Homelessness, Mental Health & Obesity – Pat 1 – How I Became Homeless
Part 4 – Little Sister (coming soon)
Before We Begin…
To understand my entire weight loss journey it’s going to take some explaining. If it were easy to explain one could assume it would be easy to fix. That’s not the case. To have gotten where I am today has taken a lot of work, not only physically but also mentally.
As a society we need to change how we understand obesity. When we see a person who is extremely overweight it can be very easy to make general assumptions that lead us to make incorrect judgements about that person’s life.. When make these assumptions and judgements we completely ignore the person’s history and the underlying reasons why they are suffering from obesity. This results in a complete failure to understand the person / patient / client and any chance to institute a change in that person’s habits are lost. This is why I am sharing these stories.
Homelessness, mental health and obesity are closely linked to my story and if I am going to accomplish real change in my life and help other people I need to be completely honest about my experiences.
I’ve come to a point where I can not only confront things that I’ve had hidden away but also talk about them openly. I write this knowing that many people, especially those who feel closest to me, may not know that I’ve experienced such things. I’m sorry that I haven’t been open with you. It’s a survival mechanism I’m still trying to unlearn.
I am extremely lucky to be in a position where I feel safe enough that I can share this. I am also extremely lucky to have found a way out of the position I found myself in. This is often not possible for many people. If you feel compelled to help the homeless after reading this please consider donating to one of these charities: Manna, St. Bartholomew’s, Croft Inc., Passages Resource Centre or search for homeless charities in your city.
I will be documenting pivotal moments in my life that have impacted my mental health and played a role with my weight. These topics will be confronting and I will try and include trigger warnings where possible. It is my hope that sharing these stories people will understand that there is much more to obesity than simply eating and not being active.
I grew up as an only child, my parents thought they couldn’t have children and I ended up arriving when my Dad was 50 and my Mum 43. I was referred to as a miracle, but I felt nothing like one.
I didn’t trust many people. I felt lost in my own home and going to school wasn’t much better. A world of hostility became normal for me from early on, my parents constantly fought, my father would direct his rage toward me. There was always an issue with me in his eyes. I was made to feel like something was wrong with me. He would actively portray one image to the world and people would love him. If you knew my father what I write here may be hard to believe. The reality was he was much different to the person people became to know outside the home.
Trips to school became a nightmare for me, not only due to the environment school provided for me, but what my father would say to me when he was angry, when no one else could hear. He’d regularly and nonchalantly tell me he didn’t love me, I was a disappointment, stupid, didn’t know why he bothered with me or he wished he had a girl. The most disturbing one would be when he regularly tell me how he could kill me with two fingers (I’ve Googled it, I still don’t know if that’s true) and no one would know thanks to his army training. I would have those words in my head as I was unleashed into school.
High school provided me a way to unleash a rage that was building within me. Being a boy at my school meant dealing with violence, I learned early on that you either received it or dealt it. I hated violence but I made sure I wasn’t a victim of it. I had to embrace violence to survive. This trend continued with the friends I made outside of school, I will explain more about this in another post.
At 16 I had left school, I had a girlfriend and a new circle of friends that seemed to value me and plunged me further into a world of violence. My girlfriend was a problem for my parents, especially my Dad. He felt the need to run his mouth to me while we were alone again. I think it was akin to acting like an alpha male, I won’t repeat exactly what he said but it involved the words “slut” and “ass”. I confronted him about it in front of my Mum and my girlfriend. I asked him to repeat to them what he said to me. He became angry and denied he said anything, my girlfriend left and I went outside. I still believe only a coward would say such things and fail to repeat them.
I was sitting outside in the area pictured above, it was close to 11pm and my Dad came out enraged that I “disrespected him”. The insanity didn’t stop and he insisted that I fight him. I had become accustomed to a world of violence outside home but I refused to fight my own father. He kept on trying to antagonise me by pushing me like a primary school fight. I couldn’t believe what he was doing, with every moment it continued my opinion of him plummeted. I picked up a chair and smashed in on the ground. At that moment it became apparent that at 16 I was a better man than my own father.
