I clung to my own belief. I clung to anything that helped me get through the next hour, the next day, the next week. I had hope that my future wouldn’t always be this endless battle of survival and starvation. But now? This episode, these fourteen months of despair, desolation and depression, have stolen my hope and replaced it with a black hole of nothingness in the center of my soul. How can I hope for a better future when all I have in the present is pain? How can I hope for something more when all I have is just one endless monotonous repetition of nothingness.

My only goal concerning this episode is for it to end. I want it to end. I want to be able to wave a fond farewell to the pain, desolation and despair and be able to live my life with some semblance of enjoyment and meaning. I want to feel something beyond the agony and torment of depression and isolation. I want to feel the flutter of excitement ignite in my soul as I formulate blog posts; to revel in the act of writing and creation. I want to be able to watch a movie and actually laugh; actually feel something for the characters whose lives are acted out for my own personal enjoyment. I want to be able to read fiction again; to delight at the words as they dance in my mind. I want to be able to do so much more than what I’m currently capable of. Whether it be running barefoot through the grass, dancing under a sprinkler or skipping through the world at large. I want to be able to laugh again. I want to be able to feel again. I want to be able to hope again. That delicious, unquenchable emotion; hope.

Hope_and_Despair_by_yuumei

‘Hope and Despair’

But how do I accomplish this goal? How does one rediscover hope? How does one end an endless monotonous repetition of nothingness? My doctor has been tweaking my medication for months, dutifully striving to find the correct balance for my current ennui. I see my support worker on a weekly basis, each time striving to discover new avenues to approach this episode. I’ve also started to see a psychologist, and I have six appointments with her to try and find ways to combat this all-consuming episode. So it’s not as though I’m doing nothing. It’s not as though I’ve given up completely. I am trying to dig my way out of this depression; it’s just my shovel work doesn’t seem to be getting me anywhere. Yet.

The only thing I am clinging to is the knowledge that nothing lasts forever, no matter how much it feels like its going to. I’ve been depressed in the past, and bounced back to euthymia or hypomania with barely time to breathe. So it stands to reason that this episode isn’t going to last the remainder of my life, however much it feels like it’s going to. Sooner or later things will shift, my mind will rediscover contentment and everything will be rosy in Addy’s world once again. I just wish it would happen now. Or at the very least, tomorrow.

For I don’t know how much longer I can take this endless monotonous repetition of nothingness.


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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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Roadblocks to Recovery: #1. PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder)

I spent a considerable amount of time yesterday reading through some of the blog posts that I wrote in 2012 and 2013, quite possibly the most prolific blogging period of my online writing career. Some of the posts were depressing, some were uplifting, some funny and others steeped in inspirational content. But the defining characteristic of each blog post that I read was hope; hope for me, hope for a better future, hope for my recovery journey.

Over the last twelve months, ever since I slipped into a deep depression that refuses to lift no matter what I do, I realise that this hope has evaporated. I no longer have hope that I will ever recover. I no longer have hope that my life will be any better than it is now. And that’s the most depressing thing I’ve ever written, for if my life is never going to get any better than what I have now, I may as well kill myself, because what I have now is nothing.

My “life” (if you can call it that) is a monotonous routine of the same-old, same-old every single day. I roll out of bed in the morning only because I need to go to the bathroom. I fiddle online. I listen to the radio. I watch DVDs (almost at the same time each day) and I yearn for something (anything) to happen so as to break the routine that I have fallen into. Sometimes I try to break the routine myself; go for a walk, cook something new for dinner, break up the route I take when walking to the supermarket, but nothing cracks the protective routine I’ve fashioned for myself.

As I read those blog posts yesterday evening I began to wonder why I have such trouble breaking my routine. Why I have no hope for recovery. I started to wonder about all the roadblocks that have been created that are preventing me from continuing my recovery journey. All the niggling frustrations that have been concocted to prevent me from living the life that I want to live. And it is these roadblocks that I need to explore, to try to work out why they are causing such problem and what (if anything) can be done about them.

