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Portraits - Sebastiana Célia de Oliveira

Sebastiana is single and 62 years old. She was born in Ipameri, state of Goiás. Her parents died when she was a little girl. Until she was eight years old, she lived in an Ipameri orphanage. She was then adopted and lived in Itapira, a small town in the state of São Paulo. Afterwards she lived in Pindamonhangaba, also in the state of São Paulo.

Until she was 23 years old, she led a normal life. Her adoptive mother was not concerned when once Sebastiana complained of a strong pain in her leg. When the pain grew worse, her mother took her to consult several physicians. All of them were of the same opinion that the pain was "psychological". So, whenever she felt this pain in her leg, she would be admitted in a psychiatric hospital.

After being repeatedly admitted for short periods in several psychiatric hospitals, in 1970, Sebastiana was taken to Barbacena where she remained confined during 30 years.

The first night, when she arrived at the hospital, she woke up hearing a frightful noise: "I felt so scared, that I was as white as a sheet. I underwent electroshocks and was forced to take anatensol. Since I am catholic, I had a compassionate spirit and survived thanks to my church and faith. I promised to myself that if my teeth would rotten I would survive at least five years with this pain. The good teeth broke and eventually became rotten. I felt ashamed of myself, ugly and disfigured. Once they gave me a torn dress. I tried to fix it. For that I had to cut it and they thought I was trying to tear the dress, so they gave me an electroshock as punishment."

"After many years of suffering, the hospital underwent a reform and the better women were transferred to the new building. I was among them. The environment improved and I started taking care of myself. I would help with the cleaning, do manual labors and was able to make friends with the professional helpers. I was even able to attend Mobral (the basic course of reading and writing for illiterate adults) and take part in the occupational therapy. I started working as a manicure and was able to earn some money. I also started a dental treatment paying it with the money I was earning. However, I was always thinking of leaving the institution. I wrote various letters to my family, but I had difficulties to post them."

During those 30 years, she only had two visits from family members.

Finally, in November 2000, she was discharged from the hospital and went to the first therapeutic residence of the city along with patients of other psychiatric institutions.

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She was then able to start going to school and studied up to the third grade(of primary school).She had a boyfriend but ended the relationship because she thought it wouldn’t work out. She spent her free time with religious activities. In December 2004, she chose to live alone, even though she had a good relationship with the other tenants.

In August 2005, she was hired by the José Luiz Ferreira Institute, an ONG which is a non-Governmental institution working in association with the Mental Health Project of the Barbacena Health Department. She became a co-worker of the other health professionals of the therapeutic residences. Sebastiana was hired to take care and accompany tenants of other therapeutic residences, in activities such as walks, trips, social events, doctors appointments etc. She has been doing a very good job. She has been building social ties along the way, some of them would have been impossible to make during the years she was confined in the psychiatric hospital.

"What I honestly most like is my freedom to do as I like. To feel God and nature close to me. To be able to walk freely. In the past, I said to myself that one day all this would be over and it was… I am happy, very happy."

Sebastiana’s name in Portuguese means worthy of respect and reverence. With her open and sincere smile she was able to cross the thresholds of the hospital’s walls and flourish.