At the end of each year, I post an article about lessons I’ve learnt in the previous twelve months. Readers following my dubious ‘exploits’ know that during 2016, I moved from hotel to hotel, and to a different part of the country where I stayed in more hotels. My adventures included tenuous hotel occupancy that could end any second, and a malicious landlady who did not hesitate to importune her tenants or their guests. Her justification? ‘It’s not my problem.’
My swift extraction to the East coast wasn’t so swift—there were false starts before I left, and the end result fell far short of expectation. Eventually, though, I wound up not so many miles away from where I started in 2012.
I have signed a lease. I have a home.
The overriding ‘themes’ of 2016 for me were PTSD and homelessness. I am fortunately not to have had to ‘sleep under a bridge ‘ or in a shelter. However life in one hotel after another, with an occasional pause for a night or two on someone’s couch, does not lend stability to one’s existence. Post traumatic stress feeds on the wounds and vulnerabilities of a person’s psyche, ensuring that nothing is so bad that the mind cannot find a way to make it worse. The battles have been difficult to fight, impossible to win, and yet, one survives.
Personality changes are common to all degrees of homelessness. You have no permanent place to return to at the end of the day; has no roots, no sense of belonging. Nothing is yours except what you can keep and carry. There is nowhere in the world where you belong. This leads to doubts about your future and your self-worth. Since mental illness is often an element of homelessness, Quality of Life deteriorates further the less you can believe in yourself and recognize your innate qualities.
It is natural to take pride in yourself, and difficult to do when you don’t belong, because you feel worthless. It is important to believe in yourself, which is difficult when you can think of nothing but desperate survival. People are naturally creative, and have many outlets for this. They do so largely for enjoyment. It gives satisfaction, it is a buffer against a cold wind. For the dispossessed, creativity is marginal survival. There is a difference between surviving and living. Rocks survive.
Even though I’ve signed a lease, I think: ‘How long can I stay here? Where will the next place be? What will it be like? Do I dare unpack my suitcase? How much will I lose this time? How badly will this hurt?’ So much of my experience over the last year tells me this new arrangement can’t be permanent, because nothing else has been. I don’t know if that sense will ever change.
Trusting people is difficult too. I have trusted the wrong people and paid a heavy price for it. We are encouraged to be as wary as serpents and innocent as doves. The modern day equivalent is the Russian principle: doveryai, no proveryai—trust, but verify. That is refugee/survival mentality. It is rough on those who truly deserve trust. They pay the price for their predecessors’ deceit. To those who are genuinely deserving, this is not fair. Although I know this, I am unable to trust fully. The villains have won this round.
I’ve discovered several of my villains actually match clinical descriptions of various personality disorders, narcissism in particular. Narcissists are much easier for me to identify than they were a year ago. Now, I know to:
- Beware of the person who must be the centre of attention at all times.
- Beware the person who insists on having it worse than you, regardless of the circumstances.
- Beware the person who sets you up so he can be a hero.
- Beware the person who always knows more than you, even when he knows nothing at all.
One of the best lessons I had in 2016 has to do with goodness in others. In my 2015 end of year article, I mentioned the lady who kept assuring me ‘it will work out.’ She was right; no matter how hair-raising a process it was, it did work out. Goodness and help crop up in the most unexpected places. My most recent rescuer is someone I haven’t seen in five years. I’m astounded at the depths of her kindness, just as I have been by others. It is because of her that I have a home to-day.2016 taught me:
- If you meet a narcissist on the road—run like hell.
- Never refuse a gift.
- Be open to surprises, but don’t anticipate them. If you could, they wouldn’t be surprises.
- It really will work out.
2016 has been a difficult and painful year for almost everyone, heroes and villains alike. I earnestly wish each person a happier, healthier and more satisfying life in the New Year.
Paul TN Chapman
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