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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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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This is home…

After much cursing, switching it off and on again, more cursing, hurling it across the room, even more cursing and promising to take it out for dinner and a movie…the camera on my phone finally decided to start working this weekend!

I think it may have had something to do with promising she would definitely get lucky at the culmination of the promised date, but not knowing much about the inner working of a phone’s mind, who knows what the problem was!

As a result, I can now show you my home. Aren’t you lucky people? :)

In order for you to have something to compare it to – plus show you how far I’ve come/how bloody hard I’ve worked – let’s first take a look at where I used to live.

Where I used to live… (circa 2010)

Where I live now… (circa present day)

My lounge room…

My bedroom…

My Kitchen…

I decided not to show you the bathroom. It’s a wholly unexciting room that contains a toilet (we’ve all seen one of those), a shower (we’ve all seen one of those, although some people seem to need lessons in how they work), a sink (it’s white, and well, a sink) and the linoleum floor is even harder to clean than the kitchen’s is!

Yes, I’m fully aware I live in a place that most people would describe as “dodgy”, hell, I’ve used far worse words than that over the months! But you know what? I really don’t care. Compared to where I used to live this is heaven; I have a roof over my head, a bed to sleep in, my own toilet, a freaking awesome doona cover and a bread board that would deliver a helluva whack should I ever need to defend myself.

This is home, and no matter what anyone thinks of it, it’s a darn site better than living on the street :)

Sorry, couldn’t resist. I’ll seize any opportunity to visit Narnia :p Plus, it’s kinda apt!