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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Roadblocks to Recovery: #3. Social Isolation

Over the last eight years, my hope has been on the decline, so it is no surprise to me to find that it has now completely evaporated. What caused this decline in hope began when I lost my social network in 2007, following my breakdown and the subsequent emotional abuse I received. For without people with whom to share our life with, there is little hope left. Hence today’s roadblock to recovery is the isolation I have found myself existing in.

Social Isolation

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There is a difference between loneliness and isolation, just as there’s a difference between isolation and solitude. What I experience is not the serenity of a few hours spent in solitude from the hustle-bustle of contemporary life, what I experience on a daily basis is the soul-crushing state of being completely isolated from the rest of the human world. I have no friends. I have no acquaintances. I have no-one. And over the course of the last eight years, that’s something few people have been able to comprehend.

We live in a world where friendships are common place. Everyone is supposed to have ‘friends’ on Facebook, everyone is supposed to have a cavalcade of followers on Twitter, and everyone is supposed to have one or two people in the real world that they consider friends. People with whom you can catch up with over a beverage or two, people who you can confide in, people with whom you can wile away the hours and validate your own existence. So when someone – such as myself – comes along who has no-one, people react with complete confusion.

Over the years, everyone from support workers, psychiatrists, psychologists and telephone counselors have reacted with disbelief upon being told I have no friends. They were unable to comprehend that some people have no-one they can share life with; that no matter how hard some people try, they just don’t have any friends.

The problem I have making friends stems from the first two roadblocks I have looked at; PTSD and social anxiety disorder. My abuser worked her genetically blessed arse off to convince both myself and the world that I deserved no-one in my life. She deliberately isolated me from my friends through a series of lies and manipulations, she informed me that I was an orphan that no-one could ever love and took great glee in informing me that I should move into a cave where I wouldn’t inflict myself on the world. Her incessant abuse also rendered me unable to trust a living human being – including my parents – and without trust it’s almost impossible to make friends, let alone sexual relationships. Even if it wasn’t for the psychological damage my abuser inflicted on me, making friends has always been something I’ve found difficult to do. Ever since I was but a wee young thing in school, talking to people has been difficult for me. This is why it took so long (five years) to make friends after my arrival in Australia, and why I find it so difficult to forgive my abuser for destroying this social network I’d created.

The other reason that I find making friends so difficult, is the simple reason that I don’t have any friends. It may sound odd, or plain ironic, but the simple fact is it’s easier to make friends when you already have friends than it is to make friends when you don’t have friends. Firstly, you are more likely to meet new people through your existing friends, and secondly, people are far less likely to ask “what’s wrong with you”. For someone who doesn’t have friends is automatically (and wrongly) labelled as being ‘not friend material’ because they must be ‘crazy’, ‘needy’ or ‘just plain damaged’.

I am acutely aware that being so isolated is damaging to both my physical and mental health. A study in 2013 found that people who suffer from social isolation are more likely to die prematurely and it is commonly known that isolation can increase feelings of depression, anxiety and panic attacks. So it isn’t too difficult to realise how being isolated has become such a severe roadblock on my journey to recovery. We all need someone in our lives. Someone we can vent to. Someone we can share with. Someone we can spend time with. To have no-one is painful, debilitating and damned lonely.

The only social contact I have comes from my weekly appointments with my support worker. They last for approximately one hour each. Every single other hour of the week I spend alone; staring at the wall, roaming the streets, trying desperately to work out how I can make friends. It’s debilitating, painful and makes me wonder why I continue with this crazy thing called life.

So what can be done about my isolation? How does one even go about making friends at the tender old age of thirty-six?

Well, firstly, I need to do something about my social anxiety disorder. For as long as this condition retains the control it does over my mind, I am never going to be confident enough to talk to other human beings. There is far too much risk of humiliation and badness if I do.

And, secondly, I need to do something about my PTSD. For as long as this condition retains the control it does over my mind, I am never going to be able to trust other human beings to the point of making and retaining relationships with them. There is far too much risk of pain and chaos if I do.

But once I’ve done those, there are other things I can do:

Thirdly, I could join some local community organisations or social groups, this way I can enjoy my spare time doing something I enjoy doing whilst placing myself in a position to make new friends and connections. Perhaps a photography group or book club would be suitable to begin with.

Fourthly, I can make more of an effort to connect with people online. I find this method of communication less painful than real-world conversation and it could lead to making online friends with the hope of transferring the friendship into real-world contact, depending on where the people live, of course.

Fifthly, well, I honestly can’t think of a fifth option, for making friends basically boils down to getting yourself out there and just meeting people! No amount of counseling or therapy is going to make friends, it’s just something you need to do, regardless of risk. For without risk there is no reward.

