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4 May 2012

Laurence

Laurence sells The Big Issue at the Canberra Times Fountain, Civic, and in Dickson.

“As someone who has suffered from depression and schizophrenia, I know better than most that life can be one big mess without friends and a steady job. I’ve always loved working, doing something productive rather than being stuck at home with the four walls caving in on me. I travelled around Australia, working as a kitchen hand from Victoria to Queensland. But 10 years ago, mental health problems caused my work to fall away. I’m a great worker when I’m well, but when I’m not, things aren’t always so great. I was made redundant from my job in Canberra and had a mental breakdown. It happened just like that and I burst into tears. If there’s one thing I’d say to someone in that position, it’s this: ‘If you’re feeling unwell, tell somebody.’

It’s the friends and family around me, Mental Illness Education ACT [MIEACT], The Rainbow [Mental Health Foundation recreation and resource centre] and, more recently, the people at The Big Issue and Woden Community Service, who are the reason I’m still here today. It’s been a roller-coaster ride but I feel 100% better than I felt all those years ago. I’m meeting people from various backgrounds and I have my fellow vendors in the Big Issue community to support me when I need help.

We recently lost a dear friend, Eddie, and a lot of the vendors are grieving – his death upset us. You need to keep busy and do something to take your mind off your troubles. If you’re out of work, for instance, look for jobs or people who can help you. On top of my work for The Big Issue, I volunteer for MIEACT and work at Cafe Ink, an enterprise run by Woden Community Service that provides employment to people who have gone though hard times. I came to the job with years of experience, and get to take orders and make coffee and sandwiches.

Throughout the two years I’ve worked at The Big Issue, I’ve had wonderful experiences. One day, I was working in front of the Canberra Centre on a miserable winter’s morning and a lady walked over to me and said: ‘Would you like a doona? Because this one’s got your name on it.’ I never found out her name but, if she’s reading, I’d like her to know that the doona’s still on my bed. I was so surprised and humbled that a person could be so kind and would spend so much on me.

However, the best moment of my life was when I won a pool competition at the Dickson Tradies. Everyone gave me a rousing reception; I still remember the standing ovation. Now I’ve set [myself] an even bigger goal – to go on the game show Deal or No Deal and win heaps of cash. For someone who has had nothing in life, I want to have everything!

It will also boost my magazine sales if I’m on Deal. People will come up to me and ask, “Why are you still selling The Big Issue?” and I’ll say, “I’m doing something that makes me happy”. After all, when you’re on to a winner, you’ve gotta stick with it.”

Interview by Dominic Lavers

Photograph by Ben Davies

Interview by 
Canberra Times Fountain, Civic, and in Dickson.