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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How forgotten victims of emotional abuse are building new support networks online

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Home comfort. (Shutterstock)

Written by Ria Poole, Research Associate, School of Social Sciences, Cardiff University

Two women are murdered every week in the UK as a result of domestic violence. The issue affects one in four women and one in six men at some point in their lives. Domestic violence also has more repeat victims than any other crime and costs the public £23 billion every year. And of those victims who have received hospital treatment for domestic violence injuries, 400 will go on to commit suicide within the year.

Such statistics are shocking, but what they don’t tell us is how many additional victims suffer from emotional abuse, which is another form of domestic violence. Emotional abuse is not regarded as a criminal offence in adult relationships but it is just as destructive to victims’ mental health, as a review in The Lancet revealed. It affects their self-esteem, emotional well-being, relationships with others and personal freedom.

Emotional abuse features across the entire spectrum of domestic violence. It can take the form of destructive criticism, put-downs and name calling, but also isolation, harassment, monitoring behaviours, and lying to a victim and their friends and family. It may also go hand-in-hand with sexual abuse.

But because emotional abuse is not a “crime”, its victims find it especially difficult to receive protection or even to be taken seriously by others at all. Research suggests that this may also be because emotional abuse lacks the public and political profile of physical and sexual abuse.

Limited support

Unlike victims of these crimes, emotional abuse victims may not seek help because they are unprotected by the law. The government hopes to address this lack of support as it introduces a new domestic abuse law later this year. This will criminalise the emotional abuse which underlies many abusive relationships.

Emotional abuse is a common occurrence affecting a fifth of intimate partner relationships. Despite far-reaching effects, there is a surprising lack of research on emotional abuse in adult relationships. At present, emotional abuse does not receive the attention from researchers and health services that it needs to enable victims to be recognised and professionally supported.

So, where do people go to receive the support they so desperately need? If victims are not protected by the law, if they are misunderstood by family and friends, and support from health services is lacking, then to whom do they turn?

Call for help. (Shutterstock)

Online groups

In the digital age, one obvious place to look for support is online. Through numerous online forums, “victims” of domestic violence become “survivors” who seek the emotional support from others they lack elsewhere in their lives. As with forums for patients with long-term conditions, these websites offer common components of support. This comes in the form of sharing experiences, seeking and offering advice, comparing coping strategies, and signposting to professional resources, as well as simply letting users know they are not alone.

Another of the more interesting uses of these forums is discussion of the perceived personality disorders of abusers, such as antisocial personality disorder and narcissistic personality disorder. But rather than focusing on the perpetrator’s issues, forum advice commonly concerns the victim’s self-protection. This makes sense because these personality disorders are typically thought to be resistant to professional treatment.

Many of these forums have been created by “expert survivors”. These people have escaped and recovered from emotional abuse, and now aim to support others by sharing their experiences and creating a platform for others to discuss their own. Crucially, alongside nearly all of these forums is some form of psychological education in the form of blog posts or other websites with information about how survivors can be helped in the longer-term.

Empowering and advising

There are multiple ways these forums may help victims or survivors of emotional abuse, but further research is needed to explore these mechanisms more fully. It may be that support from an online group validates victims’ experiences and empowers them to safely confront or leave their abusers. They may feel protected by an anonymous online identity as they confide in sympathisers about the abuse, perhaps for the first time.

One way to describe these insightful and empathetic forum users is as “enlightened witnesses”, who help others understand and accept their experiences and regain their independence. And with online forums, this support is instantly available. Advice and coping strategies may help victims rebuild their confidence and increase their self-efficacy. Their self-worth may increase as they realise they are not to blame for the abuse. As well as reducing feelings of isolation, a shared perspective may also develop compassion, friendship and humour.

So how can these “survivor forums” contribute to the services provided by health professionals? As a starting point, they give victims a voice that could help highlight needs unmet by the health service. But they could also give health researchers another way to study the nature, prevalence, language and outcomes of emotional abuse, and the coping and exit strategies survivors find to be most effective.