Previous installments in ‘Roadblocks to Recovery’:


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Collaborate, Connect and Celebrate: Social Inclusion Week 2012

Social Inclusion Week is about encouraging communities to reconnect and be inclusive of all cultures, age groups, nationalities and the disadvantaged.

Social Inclusion Week aims to help Australians feel valued and to give people the opportunity to participate fully in society.  It’s about connecting with local communities, work mates, family and friends to build relationships and networks, addressing isolation and exclusion by supporting people who may be unable [to] help themselves.

However much it pains me to admit it, I know what it’s like to be socially excluded.

I can still remember the burning tears of loneliness that streaked my face in 2007 as I was consistently rejected from social events in favour of my abuser. The years I spent living in a park without so much as a kindly smile let alone warm conversation will never be forgotten. Whilst all the abuse, mental health crises and suicide attempts I’ve endured alone will haunt me to my dying days.

In fact, it’s been so long since I was an included member of society that I have (quite literally) forgotten what it feels like to be wanted, needed, loved or considered important.

My social isolation, to many mental health professionals I’ve spoken to, is the primary cause of what has happened to me over the last five years. The problems I’ve faced, the situations I’ve found myself in, the terror that I’ve been through, are all things that most people would consider impossible to get through if not for the love of their friends. So although I commend myself for the strength and determination I’ve shown, I am still aware of the damage that this isolation has wreaked on my life.

• I no longer know how to communicate with others. Writing text messages, emails, tweets, blog posts and comments are exceedingly difficult and can, at times, take several hours and/or days to complete. The same can be said for phone calls, which I will do whatever I can to avoid. As for face-to-face contact, aside from the occasional visit to a counsellor or food bank, I have only recently begun attending social events following over four years of constant isolation (and by isolation I mean complete isolation, not, ‘I have friends but I don’t see them as often as I like’ isolation.)

When I have a problem, I veer toward unhealthy vices in order to get through it. Whilst other people turn to friends or family to talk through and/or distract them from their problems, when things get really bad, I turn to smoking, (severe) binge drinking, a flutter on the pokies or self-harm in order to bury the problem and hope it goes away…which it never does; it just makes everything worse!

The likelihood I will be employed/in a relationship again is (at this point in time) slim to none. Given it’s been so long since I’ve had a face-to-face conversation, given I’ve forgotten what it feels like to engage in society, I wouldn’t survive the interview process let alone the first day of work. As for a relationship; I am an overweight, mentally ill, socially isolated, (ex) homeless man living on the DSP. Whatever positives I possess (and they are many and numerous) are not enough to overpower the discrimination these deal-breakers produce.

My mental health has deteriorated to the point I no longer believe I can stabilise it. Leaving aside the obvious difficulty of dealing with suicidal ideation on your own (it’s not always possible to call a help-line), my self-harm, hallucinations and mood swings have become increasingly more difficult to control without distraction or support.

As for the damage the various forms of abuse have caused? I’ve written recently how the trauma has embedded itself deep within me, effecting every aspect of my self-view, personality and ability to engage in society.

So with all this in mind, it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise that I completely support this week, for I know only too well the pain of social isolation and the long-term damage it can do to someone’s life; pain that no human being should ever have to experience.

At the end of the day, no matter our age, financial status, educational qualifications, housing situation or health, we are all human beings who need social interaction in order to survive.

For without it, we just shrivel up and die.

For more information – and to see the events occurring throughout Australia – please visit the Social Inclusion Week website.

Further Reading:

“The St Vincent de Paul Society National Council of Australia will bring the plight of Newstart recipients to the fore this Social Inclusion Week, which coincides with the handing down of a Senate Inquiry’s findings into the adequacy of the payment on Thursday.

Chief Executive, Dr John Falzon, said that forcing people to live on $35 a day was one of the most powerful means of achieving social exclusion, especially when combined with a lack of support programmes to help people find work.”

“Activities at the expo include traditional Indigenous games and storytelling, cubbyhouse building and you can even learn how to cook tasty, healthy and affordable meals and much more.

We will also have representatives from community groups such as Family Relationships Centre, Carer’s Queensland, Red Cross Australia, Meals on Wheels, Men’s Shed, Carebus among others.”

“This week just happens to be Social Inclusion Week, so remember, a smile or a hello at the shops might make all the difference.”


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Freaks and (Scrabble) Geeks

Seven

Seven by thrig, on Flickr

One of the many words I dislike being called is a ‘freak’.

It’s far from being the most disturbing word I’ve ever heard to describe me. In fact, some of the insults that have been hurled in my direction would win awards for ‘Spectacular Use of the English Language’ or ‘Greatest Use of the Cussing Thesaurus Known to Humankind’. So in comparison to the multiple f-bombs, b-bombs, s-bombs and c-bombs that have been launched at little ole me over the years, ‘freak’ is relatively nothing.

