Descent into Homelessness: All That Glitters


Editor’s note: In this six-part series, Denise documents her journey through homelessness. From normality, to troubled and teetering, to full blown devastation and back again, she shares her story. This is part six; click here for part five.

I take a job running a small kitchen in Cornwall. It’s a tiny, tiny place and I make next to nothing. But on quiet days, I can write. I use the money I earn from making sandwiches to enter my film “This Is Depression” into festivals.

She wins “Best short animation” in a competition in America almost immediately.

I enter her into more, and I get an email back from another. We’ve made it into the Judges final 50, and now she gets to be screened in a cinema in London.

There were 5,000 submissions for the judges to choose from. Only 50 films get through to the finals. This is a huge, huge deal to even have got this far. I’m ecstatic.

Fast forward about a month and I’m now at the film awards. I’m dressed in a trouser suit and wearing leopard print heels, I’ve attempted to curl my hair and my jewellery sparkles. I look just as good as anyone else in the room, which is re-assuring, because on the inside I feel like an imposter and slightly out of my depth. There’s nothing here to take the edge off my nerves. I try to remember to breathe and remind myself that just to be here is a privilege.

I start to relax but am careful not to let my guard down.

There is a free bar here. Chilled bottles and expertly mixed cocktails are everywhere. I sip my water tentatively, before speaking to a waiter and then I am finally able to progress to chilled ginger beer.

The atmosphere is animated, electric. People approach me, shake my hand, rave about the film. There are provisional offers of work for me laid out on the table. Business cards and phone numbers are exchanged. I’m starting to realise that I belong in this room. It’s pretty overwhelming.

We start to take our seats as the ceremony begins. There’s no table plan so I sit with a couple I met at the screening of the film yesterday. The lady asks me to send her some more of my work…maybe, she thinks, I could write for TV. She has a little something that she’s working on. Would I be interested?

Names are called out, awards are being given and speeches are made. I recognise some of the winners as people I met yesterday. They absolutely deserve to be on that stage. Without exception, their films were incredible.

I don’t actually realise that my name has been called until I recognise the name of our film and then time kind of stops as I realise that we’ve won.

The film has won an award.

This one is huge.

I make my way to the stage and I stand there in the trouser suit that I borrowed from a friend, because mine got wrecked in the washing machine the day before I came here. I think to myself that maybe my leopard print heels must be magical like Dorothy’s for this to be happening, and then I walk up to the stage and I thank all the judges for putting us through.

And then I talk to the audience and I try not to cry as I explain just how grateful I am to stand there in front of them, and exactly how much winning this award means to me. To all of us.

I talk about how, when I was ill and really at my lowest, my depression and my addiction still kept on taking and taking from me until all that was left was the flesh on my bones. My fears that I would die from my addiction, that I would never get back to normality.

That never in a million years did I see this day coming.

Except that it did.

And I tell them that out of all of that horror and madness, I know that I was given a gift. The gift of expression, the gift of empathy. The gift of being able to walk in a pair of shoes that I know now were never really mine to keep. They didn’t belong to me … I just needed to walk in them for long enough to learn some valuable lessons about mental health, about homelessness and addiction and about life in general. Lessons that I could pick apart, re-evaluate and finally rewrite, in order that other people could understand that journey themselves without actually having to dance with the devil like I did.

I stand in that spotlight and I look like a winner. Like a person who’s achieved something. And I truly believe now this path was my destiny. Because the topics I write about and put on the table are hard to digest. People aren’t always ready to face them. But if you are able to write eloquently, with passion and conviction, and you can pour that passion and conviction out onto the page or up onto the screen, people will read and they will watch and they will listen. And sometimes that is all that is needed to instigate change.


Denise Harrison

Denise Harrison


Denise Harrison is a writer, blogger and podcaster bourne out of her own personal experience of homelessness, addiction and poor mental health. Her work has been featured in publications such as The Big Issue, Metro, The Guardian and Happiful Magazine as well several not for profits. She is passionate about raising awareness and tackling stigma around addiction and mental health and recently wrote the film script for an educational film called This Is Depression.

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