Chelsea was diagnosed with anxiety, depression and Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD) at a young age.
Because of her mental health challenges and ADHD, she experienced low self-esteem during her childhood and found it challenging to engage with other children or participate in social occasions.
“I had high expectations of myself,” Chelsea recalls. “Academically, I achieved well but found it hard to recover from being hurt or rejected.
“I sought approval from peers, teachers and family. I couldn’t regulate my emotions, and I was drowning in feelings of hopelessness.”
When she was 13, Chelsea became homeless after a family breakdown.
“I called the police,” she remembers. “I sat on the highway until about 3:00 am, and they picked me up.
“The stepdad of a girl I went to school with was a police officer, and I stayed with them,” she continues.
“They helped me get on Centrelink. Then I moved around different youth refuges because there was no long-term accommodation for someone my age.”
The experience was gruelling, and Chelsea developed unhealthy coping mechanisms because of her circumstances.
“I began self-harming,” she says. “It’s difficult for people to understand, which made it hard for me to seek help. I realised later in my life that I should’ve reached out before it got to the point it did.”
Chelsea was hospitalised in a psychiatric ward at age 15. The experience made her never want to return, so she asked for help from her grandmother, with whom she had a close relationship in the past.
“My grandmother helped me and my bond with her grew,” she recalls. “She took me to psychology appointments. We spent a lot of time working on my mental health and understanding my parents’ actions.”
Not long after Chelsea’s recovery, she was introduced to Youth Off The Streets by another girl living at the same refuge in southern Sydney.
“She mentioned that she would be starting school at a program in the city,” Chelsea says. “I decided to go with her so that I wouldn’t be alone.”
After years of moving between different high schools, Chelsea joined Key College in Redfern.
Her first memory is being greeted by the kind smile of Youth Off The Streets worker Min Bonwick.
“I can honestly say that I have never met a calmer or more understanding person,” she reflects. “Being around Min felt like home. It was through her random acts of kindness that I started to develop a sense of hope for my future.”
Chelsea says she received positive reinforcement and encouragement daily, which no other school had given her.
“This was important for me as someone with learning difficulties,” she explains. “They worked with me on my schooling and to achieve my goals.
“The hardest part was graduating from Key College,” she adds. “I didn’t want to say goodbye to my counsellor. I felt like I was leaving part of me behind.”
During this time, professional musicians would often visit the school, and Chelsea learned to write music. She continues to use music as a creative outlet to express her feelings.
“I developed confidence through writing music and could use it to articulate my feelings better than I could in conversations,” she says.
“Music has become my passion. It feels safe. And I can express myself through it, without judgement.”
After graduating, Chelsea experienced further challenges in her work and personal life but continued to receive support from Youth Off The Streets.
“I am grateful for the help and kindness that was shown to me years after leaving school,” she says. “I continued to have a support network, and I don’t feel like any other service would have done that.”
Youth Off The Streets continues to be a part of Chelsea’s life. She works as a job coach in the Disability Employment Services sector, mainly focusing on mental health, and works with several previous Youth Off The Streets students in her role.
“I help them as they embark on their journey to find employment while facing mental health challenges and other significant barriers in their lives,” she explains. “This wouldn’t have been possible if it weren’t for the hardship I experienced in my own life.”
Chelsea believes that because of her experiences, she learned the value of stability, employment and recognising mental health conditions in others and herself.
“I never understood when I was younger that I needed to put myself first,” she says. “I wanted to help the people around me, and in doing so, I would sometimes compromise my mental health.
“I’ve learned that I must take care of myself to be able to take care of others.”
Chelsea is also a member of the CBD Chamber of Commerce after-hours business network, and regularly represents her company at seminars and events. In her free time, she also works as a professional model.
“I enjoy networking with people, learning about my clients’ life experiences, and helping change people’s lives through meaningful employment,” she explains.
“I feel so valued in my role as a job coach; it has opened up a whole new chapter in my life, and I have established strong working relationships with my clients and colleagues.”
“I work with the saying, ‘Be the person you needed when you were younger’, in mind.”
Chelsea believes that although we don’t have the power to choose our life experiences, we have the power to change the course of our life’s direction.
“My environment often gave me the message that I couldn’t make it,” she reflects. “I spent so many moments wondering if I would have a sheltered place to sleep, calling refuge after refuge for an emergency bed.
“I spent so much time in Centrelink offices, or was knocked back for the daggy clothes I wore to a job interview,” she continues.
“But I pushed myself to find accommodation, found clarity in counselling sessions, and found people who shared the same aspirations as me for their future.”
“I pushed forward no matter what challenges life threw my way.”