But it still gets to me. It targets my mental illness, my homelessness, my sexual proclivity, my social anxiety, my isolation and, given my abuser’s love of the word (“You’re not a freak because you’re physically repulsive, if you lost a lot of weight you’d actually be slightly attractive, it’s because you’re mentally repulsive.”) it taps directly into the trauma that I repeatedly find myself locked in.

If you come up with a beautifully constructed insult using multiple swear (and made-up) words, I’ll issue you with a sash (or a crown if I’m feeling generous) for creative abuse.

If you call me a freak, I’ll retreat into my shell and begin flagellating myself for several days.

Today marks day two of ‘The Addy’s alone because he’s an annoying, repulsive freak self-flagellation-a-thon!’.

Why? Well…

Yesterday, I attended my third Scrabble group. For those who missed my post, two weeks ago I commenced a series of social groups run through a mental-health organisation designed to break open my social isolation and perchance make a few new friends.

So far, it has been more unsettling than entertaining. Being around other people again has made me realize just how bad I’ve become in terms of talking to other people. I’m a master at talking to myself and my hallucinations, but when it comes to engaging with the outside world I’m clueless. Even the fragile social skills I used to possess have vaporized into the sands of time.

During my first Scrabble group I let other people win. I’m like that. “You’re far too kind for your own good,” Someone told me once, “you need to be crueller, more selfish. Just take what you want and to hell with everyone else.” For some this is a perfectly reasonable philosophy to live by, especially in a world becoming more and more altruistic, apathetic and narcissistic every day. However, it’s not me.

I’d rather give someone who’s hungry a Subway sandwich (as I did yesterday) rather than a self-absorbed lecture on how their hunger is their fault because of a mistake they made eight years ago.

I’d rather sacrifice my own dreams to help someone achieve one of theirs than put my happiness above those of others.

I’ve been this way for decades, so it’s unlikely I’m going to change now.

However, given that I was unable to play in my second Scrabble group (as I arrived late following a meeting with a Disability Employment Service) I had a ‘make random words from randomly chosen letters’ itch to scratch. So as I walked to the group  I told myself to just play, after all, I could do with a win.

After ten minutes of playing, one member of the group threw their tiles in the bag and refused to play, leaving half an hour later. Another member left shortly after and, even though they put in a valiant attempt (including an eight letter word on a double word tile) the leader of the group decided the game had to end early as, being 150 points ahead of everyone else, Addy was not going to be beaten.

Now, I rarely praise myself, but there are some things I’m good at: film and movie trivia, cooking omelette sandwiches, recalling Buffy the Vampire Slayer (even though I can no longer watch it I’ve seen every episode at least a dozen times, some bordering fifty), self-flagellation, the history and folklore of Scotland, Zelda games, massaging buttocks, rambling and Scrabble.

I may not consider myself worthy of entering the Scrabble championships but if I did, I’d leave dozens of contestants in my wake. In fact, I am someone you never want to play Strip Scrabble with as you’d be naked within half an hour. Whereas if you dared play Spankrabble with me, best ensure you have a cushion handy as your ass would have no chance!

After trouncing everyone yesterday afternoon they began calling me the ‘Scrabble Guru’ and the ‘Word Master’.

And then, shortly after, the ‘freak’ word was thrown into the mix.

Cue immediate connections with past insults, past abuse and my own insecurities. Connections that, within an hour, tripped me into a depressive mood that not even Tina Fey or 30 Days of Kink could rouse me from. Last night, rather than write any of my NaNoWriMo novel or the myriad of blog posts I want to write, instead of writing emails I keep putting off or reading the marvellous blogs of those I follow, I walked around the darkened streets of my town in the middle of a vicious rainstorm and then, after the rain stopped, sat soaked to the skin wondering why I just can’t be ‘normal’.

Upon returning home I put in a half-hearted effort with writing a blog post, got annoyed, saved it as a draft and went to bed where I promptly had a nightmare in which my abuser slowly peeled every millimeter of skin from my body before forcing me to walk through the streets with my innards on show for all to see and laugh at.

Thus, it’s safe to say I didn’t sleep all that well last night :p

So here I am, flagellating myself with deprecating thoughts, self-aimed insults and endless questions about my worth as a human being. If I react as I did to just one word (which was probably meant as a compliment) how will I ever make new friends? Is it even worth returning to the group if I’m going to clear the room (which may or not have been my fault) by just playing Scrabble? If I can’t allow myself to be happy doing something that always makes me happy, will I ever allow myself to be happy again?