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This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


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SOC: The problem with poverty

As I’ve been having trouble writing lately, mainly because my stress levels have been so high, I’m experimenting with stream of consciousness writing as a way to overcome my current malaise. As such, this post was written as a Stream of Consciousness on Sunday 13 September 2015 between 10:15 – 10:33am. Apologies for any grammatical or spelling errors that occur throughout, they are part and parcel of stream of consciousness writing.

Ever since I returned from my (much-needed) holiday my neighbour has been exceedingly loud. If he’s not playing duff-duff music at extremely high volumes, he’s shaking the foundations of my unit with his bass heavy television sound system. It’s got so bad, and has such a dramatic effect on my mental health, that I can no longer be in my house. Every day for the last two weeks I have left my unit by 11am and haven’t returned until at least 7pm. Throughout that eight-hour block of time I do nothing. I just sit in a park, or camp out on a bench, and wait aimlessly for time to pass. It’s frustrating. It’s infuriating. It’s a permanent reminder of my homelessness. For during that long five-year period all I did was sit around, waiting for time to tick on.

The whole situation has been a massive blow to my wellbeing. My stress levels, from being forced out of my house, have been exponentially high. My boredom, from being forced to sit on a bench and do nothing, has been off the charts. My anxiety, from being forced to be around other people when all I want to do is hide away, has elevated to a whole new level. To say I am unhappy would be an understatement. For the last three weeks I have been miserable, positively saturnine. All I want to do is be able to relax within my own house, but my neighbour, and his ‘to hell with the rest of the world’ mentality, is making that impossible.

And it’s making life unbearable. Last week, I ruminated on my hatred of Wodonga and how I believe my mental health will never get better as long as I live in this suffocating, gloomy little town. And my neighbour isn’t helping. Is it too much to expect a modicum of serenity within my own walls? Is it really necessary to deafen your neighbours day-in day-out? Sure, every now and then would be okay, but a constant stream of noise with bass so loud it (literally) shakes the walls of my unit? How is this acceptable? How is this decent?

Perhaps I’m being too sensitive. Perhaps I’m being a little finicky. But when my stress levels are so high that I feel a heart attack will shortly befall me; something has to be done. I want – nay, need – to move away. To leave this rotten town behind me and start afresh somewhere more inspiring, somewhere that speaks to my soul and doesn’t drive me into a suicidal stupor every two minutes. I need things around to entertain me; to inspire me; to speak to my soul and enable my brain to flourish. But no matter what angle I look at the problem from, no matter how I approach the dilemma in search of an answer, I can see no respite. Accommodation in Melbourne is simply too expensive. Even the outer suburbs are not cost-effective for my poverty-stricken life. Even alternative accommodation in Wodonga, which would at least get me away from Mr. I Play Deafening Music At All Hours Of The Day And Night, won’t fit into my extremely limited budget.

I am trapped here. Emotionally. Mentally. Physically. There is nothing I can do. And that just adds to my already disintegrating mental health. I can’t keep sitting on a bench for eight hours a day, too scared to return to my unit because of the incessant noise that blasts from next door. I can’t keep living with this elevated stress. I can’t keep living in a town that suffocates me; that drives me to madness; that has imprisoned me within it’s soulless walls for the rest of eternity. But I just can’t see the answer.

And that’s the problem with poverty. You have no choice. You eat what you can afford, not what you want to eat. You live where you can afford, not where you want to live. You wear what you can afford, not what you want to wear. You spend your meager life making do with what you have instead of becoming the person you could so easily become. Your life, when you live in poverty, is nothing. It is just something you have to put up with until the sweet release of death comes along to end your suffering.

I am miserable at the moment. I am stressed. I am unhappy. I am sad. I am despondent. I have toyed with suicidal thought and have found myself harboring self-harm urges for the first time in months. All because of my neighbour. All because of my home town. All because I have no choice over what to do with my life.

 


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

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

Federation Square Abstract

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But how?

How does someone living in abject poverty move house?

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

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

But how?

