My mission and aims for this book - Chapter 1 - Misunderstood by Ben Westwood
Updated: May 24
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© Copyright Ben Westwood 2023
Chapter 1 - My mission and aims for this book.
Here’s three of my top reasons for writing this book.
1. To break through the stigma, discrimination, ostracization and exploitation of care leavers and the homeless as well as those experiencing post-traumatic stress, mental health effects, addictions, disabilities, autism and other often unseen situations and vulnerabilities.
“Stop trying to play the victim” some of them will say, “we all have problems.”
For me, I feel that too often it’s nothing more than the echo of denial from grown men and women that are covering their ears whilst swatting away those that they deem as some sort of lesser species. I guess it’s what makes some of us want to be a little nicer to the people around us, but many like myself are still trying to master being equally as forgiving to the people that have hurt us along the way.
If those attitudes wouldn’t go on to have such a huge impact on some people’s lives then those beliefs really wouldn’t count for much from those whose concept of being estranged from their closest connections is somewhat of a complete alien one. Ironically, the ‘put up and shut up’ mentality which instantly disregards those experiences caters only for those that it is convenient for to disregard the experiences of those leaving the care system or going through homelessness. Sometimes it is easier for society to accept what it’s always wanted to believe which results in what people thinking they know being merely hearsay and imagination that is often a million miles away from the actual depths and realities of some peoples experiences.
When systematic abuse is happening it is so established and interwoven into a culture or a system that manipulation, exploitation, toxicity and mistreatment simply happens without question. Often even whilst being unaware ourselves at times people don’t only condone it but they can even enforce it if such mistreatment of people is left unchallenged by the majority. Whole groups will remain in complete denial that such a phenomenon exists, and whilst the grab-what-you-can mentality has been left to run rampant throughout society over recent years far more people nowadays are being exploited than ever before, and if you’re losing the game then apparently it’s all on you.
I’m all for taking responsibility for my own personal faults but sometimes that’s easier said than done in a culture that too often stays silent upon witnessing people being exploited or scapegoated. Perhaps it’s time to take a much deeper view on homelessness before we can create that bigger bridge and connection needed to create a system that means people get a much better chance at living normal lives. It’s all good for people to talk about how they helped a homeless person once or had nowhere to stay for a few weeks at some point in their own lives but this book is about getting into some of the real ins and outs of the common care leaver and homeless experience. The exploitation, corruption and failing homeless systems can completely shatter the confidence of a person if the mental health effects are left to grow for too long because it creates a completely negative perception of people that have not only already been through enough already but constantly find themselves getting judged because of it.
Of course, like all groups and populations not all among us are angels, especially considering the serious damage that some people had taken from such a young age with many stories that would make my own one look like a walk in the park. Despite some of the more damaged among us learning how to survive by using manipulation tactics and deceit, for most part many still wear their hearts on their sleeves unlike some of the shadier elements of the seemingly stable world where people can hide their disturbing issues often with a lot more ease by blending in with the status quo to use the illusion of charm and respectability.
Learning of the stigma, discrimination and exploitation that some of us within this society will face certainly takes more than just a few conversations. It can in fact take decades of someone constantly being discriminated against before they’ve even realised what’s actually going on, which can come with much confusion and unguided quests for answers. Despite the obvious effects to employment and career progression, those that are largely out on their own and also find themselves without any sense of real purpose in their lives can and often do go on to develop a whole host of addictions and mental health issues.
Without challenging such discrimination, a person can simply have their confidence completely broken in which often it’s through no fault of their own. It’s a competitive world out there for sure but much of it in today’s climate can needless and self-defeating. Some us are craving for more natural team players in key positions that want to rid environments of the exploitative and toxic elements that poison them. Despite such toxicity perhaps not being in the majority of people when left unchallenged it can cause enough damage to the depths of an environment that it might as well be. Too often in an era with ever-growing Machiavellian influences we rarely see through the masks and charm of those that will throw anyone under the bus to get ahead or even just for fun, and often it will be people from backgrounds like my own that find themselves forever fighting in a world where they simply just want to get on with their lives in peace.
2. To enable more professionals to see through the vails of a broken system which so often fails to provide the support for those needing it.
Like many others most of my experiences seeking help from the mental health system when I’ve needed it the most has been tragic to say the least.
I believe that one of our most major shortcomings within it has been the failure for many trained mental health workers to simply put themselves in the shoes of some of the people that have been going to them for the support that they need. That’s often been my experience and that of some of the people I know at least anyway.