And what the hell’s wrong with being a freak anyway? My mind is a friggin’ awesome place of random kinky bizarreness! Much more interesting than a lot of the ‘normal’ people I’m irrationally jealous of! :p

These groups were supposed to help me connect more, to make new friends, to break this lethal social isolation I’ve found myself in. But if all I do is push people away, is the heightened anxiety that I put myself through before each group worth it? Is this cycle of self-hate I’ve been in for the last twenty hours worth two-hours of indulging in one of my favourite past-times?

This exercise in social inclusion was supposed to make me feel better, not increase my belief that I’m a freak who’s unworthy of having a life.

Harumph.

I’m off to buy a bookshelf!

Want. Want. Want. That’s how much a scrabble geek I am! :p


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What does recovery mean to you?

As one half of my psyche lurks in the dangerous yet intoxicating world of nostalgia; recanting the painful, pleasurable and painfully-pleasurable events of the last five years, the other half of my psyche continues on its journey down the road to recovery. This week, I will be looking at what my future holds – and the various methods, attempts and therapies I am undertaking to get me there.

What does recovery mean to you?

A few weeks ago I was filling out a referral for a mental health organisation called Mind. One of the questions on this form was what does recovery mean to you?

Much umming and ahhing ensued until I decided upon:

Recovery means living; not existing or surviving.

And then I got a bit carried away, as I am prone to do from time to time:

Recovery means allowing myself to be better version of myself. To not be controlled by the demons, anger and confusion of the past. To accept that these events happened and that I was strong enough to not let them drag me into the undertow. To understand that mistakes were made and to learn self-forgiveness. To give myself permission to move on from these mistakes and not let them define me.

Recovery means learning how to love myself. To accept that I do not deserve to be alone for the rest of my life because I am a caring, loving, talented and passionate human being with much to offer the world. To not allow the abuse I received to continue defining my personality. To understand that I am a wonderful person who deserves everything his heart desires.

Recovery means believing in myself. To set realistic goals that I can work toward; goals that I know I deserve to achieve. To stop endlessly belittling and playing down my achievements and realize that I am a man of many talents and skills. To give myself permission to be the man I know I am in my heart.

Identifying the roadblocks

Although sabotaged by oscillating moods and deeply embedded abuse trauma, over the years I have been working as hard as I can to repair not only my sanity, but my life. In doing so I have identified a number of roadblocks that are hindering my road to recovery.

One of the central roadblocks  is my social anxiety and isolation. It is hard for some to understand how infinitely more complicated everything becomes when you are on your own; when you have no-one to share your problems with, no-one to hug or touch you, no-one to love or care about you, no-one to offer guidance or distraction through the rough patches of life we all have to face.

Hence why this roadblock is the one I need to hurdle before anything else.

Over the last few months, alongside this blog and Twitter, I have been trying to navigate this roadblock on several fronts.

Front #1: Disability Support Pension

I am mere weeks away from discovering if I have been granted the Holy Grail of the Disability Support Pension. For the last two and half years I have been surviving on the pittance that is the Newstart Allowance (a benefit that even the Australian Government announced yesterday was too low given the cost of living increases in Australia, but simultaneously announced they have no plans to raise it.)

This payment has made the triple whammy of rent-bills-food almost impossible to meet and have lumbered me with several hundred dollars’ worth of unpaid energy bills, an inability to purchase clothing or footwear and rendered haircuts and medication luxury items. This making socializing and entertainment an impossible dream.

I’ve been told to expect a decision by mid-November, so until then I must play the waiting game and demonstrate my innate patience.

Front #2: An impending munch

I have mentioned in the past a social network I have been using to try end this insidious isolation. Although I’ve some headway in connecting with people online I have yet to meet anyone in real life. Last night, it came to my attention that a gathering has been organized for Thursday evening; a gathering that I have tentatively announced to the network I will be attending!

Given my desire to build new social connections (and knock ‘item 1’ off the bucket list) this munch is something I’m looking forward to – but I’d be lying if I said the evening wasn’t filling me with anxiety fuelled dread already.

We shall just have to wait and see what happens come Thursday :)

Front #3: GT House

GT House is an organisation in my locality that offers counseling services and support groups for those suffering from mental health problems and social isolation. After several months of languishing on the waiting list I had my first meeting with them last Thursday.

One of the aspects discussed in that session was the view that labels – although they have their place – are not the be all and end all of mental illness. Sometimes symptoms overlap, sometimes the way an illness presents in one person is different to the way it presents in another, so the best course of treatment and therapy will differ from person to person. Therefore GT House looks at the needs of the individual rather than the needs of the illness.

Following a follow-up meeting with them this morning I have registered for three of the groups:

1) Pool: where we gather and spend a couple of hours socializing and playing pool.
2) Stress: where we gather and work through ways to reduce and control our stress of day-to-day life.
3) Scrabble: where we gather and spend a couple of hours socializing and playing scrabble.

