August 16, 2016 by poverty2professional
Finally moving into a home after being without one for so long can be an incomparable relief. Better than taking off the tightest pair of Sunday shoes and maybe just short of knowing you’ve got a ticket to heaven. It can also be a little unsettling. You’re finally in a secure space with privacy, walls, and a door with a lock. No one will tell you to get up and leave in the morning. It’s not the shelter, the Pound, or wherever you were previously. You can do what you want. Do you remember what you enjoyed before going homeless? As noted in an earlier post, there are a lot of activities that actually encourage or require the use of a home. Going back into that frame of mind can almost be like a ghost remembering what life was like before it died.
The path to your mental and physical well-being can be its own process. The profound effects of homelessness can resonate for years afterward. There is, after all, a reason why relapsing into homelessness isn’t uncommon. The first few weeks can be a whirlwind of getting settled and reestablished, along with wondering, “What do I do now?” Here are some steps to work toward achieving balance again.
1. See a Doctor or General Physician
This is something I wish my father and I had done right away. Granted, we wouldn’t have had the insight to get a CAT scan and discover that he had cancer years in advance, but at least we could have been told how physically healthy were at that time. Maybe it would have made us more aware as to what unhealthy really looks like. Checking in with your body and having a professional – even at a free clinic – give you a clean bill of health or make recommendations for what you can do to improve, puts your mind at ease. It’s one less sore throat to worry about or strange skin spot to contemplate over. When you get told, “You’re fine,” (or the opposite) at least you’ll know how to better strategize your next steps to taking care of the most important person in the equation: You.
2. Meet with a Counselor/Therapist
We’ve visited the stigma of mental health in the P2P posts. I know that going to see anyone with the association of “psychologist,” “mental wellness,” “counselor,” or – heaven forbid – “therapist” can sound unnecessary or excessive, especially if you’ve determined that “there’s nothing wrong with me” or that those resources are “for crazy people.” They’re not. Counselors are an under-utilized resource that are there to help you unpack all that you’ve endured. Acknowledging that you’ve just come out of a traumatic experience – from losing your home to dealing with the enormity of homelessness’ everyday stress – is the first step to readjusting to a housed lifestyle and being able to function “like normal” again. Surviving homelessness could have left you with unexpressed anger, a profound sense of insecurity, and/or shame. While homeless, you could have (and your chances are higher if you were a teen) experienced and/or witnessed abuse, sexual assault, violence, or drug use. All of these can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). None of these should go unchecked or without finding another human to be your sounding board. Mental recovery shouldn’t be something you have to do alone. A counselor can help you through it.
3. Visit a Dentist or Dental Clinic
It wasn’t until I got my first full-time job with benefits that I decided I’d better make a dentist appointment. I hadn’t had my teeth professionally cleaned in over five years. This, of course, is a terrible practice to have. You only get one set of teeth for your full adult life. And they’re in an awfully vulnerable spot in your body. Inside your mouth! Eek! This is akin to recommendation #1. Get your full health confirmed so can be repaired and continue to progress toward moving forward. Dental hygiene alone can also be a determining factor in professional opportunities down the road.
4. Take a Bath
If you’ve been homeless, you understand the scarcity of access to basic hygienic care, including hot water. If you were at a shelter, maybe you had access to a shower, but probably not a warm tub of water you could just rest easy in. You have a home now. This is the time to appreciate it. Soaking in a warm tub loosens your muscles, releases tension, and hey, feels a little luxurious. By all means, throw in some bubbles. Bubble bath formula is only a buck at the dollar store – and I won’t tell.
5. Cook a Meal
This can be as simple as opening a can of soup and buttering some bread on the side. It doesn’t matter what it is so long as you made it. Cooking is one of the empowering liberties afforded to those living at home. When you’re homeless, you don’t often get to choose what you eat or even how often. Cooking for yourself (and for your family) is another way of reclaiming autonomy. “I made this.” And the best part is, you can eat it!
6. Get a Haircut
This is perhaps the most expensive thing on this list, a haircut is also so very worth it. You look fresh, you feel better, and you’ve literally gotten rid of old pieces of yourself. Professionally, it’s helpful when you’re on the interview market/job hunt. Personally, you get to feel new. You have a new home. A fresh look for you isn’t just a treat – it’s an affirmation.
8. Sleep in
I know this might sound like a no-brainer. You’ve been woken up at early hours since you became homeless, whether at the shelter by policy or by a police officer on the street. Getting much-needed sleep at this point should be easy. However, there’s also a likelihood that the old habit of waking up at odd hours will die hard. Some survivors of homelessness have commented how even though they were housed now that they would still wake up, pack a bag for the day, and go out. With a home, you don’t have to go anywhere if you don’t want to. No one can make you do anything. Sleeping in not only defies the old powers that made you go out every day, it restores you – body and mind – and helps you reclaim that this home is yours. You’re not going anywhere.
8. Travel with Less
This one has been significant for me. When you’re shooed out of your cubicle sleeping space every morning, you’re also expected to not return to it until almost ten hours later. That means you’d better grab everything you’re going to need throughout the day as well. This means not just carrying a backpack or a briefcase, this includes spare clothes, tooth brushes, books, extra shoes, and pretty much anything you might need to keep you well-stocked or occupied through the day. Like irregular sleep cycles, this is another tough habit to break. I’m one of pack-it-all-me people. Close friends and I joke how my “homeless habits” die hard. And there’s truth to it. Short of being a soccer mom, it’s a bit embarrassing to be taking everything with you everywhere. I had to keep reaffirming with myself that, yes, it’s okay to leave stuff behind. I’ll be back for it later because no one is going to move it and throw it away when I’m not looking.
Mentally, emotionally. You have a home now. There will be many new challenges, but homelessness doesn’t have to be one of them. You have your own private space. You can relax. The world don’t stop turning, but it also can take care of itself for a day.