This month in Listen Up! we’ve been thinking about recovery, and I’ve really struggled to know what to write. I have opinions – of course I have opinions – but I don’t know I have much to contribute to this topic.
Truth is I’ve been feeling like a bit of a fraud. It’s something I’ve experienced every so often since going back to work following my breakdown nine years ago. I try to picture myself how others would see me, and I worry that if I break the illusion that I’m “recovered” then it will somehow affect the way people relate to me or they will reject what I have to say.
In my last job I felt a fraud because I was working for Shelter, and I couldn’t find secure accommodation. I was utterly miserable living where I was – a council bedsit in a block of flats on an unsafe estate in Stoke. Private landlords wouldn’t rent to me as my credit rating was appalling following a Debt Relief Order I needed to deal with the debts I accumulated around the time I became homeless. My partner also had bad credit and so landlords wouldn’t touch us – despite us both working fulltime, me at a charity and him for the council.
We didn’t have a guarantor either – people with mortgages, good credit and secure jobs are hard to find, particularly with our backgrounds. I couldn’t get a swap for my bedsit because I wanted out of Stoke and nobody wants to move into Stoke, especially the building I was in once it became known that there were plans to demolish it.
I became utterly despondent that I couldn’t escape the shadow cast by my homelessness, and I felt like a hypocrite every time someone praised how far I’d come. Each time I travelled back from Manchester and walked up to my building, the click of door releasing when I used the fob, the smell of drugs, the frequent sight of blood or urine on one of the landings, the pre-payment cupboard for my electric, the drug dealer living in the flat beneath mine, the intercom going off at all hours.. All constant signs that I’d gone wrong and couldn’t move on. It felt like nothing I could do would be good enough to get back some semblance of a decent life.
Covid and lockdown meant I was stuck in that building for days at a time. All my friends, colleagues, my partner were at least five miles from me when local, otherwise in a different city. I felt trapped and began sinking back into the headspace I was in when my breakdown occurred. However, Covid became a saviour too. It meant that my partner and I could save money, and we ended up saving enough to pay six months’ rent up front on a private rental in a town we both loved and, last year, we moved.
I’m still not recovered from homelessness but being in a house that I chose to live in, in an area I chose to move to, where I feel safe, where I feel I belong.. it helps massively. For nearly eight years I inhabited that bedsit and, although technically not homeless, my mindset was such that I still was. All the time I spent in that flat was in fear. Which brings us today.
Why do I still feel like a fraud when that part of my life has been transformed? Because I lived that life for too long. In the last 15 months I’ve moved house to a different part of the country and changed my job – the two things which were wrapped up in my homelessness bubble. Two things which are stressful in themselves. And it feels like all the change has finally sunk in. And it’s rattled me.
My mental health, always something which needs constant tending to, has gone downhill. Not in a dramatic way, just a sinking sludgy way. My depression has gone from background noise to something I’m very aware of. It feels like everything that’s happened has finally dawned on my brain and it’s sunk back and said “shit”.
So, I asked for help. I rang my doctors and said I needed a mental health review. That’s when I felt like a fraud. I feel, irrationally, that I somehow shouldn’t be doing this job purely because I made that phone call. Taking medication feels like one thing, but for me to say something is not right feels like another. I do know this is irrational. What I feel and what I know always tend to be separate things.
The phone call led to me talking to a mental health practitioner and I’ve now spoken to him a few times and I feel much better for it. Talking to someone who wasn’t listening to work out how it would affect my job, living with me, whether I can still volunteer etc, was a huge weight lifted. Being vulnerable and saying things weren’t quite right felt good.
My recovery from mental health is something I have always known will never end. I will be working on staying balanced and healthy for the rest of my life. My recovery from homelessness though, is something I hope will end. I’d like to hear a knock on the door and not want to hit mute on the TV and hide. I’d like to open my post without dread. I’d like to not have nightmares located on that estate. I can’t accept that homelessness is something I should be recovering from for the rest of my life. But how do you recover from something that has come to define who you now are?