As well as expressing an interest in attending three other groups once I have increased my self-confidence and feel more comfortable.

Front #4: Hearing Voices Group

Given the voices I hear have increased substantially over the last several years, and given it is an area of my mental illness few have ever wanted to go near, I’ve registered interest in attending a weekly Hearing Voices Support Group.

The thrust of this group is about learning to understand the voices I hear and developing ways to control such behavior, as well as socializing with other people who experience similar issues.

Although at the present time I haven’t committed to attend – I must be wary of taking on too much in fear of mentally collapsing – it is something I’m working toward for the future.

Front #5: Disability Employment Service

This organisation is supposed to work closely with me in order to help me access part-time study, part-time work, voluntary work and other avenues I want to pursue so I can create the future I deserve.

The drawback with this organisation is that it is closely linked to the DSP and I’m unsure if I qualify for their services if I don’t have this payment approved.

Thus, as mentioned in front #1, all I can do for the time being is be patient.

One of the things I have always been proud of is my determination to work toward a better future for myself. All that I have achieved over the last five years has been out of a stubbornness to give up; something I could easily have done on hundreds of occasions.

Although physically I am in the same (if not worse) position than I was in five years ago, the trials and challenges I have been through have altered my thinking and mental state in ways I had never thought possible.

So as one side of my psyche continues to analyze and work through the events of the past (a necessary part of my recovery), the other will continue, as always, down the long road of recovery toward that beautiful destination named ‘The Future’.

‘The Road to Recovery’ continues tomorrow with:
The Ballad of the One Who Got Away


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031. Friendship, Anxiety and Isolation (Stream of Consciousness)

The 365 Day Challenge…a blogging endeavour I began when I restarted this blog a few months ago lasted all of thirty days before my depression cruelly yanked me from the keyboard and into the abyss of self-hate and worthlessness.

Given I was supposed to post each and every day for a year, it has obviously failed, but as this blog is about rediscovering who I once was I shall continue where I left off and hope no-one noticed :p

Today’s prompt is ‘a bit about your social life outside of your blog’.

So…

…ummm…

…errrrrr….

…bollocks!

I have no social life outside of my blog. I have no social life period. That much should be common knowledge for anyone who has had even a cursory glance around these pages. My tally of friends is zero. My family lives on the other side of the world. My budget is so tight I have no chance of going anywhere or doing anything to make new friends. In other words, I am a monumental joke, the very definition of a sad, pathetic, loser.

Yay, me!

It wasn’t always like this.

When I was a child, growing up in the rather odd little town of Portlethen, I had several friends. We would go on cinema trips to Aberdeen; Honey I Shrunk the Kids and Who Framed Roger Rabbit being stand-outs. We would play on a giant pile of mud, pretending we were wolves and then getting epic bollockings when we got home caked in smelly dirt and grime. We would play Curbie (a random game where you throw a ball and try to hit the edge of the curb), football and British Bulldogs. I even had a crush on the local hottie and, slipping on the rose-tinted glasses, it may even have been reciprocated.

But then we moved.

And then my sister’s mental illness hit.

Swiftly followed by the initial collapse of my mind.

So whilst my school mates were gallivanting around drinking, having random sexual encounters and generally acting as if they were living in a 90s version of Skins – I was sitting in my room self-harming, writing random fictional stories and having odd conversations with a hallucinated faerie called Meadhbe. All of which reduce the chance of making friends and having a social life!

In the late 1990s I decided to spank my faerie into submission and tackle both my social anxiety and self-esteem issues. Throwing my life into backpack I headed off into the wilds of Scotland where I ended up in a backpacker hostel. I remained there for four months, cunningly pretending I was part of a social network where in reality I didn’t share a single iota of information about myself, caught in a cycle of fear that were any of them to know how pathetic I was, they’d never talk to me again. But, in spite of this, the weekly drinking marathons, late night conversations, cinema trips with people, excursions and random Highland based shenanigans were excellent fun.

And then came Canada.

And then came a relationship.

And then came a year of isolated hell whilst my girlfriend did whatever she fancied not caring a jot about how I felt.

And then came Australia.

And then, four years later, an actual social network with actual human beings whom I actually shared personal information with. Not everything, I was still adamant they would despise my existence were they to know the true extent of my madness. But there were trivia nights, binge drinking sessions, long conversations in pubs with fireplaces, cheap pizza, sharing of anecdotes, shopping trips, cinema visits and the whole gauntlet of wonderful fuzzy bunny feelings that being part of a social network brings.

And then came the abuse.

And then came the breakdown.

And then came the mania.

And then came the isolation.

From then, five years ago, nothing has really been the same. A couple of days with Sammi, a few months trying to reconnect with an old friend before I screwed up, a terrible decision to move to the desert, a relationship doomed to fail because of my own inadequacies.

