Nelsa Simmonds, 55, from Sydney

I believe that unleashing creativity is the future of mental health. I’m looking at reconceptualising trauma by taking people through two programs: This Is Who I Am, which is about restoring identity; and then Designing Exciting Futures. I restore identity by looking at what’s inside a person and creatively developing those things.

I had quite a bit of trauma in my life and I came to a place in my life where I had a massive breakdown. I was in bed for a year and I didn’t talk in that time. I was in a very fragile mental state and saw that I was only being offered long term therapy and heavy duty medications. I realised that they are numbing our minds and dulling our creativity – the very things that we need to help problem solve and live successful lives.

My very first memory was waking up in hospital when I was three years old, to discover that all my teeth had been pulled out, which was shocking. I withdrew, but on top of that, there was some sexual abuse and bullying and humiliation. The bullying pushed me to a place where I got into a fight. I didn’t like who I was. I decided I was going to leave school at 13. And then at 15 I decided to travel. I got into a marriage very young and after 32 years, I walked away from that marriage and was in crisis, homeless, for five months.

I didn’t call out for help and I’m not alone – hundreds and thousands of women have breakdowns all the time and do not know what to do to get help. I discovered that a lot of people were medicating their emotions; we use coping strategies that help us survive, but not necessarily thrive. When I came out of the breakdown, I learned that I had a wild creativity that had just been really, really pushed down. So I started singing and writing poems and I wrote the program. I knew exactly what I had to do.

I felt like it was a pull on my heart, a pull on my life, to help other women get on their feet and move through their trauma. There are a lot of women who have come out of marriages or breakdowns and don’t feel they can do anything.

To me, reconceptualising trauma is asking, Hey, Nelsa, who are you without your trauma?  I’m a very different person without my trauma. And if I can do this for me, I can also show other people how to do that. So I piloted the program with 125 people and accidentally won Best Business Idea in Sydney at the CRE8 Conference.

Global Sisters came alongside me just when I was tired of walking alone. There’s no hidden agenda, I found a lot of peace when I met them. I’ve had a business mentor and that has been amazing. I have a really big vision and I wanted a mentor who was going to kick ass – and she has! I’ve got passion within me but Global Sisters has pinpointed it. It’s been precious.

I’m 55 and I love being this age. I love being a trailblazer.

Being my own boss and doing things my own way is so important because I can bring my whole self along. It’s freedom.

Nelsa SimmondsThis Is Who I Am