Thank you to my wonderful blog friends for all your suggestions, both about how to survive Christmas, and ideas on what to post.
I’ve had a few requests to write about the times I was homeless or nearly homeless, and how that affected my eating disorder.. I have to admit it’s a very hard post for me to write! It’s a very painful period of my time, the memories of which I am still struggling with daily, and it’s hard to put together because it’s a period of time in which if i wasn’t already very sick, I was getting very sick, and I also spent a lot of that time dissociated in order to just survive what was happening to me.
When I was only just turning 17, things came to a head at home. The situation had been terrible for a long time, but sometimes you need a rock bottom, a turning point where you can no longer deny, this is going to kill me if I stay.
The next morning I was out on the first bus (6am). I had only what I could carry in a box, which amounted to mostly uni stuff, ballet stuff, my old teddy bear, and a few clothes (clothes not being something I ever had a lot of to begin with). It was pouring rain, absolutely soaking bucketing down.
My mother had been getting Austudy to pay for me, a maintenance payment from my father, and a disability allowance too. The most contact I had with money up to that point, was the small amount of money for my bus/train/bus to school fare, or money for errands if I was running one. So I knew pretty much nothing and had nothing. My mum gave me the bus fare (just over $1 in those days) and handed me an ATM card – it was my card, my account, I remembered making it with her at the bank but never had anything to do with it after then. It was the account my Austudy was paid into. Mum explained how to use it, then said “There is nothing in it now, but there will be about $62 there on Thursday, your fortnightly Austudy”. Then she rolled over and went back to sleep. Bye, mum. Thanks for never really being a mum.
Obviously one cannot live on $62 a fortnight. I also at that point had no idea about the maintenance or the disability payment, both of which my mum kept collecting until I was at least 18.
I was familiar with two places really – both suburbs that my dance school were situated at. I chose the one with the uni (I’d just been accepted into it and was just beginning orientation).
That day I didn’t end up at my orientation classes – I was looking everywhere for somewhere to live. Notice boards, Real estate agents.. obviously with no money there isn’t much there for you. Finally I thought of the uni counselling service. They had nothing for me but said come back tomorrow.
I spent my first night in a park. Wet, tired, not sleeping (scared to). I hadn’t eaten – it didn’t cross my mind. There was no way to get food and right now, it was the last thing I wanted to think about.
The next day I rocked up, tired, damp, to counselling. They helped me find a place in a student hostel, but I still had another night before it was free – this time I was a bit smarter and spent it in the university computer labs. They were 24 hour labs so I was able to sit in front of a screen and stare at pretty much nothing.
The next day I moved into my room at the hostel – it was heaven to me. Better than anywhere I’ve lived in my whole life at that point. The first meal since leaving home was dinner (it was included). I was so scared! I lined up with the rest of the residents, and was presented with a HEAPING plate of food, meat and vegies and potatoes, dessert covered a large table and was help yourself. I sat at a table alone and just stared at my meal. I didn’t know where to start, and i was overwhelmed by guilt. I was used to food being ‘not allowed’. I could hear my mum in my head, snarking on about how dare I think I deserved that, especially when I still had yet to pay for my accomodation (they let me stay and pay back later) and so much more.
I finally caved in and ate it, when i noticed the supervisor looking over and nodding at me – as though she understood my dilemma.
After that first meal, I very quickly became used to the food. More than used to it, I started binge eating. Making up for lost time. I ate everything in sight and then some! And later when my money was sorted, I realised I could BUY food too, and that mum wasn’t there saying you can’t have this or that. I didn’t realise it at the time, but I was stuffing down my pain with it. I gained a LOT of weight. As a dancer, I was told off about it, so started hating my body for the first time for what it LOOKED like. I started avoiding meat, fat, but still pigging out on the desserts, sugar, jelly beans, apples, so I just kept on gaining! Thank God I was dancing a lot, or I would have had a major problem.
I wasn’t able to stay at that hostel for too long, soon I had to move on. It was far too expensive. From there, I bounced in between student squats (glorified illegal buildings that still charged rent, just on the hush), hostels, boarding houses, parks, the computer labs (where I developed a huge addiction for the internet circa late 1990′s and games like Warcraft, Doom, Quake etc)
All these new places had different food problems, also depending on where I was with the disorder. Uni labs for example, meant feasting on jellybeans and pastilles from the vending machine for dinner and breakfast and just to pass the night. Hostels meant eating what they served if they served meals, boarding houses often meant no access to cooking facilities – sometimes you had a fridge. Parks meant biscuits and coffee from the vans late at night if you stayed in the city area, but I didn’t – I felt safer bussing it out to the suburbs. The less people around, the safer I felt. And I was struggling to eat more and more.
