Homelessness - a child's destiny by Possummagic
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"Joseph", our little Joey, never slept well from day one, with chronic ear infections and gastric reflux. As a baby he was hospitalized several times to give me "respite" because i was getting no sleep and was bordering on depression because of this.
Joey was two before he finally slept through the night, and I remember being terrified to go into his room because it was eight o'clock in the morning and i hadn't heard a peep from him all night. I was expecting to find a little "blue baby". I crept into his room and there he was playing with doggie. Looking up at me with those big blue eyes, he smiled his gorgeous smile..."up mummy" he said and gave me the biggest cuddle ever. The diagnosis given to him at the time was Hyperactivity Disorder.
Later, he was "expelled" from two kindergartens when teachers couldn't cope with his erratic behavior. He would climb fences and run home, worrying the teachers. Push the other children on the swings so high that they fell off. He was big, uncoordinated and clumsy. We were used to him, we set boundaries and he constantly pushed them but he was the cuddliest most adorable little man that we knew. What do you do when no one wants to teach your child?... We were about to find out again!
It was 1988 and Joey was a happy, healthy 6 year old with a shock of white blonde hair and the biggest bluest eyes ever seen. Everyone loved Joey, even though he was hyperactive, couldn't sit still and was unable to concentrate for more than 5 minutes at a time. He only had to look at you with that gorgeous smile and those big blue eyes and you would melt.
My other true love was "Miranda" with her honey blonde hair and blue/green eyes which crinkled up when she smiled. She was an angel and three years older than Joey. Beautiful, smart and caring, she was to keep me on an even keel when everything pointed towards me being a lousy mother!
Whilst helping with art work one day in Joeys class, a guy came to talk to the children about "Homelessness." It seemed so unreal and to be honest, in my naivety I'd never even thought of anyone as not having somewhere to live. After he'd gone my eyes filled with tears and I asked Mark, Joeys teacher, "what if Joey ends up homeless. "he won't, of course he won't " said Mark..."Why would you even think that?" I honestly didn't know!
Joey was expelled from that Catholic Primary School twelve months later for being "uncontrollable" . One day I walked into the corridor at school to hear my son screaming and crying like a cat being tortured. I walked into the classroom to see my distressed child being physically forced to sit in a chair by a teacher repeating over and over again "sit in the chair Joey sit in the chair Joey, sit in the chair Joey" He couldn't breath properly and was inconsolable. I pulled him to me and said "what on earth are you doing? He's terrified! " the teacher said in her monotone voice...."He needs to sit in the chair when he's told to sit in the chair."
I took him with me to the Principles Office, Joey was sobbing and I had tears streaming down my face. The principle heard me out and then said the words I will never forget. "your son can't come to our school anymore, he is emotionally disturbed and needs to go to a school for emotionally disturbed children." I was in shock........ How on earth did we get here? I was told that Miranda could still attend the school but Joey would have to go to the "special school" 18 kilometers away. I had no idea how to get both children to different school each day. It was all too hard. He was only seven years old!
I took Joey instead, to the Children's Hospital and demanded to know what was physically or emotionally wrong with my child who by now was screaming without reason, hiding under buildings and running away when faced with stressful situations and threw tantrums and was destructive and on the go at all times. Here he got his second label, they said he was showing signs of ADD.
My marriage was crumbling anyway, so we changed schools and moved to the country and Joey seemed a little more settled though was still difficult to manage at times. His attention span was very short however he was learning to read and write and he had friends and appeared reasonably happy. He missed his Dad and wasn't getting to see him very often and he wasn't coping well with this.
Before long though things started to deteriorate again. It appeared to coincide with my returning to work full time to support my children. Despite setting up psychological intervention between Joey, myself and the school things deteriorated further.
He gained yet another label of ADHD and was prescribed Dexamphetamine. This helped him to concentrate in class but by late afternoon he had a crazy "spin out effect" which made him behave like a "wild animal" and it was terrifying to witness. He slept with a diving knife under his pillow. The psychologist actually said "I don't know how I can help you" and the end result was that he pushed a teacher who goaded him, and he was expelled in grade five. I took him off the Dexamphetamine and tearfully rang the Paediatrician who wanted to give him more drugs which I refused.
We moved to Melbourne with my partners work. New start, new school. Miranda settled in straight away though she missed her friends. Joey demanded all of our time and attention. we were to find out much later how much this affected our beautiful daughter. Joeys behavior went from bad to worse and we spent hours at the school trying to work out his problems.
Psychologists, Therapists, Psychiatrists were involved. No one could help us. By grade 7, he was expelled again, so we enrolled him in a school for emotionally disturbed children. He lasted almost two years before even they expelled him.
He had been diagnosed at age 10 with chronic deep depression and with antidepressant medication, there was a little improvement in his mood but not his behavior. The suicide attempts started here, and honestly over the years we have lost count of the number of attempts our poor, disturbed boy has made.
Only once In all those years, i nearly gave up. I was asked to come into a meeting at the Medical Centre Psychiatric Block. When I arrived there I felt totally intimidated by the 5 doctors in the room. I was trying to fight for treatment for his mental illness and his drug addiction. (I felt certain that his addiction to Amphetamines was linked to the use of Dexamphetamine as a pre-adolescent.)
