Liam Harmer, 45, Tesco, Sketty, Swansea

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I sold The Big Issue in the past but then I had a break for about 10 years because I had really bad anxiety and depression. I couldn’t be out of the flat and if I did go out I couldn’t look at people. But then I moved into a B&B and needed £20 every night to stay there, so I had no choice but to sell the Issue every day. With my anxiety it was hard at first. I used to walk to my pitch thinking good thoughts, and that gets you through. Once you sell your first one you’re happier, more talkative. I’m better now and The Big Issue has helped me with that. Coming out and selling the magazine, getting to know people and chatting away.

I ended up staying in B&Bs for a year. I’d had problems with my old neighbours and had to leave my flat. It made me feel empty. It was a bit like the end of the world for a time. I did go back on the alcohol for a bit but I soon put a stop to that. But then I started thinking positive again and Crisis helped me to get a flat, which I’ve been in for three years now. The flat’s quite nice, and I’ve got a lot more freedom than I had in the B&B. In the spring I’m going to start painting it, maybe get some carpets.

Four years ago I found my family. I didn’t even know they existed. I didn’t have a very nice childhood, both my parents passed away when I was young and my sister and I got adopted when I was nine. My adopted mother passed away when I was 11 and my sister died when she was 20. But I always think of them, they’re always around me. I’d been on the My Heritage website doing my family tree and my cousin was on at the same time. She sent me a message saying she knew me because we had met when I was five. It felt great. I was sitting outside Tesco having a sandwich and all of a sudden I had 11 friend requests on Facebook from all my cousins. I was like, wow.

It was a traumatic childhood but the way I coped with it was by reading books or going for long walks. I kept to myself a lot and I only had a few friends, but they were close friends. Now I’ve got cousins, I’ve got a couple of aunties. I speak to my auntie on the phone, and my cousin Maria. She wants me to come down to Stoke-on-Trent to meet her. It’ll be amazing.

I still love reading, mostly sci-fi. At the moment I’m reading an Arthur C Clarke book I got from a charity shop. It helps me sleep as well. I still like walking too, and that’s good for me. I’ve had problems with alcohol in the past. I’ve been sober for a while now, but for me if I have a couple then I can’t stop. It’s better if I stay off it and I’m definitely winning the battle. It makes my anxiety and depression worse in the long run and I feel a lot better without it. I’m more positive, I think clearer. My main goal now is to get back to the gym. I used to enjoy it years ago but I need permission from my physiotherapist before I can go back. I do my physio exercises on my pitch every day. I’m standing on one leg, waving my arms around. People think I’m waving at them.

Photo: Karl Baker

37 Gower Rd, Sketty, Swansea SA2 9BX, UK