And then nothing.

I cannot recall the last time I was touched.

I cannot recall the last time someone called just to talk to me instead of wanting me to help them.

I cannot recall the last time I spent time with anyone.

The circle of life has returned me to those long, painful teenage years of nothing and nobody but hallucinations and an anxiety so severe I cannot even comment on websites let alone maintain conversations with actual, living, human beings.

For a while I tried to use Twitter to re-engage with society, but that fell apart when the depression hit and I haven’t returned there for months. I was also a member of a social networking site (that shall remain nameless) where I attempted to connect with people of a shared interest, but once again, since the depression hit and my anxiety escalated to uncontrollable levels, I haven’t returned – despite enjoying my time there tremendously.

In both cases I am too afraid to go back. How do I explain my months of absence? How do I explain my complete lack of a life?

People say it is easier to find a job when you already have one. Ditto for housing. The same goes for friends. If you have friends you are more likely to find yourself invited to parties and social events where you are more likely to find yourself in a position to talk to new people. Plus, regular contact with others improves your ability to communicate (see my backpacking years, and the social network in Australia period) than if you were to be, say, living in a park for three years talking to hallucinated faeries and going completely insane.

My parents believe the isolation has caused more damage than the bipolar. Something I agree with. I like to think I’m not a bad person. I like to think I’m creative, passionate, interesting, caring and…and…even as I wrote those words my inner demons are instantly dismissing them as crap.

Like others I’ve tried to befriend over the years have said. What’s wrong with me? There has to be something pretty darned wrong with me to have no-one in my life who cares whether I live or die. And there lies the problem. The moment people discover I have no friends, their mind races around trying to figure out why I don’t – usually, as I do, settling on the he’s just an evil, worthless human being.

I would love to have a social life.

I would love to have friends.

I would love to reconnect with the world.

But with my anxiety off the charts, my mental health unsupported, my inability to trust anyone (including myself) since the abusive relationship and my determination to convince myself I’m the worst human being that has ever lived (again, a product of the abuse)…I have no idea what to do but remain alone.

Like my abuser said, my voice is so boring and monotonous it inflicts pain on everyone I talk to, thus, I should kill myself to end the agony I bring to everyone.

When you don’t love yourself, when you don’t believe in yourself, when you don’t trust yourself, how can you create a social life? How do I get past the anxiety and find a way to talk to people again? What can I do to beat down the walls I’ve created to protect myself?

I honestly have no idea – and until I can find one – I can’t see me having any social life other than the isolated one I’ve been living.

This post was written as a stream of consciousness between 9:59 and 10:22. Please excuse any spelling, grammatical and woe-is-me depressive whining. I know it’s my fault I don’t have any friends and I’m trying to correct it, I just don’t know how.


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Reflections on being homeless, Part 6

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.

I have yet to come to terms with the last two and a half years and in spite of my current accommodation, still feel homeless to this day.

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, I skim through a barely remembered period of breakdown and talk about something that heals me…

PREVIOUS INSTALLMENTS
PART 1 | PART 2 | PART 3 | PART 4 | PART 5

A New Life (Days 440 – 446)

In October 2010 I caught a train from Southern Cross Station to Sydney, via Albury. It was to be the start of my new life. A new beginning after four hundred and twenty-nine days of pain and misery on the streets (and boarding houses) of Melbourne. My months working to rebuild my confidence and self-belief via Twitter and social networking were paying off.

I can clearly remember getting off the train in the early hours of the morning and relishing in big gulps of Sydney air. After I’d finished choking on the pollution from the heavy rush hour traffic I slung my bag on my back and walked from Central Station to the only part of Sydney I love in order to commemorate my ‘new life’ with a photograph:

Seven days into my new life, I took another photo:

I was back in Melbourne, back in my park, back under my tree, sharing my nights with possums and my mornings with the daily keep-fit brigade. All I can remember from that period is sitting on a train as it drew into Melbourne thinking ‘what the fuck just happened’ with tears streaming my face and a renewed hatred of social networks.

As I lay trembling in the park – a physical reaction from the stress and pain I was feeling – it dawned on me that Facebook, Twitter, blogs and other online shenanigans are for people who already have social networks, they are for beautiful, talented, loved human beings.

They are not for socially phobic, mentally ill, lonely, ugly, grotesque people like myself.

It was time to end this part of my life, once and for all.

Breaking Down (Days 447 – 681)

On Friday 29th October 2010, I logged off of Facebook and Twitter for the last time. I erased my blogging presence and effectively went dark in both the online and real world; I’d had enough.

For the first time since my assault at the boarding house I returned to a homeless organisation I had visited several times and, for the first time, was offered emergency motel accommodation and, for the first time, given a $10 food voucher. It is highly likely that the only reason I received these two things was because I spent the entire time physically shaking and crying uncontrollably.

