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Feeling Unsafe

Network, Spring/Summer 2005

I’m Daniel Gray. I’m 41 years old. I’ve mainly come from a broken home, a very violent broken home. At about 18 years of age I was put into a psychiatric facility for no apparent reason. They falsified me as schizophrenic. I later discovered that I was misdiagnosed. I didn’t need any of the treatments that were given to me.

My family life was pretty traumatic. They determined that I had chronic post-traumatic stress disorder, not schizophrenia. My family struggled to gain any kind of stability. It reflected really badly upon me. So my personality is based on violence and anxiety-provoking situations.

Basically what happened was, after I was released from the psych hospital, my mother made it unbearable for me to live at home. I went to stay in a youth hostel, Covenant House, for kids under 21. From 18 until 21 I was in and out of there a great deal, just basically sleeping on the floor with 50 teens and feeling very unsafe.

At Covenant House, the guideline was that you go to school or you go to work or you don’t stay there. I wasn’t really stabilized from hospital, so I was struggling with that transition. I was working. I was making money and saving for an apartment. And I would have the same cycle over again. Get a new place, stay for three months or so, have a bad episode, lose my place and then go return.

For a little while, I was staying in an emergency shelter of the Salvation Army, with people who weren’t able to look after themselves hygienically, people who were very desperate, very violent, people struggling with addiction. And once again I was looking for a level of safety in a place where there wasn’t any.

After I had another hospital stay, the people who did aftercare got me set up in a group home. It was connected to Toronto East General Hospital at the time. I lived together with seven other people in this beautiful old three-floor home. It had minimal housing staff support. People would abide by their medication programs. I stayed for one year. I had developed problems with depression, anxiety, trying to cope with a lot of issues pertaining to my past, and I experienced a problem with overdosing. They saw this as a violation of the house. So I was asked to leave.

After that, I was in short-term housing, which was psychiatric survivor run, through Houselink Community Homes. I lived there with about four other people. There were very violent people there at times, people using alcohol and drugs, interfering with your medication. I struggled finding my own stability. Most of the time I just felt I wanted to go off on my own and be alone, but when you’re in a communal living place, it’s not very acceptable. They determined I was too needy for that. The other residents voted me to leave.

I have a history of living in Metro housing. When we came to Toronto in 1966, my mother applied to live in Metro housing, which at that time was called Ontario housing. I grew up there from 1970 until 1979, basically through my high school years. And there was always something that was violent about it. My sister’s father was a very violent and drunken person who had addiction problems with drugs and alcohol, and then he inflicted his violence upon the family. I became more and more fearful from this behaviour. I started to isolate, started to find my own level of safety by dissociating.

Later, I applied to be in Metro housing, and I lived for five years in a one-bedroom apartment on my own. I found it very lonely. The building wasn’t very upbeat. It was located near the stockyards and it smelt badly. The tenants in the building seemed to be mostly people with different forms of illness. There were terminally ill people there, and psychiatrically ill people, people with physical disabilities, all in one place.

It just wasn’t very uplifting or encouraging. I had an experience when I saved my neighbour’s life. She had overdosed on heart pills. I was just too fearful of situations in this housing. Also, my behaviours to myself were not very good. I was involved with a lady who was schizophrenic who got pregnant and terminated the child. I felt more and more anxiety ridden. I went into almost a year of self-harm – I was overdosing, isolating myself, starving myself. Walking large distances and eating much of nothing. Struggling with all the physical problems that causes.

With the exception of the housing that I’m in today, I’ve had very, very chaotic, traumatic emotional times in most of the apartments where I’ve lived. Through experiences with trauma from the past, I’ve had anxieties that would affect me very badly. At times I would invite people in that I thought I knew, and I would be violated or victimized by them in some way.

My whole level of peace and security in my home was affected. Until I basically got serious and did some counselling, these anxieties continued. It would reflect on how I cared for my apartment – everything in piles everywhere, just feeling less and less concerned about what the condition of it was and even myself. Just feeling more and more depressed. I found that I just didn’t care about how I lived.

Being in intensive counselling helped me to get over some really bad pains, and then when I was able to do that it made my living situation better. Later I realized that I can’t live with anybody. I’m just too difficult. I think in the past I would try to replace people that were erased from my life. I had to face the time when my mother died really young, so I was trying to fill that need, when in fact I was just hurting.

Plus I was not really patient with my own level of instability, and then seeing other people’s inabilities would make me feel kind of ripped off. It’s like you keep replaying a movie all the time, and every time you replay it you feel something from that movie as a reminder of the things you can’t cope with.

I’m at a point now where my apartment is pretty stabilized. At Progress Place you have your own housing, and your level of support depends on how you are able to do in your apartment. Myself, I’m pretty independent and self-sufficient, so I need less support than other people that struggle with illness and whatever limitations they have in their lives.

Progress Place got a financial subsidy to help people live in a regular rental apartment and have a rent supplement on top of that. I’m living in a furnished bachelor apartment. I have a housing worker and a support team. Basically I’m pretty linked in to the community, so I have those levels of security there. As of today, I’ve been at Progress Place about four and a half years.

I have a job now. I work in a four-star restaurant downtown. I’ve been there for about a year and two months. For me it’s probably been the best supported thing I’ve ever had. At first I went there explaining to the people that mattered the most, the head chef and the boss, that I was a disabled person but ready to work. Just being accepted as part of the team, part of their work family, made everything better for me. Also having a free meal after work. It’s very cool.

I still have some struggles with relationships, but I guess everybody does. Otherwise things are pretty comfortable for me. I also have a spiritual component in my life. I connect to church, and people are very supportive of me there too. So it all works for the good.

As for happiness, I don’t know if I could ever say that I’m ultimately happy. I can say for now that my anxieties are less, because I’ve made things work for myself. It feels pretty good having less anxiety. I still have medication treatment but a very, very mild form. For the first time in my life I feel that things are stabilized.

I think it’s the level of support that makes a good place to live. It’s also the fact that you have your own independence. If people keep explaining the do’s and don’ts all the time, you’re going to become reluctant to observe that. The key factor in this housing is that they promote a lot of kindness. Plus the level of support is based on wanting to reduce your stress, take the edge off. They said to me, ‘You had enough stress before you got here, you don’t need any more.’

In the four and a half years I’ve lived here, I’ve never spoken to the on-site landlord. Progress Place advocates for me if I have repair needs. Even if I have annoying neighbours, they suggest I don’t confront them at all. They will. Sometimes on occasion I’ve had to call security, but instead of me talking directly to security, I would have my housing worker advocate to security. The building takes the complaints more seriously now. In fact, I gain more stability by knowing that.

For me, it’s ideal housing. And it doesn’t have any length of stay, as long as you pay your rent. As long as you’re able to look after yourself the way everybody does, you can stay until you grow dusty. That’s pretty well it.

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