For until I navigate these roadblocks I will have no hope, and without hope, there is nothing.

PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder)

PTSD

The first roadblock that is preventing hope from re-entering my life is something I wrote about recently: PTSD. My PTSD is a complex beast. It is not just from one incident, but rather several life-threatening and traumatic incidents that have occurred over the last eight years of my life. From being emotionally abused, to being raped, to being forced to live a homeless, sub-human existence, the memories of these events permeate every facet of my life, forcing me to live in a constant hyper-vigilant state. There are so many triggers, so many things for me to avoid, that ‘living’ is something that seems almost impossible. Even simple acts like someone chewing gum, talking to people or writing comments on blogs can cause crippling panic attacks and hours of re-living the events that have defined my life over the last several years.

Even without these triggers, my PTSD can come flooding back unbidden. I have already mentioned recently the near constant conversations I have with the ghost of my abuser, frantically trying to make sense of what she did, why she did it and why I deserved it. Conversations (nay, screaming matches) that can last for hours at a time, no matter what I’m doing or where I’m doing it. At night, my sleep is constantly disturbed by the near-endless nightmares of being raped, and that is when I can get to sleep, as my efforts are often affected by the memories of my time sleeping rough as my mind constantly asks whether or not I ‘deserve’ to be sleeping in a bed.

Living in such a hyper-vigilant state is exhausting both physically and mentally. Constantly having to be aware of everything that is going on around me, constantly avoiding things I want to do and places I want to go, in case I find myself triggered, in case I succumb to the crippling effects of a panic attack. It’s mindbogglingly tiring. So much so that I often have very little energy to do the things I want to do. I have trouble walking down the street without being overcome with exhaustion, I have trouble keeping my mind focused on even simple acts such as grocery shopping or watching a movie.

No matter what I do, the PTSD has a direct impact on every area of my life. And no matter what I do, nothing seems to alleviate my suffering. I’ve tried everything; from CBT, DBT and mindfulness, to talking therapy, exposure therapy and psychotherapy. Nothing works. Nothing does anything to alter the hyper-vigilance, flashbacks or endless replaying of my previous trauma.

The impact it has on my life is devastating. And the PTSD I’m afflicted with is clearly a major roadblock on my journey to recovery. For as long as the PTSD has such a hold on me, I will never have hope for recovery, let alone be able to recover to any reasonable degree. But what can I do about it? People suggest I should “move on”, “get over it” or “move forward” from the trauma. I’m told to simply stop replaying events. I’m encouraged to just “deal with it”, but these suggestions are nothing more than platitudes that I already know, platitudes that ignore the devastating effect that PTSD can have on someone. It’s not easy to just “get over it” or “move forward” when you are constantly being reminded of the trauma to the point of panic attack and inaction. It’s not as simple as just “moving on” or “dealing with it” when your subconscious mind constantly dregs up memories that you don’t ask to remember. When I’m lost to a PTSD flashback, when I’m trapped in a conversation with the ghost of my abuser, when I’m experiencing nightmares of being raped or being assaulted whilst sleeping rough, I’m not even conscious enough to acknowledge my own name, let alone tell myself to just “move on”. It’s just not going to work. Period.

So what can be done? Well, if I had the answer to that my PTSD wouldn’t be causing as much of a problem, but I need a plan of action in order to rebuild hope, so I have to come up with something. Anything. So:

Firstly, I need to undertake some extensive talking therapy. I firmly believe that psychoanalysis from someone who is trained, someone who knows what they’re doing, someone who has experience of PTSD, will do me the world of wonder. I’m hoping this will come courtesy of the psychologist I have recently been put in contact with, if it doesn’t, then I need to find someone else. Regardless of how much it costs.

Secondly, I need people in my life. People have always been more powerful to me than medication. The most stable I have ever felt in my life (late 2006) came at a time when I wasn’t medicated, when I wasn’t receiving treatment, but when I had friends. The simple act of just being around these friends, spending time with them, sharing my life with them, enjoying life with them, changed the structure of my brain and enabled me to see myself for who I want to be. They distracted me from my issues, took my mind off my troubles and enabled me to enjoy life. Yes, people would help, that much I’m sure.

