Tuesday 25 September 2018

'How could I lose my home, not once but twice?' - Medical doctor says it can happen to anyone

Dr Annette Hunter with her horse and donkey.
Dr Annette Hunter with her horse and donkey.
Dr Annette Hunter

Dr Annette Hunter

Dr Annette Hunter is a sports and exercise medicine specialist who has worked with Irish and British Olympic athletes. She had qualified as a medical doctor pursuing her dream of working in sports medicine.

Up until 2007, she loved her job and loved her life. She had a coastal home on Horn Head where she could walk the long sandy beaches with her donkeys, horses, and dogs.

The world was at her feet.

But, below, she tells how her life changed radically - all in the space of a few years - when she developed neuropathic pain and lost her first home, and then a cheaper log cabin which she made her home after she lost her first one. She has been warned to vacate the log cabin, which has rendered her homeless.

Read her letter in full here:

‘Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home,’ wrote American actor and writer John Howard Payne.

Our home gives us a sense of stability, self-worth and security. No matter what stresses we have in our lives, our home is the place we retreat to for rest and relaxation. We can be ourselves at home. It is where we lay our heads down to sleep. It is our safe haven.

It therefore makes sense to say that losing our home is a devastating experience. Without a home we feel lost and rudderless. Everything becomes temporary and insecure. We lose our dignity. Feelings of shame can engulf us like a thick fog on a winter’s night.

I never thought I would end up homeless but I did. I lost two homes in the space of four years. 

The first loss came about as I had to retire early due to illness. I was self-employed and not being able to work meant I could not sustain paying my mortgage. I had to sell my home to clear my mortgage.  With the small amount I had left over from the sale, I set about getting a log cabin home built.

Sadly, through no fault of mine, my new log cabin home was officially condemned within the first year of living in it.  It was declared unfit for habitation due to serious faults and safety issues. I am now left with no choice but to vacate my new home.

Where do I go? How do I find money to pay rent when this was never a part of my monthly budgeting? I am lucky in that I don’t have the worry of having to factor in children. I have no children but I do have three dogs, an old horse and a donkey.

They are my children and they are all rescued. They are precious to me but if I have no home, well neither do they. The simple but joyous little world I created after losing my home due to illness is now disintegrating around me.

Nobody knows what this is like till they are actually in this situation.  I felt such terrible shame when I lost my homes.  I was a medical doctor so how could I lose my home, not once but twice? I felt such a failure. These feelings smothered me when I visited other peoples’ houses. I entered the realm of ‘compare and despair’.

My self-esteem would desert me when sitting in a friend’s kitchen watching her do such a simple thing as taking a cup from her kitchen cupboard to make me a cup of tea. As I waited for the kettle to boil I thought to myself how I no longer had a kitchen. I didn’t even have a place to boil my kettle or store my collection of cups and mugs. The harsh reality of my situation would get the better of me and I could not wait to get out of my friend’s home. It hurt too much to be in such a cosy place where life went on day to day and nobody ever thought about losing their gem of a home.

My home was the one constant in an unpredictable world and I never once thought I would lose it.

The losses of my homes did not happen overnight. It took time for events to evolve to a point where I had to accept defeat and prepare to vacate both properties. As a result I had to navigate through years of protracted stress and anxiety. 

Depression took root in my mind.  Worse than that, I debated the pros and cons of suicide.

I am still on this planet and so I speak for all the other people who have lost their homes. I know what you are going through as I am in that place too. I am lonely and I am terrified. I am exhausted from the stress.

As I write the outside temperature is zero degrees. The cold wind slices through the darkness. There is frost on the tips of the heather and it sparkles in the light of moon. But this place is no winter wonderland anymore. 

I am not exaggerating when I say that this house is a death trap. When it rains the water pours in over electric sockets. The wiring is so damp from all the leaking that it causes the meter box to trip. I end up having no electricity for long periods. No electricity means no water as the pump is dependent on electricity. I have not had a shower in four days and yes- I took having a warm shower for granted too. The roof will eventually lift off in a storm as it is not secured down.

For tonight, I do have this roof over my head so I force myself to feel grateful for the fact that I am not actually on the streets under a cardboard box. But this roof could kill me. I would probably be safer sleeping under a cardboard box. I try to sleep but I wake up in a panic that engulfs my mind and body.  I don’t want to think about having no home and yet it is all I think about. I have stopped talking to people as they don’t seem to understand my situation.  I am like a hermit crab only I have lost my shell. With no shell to protect me I am vulnerable, weak and exposed. I never thought I would end up like this and I am really struggling to accept my reality.

Life can send us down paths we never want to explore as we don’t have as much control over our lives as we would like to think. Our circumstances can change when we least expect it and the fallout can result in us losing our home. So please, when you see homeless person, stop to think before you judge them. You don’t know what led them to end up living on the streets.

On a cold night when you curl up in bed under an electric blanket, take a moment to practice gratitude for having a home. It may be something you take for granted like I did, but anyone can end up homeless through no fault of their own. 

A home is a basic necessity for us human beings. Politicians who allocate funding for the homeless should be made to spend a week sleeping on the streets in the thick of winter. Only then might they fully understand how it really feels to have no place to call home. Only then might they actually do something to solve this crisis before any more precious lives are lost.  

Dr Hunter has written a book  "The Importance of Having a Home" on her experience, and is currently looking for a publisher.

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