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4 May 2012


"It’s funny, when I was school I was a very high achiever: A+, did musicals, studied dance. My mental illness has destroyed any ambition. My sister has done three degrees, my brother’s an engineer, but I’m the only one in the family who has a mental illness.

It was drug induced – marijuana. I’d just left school and went fruit picking in South Australia; we smoked some [marijuana] and I became psychotic as a result. I ended up in the psychiatric ward in Adelaide, and then was transferred to Mont Park [a Melbourne psychiatric hospital] for two years. I never touched [drugs] after that, so that was a very hard lesson to learn. I still smoke cigarettes – sometimes I enjoy it, but I’d rather not smoke. For health reasons – and it’s expensive.

I’ve moved a lot around the east coast of Australia, and have always kept journals from when I was living in Melbourne, NSW and Queensland at different times in my life. I was living homeless in Newcastle with the man I was later to marry and have a son with.

I have two boys – one’s 20 now and the other is 15. My 20-year-old is in Melbourne, but he had to grow up with his father’s parents because we were homeless. I raised my younger son until he was 15, but now he’s living with my sister, in Melbourne, because I am in and out of hospital with mental episodes.

[There have been difficult, sometimes violent, incidents.] I’ve been capsicum-sprayed, thrown on the ground, handcuffed… I’ve been taken to a psychiatric ward, put into seclusion, had all my clothes taken away… It can be a month [I spend there].

I’m staying in Salvation Army transitional housing because I was homeless at the start of the year – I had a complete nervous collapse and was sleeping on concrete slabs behind the chemist. I’ve hooked into a Karingal service [in the Geelong region] that helps people with mental illness – I do a yoga class and have a support-worker there. She’s really nice and we have coffee and cake together, and talk. I go to a group on a Friday with other women and get our nails painted, have a foot spa and have make-up, and sometimes we go out for Christmas.

I’ve been living in Geelong for more than 13 years. The Big Issue is a good job – I sell in the afternoons at Highton Safeway. People are friendly, nice, they talk to me, smile. The Big Issue means that I don’t go without food, and I can buy new socks and underwear, and not have to buy second-hand ones.

I write folk songs and play the guitar, and I like to do craft and I look to cook and do gardening and read, when I’m not too tired or too medicated or in hospital – you need to enjoy the good things in life that make you happy. But my sons have been the light of my life and have kept me going through many dark years. They inspire me, they’re beautiful.”

Celeste sells The Big Issue in Highton, Geelong

Interview by Peter Ascot

Photograph by James Braund

Interview by 
Celeste sells The Big Issue in Highton, Geelong