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

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

 


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Melbourne 2015: Day 07. A rather solemn affair

My final day in Melbourne was a rather solemn affair. It began innocuously enough; sliding myself out of bed, stepping into the shower, slipping my clothes on and then sidling out the motel room for another day exploring and relishing in the greatest city in Australia, but as the day progressed and time ticked slowly on, I was overcome with a melancholy that I wasn’t expecting. The fact of the matter was I didn’t want to leave. Since being in Melbourne my mental health had, for the most part, not been an issue. I was walking past hundreds of people a minute and my social anxiety was nonexistent. I was in constant connection with memories of the most traumatic periods of my life – abusive relationship, homelessness – but my PTSD had barely registered. Being in Melbourne, it seemed, was good for me.

Unlike the other days of my Melbourne adventure, my final day in Melbourne saw no tourist attraction being explored. I considered going to the zoo (but that was too expensive) and I looked into going to the Old Melbourne Gaol (but that also proved too expensive) so instead I just meandered around the city. I undertook a laneways tour; reacquainting myself with the alleys and back streets that I used to know so well. I explored the Queen Victoria Market; and felt ashamed by the grotesque prices being asked for tatty tourist merchandise. I meandered various shops that I once knew so well; PLAY, a DVD shop selling rare and hard to find titles, JBHIFI, a music/DVD shop selling mainstream titles and various booksellers at the top end of Bourke Street, whose collections were interesting and diverse. Alas, I couldn’t buy anything. After seven days in Melbourne my finances were low and I needed what little money I had left for food and beverages.

Flinders Street, Melbourne.

Flinders Street, Melbourne.

It may sound boring, just walking around a city, but it was anything but. Melbourne may not be the prettiest city known to humankind, but once you get past the hipsterfication, it still heralds many architectural and retail gems. Walking around the city was something I used to do every week, and as I strolled around the CBD that final day, I was overwhelmed with memories of my past lives. Of when I was overwhelmed and excited upon arriving in Australia. Of when I was happily in a relationship with Louise. Of when I worked my arse off at the backpacker hostel. The memories flowed thick and fast that final day in Melbourne, but never once tipped me over the edge, never once did the PTSD overwhelm me. For once, I was in complete control.

By 1:30pm I was settled into Federation Square, shocked at how fast time was moving, so decided to slow things down with a final visit to one of my favourite places in the city, the NGV: Australia in Federation Square. It would be my third visit since arriving, but I didn’t care. There is something calming, something altogether relaxing, about roaming around the gallery, soaking in the majestic, inspirational art on show. To add some diversity to my visit I decided to undertake one of the free gallery tours they offer, in which a volunteer guides you through the gallery, regaling you with stories and history of various, important artworks. There were only two of us in the tour, but the information provided was interesting and informative. It cast the artwork in a new light; adding life and vitality to work that I have grown to love and care about.

Inside the NGV: Australia

Inside the NGV: Australia

After the tour I left the gallery and, on Audrey’s request, returned to the secondhand bookstore we had found days earlier. Bookshops, like galleries, are also a calming and relaxing venue for me. There is something about being surrounded by books that fills me with happiness. For nearly half and hour we scoured the shelves for anything that sounded interesting and, eventually, left with two books; one for Audrey (Riders in the Chariot, Patrick White) and one for me (Glencoe, John Prebble).

After a brief visit to ACMI we still had time left on our hands so, spontaneously, decided to return to the NGV: Australia, where we spent another hour roaming the halls and photographing the various artwork that spoke to us the most. It still amazed me how calming I found the NGV to be, and it hammered home just how stressed I have become from living in Wodonga, and how much I desperately need to leave that rural backwater town.

We ended the day in our usual way; a canister of Irn Bru, a visit to the Little Library and a relaxation session on a bench in Flagstaff Gardens. This bench, like many places in Melbourne, I had a personal history with. When I was homeless in 2007, following a year of abuse, breakdown and mental catastrophe, it was the first place that I called my ‘home’, with many nights spent curled up upon it trying desperately to sleep through the night. But I sat there, that final night in Melbourne, reflecting on my life now and my life then; how far I have come in certain respects, and how similar I remain in others. After solemnly leaving the bench I meandered to the pizza shop, treated myself to another beautiful potato and rosemary pizza, and returned for a night of relative calmness in the motel.