After leaving with directions I slowly made my way to the motel they had organised for me. I had never been to the suburb this motel was located in, besides fleetingly drifting through it whilst cycling with my ex-girlfriend, but as the following months were to play out, it would become a suburb I’d get to know well.

By the time I arrived at the Coburg Motor Inn I was exhausted, emotionally drained and in dire need of some tender loving care. But first, I needed food – and alcohol. The voucher I had been granted could only be used in Safeway/Woolworth’s stores and – after a conversation with the motel operator – was informed the closest supermarket was in Preston, some several kilometres away. With blisters on my feet and a desire to drink myself to death, I hiked the distance and purchased a few packets of noodles, some coca-cola, bread and processed cheese slices, before returning to the motel via Cash Converters, where I sold my camera, in order to buy as much alcohol as possible.

After a brief couple of months where things had looked like they were coming together, I had descended back into the mindset of mid 2010. Little made sense, cohesive thoughts were few and far between, hallucinations reigned supreme and I was drinking vodka as if my life depended on it. Which, I guess, it did,

I had no idea what to do, who to talk to or where to go. Conversations with Centrelink social workers went nowhere – the contacts they gave me for food weren’t valid, the accommodation options either unavailable or my mental health was not a serious enough risk for acceptance. As for more mental health specialised services, either contact was not returned, or because I had no-one to validate my words, my tear fuelled conversations fell on disbelieving and unhelpful ears (the story of my life); if I was mentally sound enough to make a phone call, I was mentally sound enough to manage all other areas of my life.

That weekend I spent the days sitting in the motel staring at the walls and the evenings sitting in a park nearby staring at the trees. When it rained, I didn’t care, I just sat near the creek gazing into the fast flowing waters hoping there would be a sudden flood and my pitiful life would be swallowed for good.

After leaving the motel, the organisation who had organised it, offered me accommodation in yet another strange suburb. For the first time I put my foot down – it was way too far from anything I knew, it would isolate me even more than I was, the rent was very nearly my entire benefit check, there was a forty-five minute walk to the nearest supermarket and the room had no windows or ventilation. I was NOT coping. I COULD NOT deal with this.

I was told that if I didn’t take this accommodation I would be on the streets as there was nothing else available.

There was no choice; the streets would definitely have killed me. Despite my desire for death, my gut instinct to survive reigned supreme…so I took the accommodation.

By now, with everything that had happened, boarding houses were not safe havens for me. After a few days of heightened tension following weeks and months of escalating chaos, I shut down.

I remained in my room for over four weeks; the lack of windows making it feel like a prison cell. I used bottles, boxes and black bags for a toilet. I ate raw oats mixed with raspberry cordial for food. I cried on a daily basis for no reason whatsoever. I self-harmed with a pair of scissors for tender loving care.

A marathon of Young Indiana Jones reminded me of my youth, a marathon of Veronica Mars reminded me of better days and then…with nothing left to watch…I inserted the first DVD of the first season of One Tree Hill and, as I wrote in a previous post:

“In a single week I watched the first four seasons back to back. I fell in love with Brooke (one of the best female characters in the history of television), Peyton (one of the other best female characters in the history of television) and developed an on-again/off-again bro-mance with Lucas’ hair.

More importantly this show reminded me of who I once was and wanted to become. As the episodes ticked away, I was reminded of my love of music, of television production, of story arcs and obsession with mind-blowing writing.” [from Hope, the greatest weapon of all]

The desire to see season’s five and six of this show is what drew me from that room, blinking back into the sun. Although still deeply disturbed I attempted to right what was happening. Over the coming weeks, leading up to Christmas, I tried to write again. My early attempts resembled the oft-disjointed posts that are published on this blog, but, over time, I began re-immersing myself in a world that had always healed me; the world of my Chronicles.

The Ghosts that Haunt Me

In February 2000 I visited the Outer Hebrides with two friends. On my second evening there I went for a walk around the town of Stornoway whilst these two beautiful women rested in our B&B room. As I walked the darkened, chilly streets, I came up with the idea of combining two-story ideas;

1) My autobiographical re-telling of my time backpacking in Scotland.

and

2) An urban romantic-fantasy based in and around a backpacker hostel in Inverness.

On that night, on that distant isle, Dust in the Wind was born. For several years it gestated, grew and strengthened in my mind. The characters became more real, their backstories fleshing out with finer and more intimate detail. The romantic elements dissipated to greater reflect the tale of loss and redemption I had envisioned.

As 2006 drew to a close I was finally content with both life and mind to write the book that had lived within me for nearly seven years. Glandular fever, my college course and a novella I was writing for my then girlfriend as a personalised birthday present, pushed this novel onto the back-burner until post breakdown, when I would force myself to write with lengthy periods of self-harm and alcohol.

