A place to call home has been a challenge for me for a number of reasons over the past 25 years or so. I was brought up in my parents lovely home in England and then in rural Victoria when I was a teenager. It was stunningly beautiful place. Naturally I hated it. This was not due to me lacking an aesthetic, it was more about what the country meant to me – bigotry, narrow mindedness and bullying. Needless to say I moved out straight after high school.
At 17 I moved in with a socialist comrade in Melbourne and got a job. At that point I had no Asperger’s diagnosis and these things seemed to be what one did. Share houses were confusing. What worked in my parents’ house did not work in a shared house. Over a two year period I lived in five different places.
When I just turned twenty I met some one who changed my life in a very negative way – ‘Dave’ the violent criminal. That wasn’t how he presented himself to me and by the time my trusting, naive self had worked out he was very bad news, I was in far too deep. Regrettably I was too scared to leave him and so went along with some of his crimes and went to prison. I went through five years of primary and secondary homelessness, plots of stays in prison and the psych ward. I lost any confidence I may have had, hated myself. I figured my life would be as it was – institutionalised, insecure and scary.
What changed? I never truly know the moment it happened. My last prison sentence ended on 5 February 2000. One of the officers said he bet me a carton of cigarettes that I would be back within a month (helpful, know!!) From prison I went to a live in therapy service and there things changed.I was treated as an equal, worthy human being for the first time in forever. My parents who had always been supportive were so happy and encouraging. It all combined to change how I saw myself in the world.
Sadly poverty and disadvantage don’t magically disappear just because you decide to change your life. Housing was a huge issue. I went through several years of having no choice in where I lived. Some of the places were unpleasant, some were downright dangerous. I ended up being assessed as the top priority category for public housing as I had lived in over forty addresses over the preceding few years, I don’t remember all of them and none of the addresses. It was like I was a little lost ghost floating through unpleasant boarding houses and supported accommodation. My last supported housing place was in lager block of public housing flats. As a priority list tenant I had to accept the first property I was given. You have no idea how disappointed I was when I saw the tiny concrete box I had to live in. There was constant damp actually running down the walls. All my art was ruined. I soon gained a scary stalker – a woman who gave me no peace and who was a violent alcoholic.
What I’ve missed here is what I was doing to change this. I was an aspirational Jeanette, going to university to gain a degree and hopefully score a graduate job if any company would have for me. I sat in my bedroom with my slightly broken desk and looked longingly at real estate online. For some reason I thought i would buy a flat for $200,000. I had nothing to base that on. It was odd.
There is a great mental health saying that ‘you alone can do it, but you cant do it alone.’ Thankfully I was not alone. I had my parents always there and in 2004 I met someone whose influence I can realistically say resulted in everything I have now. She was my resplendently wonderful mentor. You will know her perhaps and know that she is no longer with us here which is hard for me to write, Her name was Polly but I knew her then as Donna Williams. Polly suggested I write my life story which I did. I will be grateful every day from now to eternity. The book was published. Within a year of its release I was offered a graduate job in the Australian Public Service. I moved to Canberra and started a new life, including living in a very lovely rental property which I could scarcely believe.
The rental came with a difficult housemate. While the house was wonderful, the housemate was less so. I was miserable there within a short space of time and oddly surprised that middle class people could be controlling! As soon as I had a minuscule deposit saved I bought the cheapest apartment I could which was near public transport (as I don’t drive). I was frightened for the first few weeks. I was alone. I had lived by myself in the past but there were away neighbours or friends nearby, Here it was just me. Because I rushed to buy my flat and it was the only one I could afford I saw it as a compromise. As with many older houses there were maintenance issues. The worst was the shower which leaked and I had to replace. This was a descent into darkness for me. My anxiety was off the scale and I looked at every inch of my flat expecting it to collapse at any moment. I genuinely wanted to live at work and sleep under my desk! If I went away overnight I would expect to come back and find my house robbed, burned down or somehow gone.
My anxiety, as can unfortunately happen for me, turned into psychosis and I spent terrifying months communing with ghosts in a sort of waking nightmare. By the time I got help it was very late and I suffered for some years. I hated my flat and felt it was my enemy,
Then something happened which was as much a catalyst as any of the main change points in my life, A young black cat who I called Mr Ronnie and not long after Mr Kitty, came to live with me, Within a few months my flat seemed a lot more friendly. I came home to a friendly purring kitty person, delighted at my existence and the promise of cat food and cuddles. I tentatively started to branch out with the art and hung as many visually interesting things as I could everywhere there was a space. My house gained the name ’Whimsy Manor’ which has kind of stuck. And today was another of the transition points, at least in terms of my thinking – I love my home, I really enjoy being here. It is a reflection of me. I finally came home. I have within me security and pride in my space. I would never have thought that possible to have a home where I am comfortable and belong. One very grateful Jeanette here. “Welcome to Whimsy Manor”
A corner of Whimsy Manor complete with Mr Kitty