Thirdly, I need to consider PTSD specific medication. If there is such a thing. I don’t know much about the world of medication when it comes to PTSD, but it’s something that I need to research, something that I need to look into. For if medication can help, I’m more than willing to give it a go. So if anyone has any experience of medicating PTSD, please leave a comment below, your experience would be greatly appreciated.

Fourthly, I need to write more about the incidents that have caused my PTSD, for by talking about them in a safe environment (such as my blog) I may be able to look upon them in a new light. I may be able to alter the way my brain interprets them, alleviating the control they have.

Fifthly, well, I don’t have a fifthly, so four items will have to suffice for now. At least it’s somewhere for me to start rebuilding hope.

Hope is important because it can make the present moment less difficult to bear.
If we believe that tomorrow will be better, we can bear a hardship today.
Thich Nhat Hanh


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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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Thirteen things that have saved my life…

Skins

Whilst working through the Skins DVD box-set I received for my birthday last week something strange happened. Something I wasn’t expecting but, in hindsight, should have.

In April 2009 I was living in a dodgy boarding house in Inverness. The boarding house was a converted kindergarten school, complete with child-size toilets and Playschool-esque wall decorations. With sixteen other people living in the house personal space was limited, and I spent most of my time huddled in my room, twiddling my thumbs and trying to find something to fill the void.

At the time I was suffering through a particularly nasty depressive episode, veering in and out of suicidal ideation and desperately trying to procure some professional help from the local mental health services.

On one night, in an effort to provide some relief from the self-harm I had been engaging in, I walked the two kilometers to the local Tesco supermarket at around eleven in the evening. Although I hadn’t planned on it, I ended up purchasing a copy of Skins Series 3 from their entertainment section and returned home to watch it.

As I had done countless times in the past, I ended up staying up the entire night to watch the ten episode series in a televisual marathon. By the end of it all urge to self-harm had evaporated and for the next several days no suicidal thought crept into my mind. Courtesy of a simple television show, for several days I was calm, at ease and able to focus on what I needed to do.

Whilst watching the same season over the weekend, I was taken back to those dark days and reminded that were it not for Skins there is a reasonable chance that I wouldn’t be here to write these words today.

All of which got me thinking about other entertainment products that have saved my life over the years.

Zelda

1. The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (1993)

This is the video-game that began my life-long love affair with the world of Hyrule and a game that, more than any other, defines my child-hood. At a time when my depression was first starting to bite and the urge to self-harm was becoming increasingly difficult to overcome, having a world to escape to was a tremendous solace to me. So much so that when the game was re-released for the Gameboy Advance in the early naughties, I was one of the first in line to add it to my collection purely so I could relive some of the happier memories of my teenage years.

2. Doctor Who: The Classic Era (1993)

There is a reason why I was so excited by the recent fiftieth anniversary of Doctor Who. It wasn’t just because I have been a fan for over twenty-five years of my life, but because during the mid-nineties, when I was first becoming lost to depression, self-harm and suicidal urges, it provided me with an escape like no other. Although heavily criticized for its effects, the classic-era of Doctor Who will long be held in my heart, and not just because one of my strongest memories is of Sarah Sutton stripping down to her underwear in the story Terminus!

3. The Famous Five (1995)

One of my strongest memories of childhood is of my parents reading me the Famous Five books each and every night. They owned the complete collection in – what I remember being – first edition hardbacks. Although I may have seemed a little too old for these stories at the time, during the harshness of those teenage years I would often delve back into the world of 1950s innocence as a way to escape the pain that I was feeling.

Famous Five

4. Highlander (1997)

During the late nineties there were only a handful of television series that I was passionate about. Buffy the Vampire Slayer was one, Due South another, but the biggest of the three was the Vancouver based series Highlander, inspired by the Christopher Lambert starring motion pictures. This series was a huge source of escapism for me at the time and inspired countless aspects of my own writing (from the historical aspect of the storytelling to the presence of immortals). It was also a series that made me want to visit Glenfinnan, which would go on to become one of my favourite places in this world.