Despite being a frequent runaway as a teen and living in care my only actual experiences of any obvious interactions with mental health professions in my youth had been at the age of ten when I’d go with my mum to the family psychologists to try and solve the problem of me running away. But after a few visits spanning several months which had consisted of me sitting in a room with cameras and microphones with psychologists, as well as a technician and an analyst sat behind two-way mirrors it seemed that in the end everyone involved had remained stuck for answers.
Perhaps if I’d have been born a few years later they might have given me some mental health disorder label or other, but then again perhaps I was just one of many us that were symptoms of the world outside being a little ill, a mix of unfortunate situations so to speak.
Without asking for a big shiny badge, I’m quite certain that like many people from similar walks of life that I’m one of those with ADHD or some form of autism or whatnot, but these things can be difficult to pinpoint when the cognitive effects consist of some of the same identical ones as PTSD, but perhaps it might explain the many miles walked and weeks staying awake as a young runaway kid. Despite feeling from experience that there can be a complete disregard for it though, I would have thought that many of the situations that I’d been through on the streets growing up would certainly create some forms of PTSD. Those like myself which fall out of the system whilst battling disregarded and undiagnosed mental health difficulties will only likely go on to develop even more issues created from the stress and anxieties of simply ploughing on through it.
Even there we can be pushed to the back of the queue, still not seen as worthy enough of the being listening to and rarely ever taken seriously even when going above and beyond to explain problems and proactive paths to solutions. Fingers crossed though that one day this will change, but the fact that so many people like myself are often feeling completely invisible speaks volumes about the levels of disconnection that we’re experiencing in society as a whole.
Whilst those society deems as worthy enough to receive counselling, CBT and access into understanding exactly what’s going on with them are much more likely to get taken seriously, for others that might not have appeared to fit in with the norm they’ll be simply given anti-psychotics and diagnoses based on a ten-minute conversations. Sometimes people are seeking mental health support because of the things that they’re going through at the time too, and heaven’s forbid anybody like myself claims that they’ve been harassed, stalked or anything of the like because for all of the headlines, articles and videos that try to help society gain a progressive understanding of those issues the realities for those who may develop wear and tear from a series of such events are more likely to be expected to simply live with it. Whilst such circumstances can be shocking when it happens to other people when it happens to us people just don’t bat an eyelid.
It’s all too easy to look at a person’s circumstances and presume that it’s all down to a complete lack of motivation, stupidity, or a drug addiction. I’m hoping that this book brings about just a little more respect for those that have gone through so many of their biggest struggles almost completely alone and with often nobody at all really knowing about them.
Although I know there is always someone that had it a lot worse than I did I’m hoping that the spiral of depression that those like myself can find themselves in because of the current attitudes can become that little bit more understandable, especially with so many having to navigate through serious depression and even cognitive damage from an early age.
Some people have even seemed surprised when I’ve explained to them that when at their worst the levels of depression I’ve experienced can give me similar effects to feeling drunk which in turn sends my normal cognitive focus into complete obliteration. Not being able to type on a computer keyboard and bumping into things a lot more easily are just a couple of the symptoms of it, and that’s simply through depression alone! Some of you will know exactly what I’m on about, but there are still those which find it surprising that’s it’s how bad such depression can get. Those quick to invalidate such experiences will no doubt try to pin this on substance abuse, but I can categorically say that it has nothing at all to do with it, yet such levels of depression can create the visible symptoms that appear as if somebody was under the influence of depressive drugs or alcohol.
As for exploitation, stalking, narcissism, psychopathy and the many other forms of predatory dynamics that can affect people’s lives, again - my experience has been that in regards to those like myself ever calling it out we’re simply instantly invalidated in which even our loudest calls consistently go over most people’s heads, safeguarding professionals included. Time after time, after time, after time.
Still to this day it’s often difficult for me to work out whether people are simply unaware when it’s happening or if they simply don’t care. Too many events regarding exploitation and abuse are only ever heard about in headlines or on the TV, giving the illusion that it only happens to other people and never to us. Some of those most dedicated police officers around will tell you a completely different story however, of which unfortunately people aren’t always too interested in hearing because it hasn’t been sensationalized enough. Any closer to home and perhaps a bit of post-digestion recovery time might be needed depending on the severity of things.
And yet here we are, one of the groups most at obvious risk of exploitation and for being a target of a whole variety of schemes which eventually become normalized. Many of us have been shouting it out on show for the world to hear but still it all continues to get pushed back behind the curtains unless it’s a vague enough statement to serve those that can benefit somehow for all of the wrong reasons.
