Sandy Jeffs

Published Titles: Chiaroscuro
Sandy Jeffs was born in Ballarat and grew up there in the 1950s and 1960s. She graduated from La Trobe University in the 1970s and came to terms with her sexuality as part of an alternative family. She has lived with schizophrenia for 39 years.

She has published five volumes of poetry and a memoir. Much of her writing has been about exploring her madness and its challenges but she has also set her sights on the mad world, the even madder world of midweek ladiesí tennis and her family.

Sandy has been a very public advocate for those living with schizophrenia for many years presenting a human face for this often misunderstood condition. She lives with her friends and animals in a place where it is Christmas every day.

Her collection The Mad Poetís Tea Party is to be released in 2015 by Spinifex Press..

2020 Australia Day Honours

Ms Sandy JEFFS, Christmas Hills VIC 3775
For service to mental health organisations.
SANE Australia
  •  Peer Ambassador, current.
  •  Presenter of Mental Health education sessions to school students,Rotary clubs and community groups, since 1979.
Women's Mental Health Network Victoria
  •  Secretary, 2013-2014.
  •  Committee of Management Member, 2012-2013.
  •  Member, since 1988.
  •  Honorary Life Member, 2018.
Mental Health Advocacy - Other
  •  Former Board Member, Schizophrenia Association of Victoria (now Wellways).
  •  Performer, 'Mad Pride', Melbourne International Comedy Festival.
  •  Flying with Paper Wings: Reflections on living with madness, 2009.
  •  Poems from the Madhouse, 1993.
Awards and recognition includes:
  •  Victorian Honour Roll of Women, 2001.
  •  SANE Book of the Year Award, for Flying With Paper Wings.

Bearing witness
Originally published on ABC OPEN, 19 September 2014

In 1976, I was diagnosed with schizophrenia, the most enigmatic and controversial mental illness.

It was tantamount to a death-sentence. There was no presumption of capacity, no concept of recovery. It was seen that, with every psychotic episode, I would go further into unreachable madness from which I would never recover.

I was 23 and my trajectory was one of a downward spiral: from studentship, to dole, to sickness benefits and the final descent to an invalid pension. I was on the scrapheap of society, a society that was accustomed to hiding the mad in loonybins, places for the unwanted cast-offs, the embarrassments to a public that cared only for those who achieved.

It was an ignominious fall from grace as I descended into turbid madness. Since then, there have been many meetings with my madness, it's pall hung over me in a shroud of discontent and delusional fantasy I was unable to share with others.

I am a relic from the old days, the days of long incarcerations in madhouses that resembled little villages where one was contained in a paternalistic world which revolved around being mad, being medicated and having most of oneís needs cared for.

The saying in those days was: never let yourself be put in a loonybin, youíll never get out. And it was true. One would be in hospital for months, if not years.

I have lived feeling that hope had abandoned me. Where does one find hope in the mire of deep distress?

For some, it is seeing the way others deal with their hopelessness. For others, it is the simple act of kindness from a nurse in a hospital setting, the kindness of a stranger, the kindness of family and friends.

Relapse and hospitalisations can cause hope to haemorrhage. Just getting out of bed is an act of hope. How do we hold hope when it so easily falls though our hands?

I donít hold hope, I fumble it.

Sometimes, I am able to grasp its powerful force and soften my despair, but it ebbs and flows. Holding hope in our hearts helps us to face the world. Without hope, we turn away from the world. Perhaps we are here to witness each otherís affirmation of hope and, in doing so, reflect on our own strategy to kindle it.

Words can barely convey an experience so remote and profoundly personal as "madness". Yet, words are powerful tools, and in my writing I seek to do the impossible; to illuminate for everyone what it means to have been mad, to describe those strange and bizarre times when a cruel monster inveigles itself into my psyche and I become the morbid dreamer.

I only have words and they have taken me on journeys beyond anything I have known and to places I never knew existed. In my poetry, I aim to move angels to tears and make a stern God laugh.

I bear witness to my mad comrades and write poems that celebrate our survival.

Sandy Jeffs has lived with schizophrenia and all its moods for over thirty years. She is a SANE Speaker and community educator who speaks to schools, universities and community groups about what itís like to live with a mental illness. She has been published widely and is a prize-winning poet.