• Ben Westwood

A stigma that nobody wants to admit exists

I know that loads of you are going to tell me that I'm wrong. That's just what people do. I live it every day.

Often I feel like changing my identity, starting completely afresh and becoming one of the people that chooses to hide away their past to new friends and acquaintances. Once people know that you lived on the streets as a kid, and have experienced homelessness as an adult, you see that your REALLY ARE treated differently by a lot of people. Except in this realm, you can see quite clearly those that have started to see you as different can't even see themselves their own perceptions and behaviours. Of course, some of the difference in treatment can be natural, needed and positive. There are those out there that completely get what it's like to have had to find your own way in life with very little guidance or support. In a fortunate situation they'd even get to know better the people that they were helping.

For others though, it's crystal clear that those like me are put onto some sort of level in peoples minds. Once people know about my past, I can just feel the emphasis on the conversations that I have with them, which will often relate to homelessness, because that's what people often only want to see me as 'the guy that was homeless' - 'Oh he's had a tough life, throw him ten pence'. The truth is, I've spent most of my adult life with people telling me that I'm wasted talent, and that if I only tried harder then I could completely turn my life around. I do try, I do. Until I've given up for a while. People always told me I'd get somewhere with my music. A few gigs in a few quiet bars would have been a success for me. I'd like to think I've got some pretty decent potential to be a singer in my spare time, but by this point in my life I've tried enough times to know that I'd be lucky to get even two or three people turn up to my gigs. That might sound a little bitter to some, and even though I've had a fair few performances that I wasn't happy with, I know deep down that part of it is just being seen as 'different' by a lot of people. Being someone like me puts you into another category of your own, and I suppose the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow in all of this is knowing that even though you've never had enough people want to join a journey with you, that at least the few people you do know understand you. I completely get and embrace when people say "Oh forget what everyone else thinks, it don't matter" - but when it comes to progressing, being included, finding people that have faith in bringing you onboard, and for being acknowledged for who you actually are - of course it matters. Sometimes those like me get lucky, and after long bouts of rejection and depression someone eventually gives us a chance. We convince ourselves that our lives are about to change, only to find a whole new set of barriers that we're only fortunate to overcome if there are switched on people involved that can see the woods through the trees, and understand how to develop and maintain a team of people to have a strong sense of social dynamics. For a while when I was younger, I used to say that I felt in many ways like the gypsy, and like the black man. I know times are changing a bit, but it all makes sense to my now why I always felt like that. In my future jobs, I'll be keeping this past away from people no doubt. Not that I brag about it or anything, but it often comes out to people I get to know that I wrote a book, and naturally they go on to ask what it's about.

And that is often when two worlds collide. See, I think many people out there can only imagine a book about being a kid living on the streets being grim, completely sad and somewhat depressing. Those nuggets of love and laughter that I've put in there is something that I've learned might be at a paradox with some peoples understanding. They don't really expect it I think, how can someone live on the streets and also experience happiness? In the end though, I guess I find value in the people that have never lived my life but have the ability to familiarise themselves with the human feelings and connection that I try to promote. Promoting Poems From a Runaway was an interesting journey in itself. Admittingly, I'd sort of deluded myself into thinking it would sell better than it would, but that's just what self-published debut authors do, and whilst working it all out yourself you learn eventually what to expect from self-published ventures as my own. But you quickly find in places like in employment, the stigma is very real. People are always going to have a pop at you, that's life. But when people hear me moaning on social media sometimes, they presume I'm just sensitive and even think I can't stand up for myself. In reality, standing up for myself is an instinct for years that I've had to have, but there is no solution when you find the decisions by teams in such circumstances will often bizarrely go against you. For many like me, we become baffled and confused with the world, and in many cases start giving up on having any chance of development because even though people won't want to admit it, you'll be the one that goes first, no matter who was right or who was wrong. I know these statements and realities won't be everyone. I'm guessing some of you right now are thinking that I'm simply being negative and somewhat un-inspirational. But I can only say it how I see it, and anything else would just be playing into this sugar-coated rotten green steak I call 'human disconnection'. I know that I'm not perfect, and I highly suspect that I've got something that people call ADHD. Perhaps it's what I've been through as a kid that has given me that impulsive dreamy mind though. Who knows, it's no excuse anyway. But people like me don't ever get taken seriously enough for a diagnosis. Perhaps if I spoke with a middle-class accent, or was a bit more nerdy or in with the 'aspy' crowd then I would, but the truth is that working class lads like me with a confident street aura won't really get a look in, and many simply end up in prison through grasping at straws for any way to simply survive. Yet on the other hand I can have a full-on breakdown in the middle of Birmingham when times get at their worst, only to be told at the hospital 'you're an articulate looking lad, you'll be alright'. True story. There really is no winning with much of it, we're completely on our own. I could go on forever with this, spilling my 'beef' with how I feel I have to fight so much harder for people to see me for the person I actually am inside, and what I'm capable of. Every venture I've ever tried has completely failed and only led to further destitution, and although I have to take responsibility for my own incompetence and failings, I do believe part of that is simply not being perceived as familiar enough by a lot of people to even be considered as someone to purchase anything at all from really. Of course, those like me who appear in no family photos or annual celebrations will always need to find a way to find some meaning in life somehow. I'm aware that personally the feeling of being valued is important because most people get that from their immediate environments, not everyone though I guess. Either way, we find ourselves searching for that belonging, trying to compensate for the lack of it somehow, because we need to.

I genuinely believe that for people that haven't experienced the same events in life as we have, they get the team partnerships, they get the attention and they get the support from the world around them. Those like me, we'll be OK with the absolute bare minimum they'll say. Us lot being denied the chance of inclusion through social perceptions is fine to many people because 'we're used to it' and 'we'll cope'. For me the proof is in the pudding when I tell people I don't go busking much anymore because there's been simply too many days of completely exhaustion of performing to my best and lugging gear around, only to be lucky to make a fiver or a tenner a day. It's not always the case, and I do much better especially when nobody knows who I am. "Oh but at least you can eat" some people say. "You've made enough for a sandwich."

The same happens with any other ventures I do. At the point in deciding that it's actually best to quit because I'm running myself to the ground, a lot of people actually tell me that I should be happy with the way things are going even when can't even afford to pay the bills. I don't know if people will understand this or even believe it, but that's what people like me get, the expectance of being content in living in sub-par standards to the majority of the population. It's something I hope will change and at least our expressions are understood. I really do hope that this article speaks up for a few people like me because it all really does affect people, and very deeply too. I've found most people are in complete denial about this concept and presume that it's more of a personal mental health issue in myself than anything. But I know, I just know, that somebody will be reading this saying "He's bloomin right." I know that many more of us experience stigma, and there's plenty that I've yet to learn myself. But this is our fight. Peace. If you've not read Poems From a Runaway and might want to, now's the perfect time to show your support and purchase a signed copy for Christmas from my online shop page at https://www.benwestwooduk.com/shop

(Look out for the paypal link on the LEFT of the page) You can also help to support my writing and stuff at https://www.buymeacoffee.com/BenWestwood

Or if you experience issues with the above link, also at https://paypal.me/benwestwoodUK

44 views0 comments