“Nothing happening here, move along now please, the world has bigger problems. It’s only the homeless” which is the reality that quite a few people can face. The irony is unbelievable.
Racism happens, homophobia happens, but as for those often at the bottom of the social and economic ladder there seems so little reflection on their inclusion and equality within society, or of the needless barriers that they face based on the prejudice and discrimination they can experience.
As for others including those at the other end of the financial spectrum that might be going out of their way to help the homeless in one form or another, it’s great to see people spreading the love and coming together to support those that obviously need it. But regarding the bigger picture something deeper needs to change regarding our solving of homelessness and I believe that despite the funding being necessary to create and operate and efficient system to prevent it it’s also about how that money is spent and how it enables people to create meaningful lives and futures for themselves. Regarding progression in attitudes towards care leavers and the homeless could you imagine if nothing had ever changed back in the slave trade days and today’s perceptions of acts of kindness was to simply give people an extra meal or a slightly more comfortable set of chains during transit? Yet because of a complete denial of our many failing systems and a frequent disregard of complex social problems our one-size-fits-all approach to reducing homelessness might actually be creating more problems than it helps to solve.
If there were more mental health professionals and police officers however that were naturally drawn to being aware of what happens in the often unseen ‘s from the perspective of a person living through it then perhaps the numerous scandals of police mistreatment that happen to people from certain demographics wouldn’t be coming out every few years. Perhaps instead of being completely stunned and baffled at the reaction of others to such serious matters by being told that our events are taken out of context, irrelevant or that ‘we must have got it wrong’ would actually start getting listened to, because those are the typical sorts of reactions that we can get. Perhaps it’s not until you’ve experienced the hellish reality of so few people taking much of what you say seriously on a frequent basis that you can truly comprehend how large the scope of such needless failings is here in the UK as well as other parts of the world.
3. Amplifying the voice of those that have so often been denied it.
Feeling disrespected, undervalued, misunderstood, not taken seriously and too often scapegoated are no doubt perhaps some of the frequent darker feelings that can be experienced by many of those that have grown up and lived outside of what many people would consider the typical family unit.
Perhaps it’s all too easy in this ever-busy world for people to expect the simple answers to what are often complex problems. Among those that haven’t really experienced homelessness then it’s all too easy to presume that all a person has to do is go to the council and they’ll get some sort of emergency help otherwise known by people not so much on the grapevine as ‘one of those hostel places or something.’
Even having a secure job often doesn’t solve the immediate issue of homelessness for many people in today’s world without the right steps in place to make accessing safe and affordable housing options swift and efficient for those without the typical set of references, and despite the resilience shown by those that can keep it all together some may have better luck than others trying to find a way out of their situation.
But those among us that have knowingly or unknowingly experienced discrimination in many of its forms will know that the book certainly doesn’t stop at people not understanding what it can be like to frequently come across those barriers.
I’m going to say what many of you already know deep down but few want to really believe in the practical sense in relation to the lives of those like myself. People with irregular backgrounds, care leavers, those with mental health problems and histories of homelessness are forever getting stitched up and muscled out of jobs and projects. It’s easy to contemplate if I’m the real problem a lot of the time and I’m not denying that there might have been sometimes that I might have been. I find myself constantly asking friends “Is it me that’s the problem here?” in which they remind me with some sense of solidarity that we’re all just trying to navigate through a bodged-up world where despite appearances a lot of people are merely winging it. But in regard to some of the constant outcomes and results of situations in my life that some people will see more than others over time that the difference in outcomes and treatment in many aspects of life for many people like me is very real indeed. It is something that has taken many years to fully comprehend but something I still experience so frequently that I can’t help but consider it as to be some sort of phenomenon.
In a world where a lot of people feel completely desperate to keep their jobs but rarely admit it, as well as the deep-rooted lust for controlling others in significant amounts of the population, too often people deny that such conspiracies to control the narrative in the workplace happen. But they do happen, all of the time and every day across the country if not the whole western world. The gradual hammering away at the self-confidence of learning that you’ll nearly always be among the first of people to be seen as dispensable and thrown under the bus can have detrimental effects. Often something much deeper is getting in the way of seeing things for what they truly are by those in key positions that are making the critical decisions that affect peoples lives in response to such workplace games and Machiavellianism.
A lot of care leavers are some of the most outgoing people that you’ll ever meet, but what at times can be seen as a threat in a world where people’s main priority can be getting a job position for a friend or progressing up the career ladder. Let’s make no bones about it, it’s a cut-throat world out there at times where often the most ruthless are getting ahead and despite the baffling reaction by some of us that these tricks work on people, unfortunately they actually do.