At first I kept eating crap, but I couldn’t take it any more and the tide was turning. I’d started my nutritional ‘self education’ and learnt why what I was eating was making me bigger.
I started cutting out carbs, and that presented problems in itself – how do you eat meat if you can’t cook it? For a long time, my food was that awful, plastic fat free Devondale 7 cheese, jelly made with kettle-boiled water, herbal teabags and artificial sweetener (this was pre-sugarfree jellies, but I soon was eating those) and Hot Take Away BBQ chicken (how i loved my hot chicken! I even ate the skin – and was losing weight.) I look back now and just shake my head.
I was seeing a GP at the university for depression, and she realised I was actually suffering from anorexia, and thus started poking around at my intake. I was soon being pressured to include ‘forbidden’ foods – we spent half an hour one day arguing over a small peach for example! For a girl who was scared of lettuce because it might contain carbs, a peach was terrifying. She just wanted me to eat one fricken peach before I saw her the next week and I couldn’t bear the thought of it. i finally did eat it.. but that turned the tide it’s own way.
Adding in carbs meant I had to find other ways to feel in control – I started counting calories. Now this is potentially much easier than being carb free – anything can be eaten, as long as the number fits. I was soon daily at the supermarket, weighing out carrots, mushrooms, greens, grapefruit, beans, and other lower carb mostly vegies. I’d memorised the calorie content of 100g of each and would calculate my daily intake there in the supermarket to two decimal places (anal, I know) which i would save til late at night and then chow down on like a demented rabbit, wherever I was, raw. It took a while to eat and that was the point – I didn’t like the aloneness and the emptiness of my nights.
when I’d started bingeing and purging, I was in the student hostel again – no cooking facilites or fridge of my own. I would take a long walk every day to the shops in the city, buy food that was ready to eat (and therefore very expensive) then catch a taxi back to the hostel to eat it all in my room. Purging was a major headache – shared bathroom and I had to creep down the stairs. The whole building could hear anything in those bathrooms so I just did small purges during the binge, then took a long shower to cleanse myself inside and out. I had to move back out soon after – it was too expensive especially now that I’d started bingeing.
Boarding houses were where I discovered that nobody has to go hungry in our great city. There is more free food than the people who need it can eat. I had been scrounging about the communal kitchen and getting in trouble for eating other resident’s food during the night – I used to eat through my money left after bills in the first few days then starve for the remainder of the fortnight – and one of them kindly took me to the local homeless shelter/drop in centre. There I was met with a display of more food than i have seen in one place in a lifetime – all free, take what you need. I came away with a truckload of day-old bread and soup – with the knowledge there was more every day. My nights became a pattern of sitting on the floor in my little room, bingeing on bread dipped in soup, creeping out down the hall to purge, back and repeat.
The best thing about finding the shelter was that I spent a lot of time working there as a volunteer – and that taught me valuable skills as well as kept my self esteem from hitting absolute rock bottom – to know I gave something back.
I know this is not a very good post, and it’s all over the place, I hope it makes sense. I spent about 6 or 7 years moving around, being halfway homeless, in and out of hospital (which is another reason I moved a lot – I kept losing places when I was in hospital) and every now and then, completely homeless for a night or two in between places. I finally found stable housing in the Housing flat I now live in and have lived in for a decade. I have grown soft, grown used to having all I need and having my privacy to do what I want to do. It has made my eating disorder worse in many ways, but it’s kept me safe – for the first time in my whole life, I’ve found safety from other PEOPLE. And the strength to keep any door I might have had shut between myself and my abusers.
I never take my home or the wonderful, caring, genuine friends I’ve made in these lost years, for granted. I have everything I need to live. Financially things are still a struggle. Living with the eating disorder is still a nightmare. But life is getting better, bit by bit. A safer, stabler sort of better. I have hope that a few short years ago, I didn’t think existed.
Soon I will be moving again – starting a brand new chapter. Nobody who has ever abused me or hurt me, will know where I live. And I want to start fresh with my eating there too – start out as I mean to continue. I know that is not something that just happens because you move, but it IS an opportunity to start fresh, in a better place.. and it’s a real home. It’s literally paradise for me, and for my cat. I can’t wait.
Soon I will be coming home.
How have your living arrangements impacted on your eating – or your eating impacted on your living arrangements?