The combination of breakdown, self-harm and alcoholism meant the first (renamed) draft of The Ghosts that Haunt Me failed on several levels. However, as my mind returned, I returned to it many times over my life in Alice Springs and Inverness (circa 2009) until I finally had an umpteenth draft I was happy with.

One of the stronger memories of this period of job hunting and isolation is me sitting for a day on a bench near the River Ness reading my novel from cover to cover. Although far from Pulitzer or Whitbread material I thought it was rather good, as did most of the people I sent copies for ‘opinion’ to. In spite of several rejections from publishers, I’ve always been proud of myself for completing that novel, especially in regard to all that was happening during that period.

Today, after my copies were lost in the early months of my homelessness, the sole surviving copy lives on a USB stick in my parent’s attic.

Spurred on by One Tree Hill and a desire to do something other than self-harm myself to death, I threw myself back into the healing qualities of writing and creating. Knowing I was not focussed enough to write actual prose, for weeks I wrote plot outlines, character histories and family trees. I fine tuned both story and character arcs and, for the first time ever, wrote a lengthy document that consisted of a comprehensive chronology of the entire Chronicles as they existed in my mind; a series of interconnected novels, films, TV series and websites that detail the lives, loves and losses of several dozen characters over three generations.

Back on the Streets

As I wrote this document, the ‘life’ within a boarding house continued to frustrate me. In the weeks since I’d moved in the room beside me had been occupied by three different people. The first, trashed his room upon leaving; smashing a television, damaging the walls and throwing urine over the floor. The second, remained for only a couple of weeks, whilst the third formed the habit of continually knocking on my door at all hours of the day and night. On one occasion, she knocked on my door thirteen times in half an hour to make sure I was ‘okay’ whilst on another, at three in the morning, she woke me up to ask if she could eat my eggs.

In spite of the pride I was taking in my writing work, the ‘life’ I was living was continuing to destroy my mental health. I missed conversations with friends, trivia quizzes and pub nights. I missed walking the streets lost in conversation and being needed and wanted by people who cared about my life.

All I had were the power games, endless bitching, stolen food, sudden explosions of violence, constant verbal abuse and continual drug and alcohol problems that plague all boarding houses. After the events and assaults of 2010, I kept completely to myself but, as I expected, as things within the house worsened I began to once again lose control. My hallucinations returned in force and my screaming fits in the night started up again (as pointed out by fellow housemates.)

I am (to this day) continually stunned that these boarding houses are basically the only option for homeless people in Melbourne; environments that are totally unsuitable for anyone, let alone for unmedicated, unsupported people with a lengthy history of abuse and mental illness.

Eventually, these issues overpowered me, and I was once again sent hurtling into the abyss of inaction and unstable mental ill-health. As my moods cycled rapidly, and with no support from anyone, I began blacking out again. Entire days and weeks lost to the darkness of my mind until, one day, I found myself back on the streets.

Unable to deal with the city I lived for a time in a park close to the boarding house, before tiring of this area and returning to the park that had served me well during my nights in the motel.

For weeks I lived up and down the corridor between Coburg and the city, visiting the city only rarely (once a week mainly) to stock up on food van sandwiches and bread to feed me throughout the week. My days were spent reading newspapers, scribbling artwork (around this time I took to using my skin as a canvas with a red pen to try to curtail the increasing self harm) and talking to rogue possums and the occasional pigeon.

With the amount of rejection I had received from mental health and homeless services over the years I was adamant I would never return to them. I was tired of rejection. I was tired of being spoken down to. I was tired of being treated as a statistic; a meaningless non-entity who didn’t deserve to be alive.

I need a hug! (Day 682)

On the 21st June 2011 I sat in a small alley near Southern Cross station. It was drizzling with rain. I was tired, exhausted, confused and in desperate need of a hug (which, as of today, I have yet to receive.)

It had been a long and emotional weekend, partly because of the far-too-obvious ending to A Good Man Goes To War, mostly because reminders of my past life were everywhere I turned; my Sunday ritual had prompted a smile followed by a panic attack; a walk down a random street in East Melbourne had flustered me with un-needed memories of years gone; and I discovered something that forced me off of a website I had grown to love.

As I sat in that damp, cold alley, I talked to my father on the phone and he decided enough was enough and, after leaving me to find somewhere safe to sleep for the night (my old park, for the first time in many months), he sent some emails.

Note I: This post was written over eleven hours and fifty-two minutes because of my current mental state.

Note II: I’m considering posting the chronological timeline of the Chronicles mentioned above. Let me know if you’d like to see it :)

Note III: All photographs used in this post are my own (including cover photograph), and cannot be reused without my express written permission. I have pixellated the photos because I look better this way :p