What a lot of people fail to see is an immediate and subconscious undervaluing whenever somebody like me is trying to stand their ground against discriminations and ill behaviours they may face towards them in the more seemingly regular and established worlds. It can too often result in being left in a position where we simply can’t win whatever we say or do, whilst it can seem that everyone else around simply panders to the will of the game players and narcissists even though it would appear that everybody knows exactly what’s being played out. You hope that if you say your piece enough and show everything for what it is that things might get easier for you, but it’s a lot easier said than done in environments that consist of domineering personalities and those with an over-bearing lust to control the workplace narratives around them.
The degrading tones that can surface from time to time from some of those with a two-dimensional perspective of homelessness can be clear to those that have had their eyes opened to real prejudice in one way or another. Unfortunately, some will never learn to understand it at all in which spiteful and uneducated attitudes towards the homeless can surface from grown and seemingly respectable adults, and sometimes being naïve about what how that can affect your life without you even knowing about it is bliss to much a degree, but stigma and discrimination doesn’t always happen right in front of peoples eyes, nor does everyone always show their true cards in a world where you so often have to be careful who to trust.
Despite such life experiences bringing their own sets of advantages it can be a tough situation to deal with when you realise important life situations have been getting manipulated by silent assassins. It’s something that many different people from all walks of life can experience and not just those with histories like my own, but being seen as vulnerable prey by the more narcissist personalities out there and forever finding ourselves in battles with them is really no easy feat. Even more so for those in extremely isolated circumstances which many from backgrounds like mine are.
Unfortunately, I’ve come to learn that what I once thought would be some sort of respect I’d get from sharing my experiences with people about being a former runaway street kid only really led to the automatic assumption that people could treat you not very great if they’d felt that they wanted to, and when you start noticing more when people take advantage of that it can lead to yet more confidence shattering experiences.
Many of the people that have experienced homelessness or are out on their own had no real choice but to develop hypersensitivities to manipulation and exploitation. It certainly has its critical benefits for those that choose to value them, but many of us simply must learn over time to be wiser and more careful in our ways of challenging such toxicities because too often it can seem for no real reason that everything simply turns against us despite our best intentions which brings about enough shock in itself. Deep down people know we’ve got street-wisdom but when we try to use it our protests against ill behaviours and mistreatment are forever invalidated by the world around us whilst those playing constant mental chess moves and play under the rules of black magic always seem to get their way.
If we ever needed a revolution in how people treated each other as human beings and in a truly authentic way that wasn’t just for show then it was now. Not through Facebook, not through news articles but through real-life down on the ground reactions to real and meaningful events. Despite the current status quo often leading it to putting a target on your head it’s still quite an extraordinary and empowering feeling to know that you’ve risen above the spell and decided that you were going to do what was right instead of easy. Few want to admit that they can easily fall under the spells woven by those manipulating the sense of group harmony, but most of us can easily be prone to it all I think.
Just like the Irish and black people back in the day, and just like any other person that’s had to fight hard over time to be accepted and understood by other sections of society at some point perhaps it’s time for those like me to see our true value again and refuse to be constantly tossed aside, beaten down, stitched up and cornered regular with no option but to try and fight our way out of it. Living within a society that nearly always denies that it happens leaves many of us jobless, with criminal records and in some cases the discrimination and abuse is left to rot for so long that tragedies and violent outcomes for the most exploited and neglected among us can become inevitable.
It's time for an essential shift in how care leavers and those from backgrounds of homelessness are seen and valued by society. It’s no good for societies vulnerable to be merely posterchildren for those that may be in denial of exploiting put more energy into their homeless charity websites and fundraising projects. Nor should the concept of helping and enabling such people to develop rich and meaningful lives be left to the charity sector at all. The real change will come from a genuine sense of inclusion in the community on various levels, leading homeless people to become valued for their experiences and knowledge rather than mocked, judged, misunderstood, and taken advantage of by all sorts of different people around including landlords and schemers involved in government funding plots.
We’re had enough of our experiences and feelings being invalidated and being told that we’re not worthy enough to receive the same responses and treatments that others seem to get. Significant amounts of people from the care system are feeling too isolated and these are real lives we’re talking about. Something simply has to change.
We’re not here to be labelled as crazy or psychotic just for expressing our injustices or simply caring and feeling let down by the door too often being slammed shut on us.
And we’re not here to believe we’re only worth what so many people want us to believe. Not always through words, but through actions or more importantly the lack of them.
We do matter!
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