I’m on the cusp of losing my second house, having had to sell my first because I couldn’t afford it. I’m frightened. I will be rudderless without my sanctuary, says Annette Hunter.
American actor and writer John Howard Payne wrote ‘be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home’. What is this thing we call ‘home’? In the dictionary, the word ‘home’ is described as ‘a place of residence’. But it is so much more than just the roof over our heads.
This definition does not take into account the strong psychological bond we form with our home. In the absence of domestic violence, our home gives us stability, self-worth, and security.
It is our solid base. We come home to it. Having a home is vital for our well-being, our dignity, and our sense of belonging.
No matter what stresses we have in our lives, our home is the place we retreat to for rest and relaxation. We can be ourselves at home. It is where we lay our heads down to sleep. It is our safe haven.
Home is where we keep our material belongings and our sentimental trinkets. It is our comfort zone. Losing our home is devastating.
Without a home, we feel lost and rudderless. We are floating in a precarious world, with no solid footing. Everything becomes temporary and insecure. We lose our dignity. Feelings of shame engulf us like a thick fog on a winter’s night. No matter how we came to lose our home, we whip ourselves with feelings of failure.
I am ashamed to admit that I never stopped to think about how lucky I was to have a home. I took it all for granted. Everyone I knew had a home, so it was no big deal.
It was like having a car. Everyone I knew had a car, too, so it was just a normal part of my life to say to someone ‘see you tomorrow, I am driving home now’.
It was only when I was faced with losing my home that the importance of having one hit me. What if we have a home and we lose it? What is that like? What do we do when our safe haven is gone and there is no chance of ever getting it back? What happens if we end up homeless?
I never thought I would end up homeless, but I did. I lost two homes in four years.
The first loss was because I had to retire early, due to illness. I was self-employed and not being able to work, I could not pay my mortgage. I had to sell my home.
With the small amount I had left over, I set about building a log cabin, but the person I employed to do it left me high and dry.
My new log cabin was officially condemned within the first year of living in it. It was declared unfit for habitation, due to serious faults and safety issues. I must now vacate my new home.
Where do I go? How do I find money to pay rent, when this was never a part of my monthly budgeting?
I am lucky that I don’t have the worry of children. But I do have three dogs, an old horse, and a donkey.
They are my ‘children’ and they are all rescued. They are precious to me, but if I have no home, well, neither do they.
The simple, but joyous, little world I created, after losing my home due to illness, is disintegrating around me.
Before this happened, ‘homeless’ was an abstract word to me. I knew what the word meant, but did I know what being homeless felt like?
No. Nobody knows what this is like, till they are in this situation. I felt such terrible shame when I lost my homes. I was a medical doctor, so how could I lose my home, not once, but twice? I felt such a failure.
These feeling smothered me, when I visited other peoples’ houses. I entered the realm of ‘compare and despair’. My self-esteem would desert me when sitting in a friend’s kitchen, watching her do such a simple thing as taking a cup from her kitchen cupboard to make me a cup of tea.
As I waited for the kettle to boil, I thought how I no longer had a kitchen. I didn’t even have a place to boil my kettle or store my cups and mugs.
The harsh reality of my situation got the better of me and I could not wait to get out of my friend’s home. It hurt too much to be in such a cosy place, where life went on day to day and nobody ever thought about losing their gem of a home.
I used to live like that. Whatever was going on in my life, I always had a home to rest in. I felt I belonged somewhere on this planet and that somewhere was my home. It was the one constant in an unpredictable world and I never once thought I would lose it.
The losses of my homes did not happen overnight. It took time for events to evolve to a point where I had to accept defeat and prepare to vacate both properties.
As a result, I had to navigate through years of protracted stress and anxiety. It was inevitable that depression would take root in my mind. Worse than that, I found myself having to listen to my relentless inner voice debate the pros and cons of suicide.
Most people suffer huge psychological trauma when they lose their home, and might also lose a grip on life itself. I am still on this planet and so I speak for all the other people who have lost their homes.
I know what you are going through, as I am in that place, too. I am lonely and I am terrified. I am exhausted from the stress.
As I write, the outside temperature is just above freezing. The cold wind slices through the darkness.
There is frost on the tips of the heather and it sparkles in the light of moon.
But this place is no winter wonderland anymore. The wiring is so damp from all the leaking that it causes the meter box to trip. I end up having no electricity for long periods. No electricity means no water, as the pump is dependent on it.
I have not had a shower in four days and, yes, I took having a warm shower for granted.
The roof will eventually lift off in a storm, as it is not secured down. For tonight, I do have this roof over my head, so I force myself to feel grateful for the fact that I am not actually on the streets under a cardboard box.
Ironically, I would probably be safer sleeping under a cardboard box. I try to sleep, but I wake up in a panic that engulfs my mind and body. I don’t want to think about having no home, and yet it is all I think about.
I have stopped talking to people, as they don’t seem to understand my situation. I am like a hermit crab, only I have lost my shell.
With no shell to protect me, I am vulnerable, weak, and exposed.
I never thought I would end up like this and I am really struggling to accept my reality.
Life can send us down paths we never want to explore, as we don’t have as much control as we would like to think.
Our circumstances can change when we least expect it and the fallout can result in us losing our home. So, please, when you see homeless person, stop to think before you judge them.
You don’t know what led them to living on the streets. On a cold night when you curl up in bed under an electric blanket, practice gratitude for having a home.
It might be something you take for granted, like I did, but anyone can end up homeless, through no fault of their own.
A home is a basic necessity for us human beings. Politicians who allocate funding for the homeless should be made to spend a week sleeping on the streets in the thick of winter.
Only then might they fully understand how it really feels to have no place to call home. Only then might they actually do something to solve this crisis, before any more precious lives are lost.