The first bench I slept on when I was homeless in 2007.

The first bench I slept on when I was homeless in 2007.

Unlike my other days in Melbourne, this last day was far more reflective and quiet. I didn’t undertake any lengthy walks, I didn’t spend a huge amount of time doing the tourist thing. I just allowed the city of Melbourne to wash over me and, in turn, reignite my love for the Victorian capital. As I drifted off to sleep, filled with a cantankerous malaise over the end of my holiday and my inevitable return to Wodonga, I realised once and for all that I would need to leave that suffocating country town. For the sake of my mental health, for the sake of my sanity, for the sake of my life; I needed to leave Wodonga.

The next morning I awoke early, switched on breakfast television, and put off packing for as long as possible. I knew that packing would mark the end of my holiday and, truth be told, I didn’t want it to end. I wanted to be walking back into the city for another day exploring the urban landscape and relaxing in the concrete jungle. But I couldn’t. All I could do was stumble out of bed, throw my possessions together, and make the long, slow walk to the train station where a stressful four hour train journey awaited me.

My holiday was over…and it saddened me greatly.

The small library I acquired in Melbourne!

The small library I acquired in Melbourne!

It had been seven blissful days of excitement, exploration and (occasional) extravagance. I had seen centuries old artwork, chillaxed in gardens, played with penguins, fought my demons and reacquainted myself with a city I once called home. It had been exactly what I needed; a break from my mental health, a break from stress, a break from Wodonga and a break from myself.

My holiday was, in one word, blissful.

A week I will never forget.

 


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Melbourne 2015: Day 06. A day of two halves

My sixth day in Melbourne was a day of two halves. Half of it was pure bliss straight out of the bottle. Half of it was a nightmare of anxiety and PTSD. But it is still a day I will look back on with fond memories.

Half One: Pure bliss straight out of bottle…

The day began like all my others in Melbourne; leaping out of bed, throwing myself into the shower, quickly dressing so as not to see my naked self in the plethora of mirrors and then hurtling out the door to commence another day of adventure and excitement in my favourite Australian city. On the cards today was a visit to the Melbourne Sea Life Aquarium and I couldn’t wait! Sitting in Federation Square waiting for the Aquarium to open was pure hell. Why didn’t it open sooner? Why had I left the motel so early? To pass the time I ended up treating myself to a cheapo cooked breakfast in a cafe I discovered whilst homeless – $7.50 for bacon and eggs, bargain – before meandering slowly toward to the Aquarium hoping it would open early just for me. Alas, it didn’t, but I only had to wait ten minutes or so before they opened their doors.

The only downside of going to the Aquarium is the price. For some inexplicable reason they have decided that the optimum price for adult admission is $38 which, even though you’ll be spending plenty of time admiring the cute liddle fishes, is somewhat extortionate. Especially for someone like me, who lives in abject poverty on a daily basis. But I stoked up the cash (Meadhbh would never have forgiven me if I hadn’t) and headed into the dimly lit building to begin the tour.

First installation was a huge tank full of grumpy looking giant fish and perky looking tiny fish. Perhaps the giant fish were so grumpy because they couldn’t swim as fast as the little fish, Meadhbh chimed in, before shrilly shrieking in my ear as she saw the next set of exhibits were crabs. We spent nearly fifteen minutes examining these crustaceans of all sizes, colours and shapes. Big crabs sat motionless in their aquatic wasteland, whilst tiny crabs scuttled across the sand of their domain in a hedonistic state of excitement. Why are all the big animals so still and un-entertaining, Meadhbh asked. I didn’t know. Perhaps they were tired. Perhaps they were biding their time to break out into a spontaneous dance number when no-one was watching.

