The pandemic has been tough on everyone. From work worries to money troubles, we’ve all had to face new challenges – and that can really take a toll on your mental wellbeing. Here, Zeb shares his experience of becoming unemployed and homeless during the pandemic, and shares his tips for moving forward when things really feel too much.
I’m a pretty resilient person. I’ve been through a lot in my life, and have learned to cope and manage on my own. But faced with a global pandemic and becoming homeless, my resilience was really pushed to the limits, and I realised how important it is to ask for help from the people around you.
Back at the start of the pandemic, I was living in Kent. I’d moved there after a marriage breakdown as a chance to reset and come to terms with abuse I went through as a child – stuff I hadn’t really dealt with before that was really impacting my mental wellbeing.
And things were going alright. I was self employed and felt like I was getting myself back together. But as the pandemic struck, the business and life I had built were hit hard. I began working all of the time to try to figure things out. On top of that, I have an underlying health condition, so I was suddenly vulnerable overnight, unable to visit my children in London. It was really tough.
I was trying really hard to keep afloat, but in the end, I just couldn’t cope. I was homeless, sofa surfing from place to place to keep a roof over my head and continue doing my job. Being vulnerable meant I wasn’t able to go out and look for another job like I usually would have done. So really, I was stuck in a situation with no money coming in and my debts increasing. It felt like everything was working against me – a series of business reverses, having a health condition, not being able to actually actively go out and look for work, it made things more complicated. It was overwhelming. It can really get you down.
I realised I had to ask for help, say, ‘you know, I’m homeless, I’m in a really tricky situation here’. And that’s hard, especially when you’ve learnt to rely on yourself. I’m 52 and for most of my life I’ve tried to do everything on my own – I suppose because I didn’t feel like I could ask for help, I didn’t feel like I could be vulnerable in case I was judged or treated differently as a result. But actually, asking for help is really important, being honest and open with the people you care about can really make a difference. I found it when I shared my experiences of abuse in my 40s, and I’ve found it again during the pandemic. No matter what you think, people don’t judge you like you think they will. You build so much up in your head, you think people will make assumptions about who you are – and that really isn’t the case. Mostly, people just want to support you.
I’m part of a number of men’s support groups, and I hear men talk about different things that they’re trying to deal with. You hear about their fears, about being vulnerable, their fear about being judged, their fear about being seen as weak. Unless you ask for the help, you can’t be seen, you can’t be heard. And you can’t heal. That’s a fundamental thing for me, to be able to heal. I know that self healing is possible, but you have to be vulnerable in order for that healing process to start and that’s very difficult.
I think what I’ve learnt during the pandemic, and to an extent across my life, is to only focus on what you can control. If you can’t control something, let it go. You can’t influence government decisions, that’s out of your hands, but you can change how you cope on a day to day basis. If you take one thing at a time and really think about what you need, then you can start to make things better. You can’t deal with everything that’s getting you down all at once, but if you take things one step at a time and start with your immediate priority and then the next thing and the next thing, it takes you on the journey you need to be on.
And that’s what I’ve done, with the help of some amazing people and organisations. Things are improving. I got introduced to the housing team at Beam, an organisation that crowdfunds support for homeless people, and it looks like I could be in a new place by the end of this week, which will be amazing. I’ll be able to tell my children that instead of us just meeting outside, they’ll be able to come over to my place – even if it’s raining. And hopefully I will be able to go out and start earning money again to start turning things around.
There’s a lot of things to look forward to – even the smallest things that make you smile, make you laugh, make you sing and makes you feel good. I know the tough times are going to end, it’s just holding on. One of the things I’ve also done is I run. I started running about a year ago after joining a running club. There was great, great camaraderie with all of them. People run for different reasons, and for a lot of the group it was to do with their health and their mental wellbeing. I was able to go from not running to running 5k without stopping- and that was a real achievement for me. But it’s not just the physical side, it also helps to build your self esteem. It helps to reinforce that self belief that you can do things. I might not be a tidy runner, I might not run very fast, but I can get up to the top of the hill and before I know it I’m down the hill again. I know that I can do that. And it’s like that with the things that I’ve gone through as well. I know I can get through it.
So my advice if you’re struggling? First off, it’s to work out how you’re feeling. Journaling really helped me to take everything out of my head and work out what I cared about, what I needed to prioritise. And then, when you’ve done that, the second thing is to ask for help.
You can talk to an organisation like CALM or organisations like Beam or the Citizens Advice Bureau, or you could talk to one of your friends. Whoever it is, it’s important to just get your feelings and your situation out in the open. There are always those people with expertise, knowledge and experience who will be able to guide you and provide you with practical solutions that help to clear that fog, no matter if you are homeless or unemployed or whatever your situation.
Since talking to CALM Zeb has moved into his new place and is living by his motto: Be bold. Be brave. Be true. Never Give up on you.
Being homeless or out of work can churn up a whole load of feelings and some of them can be really tricky to process on your own. If you’re struggling after being made redundant or homeless, CALM’s free confidential helpline and webchat service is open everyday from 5pm until midnight. Run by trained staff, they’ll lend a listening ear and give you advice on next steps. Contact CALM here.
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