My, how my life has changed over the past five years. In October 2007 I found myself staring at my six-person tent that had been ripped to shreds by a freak hail storm in the Northern Rivers town of Lismore. This made me effectively homeless. Me and my family. Husband. Four children aged two, three, twelve and seventeen. We didn’t even have a car to live in. Not a cent in the bank and no emotional support system to speak of. I fell into the deepest well of depression and it nearly destroyed me. It was a terrifying time and the desperation and aching despair is something that still wakes me at night in a cold sweat.
But life can and does manage to do back-flips. The kindness, and sometimes lack thereof, of friends, family and strangers can sometimes shock and surprise. Some close family shunned us while a relative stranger lent us a car for as long as we needed one.
In the years since then, my husband has completed two University degrees in Education and I was awarded a Bachelor of Law and Justice degree. We now live in a lovely renovated Queenslander in Brisbane. He teaches full time and I have just had my first book published. When it appeared on a Top Ten seller’s list last weekend, I shed a tear of joy.
Being homeless is not a condition reserved for losers and low-lifers. It can happen to almost anyone. I have subsequently cared for foster children who came from nice homes that had crumbled and disintegrated through dire financial hardship. Parents, broken-heartedly had no other recourse but to put their children into voluntary foster care until circumstances improved. We were lucky not to need to resort to such drastic measures.
We managed to find a barely affordable cabin in a half-way/hell-hole caravan park on the outskirts of Lismore. The police patrolled the park at night and we slept to the lullaby of drug-abuse and violence. Holed up in the stinking, tiny one room, we gathered ourselves, took stock and made some plans. The only job my husband could get in the University township was a used car salesman position. It paid a paltry retainer and we enrolled in Southern Cross University as mature aged students which meant our income was topped up by Austudy payments. We studied and printed our assignments at the local library and eventually managed to borrow and scrounge enough for a bond on a small house. With broken, dirty fingernails, we crawled up out of our pit of despair and began to rebuild our lives.
When the job at the car-yard folded, we managed to move to the Gold Coast hinterland. There my husband worked as a waiter and I did respite care for foster children while we continued our studies through distance education. We barely made enough money to feed ourselves but were looking at the big picture. I was still battling depression and upon finishing my degree, decided that life was too short to get a job in a field I despised. Studying law disillusioned me because I learned not much more than that law and justice are two diametrically opposed ideas. The law is not just. The law is an ass! I decided to follow my lifetime dream of becoming an author. Like a worm curled up in a bottle of Tequila, I managed to struggle out from depression and alcoholism and swim to the surface. I took a deep breath and began to write my book.
Five months later my manuscript was shortlisted for the Queensland Premier’s Literary Award in the category of Emerging Author. And the rest, as they say, is history.
In the past five years, while struggling from that lowest of places, I became reclusive and desperate to stabilize and reinforce my family. My husband and I briefly hated one another enough to consider separating but we weathered the storm and are stronger and more resilient for it. I considered running away from my children, turning my back on them all, to ‘find myself’ but realised that ‘myself’ was also made up of them. Now I find myself emerging into the sunlight as a writer while rediscovering the joys that motherhood brings.
I signed up with a Literary Agency and Black Inc books published my memoir, ‘One Way or Another,’ the story of my wild and wicked youth as a rock and roll groupie. I have three other books being considered by publishers. I am chatting to breakfast radio shows and appearing in weekend newspapers. I am making new friends and rediscovering old ones.
I truly feel like the butterfly escaping the chrysalis, leaving behind the past and writing my future. Five years has seen such incredible changes in my life and myself. In remembering the times when I was suicidal, I am so grateful that I found the strength to push through and keep going. I am forty-six years old but feel better than I ever have. The lemons are definitely turning into lemonade and the future looks bright. Don’t ever presume too much about the homeless because you just never know………..