From the crabs we took in starfish, coral reefs and numerous tanks filled with all sorts of bright, iridescent fishes. There was, of course, tanks full of Nemos and Dorys for the Finding Nemo obsessed kiddies and tanks full of jellyfish for the Ooo, dangerous obsessed adults. I loved the jellyfish. Watching them slowly power themselves through the water was hypnotizing and had a delightful calming effect on me.

Next up was the giant tank filled with sharks, manta rays, sting rays and all manner of strange-looking fish I couldn’t identify. Then was the turn of the Aquarium’s new star attraction; a giant salt water crocodile, who lay motionless on the floor of his enclosure, no doubt biding his time for when he can break out and munch down on all the kiddies that squeal and oooo in his general direction.

Then came the surprise. For some reason the head-honchos at Melbourne Aquarium have decided that lizards are now considered amphibious animals, so we were thrilled by blue tongued lizards, snakes and the graceful awesomeness of the Shingleback (Sleepy) Lizard, who is my personal favourite of the reptile kingdom. There were also spiders; and the only reason these have been included in an aquarium is to freak out arachnophobic individuals such as myself.

The final exhibit was Meadhbh’s favourite. In fact, she was so excited she was unable to speak properly. Her usually eloquent and considered words replaced with shrieks, squees and strange, indecipherable, high-pitched noises. For Melbourne Aquarium, unlike on our last visit in 2007, now has a penguin exhibit. A large, ice ridden enclosure filled with Emperor Penguins who stood around looking regal and awesome. Like Meadhbh, I love penguins, and relished the opportunity to get up close and personal with these magnificent creatures. We spent a good twenty minutes just staring at the birds through the glass, watching them waddle around, swim in their personal pool and just be magnificent. Meadhbh also loved watching the children who were pressed up against the glass trying to get the penguins attention; waving and jabbering incomprehensible excited child noises.

Penguins! :D

Penguins! :D

All in all, although the $38 is too expensive a price, we relished our time at the Aquarium. Meadhbh loved it. I loved it. Easily one of the highlights of our trip; especially because of the Shingleback lizards and Emperor Penguins.

Half Two: A Nightmare of Anxiety and PTSD

Alas, the excitement of the morning’s escapade to the Aquarium did not extend into the afternoon. For the first time since I’d arrived in Melbourne I began to feel overwhelmed with anxiety. I was tired. I was exhausted. And I began to freak out at the sheer number of people who were around me. This increase in my anxiety led to my PTSD beginning to flare up, and I found myself overwhelmed with memories of my brutal homelessness and of the abusive relationship that destroyed my life. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know how to control the growing malaise that had overpowered me. So I sat for a while in Federation Square, taking (somewhat dodgy) photos of the architecture and maintaining a conversation with myself, and the ghost of my abuser, which drew strange looks from passers-by as they wondered why this strange, overweight man was talking to himself.

As the PTSD symptoms began to overwhelm me I knew I needed to do something. I was starting to feel as isolated, ostracised and judged as when I was homeless. My conversation was drawing not only strange looks but also muttered comment and this attention just made me feel worse. It increased my anxiety and, in that cruel, vicious cycle, increased my PTSD symptoms. So I packed up my camera and took myself to a place I knew would ease my troubled soul; the NGV International. It would be the third time I had visited this magnificent attraction since being in Melbourne but I didn’t care. It was free. It was calming. It was exactly what I needed.

Looking through the NGV International's Water Window

Looking through the NGV International’s Water Window

Within an hour of being amidst the beautiful artwork displayed my anxiety was easing. I was having fewer PTSD symptoms and the conversations with the ghost of my abuser were diminishing. By the time I left the building and sat on the wall out the front for a medicinal cigarette, I was feeling in control again, so I smoked my cigarette and then walked back into the city for a spot of window shopping and my daily canister of Irn Bru.

By now the day had drawn to a close and dusk was settling over the city. The streetlights had come on and the neon signs that decorate the various intersections of the city were casting their alien glow across the city. I’ve always loved the city at night. During my homelessness I would spend many hours just drifting around the city, seeking out the shadows to hide in as I soaked up the energy and vibrancy of a city after dark. So this is what I did now. Just floated around, people watching, building watching, relishing in the excitement of a city come alive.

