*Hi, I’m Cathy. I’m a U-turn Phase 3 Work-readiness graduate. My passion is communication and I’m part of the U-turn communication team. Every week I will be writing a blog post sharing my personal experience on this programme, to give you a window into the experience of being a graduate.

Over the past few months, despite living in my own apartment, I still saw a homeless woman looking back at me in the mirror.

I did not like the way I looked, my hair was unkempt. While I was homeless, my hair was braided. I chose this style because in some way I wanted to look professional, in the midst of my circumstances. Maintaining the hairstyle was expensive and I had it done only every six months.

In December, when I took out my braids, the ladies had to comb out my hair that had formed dreads. It was a very painful experience. There were times when I wondered how long I had to endure the torture. Eventually the growth started to form dreads and some of my hair began to look like antennae in search of a signal. 

One evening I looked in the mirror and cried. I told God I really didn’t like that I looked homeless. Maybe it was painful because I could still feel the emotions of that season. At that moment, I had to stop myself from cutting my hair. 

A few weeks later, I prepared myself for a little makeover project and bought a few turbans. I felt as excited as I had when at 4 years old I cut myself a fringe, which did not impress my mum and granny.

One Friday after work, I cut my hair. I thought I was going to be emotional, but instead I felt free. More than 22 cm of my own hair was cut and I included some of the new hair growth. Even though I had been planning to grow my hair, I was not depressed about my loss. There was more than 5cm of hair left. It was amazing to wash my hair without feeling that a dumbbell was attached to my wet braids. I love the turbans I wear. When I look in the mirror I now see a strong woman who conquered homelessness and psychiatric challenges. I have accomplished what I set out to do while in the psychiatric ward of the hospital. 

Two years ago, homeless and recovering from post psychosis, I was reminded of a Steven Seagal movie “Hard to kill”. In the movie, Seagal wakes up from a 7 year coma, after an armed attack at his home. He trained hard to get into shape and went after his attackers. I felt like I had come out of a coma, after being sedated when admitted to the hospital. Even though I was conscious, it felt like I was unconscious and four days remain blank. 

I saw that the only way to get out of homelessness was to fight back. While in hospital, I made a list which included applying for work and, when financially stable, renting an apartment. I also listed the need to work on my emotional healing and to see a psychiatrist.

During my Phase 3 Work-readiness Programme, I was able to work with my counsellor on past traumas. A few weeks ago, my manager organised a meeting with a medical doctor that specialises in psychiatry. I was able to share my past traumas and medical history. She gave me a referral letter for the clinic and does regular check-ins with me. Next month, I will be seeing a psychiatrist at the clinic, something for which I have yearned for so long.

Like my hair after it was cut, I look at my growth and not what I have not yet accomplished. It might be tough at times because I am a very target-orientated person and have to remind myself to be patient.

Like my hair hibernating in the winter underneath the turbans, I also enjoy weekends indoors with my coffee, reading books and writing poetry while viewing the rain from my apartment window. A scene I envisioned while homeless. While living in shelters, it was hard for me as an introvert to be constantly surrounded by people and not to have me-time to refuel. 

As my journey of healing continues, I thank God for U-turn as a companion on my journey.

Join me next week as I share more of my journey.