I walked into the house and my mother raced up to me. I asked her if she saw what just happened. All she could say was “don’t do this”, like I had any sort of power to change anything in this situation. What did she expect me to do? Fight him? Let him hit me? She didn’t deny that she saw what he was trying to do. At that moment I knew she saw what happened, did nothing to help and thought it was my fault. All she could do was tell me not to leave. Any trust I had in either of them washed away.
I grabbed a duffel bag and began to pack essentials. My Mum told me if I left to not bother coming back. I’ll never understand why she said those words to me, she saw what happened and continued to side with him. They both tried to block my way and I pushed through the front door. I heard the door slam behind me as a final goodbye.
The First Steps Towards Hell
I walked to the end of the street down a dark alley way and became overwhelmed with emotion. Anger and tears flowed out of me like a part of my soul escaping. I couldn’t believe what just happened. It felt like I was mentally shedding skin. I finally saw the person behind the mask my father wore. Harbouring so much hatred toward your own son that you want to fight him isn’t something I could forgive, let alone all the times he told me he could end my life.
I walked to a pay phone to call a friend of mine from high school. He tipped me off that my parents already called and told his parents a different story, I realised I left the book of my friend’s phone numbers in my room. He told me if his parents came to get me they would take me straight back home. Even after my father pulled this shit he was still worried about the image he presented to others. I hung up the phone and I knew I needed to find a place that my parents wouldn’t call, but they had the contacts of almost everyone I knew.
Blessing in Disguise
My mum had recently fallen out with a former friend of hers and I was sure they wouldn’t have called her. I remember her being a kind person so I decided to head there and ask for if I could stay until the morning. I got to her house and rung the door bell, I hadn’t realised how late it was until her dog barked. She answered the door and my hunch was correct, they hadn’t called her. I managed to tell her what happened and she told me to come inside.
Her family’s kindness saved me from the street that night and it wouldn’t be the only time. They gave me a place to sleep and I promised them I would find alternative arrangements in the morning. She told me not to worry and get some rest. It still worried me. I just asked someone who was practically a stranger to let me sleep in their house.
Their dog, a pitbull mix, did not leave me alone that night. He either knew something was wrong and insisted sleeping on the bed; or I was actually sleeping in his bed. Nonetheless I enjoyed the company and the feeling the dog would kill anyone if they tried to hurt me.
Wearing Out Welcomes
I headed to a friend’s brother’s workplace in the morning since I didn’t have any numbers. I was pretty sure my parents wouldn’t have his number. My hunch was correct again and he left work to take me to his home after I told him what happened. I stayed a week or so with them until I felt the need to move on. It wasn’t that they said anything, I just felt in the way and I was imposing.
I managed to couch surf for a few months. The cycle of imposition kept happening and I bounced around aimlessly. It became impossible to keep living without any income and relying on my friend’s families to help me out. The only income I had before I left home was a pamphlet delivery job and there was no way I could deliver pamphlets with no home or transport.
I was denied any sort of welfare payments from Centrelink thanks to being underage and even though I was homeless I was still assessed under my parents income and had no way of landing a job in time. I was also told that my parents had contacted them and they still had authority over my Centrelink record. I couldn’t do anything without them saying so. The late 90’s were a mess if you were underage and homeless. Eventually I was completely out of options.
I still didn’t trust anyone fully so I never told anyone that my Dad would tell me that he could kill me without anyone knowing. The last few people I stayed with urged me to go back home. I had to survive somehow and ended up lying to the last family I stayed with just to save face. It was either living in fear of being killed at home or taking my chances on the street.
Naivety Can Kill
I figured I wouldn’t be on the street long. One or two nights and I’d be ok and find another solution. The next day I tried to enrol in Tafe. If I couldn’t get a job I would at least study and do something. I figured I could spend the days studying and at night stay somewhere close by, even if it was on campus under a bench. I had no plan other than that.