After a time I treated myself to Lord of the Fries, and their delicious French-Canadian topping, before deciding to wander back to the motel. Although I had managed to control my anxiety and PTSD, their appearance in the day had tired me, and I yearned to rest, to just lay back on the motel bed and lose myself to the world of sleep.

The next day would be my last in Melbourne, and I was slightly overcome with feelings of sadness and melancholy. I loved being in the city. I loved being in Melbourne. It felt right. It felt natural. I didn’t want to return to the stifling, suffocating world of Wodonga and all the mental health insanity that I knew would befall me there. So as I lay on the motel bed I vowed to make my final day in Melbourne something wonderful, something relaxing, something to remember during the monotonous, nightmare laden days ahead.


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Melbourne 2015: Day 05. The hipsterfication of Melbourne

The fifth day of my adventure in Melbourne began like all the others; leaping out of bed at 8:00am, showering, throwing some clothes on and keenly leaving the motel by 9:00am to explore the various locales and laneways of old Melbourne town. On the agenda for Sunday was; a bracing walk down Lygon Street and a trip to the ocean-side suburb of St. Kilda.

Lygon Street is better known as Little Italy, not because it is overrun with Italians, but because it is overrun with Italian restaurants. No matter where you look, there is a restaurant offering everything from pizza and pasta to pasta and pizza. It is a street I used to know well, in my old pre-breakdown life, and like Brunswick Street, a street that is now a constant reminder of my abusive girlfriend. But, as with my efforts to walk Brunswick Street without a panic attack, I was determined to stroll down this street without anxiety and trauma overpowering my mind. The time I chose to do this was instrumental. Early morning on a Sunday is probably the quietest Lygon Street will ever be. It is, after all, an evening street. During the day there is little to do, as all the eateries are closed, opening only for lunch and dinner. So customers are few and far between. But like Brunswick Street, as I wandered the pathways of the street, I realised that once again the hipsters had taken over. Independent shops and eateries had been replaced with trendy chain stores and franchises. The soul of the street that I once loved had disappeared and been replaced with hipster-chic.

For example. On the corner of Lygon Street and Elgin Street once stood a second-hand bookstore called Book Affair. It was heralded as the largest second-hand bookstore in Victoria, and had two huge floors overflowing with books and tomes for your literary enjoyment. Book Affair, in a past life, was my favourite bookstore in Melbourne and I spent many – many – hours perusing the shelves and filling my bookshelf with their ware. But now it has gone. Replaced with an Insurance broker (as if the world needs any more of those) and a trendy stationary store selling overpriced merchandise. To say I mourned the loss of this once great bookstore was an understatement. I felt its loss deep within me and had to settle my emotions with a lengthy sit down on a conveniently placed bench. It truly felt like I had lost a significant chapter of my life, such was my love of this store.

Readings, Lygon Street

Readings, Lygon Street

Fortunately, the hipsterfication of Lygon Street had not claimed Readings. Readings is one of the oldest independent booksellers in Melbourne, and houses a vast collection of books, music and DVDs, many being hard to find items and those imported from overseas. Readings, in my pre-breakdown life, was the place I would go for Scottish folk music, it was the place I would go for interesting literature, and the place I would go for rare DVDs. It is a shop I have always loved with my whole heart and a shop I could always find something I wanted to purchase. And this visit was no different. A book that collected the short fiction of Alasdair Gray was lusted after, although not purchased as it was close to $50 (nearly three times my daily budget) and a DVD copy of Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet was lusted after, although not purchased as it was close to $30 (nearly twice my daily budget). So I left Readings without purchasing anything; even though my whole being was crying out to buy something! I don’t think I’ve ever shown such restraint in this majestic retailer.

