This Mental Health Awareness Week, I wanted to share some of my recent experiences of navigating both the ordinary and the significantly less ordinary situations in which I have found myself in day to day life.
2022 was a very hard year for me. Mental health crisis aside, I spent two and a half months living and working in London, but with no place to call home.
Within 10 weeks I slept in 10 different beds, and ‘moved’ 11 different times. In that same 10 weeks that UK saw three prime ministers in office and two monarchs on the throne.
I’m grateful to be good friends with my old flatmates, to have moved out by choice and to have by no means have been forced into the position I found myself in. I just didn’t know it was going to be that hard. I thought that I’d be sofa surfing for just a couple of weeks before I found somewhere new to call ‘home’. But a combination of rising rent prices, my own mental health difficulties, and my lack of capacity to flat hunt, with countless others also searching for a spare room, meant that it came to be so much more of a struggle than I thought.
I was exhausted of working out where was going to sleep in a few nights time, and exhausted of trying to find a place to live long term. At every flat viewing I was competing with countless others, also in need of a home. The harmless questions that we use in small talk: ‘Where do you live?’ became filled with uncertainty and anxiety.
I am very aware that I had far more security than I could have had. There was space for me to stay at my parents, and they were ready to welcome me whenever I need a place to stay. But my job was and is London, my counselling is in London, my life is in London, and so I continued to move almost once a week to my next temporary home.
It became shockingly clear to me how, without the support of my family, my friends and my church, it would have been very easy to find myself in a position with no place to rest my head. As someone who already struggles with depression and anxiety, the waves of overwhelming anxiety that continued to hit me when I realised I had no idea where my ‘home’ was in three days time were, at some points, debilitating.
There were a few things that made my nomadic London life a little easier, and I’m so grateful to have been welcomed into a number of caring homes during that time. But those two and a half months had more than their fair share of challenges too.
I remember hearing others talking about their homes, whether it was improvements they were making or plans they had to host friends, whether it was the simple phrase ‘I can’t wait to go home’ or even just what meal they were going to cook that night. I had to fight to bite my tongue and stop jealousy from rising within me. (That, I realise, was my own sin – bitterness that I didn’t have what they had, rather than joy at how God has provided for them.)
I found myself reaching regularly into my pockets for keys, often to find that there weren’t any there. I had moments of panic when I wondered what would happen if I couldn’t get into the place that I was sleeping that night, and I started to picture myself wandering through the streets, or hopping from bus to bus overnight, just to have somewhere warm to be.
At this time, my church was looking at the theme of ‘home’ in our weekly Bible studies. A topic that, you might say, hit a little too close to home for me.
The first study started with the question ‘What makes a good home?’ to which, in my head, I responded somewhat sarcastically ‘a roof’, ‘a door’, ‘a bed that’s mine’, ‘somewhere stable and safe that doesn’t change every week.’ These are things that I have always taken for granted, and it was good to learn how much of a good gift from God each of these things are.
I think one of the only reasons I managed to keep going to my church’s Bible study every week was because it was at the house of a family I have become very close to, in a home that I am very familiar with, a place where I feel comfortable and safe. Not having my own home reminded me that home isn’t just a physical place, it is often determined by the people we are with, and by the places that we feel welcome and wanted.
I am thankful that every night for those 10 weeks, I had a bed to sleep in, and (almost) all in somewhere homely and welcoming. But it was painful not to have my own place to call home. Anxiety about the impact I had on others and my ongoing struggle of feeling like a burden became magnified with having to depend upon others simply to have a place to just be.
The more flats I viewed and the more that potential flatmates chose someone else over me, the more I started to question ‘who would want to live me?’, ‘who would want to share their home with me?’ Fighting negative thoughts became harder when it felt like more and more evidence was piling up to prove them right.
It started to feel like a never-ending cycle of moving and I often wondered when I’ll finally be able to unpack without being able to count down on one hand the days until I need to start packing again.
Thankfully, just as I felt like I was reaching the end of myself, God provided somewhere for me to live. Not in a neatly packaged opportunity presented before me with no effort on my behalf, but through the daily, relentless work of looking for house shares, messaging potential flatmates, viewing flats across London and receiving a number of messages that in summary said “sorry, we chose someone else” (which of course is a completely valid decision).
Finally, I didn’t have to move suitcases of my belongings around practically every week. Finally, I could really unpack. I’ve had the smallest taste of homelessness, and it’s shown me that I can only just begin to imagine what someone who is rough sleeping faces every day.
With my mental health as it was, I would have thought that for me to have lived out of a suitcase for that long, and to have (just about) held up a full-time job, and to have even made an effort at looking for a long-term place to live, would have been impossible, literally impossible. Granted, I was still exhausted, am still exhausted, but I’m still here. I can only look back in wonder at how I managed to get up each morning. It seems that God does provide enough, even if it’s only just enough, to get me through each day.
I now have a flat that I can call home, but if there is anything that the past two months have taught me, it is how amazing it is that, as Christians, we have a true and certain home in Jesus. A home that we know in part now and will one day experience in full. A home that is stable and unchanging, that cannot be taken from us. A home where there is rest and peace and glory. A home without loneliness and without shame. A home that is joyful and a home that is safe. A home that I continue to long for in the struggle of each day. A home that God has chosen to share with me.