2017 was the most challenging year of my life so far. I was hit from all angles affecting each and every aspect of my life. Whilst it has been difficult for me to accept, I did have a difficult start to life, born into a complex whirlwind of drug addiction, crime and severe mental health issues. At 25 years old, it is quite miraculous that the challenges I have faced only truly hit me this late in life. Despite the disadvantages, I also had some luxuries throughout my life which I am eternally grateful for, this however is part of what made me struggle to accept help when I could not cope for the first time. I have always been a very strong minded and independent girl, I always forgave my mother for the hardships we faced together and often found myself defending her, some may say I have played the role of the parent for the vast majority of my life.
In 2017 I was back living at my mother’s house amongst a chaos of issues. I was exhausting myself trying to earn money, whilst in a toxic relationship which gave me an escape from the issues at home, and desperately trying to study a masters degree. I was struggling dramatically with mental health issues, I kept going back to the doctors to request talking therapies. Due to the lack of funding I was dismissed and told that “because I am not suicidal I am not a priority”… so the struggle continued. I was eventually referred to a psychiatrist and diagnosed with adult ADHD. Little did I know my life was soon to be turned upside down. I thought this would lead to talking therapies, but I was instead offered medication, amphetamines. I expressed my understanding that medications are only effective when used alongside talking therapies, to receive the answer “We will consider talking therapies when the drugs have an effect on you”. To cut a long story short, I was advised to travel to Egypt and up my dose of medication whilst there.
Due to the meds, I only slept for four or five hours each night which very quickly escalated into an extreme case of mania and paranoid psychosis. I was tied up with ropes, forced into an ambulance and taken to the local hospital, where they I was sedated up to my eye balls by strangers who did not speak English. I am very lucky to have many local friends who prevented the Egyptian authorities from sending me to an awful hospital to be sectioned, something I would have never recovered from. They contacted my mother and got her on a flight to rescue me within a few days. The reason for this trip was to conduct research for my dissertation, investigating the lives of Egyptian women in traditional farming communities, and the role working animals play in their daily livelihood. Luxor was my second home, my safe place where I lived, ate, slept and worked with the locals. I had dedicated the past four years of my life to this historical country…. And now I was no longer welcome. On return I was still unwell, both mentally and physically and this meant I could not continue with my masters. I had to reluctantly interrupt my studies. I had lost all sense of belonging and purpose in my life.
On my returned to the UK, the psychiatrist offered no help after all that had happened. I was living back at mums with severe paranoia and post-traumatic stress, which terrifyingly involved all aspects of my life. After a few weeks living amongst the difficult circumstances at mums, I called Exeter University as a last cry for help. One guild adviser who went on to support me over the next year, demanded that I came to see her in person. I jumped on a train to Exeter and found a friend I could stay with. Sarah brought me to realise that I needed to move to Exeter to access support, she made many phone calls declaring me homeless and fleeing domestic abuse. I was very resistant to all of this. I have always felt that there are others in more need than myself, that I should be grateful for all that I have, that I should work and am not worthy of benefits. Thankfully, Sarah had the courage to keep pushing me to seek help. We could not secure a property in time and I no longer had anywhere safe to stay, my only options involved drug abuse.
She sent me to the housing benefits office which led to me breaking down in tears, not knowing which direction to move with complications and questioning if I will be eligible or any benefits. This is where Nightstop came into the equation. I was given the address to meet a member of staff from Nightstop, I was greeted with a friendly reassuring smile from Pete, a night stop staff member. Scared and numb, but with a slight glimpse of faith that something was going to happen, within a couple of hours I was picked up and driven to my first host volunteer.
My experiences with Nightstop
Despite how lost and hopeless I felt something inside me knew I was on the right path as soon as I made eye contact with Pete. I have been told by many that I have a great ‘drive’ for life, so I kept this in mind that no matter what, I have to keep going. At the time I had no idea how Nightstop was about to dramatically impact and shine a positive new light in my life. Pete explained the process, the rules and how I would have a safe place each night but need to occupy myself during the day. I had three different host volunteers who had so kindly agreed to support me for the next few days. When I reached my first host I was shown my own bedroom, cooked a beautiful dinner, given a towel and a run a hot bath. She very kindly explained that this was my home for the evening and that I was welcome to join her on the sofa watching telly or if I preferred, I could stay alone in my room. I will never forget the moment I decided to join her on the sofa, we watched David Attenborough and chatted about life and my passion for working animals in North Africa and the Middle East. I had a safe place and a kind supportive heart who listened to me. I was so overwhelmed I simply wanted to cry due to relief. This was the best night sleep I had in months.
