Descent Into Homelessness: People Are Listening


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 five; click here for part four.

I write and I write and I write … about nothing, about everything. Because once that pen is in my hand and I start to really focus, I don’t stop writing until the noise in my head goes away. My soul is laid bare on the pages before me.

It’s therapy.

It saves me.

Although detox got me sober, writing keeps me sober.

At 3am in the hostel when the guy in the room next to me is losing his mind and shouting at no one in particular through the walls, I write. At 5am when finally he sleeps, but there isn’t a hope in hell’s chance that I can, I write. When his outbursts have gone on for most of the night and I’m hiding in my room not daring to use the bathroom in case I run into him on the landing, I write.

When I too, start bouncing off the walls and getting cabin fever in here or I’m particularly hard on myself for making such a mess of things and depression starts to threaten me again, I write.

I write as if my life depends on it; because to be fair, right now it really does. It’s the only thing I have that stands between me and the nearest pub or off-licence and a complimentary one-way ticket to hell. And so I cling to this outlet like a life-raft.

Sobriety and my sanity are pretty much all I have left at the minute and I’m not giving them up for anything.

I live in a hostel in a town where addiction and homelessness are rife.

It’s on every street corner, down every alleyway and in every subway here. I am confronted with it on a daily basis.

Two more people I was friends with in detox die here. Several more of my friends from rehab sit begging or drinking on the pavement. It kills me to see them ending up this way. I am reminded again just how lucky I have been and how fortunate I am to have not become a statistic.

I have good friends and a healthy way to deal with my shit. These guys have nothing … unless you count cardboard and cheap cider.

There is nothing I can do for them right now except to be kind and to write more.

Maybe this way, I think, I can start to change things … if nothing else, maybe one person’s perspective.

I create an account on Twitter and start to bare my soul on social media to an audience that I can’t see. I pour my heart out about homelessness and addiction and how it feels to have poor mental health. How it feels to know you are alive but at the same time, alone and invisible once the shit hits the fan and no one wants to know you.

People start to follow me, to like and share my work.

Their support and encouragement spurs me on and gives me purpose.

I realise there are people out there looking for answers … who actually want to understand how that feels, told in a way that’s honest and open, not sugar-coated or dressed up to fit expectations.

I write more. My work is hitting home.

I’m offered a magazine column, write for tabloids, other magazines, non-profits and for causes I believe in.

My voice is found, and in turn ignites a passion in myself for education that I didn’t know existed.

Then I start to talk.

On radio shows and podcasts, I talk about my battle with an addiction that wanted me dead. I talk about my horrible, horrible journey and the strength and determination needed to enable me to claw my way back from the brink of death and detox, to some kind of normality. I talk about nights on borrowed sofas and curled up on floors. Nights running from horrible men who just wanted to hurt me. And I talk about those days and nights where I was so lost and alone and terrified of what my future held that I just didn’t want one anymore. That I wanted to end my own life just to make the madness stop.

I realise that people are listening.

And then I write a piece about my journey called “This is Depression,” a piece that becomes a film.

A piece that changes everything…

Photo courtesy of Sunyu Kim

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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