When Theresa looks back at the circumstances that brought her to her Cornerstone home in Morphettville, she still has to pinch herself. Her story shows that there is no stereotypical person who experiences homelessness. She feels that miracles can happen, and she would like to share her gratitude.
As I write this, the warm afternoon sun is streaming through my bedroom window, flooding the room with light and warmth. It all makes me feel very safe, secure, and enormously grateful. When I look back at the circumstances that brought me here, I still have to pinch myself. I would like to share my gratitude with all of the Cornerstone community by sharing a bit of my story and what a monumental difference Cornerstone has made to my life.
One thing I have learned from my recent past is that homelessness knows no boundaries; it can happen to anyone from all walks of life. And although the stereotypical images we see in the media of people sleeping on the streets is an accurate and heart-breaking account of some of our homeless, it does not include the thousands of others doing it rough, couch surfing, sleeping in cars, and squatting.
Throughout my life, I have had long periods of productivity and stability and achieved many great successes in my chosen fields, these being photography and academia, including undergraduate and postgraduate awards and prizes. I have worked as a teacher and lecturer at several universities and extensively in a variety of photography roles.
I was born in Adelaide into a middle-class family. My family wasn’t exactly well off, but we enjoyed a comfortable lifestyle and I received a private education. In the mid-2000s I was living in Brisbane. I became mentally imbalanced, and I sought help, but unfortunately to no avail. Eventually, I started drinking heavily.
I knew there was something terribly wrong and booked myself into a private clinic. It was there that I was diagnosed with Bipolar II disorder. It was a bit of a shock, but more of a relief, as it explained so much of my life and behaviours. I was extremely optimistic about recovering, but unfortunately, this is not how it panned out, and it was the beginning of a new nightmare. What followed were years of medication mayhem, two destructive marriages, several mental breakdowns, numerous hospitalisations, and drug addiction.
Although I tried my hardest to get the help I needed, my experiences with the mental health system in Brisbane had completely failed me, and, if anything, made matters worse. This treatment, coupled with an abusive marriage, became too much for me, so I fled to North Queensland. There I earnestly sought help again, but it was not forthcoming, and my mental health deteriorated to a new low. I could hardly function, and I simply did not want to exist. Eventually, my dysfunction and unhappiness led to hard drugs and I became an ice addict, which, of course, made matters worse, and I eventually hit a wall of failure and in despair.
Somehow, and I really don’t know how, I stopped taking drugs and clawed my way back from the brink, eventually ending up back in Adelaide. I had two suitcases that contained all that was left of my worldly goods. I was completely and utterly broken. This is when I entered the Catherine House emergency program for homeless women and subsequently their recovery program.
This is when I entered the Catherine House Emergency Program for homeless women and subsequently their Recovery Program. By this stage, I, like many women who reach homelessness, was totally dysfunctional. I had terrible difficulties communicating as I could hardly string a sentence together. I felt no joy or enthusiasm for anything and was in a constant state of confusion and terror. I couldn’t stand any sort of physical touch, and I could not make decisions. It is extremely difficult to recover your mental health when you can’t cope or deal with even the most basic of life’s issues.
In Catherine House, a caseworker was assigned to me to help me slowly piece my life back together, which gave me space to breathe and focus on my mental health. They assisted with phone calls, appointments, and decision-making. One of the key things Catherine House helps women with is that of obtaining secure, appropriate, and permanent housing. Fortunately for me, this is when Cornerstone came into the picture. From the onset, they were kind, helpful, and not at all judgemental.
In February of last year, I moved into my own Cornerstone home. Although I was ready for this transition, I still felt overwhelmed and afraid, but Cornerstone made the process completely manageable.
There is a saying, grief breeds compassion, and for me, never has a truer word been spoken. The stronger I’ve become, the more I have started to look at my difficult experience as a gift – a most unexpected gift. My experience has profoundly changed the way I look at humanity and what my priorities are. The fact that so many people were there to help me every step still overwhelms me.
I now feel peace and security in my own home, and I have the confidence to tackle new horizons. I am enrolled part-time in a postgraduate degree in film and documentary making, and I intend to spend the next part of my life sharing stories and raising awareness for those in need.
At last, I feel I have a life in front of me. The peace and serenity that comes with having a place to retreat to and a safe and secure place to work from is something I will always be grateful to Cornerstone for, and I would like to thank you all, from the bottom of my heart, for making this possible.