In the morning she had breakfast ready for me and some money to get me through the day and help travel to my next host the following evening. This day was tough as I was resisting contacting friends I knew I could meet with, but in my heart I knew that this would result in the use of drugs. I kept myself to myself walking around the beautiful city of Exeter, familiarising myself with what was going to be my new home. I went to the museum with my suit case as it was something free and out of the rain. When the evening came I knew the protocol with my new host, a very different home with lots of dogs! This was very welcoming to me with such a huge passion for animals. I felt at home! Again dinner on the table, a hot bath, some supportive chats and pocket money for the following day. I struggled to sleep this night with the feeling of what are my next steps, how can I push to secure a property and how will I support myself? Awake in bed I started scrolling on my phone through adverts for jobs I could apply for and rooms which I could view to rent. It was on this night that I experienced the return of my severe night terrors, but this time it was much easier to deal with, having woken up to a safe environment away from all worries, with breakfast on the table for me. I set out again for the day with my suitcase. I remember sitting around in the Nightstop building mainly to get out of the rain, but also to use the WIFI to make proactive forward movements. I wrote a CV and applied for lots of jobs, the same day I was offered a trial shift at a restaurant. I also found a property to rent, a beautiful, large en-suite room on the outskirts of the city. I arranged a viewing, secured the property with a deposit and first months’ rent through the housing benefits office.
After all of this I still had a safe place at night which took me back to my first host volunteer. This was incredibly reassuring when I met with a familiar face and after only two days I had some progress to share with her. I was experiencing a lot of chronic neck and back pain. I gained some fantastic advice from this host as she was a retired physiotherapist, she worked through some exercises and stretches with me, which to date I still practice on a daily basis. This generous lady had opened up her home just for me, treating me as her own family. I felt tears welling up in my eyes as we said goodbye, realising this was the last time I would see her. I desperately wanted to be able to give back to her, but this was the beginning of the process of me learning self-care, self-worth and self-compassion. I did deserve this support and I do not always need to give back in return.
3. How I got back on my feet.
It had been four days of being declared homeless. When I visited the Nightstop offices on this day I was beaming with excitement, I had a property secured and a trail shift at a restaurant. I could not wait to tell Pete and get out of their hands, allowing them to help other vulnerable young adults who needed a safe place. I remember the shocked look in his eyes when I blurted out this news, in a concerned manner he suggested that I took a little more time for myself. Me being the determined being I am, I explained how I needed a purpose and something to work towards. I immediately moved into my new home where 14 months later, I now find myself contently sat at my desk writing this reflective blog. The first time I have had my own safe place to call home. I remember Pete’s last words to me, expressing how impressed he was with my efforts in such a short period of time and to please keep in contact. He said that I am very articulate and asked if I was willing to write a blog piece on how Nightstop supported me!
So what happened between then and now? It has been quite a journey of ups and downs. The most important thing is that through those ups and downs, each day I woke up in a safe place that was my own space, free from others negative energy! Two month after this support from Nightstop I returned to my studies and completed the first year of my masters degree. I wrote the best essays I have ever produced. I proved to myself that the problem was not in my lack of ability, but in fact, it was the environment my present mind had been consumed by. Words cannot express my depth of gratitude for Nightstop in guiding me to understand this important aspect of my life, those four days were part of the most pivotal point in my life. Without Nightstop I could never imagine where I may have ended up, or how many opportunities I may have missed out on.
For the first six months in my new home I was in receipt of housing benefits, I was not eligible for any other benefits, due to being restricted to 16 hours of work each week. I was struggling to manage my health, mental state, bills, rent, university work load etc. Through support of food bank vouchers and my faith that this degree would bring me close to achieving my goals, I powered through. I discovered free yoga sessions at the university advertised through mental health awareness, this was another pivotal life changing development, that without, I could never imagine being where I am today.
Fast forward to September 2018, it had been a whole year since my breakdown, episode, spiritual awakening (whatever you may call it) in Egypt and it was time to enrol into my second and final year of my masters. The pressure was intense. I came to realise that I had neglected my own self-development, focusing so much on my education and supporting others. Working and studying became too much, I was extremely fatigued, with depression and a whole bunch of other stuff. Whilst working with a counsellor who helped me to eventually accept that I needed to have a break again, it arose to the surface that I needed a job role that gave me job satisfaction. Bar and catering work was not fulfilling enough for me. Friends and professionals suggested that supported housing would be a rewarding role that I would flourish in, so my first thought was NIGHTSTOP! I dropped in one day firstly to thank them for their support and how far I had come in a year, we chatted for over an hour about options available in supported housing and the industry itself from Pete’s experiences. I came away with three A4 pages of notes he so kindly advised me on.
From those notes I found the perfect organisation, initially I enquired about volunteering but it all worked in my favour and I now find myself with a job as a support worker for 16-25 year old’s. Alongside this I am plotting my return to the Middle East next year to carry out my dissertation research. Thank you Nightstop and all that you did to get me to this position!
If there is anything I could say to others out there going through similar struggles, it is that you may not know what opportunities are out there, but trust in your instinct and ask for help in places you have not asked before. There are some incredibly beautiful humans out there hiding amongst the fog, all it takes is one step in a different direction and you can find one of them to support you through finding yourself!!