After leaving Readings I decided to meander through my old neighbourhood to see what had changed. After Louise and I broke up I moved into a boarding house in Fitzroy, lodged neatly between Lygon Street and Brunswick Street. It was a pretty shocking place to live, and the landlord was featured in the newspaper as being the worst landlord in Melbourne, but I loved living so close to my favourite streets in Melbourne. As I walked the streets, the memories came flying back; memories of being attacked and abused by my abuser; memories of hanging out and chilling with friends, memories that, for better or worse, I don’t want to lose. The suburban streets hadn’t changed much. Sure, new apartment blocks had sprung up and shops gone the way of the dodo, but it was all pretty much as I remembered. Certainly, the hipsterfication had infiltrated this part of the world (my old launderette, which was once a hovel of a place containing only washers and dryers now featured a funky cafe and bright, breezy decoration) but it wasn’t as severe and noticeable as other parts of the city.

I ended up on Brunswick Street, and spent half an hour perusing some of the shops and revisiting the Grub Street Bookstore. My Readings restraint evaporated and I ended up buying a book (Stonemouth, by Iain Banks) as all books were 50% off due to the shop closing down and selling up. Another blow to the heart and another reason I hate Kindles so much. Sure, they’re valuable for people who have trouble reading small print and those who don’t want to carry a small library around with them, but they’re destroying all the wonderful, independent, second-hand book sellers who make the world such a beautiful, magical place.

Decorated Brick, Fitzroy Gardens

Decorated Brick, Fitzroy Gardens

Brunswick Street led me to Smith Street which led me back to the wonder of Fitzroy Gardens, where I spent an hour chilling amidst the trees, watching happy little children scream and bound about with carefree abandon. I then wandered into the city to catch a tram to St. Kilda.

And what did I find once I reached this seaside locale? Yep. You guessed it. The hipsters had taken over. Acland Street, which was once a collection of independent stores and funky little bakeries, was now a hideous assortment of trendy, upmarket retailers and franchised food stores selling overpriced, “gluten-free” products. I used to love Acland Street. It was one of the first streets I came to know when I arrived in Australia way back in 2002. But I hated it now. I truly, utterly despised it. I spent much of my time ruing the day the damned hipsters took over. How dare they destroy the hearts of suburbs with their sheep-like mentality and grandiose, holier than thou attitudes.

The beach, however, was blissful. I hadn’t seen the ocean since I was in Scotland in 2009 and spent nearly two hours roaming the beach, paddling in the water and watching the happy little children scream and bound about with carefree abandon. It felt so good to be beside the ocean again, felt so good to feel the cool salt water lap around my toes. It’s one of the things I miss most whilst living in the landlocked town of Wodonga. The ocean is in my blood, always has been, and it just feels wrong to live so far away from it.

After perusing the artistic wares on offer at the St. Kilda Esplanade market, I boarded a tram for a return trip to the city. Unlike the tram I caught to St. Kilda, I became a little overwhelmed on my return. I don’t deal well with public transport. Buses. Trams. Trains. I don’t like the hideous amount of people crammed into a tiny space. I don’t like control being taken away from me. I don’t like stop-start movement of these methods of transportation. So as the tram trundled along St. Kilda Road I found my anxiety rising for the first time since being in Melbourne. It wasn’t helped by the person sitting next to me noisily chewing gum; something which set my misophonia off to startling, uncomfortable degrees. So I alighted the tram early, choosing to walk my blistered feet a couple of kilometers rather than deal with the anxiety that was overtaking me.

By now I was pretty tired. My feet were sore. And I was somewhat overwhelmed with all the memories that had been bombarding me all day. I was proud of my achievements – Lygon Street, Brunswick Street, two tram journeys – but knew it would be best to return to the motel for a night of relaxation and reflection.

For dinner I chose to have a Subway Veggie Delight sandwich, which I munched down on whilst watching a double bill of Spider-man and Spider-man 2, which I found playing on an obscure television channel. On the agenda for Monday was the (much longed for) Melbourne Sea Life Aquarium and an evening spent enjoying the city after dark; surely two activities that would ensure the day be something exceptional! :)