I was turned away from Tafe almost immediately. No address and underage meant I couldn’t do anything, let alone trying to pay for it. I needed to come up with $100 just for a deposit, let alone paying for books. I also needed a parent or guardian’s signature. My soul felt it was drowning, reaching out for a lifeline that would never come.
The first night I slept rough I went to a park with a playground. It was treated pine playground that was tucked away in the corner of the park but close to a street light. I was freezing and couldn’t keep warm. My stomach was growling for food but I didn’t feel hungry thanks to being on alert in my new surroundings. I grabbed some extra clothes to wear out of my bag just to keep warm. I managed to drift in and out of sleep between the wind blowing and random noises that would startle me.
Unfortunately this was not the only night like I imagined. It became two nights, then a week, which became two, which became a month… I was trapped and there was nothing I could do.
It’s not the first night that is the worst. The first night on the street is by far the best. You have no idea what is ahead. I was completely naive to what I would face and completely stupid. There’s no way to prepare for sleeping rough for a period of time. All the shit I dealt with up until that time was nothing compared to the nightmare sleeping rough produced. Every second that ticks is a struggle for your own survival. You’re immediately the lowest rung of society.
The longer you are out there the harder it becomes to get out of the cycle. Homelessness becomes a stain you can’t clean, your clothes wear, you look rough, you smell, you hate yourself, you see people who are better off than you everywhere and those same people… they look straight through you like you don’t exist. You don’t become numb, you become soulless. A shell of a human with little more purpose than looking for ways to survive.
Nothing destroys you quicker than having nothing with no where to go, or no one to turn to. This is even worse if you’re homeless during your teenage years. I was homeless at a time when my brain was still developing. The connections made during this period are ones that are more likely to stick with you into adult life. During this period I was under constant stress and feared for my own safety.
I was constantly hungry and scared for most of the time. There’s no way to find safety being homeless. You can find places that are safer than others, but you are never truly safe. Existence and survival is a constant fight. Anxiety became a daily driver in my life, as regular as the sun rising came the stress of having to find something to eat and drink and somewhere else to sleep. I learned pretty quickly you can’t stay in the same place for too long otherwise you become a target for locals, police or randoms looking to fight you. That park I stayed in, I went back there for 4 nights and I got told that the “neighbourhood was no place for people like you” and was threatened if I went back they’d slit my throat in my sleep.
Mentally you feel like the living dead. That soulless feeling never left me that whole time. Imagine society is a boot and it’s stomping you away from every single dream to the beat of a drum, each beat of the drum is another dream getting beaten out of you. Over and over again until you give up.
The mind begins to accept that this is the way it is. You believe that you are different from everyone else. That glimmer of hope or nativity that I had that I could just study left pretty quick as I believed that people like me didn’t even belong in a neighbourhood playground.
I was homeless for around a year and of those I slept rough for approximately 7 months. I managed to get out of it thanks to some luck and incredible kindness . This will be outlined more in upcoming posts
I’m now 35 and the experiences in that year have never left me. However, I deal with them the best that I can. I have an extremely active adrenal glad that puts me on high alert for small things, anxiety flows like a dam that’s burst. New situations scare me and starting any kind of new job is a nightmare.
I struggle not to over eat for fear of being hungry. Hunger anger feels uncontrollable at times and it’s still a connection that was made in my brain while it was developing. It’s extremely easy for me to feel worthless or invisible, it sometimes feels like a default position. I get startled very easily and often results in a surge of adrenaline that leaves me agitated. I am extremely conscious of how I smell, I even ask my wife to smell me even though deep down it’s not possible to smell the way I used to. I can’t be near anyone when they’re using or holding knives thanks to the violence I faced.
Almost 20 years on I’m still discovering mental issues that were instigated from that period in my life.