5. Doctor Who: Utopia, The Sound of Drums and The Last of the Time Lords (2007)

In late 2007, courtesy of losing everything after my breakdown, I owned just one DVD; the final three episodes of Doctor Who’s third series. As a result, over the course of six traumatic months, this became my go-to option in times of distress. As such, they are my three favourite episodes of new Doctor Who, and probably always will be.

6. Brandi Carlile, The Story (2007)

Along with Chasing Cars, this album provided me with the inspiration to begin writing this blog. When I hear songs such as The Story, Turpentine or Again Today I am taken back to the early days of my blogging career, and the hope that this venture provided me with at the time.

7. Supernatural (2007)

After attempting suicide in October 2007 I was a total, complete and utter mess. I couldn’t think straight, I couldn’t formulate ideas and I was unable to express how I was feeling to anyone. In fact, for weeks after the event – before becoming homeless – all I could do was sit on the sofa and watch random DVDs. It was during this period that I discovered Supernatural; a dark and humorous urban fantasy that enabled me to stay connected to the real-world and prevent the actualization of any further suicidal urges.

8. Lego Star Wars: The Complete Saga (2008)

Returning to Scotland in 2008 was a bittersweet experience for me. Although I relished being back amidst the mountains, glens and lochs of the world’s most beautiful country, I was overrun with memories of times past throughout my entire trip. Fortunately, this gleefully enjoyable video-game was at hand to beat back the demons and keep myself from doing anything stupid. I’ve been a fan of the Lego games ever since, and still turn to them in times of distress to this day.

9. Doctor Who: The Waters of Mars and The End of Time (2009)

As David Tennant was starring in the RSC’s production of Hamlet, there was no complete series of Doctor Who in 2009. Instead, we were treated to four ‘specials’ throughout the year; Planet of the Dead, The Waters of Mars and the two-part tenth Doctor’s finale, The End of Time. It was the latter two, which arrived during my initial months of homelessness, that helped ease the distress I was in and provided me with hope and inspiration for a better future.

10. One Tree Hill (2010)

Possibly the most important entry in this list is Mark Schwan’s stunning television series, One Tree Hill. Whilst living in a violent boarding house in late 2010 I essentially became agoraphobic, unable to leave my measly room for any reason for over four weeks. It was only the desire to watch more seasons of One Tree Hill that lifted me from my despair and enabled me to find the strength to rejoin the world. Without the magnificence of One Tree Hill I would definitely not be here, period.

Chuck

11. Chuck (2011)

Although I had been a fan of Chuck since watching the pilot episode with Samantha in Glasgow, 2008, it was only when I was re-watching the series in internet cafes whilst homelessness did I realise the positive effect it was having on my ideals of hope and determination. Ever since that realization, this show has lived in the forefront of my heart. One of the greatest television series of recent years.

12. Fringe (2012)

After procuring my new home in early 2012 I was a mess. Years of homelessness, despair, depression and hopelessness had taken their toll. Regardless of my new-found privacy and security I couldn’t shake the person I had become in the preceding years. I still believed I deserved nothing but pain, misery and a painful death. Fortunately, the decision to watch Fringe Season 3 changed all that. Within twenty-four hours I had polished off the 22 episode season and began working my way through seasons one and two before watching season three for a second time. As such, I have long credited this exquisite science-fiction show for giving me a renewed hope in the world and the strength to keep going when all felt lost.

13. The Legend of Zelda: The Phantom Hourglass (2012)

Last Christmas was a particularly brutal period for me. For nearly two months I was overwhelmed by the demons of depression, who pushed me against my will into the realms of alcoholism, self-harm and suicidal ideation. Luckily, courtesy of a birthday present from my parents, I had the world of Zelda to retreat into and, much like it did when I was but a fresh-faced teenager, it helped me quell the demons who were threatening me with extinction.