Descent into Homelessness: Shush . . .


Photo credit: Kristina Flour

Editor’s note: This is part one of a six-part series, to be published every Thursday over the next six weeks. Click here to read part two.

I didn’t really talk much as a child.

Our house was always filled with a dark sense of oppression … old, messy arguments mixed in with the anticipation of new, even messier ones, which always ended badly. So, in order to avoid saying or doing the wrong thing and getting drawn into the chaos caused by my parents, I made like a mouse and tried to keep quiet.

Then my dad died suddenly and overnight the house we lived in became a coffin for all of us … filled with this suffocating blackness that enveloped my mum, swirled around my brother and I, and never quite went away.

I didn’t talk much then either, mainly because there was no one to talk back to me. We were all locked separately inside our own little worlds. And so, it was easier to just stay quiet.

Then, throughout school, (which I hated … mainly because I was scared that my mum would die, too, if I wasn’t there to look after her), I starved and self-harmed. I carried the world around on my not quite yet teenage shoulders. And the teachers saw that things “weren’t quite right.” But it was a Catholic school where everything you did or said was a potential sin. And so, they were all far too caught up in saying their own “Hail Marys” and keeping in with God to worry about a quiet, sad girl who clearly “had issues” … not when they all had issues of their own.

So, no one asked if I was okay. And I stayed quiet because I wasn’t.

As I grew older, when bad things happened – the violence, the sexual assaults, the things that can happen to young girls who don’t have a support network – I turned it inside. I punished myself for not being stronger or harder or more resilient to the world. And then years later, when my depression kicked in, I chose drinking over talking. I spent the next couple of years in and out of homelessness, too comatose to speak.

Until I ended up in rehab.

And then I did try to speak. But the staff there didn’t listen, and so I reverted back to type and simply stayed quiet.

Until I realised I could write my thoughts even when situations prevented me from vocalising them.

It’s taken three long years and a whole lot of headfuck to get me to this point. I have found my voice and need to explain homelessness is a journey and not a final destination

And now I need to speak.

So, no more quiet girl, no more silence. Just a story from the heart from a woman who’s been there.

Because as of now, there is no “Shush”.

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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