They set up the meeting to tell me that there was absolutely nothing they could do to help my son. "You know of course that he is a drug addict. Any medication we give him he will probably overdose with. This is not a motel... There is no point in him being here" I was flabbergasted, devastated, appalled, and I was hopelessly outnumbered! I didn't say a word but stood up with tears in my eyes and left the room.
That afternoon, they discharged Joey to a boarding house in Windsor. That evening the caretaker of the boarding house sold Joey Amphetamines and he was arrested for "Possession of a Class A drug." He was sixteen years of age.
A year at "boot camp" saw Joey to be the happiest healthiest boy he had ever been but at $16,000 per annum in 1997 it was more than we could afford, so we made the mistake of bowing to pressure and allowing him to attend a local public school.
Joey got in with a bad crowd for the first time ever and started his run in with the Law. Numerous court cases followed and he spent six months in a juvenile detention centre. When he came out he ran away from home again and with the exception of one brief encounter, it was to be 6 years before we finally found him. We really didn't know if he was dead or alive.
Every night I would go into his bedroom and shed a little tear looking at his empty bed. One night I walked in there and there he was lying in his bed. I burst into tears and so did he, as we hugged and I had a million questions to ask him. He was eighteen years of age. By the next day he was gone.
At aged twenty one Joey was diagnosed with Amphetamine addiction, Bipolar Mood Disorder and anxiety, depression and psychosis. He lived on the streets of Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney. He walked a hundred kilometers to finally remove himself from the streets of Adelaide and ate out of rubbish bins along the way.
Finally Police found him along the road side and picked him up. They rang me and asked me " how long has your son been a vagrant?" He said he was walking to his Nannas place four hundred and fifty kilometres away.
My brother picked him up and put him in a caravan in the middle of nowhere to get him away from drugs and off the streets. He walked to the main town once a fortnight and bought booze then drank himself into oblivion until his next pay came through.
We bought Joey back to Melbourne and MIND provided a boarding house room for him and tried to get him onto medication again. He was using whatever drugs he could get his hands on and drinking himself into oblivion.
In a drug induced stupor one night, after wandering down a railway line , he jumped off a bridge over a main road, fracturing his spine in three places.Totally psychotic, he spent the next five months as an involuntary patient at the psychiatric clinic again.
We lobbied from the prime minister down, to get him into priority one public housing. It took two years before he was given a lovely little unit and we thought, "finally he can be settled."
In the first four months that Joey was in the flat, he was burgled three times, had a brick thrown through his window whilst he slept and had his power turned off three times (for a joke) making his food rancid and he got food poisoning from eating it.
The straw that broke the camel's back was when the alcoholic neighbour who turned the electricity off, played music until four o'clock each morning/night. He also told Joey constantly that there were people in the attic space who were coming in during the night to kill him. He also threw the brick through his bedroom window and Joey became totally psychotic and was taken away by the police but as his next door neighbour watched on and laughed, Joey "lost it" and threw a bottle hitting him on the foot..."Assault with a weapon!"
Another five months as an involuntary patient ensued and we (his parents) said "enough is enough." We moved house, built on our land, a little cottage for Joey to live in independently.
It's not all positive from there on. Joey had been diagnosed with schizophrenia , anxiety, dual diagnosis, poly substance abuse, acquired brain injury and learning disorders.
Our young son had periods of isolation, had few friends and had never worked more than a few days here and there. He has attended numerous detox and rehabilitation programmes over the years. We set up a drug and alcohol counsellor and for many years the only way to get him to take medications was by having a Community Treatment Order in place. Every single day was a battle over some issue or another but we have hung in there. He has a great GP who has supported us along the way.
One of the things we found appalling over the year was the attitude towards homeless people and particularly those with a mental illness. We have for years ensured that Joey is dressed appropriately. He always has decent shoes and clothes. This is because if a person with a mental illness or a homeless person is clothed decently, people treat them better and aren't so judgmental! It's sad, but so true.
Joey has been seeing his Drug and Alcohol Counsellor for five years now, he has a depot injection for his psychosis once a fortnight, has a case manager at the local Community Mental Health Clinic. He is no longer on a CTO and takes his medication voluntarily.
He doesn't break the law as he has no need to. There is plenty of food so he doesn't need to steal. Recently Joey commenced work in a sheltered workshop and we couldn't be prouder. In three months he hasn't missed a day and he works 4 days a week.
He still has no financial skills and his funds are managed by the Public Trustees, but he's not spending every cent on drugs and alcohol and he's not selling his belongings. It's not all a bed of roses but we are finally getting somewhere.
It's taken 30 years to have a proper diagnosis of what awful things were going on in my son's head. Now that he's receiving proper care and treatment he can continue to heal.
Only this week my son, who has lived out of a bag for half of his life, unpacked his clothes and put them away in his wardrobe. "Big deal" you might say.... And it is! Joey has never felt safe or settled enough to unpack his clothes and put the bag away.
He also recently put his blinds up, and opened his windows to let in some air. He feels safe now, that no one is going to look into his windows in his flat and steal his belongings. Joey no longer sleeps with a knife under his pillow and doesn't get arrested for stealing food. These are seen as little things to most people, to us though they are monumental.
Joey is no longer "Homeless".
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