When I was 12 years old I began high school, I moved to a different school away from my friends, because my mother knew that a smaller school would suit me far better than a large high school. And she was right. This however did not stop the decline of my mental health. In year 8 I began self-harming, I started developing unhealthy eating habits and soon started putting on weight. By year 10 my depression was causing problems at home and at school and I tried to commit suicide for the first time when I was 16, but was saved when my mother noticed the warning signs and stopped me just in time.
When I reached year 11 I moved schools yet again, but this time I went to a much larger school that was a 40 minute car ride from my home. I used to wake up at 6 o’clock in the morning to catch an overcrowded bus at 7 o’clock, would arrive at school by 8:30am and spend the next 6 hours confused and upset. I would then have to catch another overcrowded bus, where I was bullied, to then arrive home in the afternoon depressed and anxious about homework and concerned about how I would manage school the next day. I also had problems sleeping and could not get to sleep until 1’clock in the morning and then I had to start the day all over again.
My positive and quirky attitude from childhood was slowly changing into a sad, moody, depressed and worried teenager, which began causing problems at home with my mum and two sisters. Arguments became more and more frequent which caused both my sister to move out of home to try to escape the unhealthy home life. In this time my mother took me to the doctors to try to find a solution, the doctor explained what was happening to me scientifically and suggested medications and therapy that could help me. My mother also contacted my school to meet up and discuss what I was going through and if there were anyways the school could assist me. They came up with answers including allowing me to drop a class to use as study time and speaking to a school counsellor, these were all lovely gestures but they didn’t stop me from having panic attacks when I arrived in the school parking lots, or my suicidal thoughts.
I also didn’t like my medication, I had only tried it a few times and I hated the effect it had on my mind. I refused to continue taking the medication but my mother and doctor both tried to encourage me to give it another try, I knew that it could work for other people so I tried it once more and then stopped. I have not taken medication since.
My mother respected my decision, medication is a personal choice and it is up to the individual to make their own decision.
After leaving school I attended Tafe for a short time, but, due to my anxiety eventually dropped out of Tafe too. And for the next year and a half I didn’t do much of anything. I became too anxious to leave my house, I began to spiral deeper and deeper into my depression. My mother was constantly trying to find solutions to help me but I couldn’t accept any of the advice she was giving me. I didn’t think there was any light at the end of tunnel, I thought that my life would never move forward and I would be stuck in my house until I chose to end my life, I didn’t think I could ever recover. But my mother continued to fight for me, she respected and understood what I was going through and knew I needed to process things in my own way, but she also would not allow anyone, including myself to give up on me. She was working for a Mental Health organisation called GROW she began researching resources that could help me. She tried to enter me into programs that could help me, but due to the fact that I lived outside of their service area they said I was not eligible Richmond Fellowship WA at that point in time. My mother was devastated, but she didn’t give up, she tried again and again until eventually I was accepted in the Green Apple carer respite program. I was told I would begin seeing a support worker, but because I was still very depressed and anxious I was not happy about it. I began trying to justify my behaviour and said that I didn’t need help and my mother just needed to accept me for who I was. Mum set up a meeting with my support worker and we discussed options for what we could do to get me out of the house, I said I liked going to the movies. So that’s what we did. Twice a week I would get picked up from my house and my support worker would take me to the movies, until the funding ran out and I stopped seeing my support worker. But it had made a small difference, I had been out of the house and had fun. Then for a few months I returned back to my normal routine of going to sleep past midnight and waking up at midday and in my waking hours I would watch TV and developed a hobby for baking cakes.
I then received a phone call from the local pastor of the church I had attended growing up. During the depths of my depression I had stopped going to church and was struggling with my faith and grew distant in my relationship with God. So when the pastor called me to ask if I could volunteer as a leader at the local youth group I was flattered that he thought of me but was excited to help. So I began helping out at youth group every Friday night and it became something I looked forward to every week. Then one night a fellow leaders asked me if I would be available to sing at church on Sunday, and because I had been heavily involved in singing growing up I jumped at the opportunity and began practising the songs. After singing at church I felt very encouraged and was invited to sing at church again, and began attending church 2-3 times a month. This proved to play a very important part in my recovery journey.
I began to read my bible and build friendships with other members of the church, we supported one another and I began to understand my value and worth. I learned about the price that was paid by Jesus to save me so that I can have a relationship with God and my heart and my mind slowly began to change and grow. I realised that my view of God growing up had been incorrect and that God is just and loving and had wonderful plans for my life, I began to realise that suicide was not the answer and I needed to continue to pursue God and work on my recovery so that I can serve God and live out the plans he has for my life.
Around this time I had also been referred to a therapist in my local area, I had stopped seeing my previous counsellor a year or so earlier because I felt she didn’t understand me and her method of therapy didn’t line up with my needs, she was using Cognitive Behavioural Therapy to try to help me overcome my anxiety, but unfortunately because of my anxiety I was already overthinking everything, I knew the logical solution to my problems but couldn’t put them into practise.
So I began going to counselling with my new therapist, who is actually an art therapist. Her approach to therapy was like none I had ever seen, she wasn’t trying to tell me how to think, she was simply allowing me to explore, discover and explain for myself using colours and symbols and I began processing what I was feeling. I also began to explore my creativity by painting pictures and for the first time in a long time I felt that I could express myself.
Then eventually mum managed to muster up some more funding and my support worker returned once a week for a few more weeks. One day while we were out I saw the timetable for a local adult learning centre called Mundaring Sharing. On the timetable I saw a class for Australian Sign Language (AUSLAN) and another class for Cake Decorating, I decided, despite being extremely anxious, to sign up for the classes.
I attended the Auslan class on a Monday and immediately fell in love, I had already learned some basic sign language when I was in primary school because my friends in the Education Support Unit sometimes used it. It was a boost of confidence and I wanted to go back again. I also attended the Cake decorating class which was good, however they were learning techniques that I was not interested in at that stage. So I decided to discontinue the Cake Decorating class and to continue by teaching myself, but I decided I would continue to attend the Auslan class. As things turned out, I ended up starting and running my own successful home cake business from 2011 to 2013. It has been a wonderfully challenging experience and I have learned so much, not only about cakes or business but about myself too.
At that time I was also very anxious to catch public transport, my mother’s best friend had been taking me to the classes, but one day she was called into work so she couldn’t take me. So I had to make the decision, was this class important enough for me to catch a bus? I decided it was. I planned my journey and I caught a bus for the first time since high school. And it was fine, I started questioning what I had been worrying about all that time.
My funding once again ran out, but my support worker expressed her pride in me for enrolling in the classes and encouraged me to continue catching the bus.
I continued with my activities for some time without the assistance of a support worker, but was still anxious and depressed. My mother searched again for someone to help, and she again came across Richmond Fellowship WA. She contacted RFWA to see if I could be registered in the PHaMS program and Carer Respite services. This time my application was successful and I began seeing my Carer Respite Support worker and PHaMS worker. Although once again I didn’t want a support worker, I felt that having a support worker made me a failure and that someone being paid to be my friend was pathetic. My mother kept reassuring me that is now how it works and anyone that chooses to be a support worker is in that line of work for a reason, they’re not being paid to be my friend, they wanted to help people and they were there to support me in my choices and that my support worker would not force me to do anything I didn’t want to do. So despite my many arguments with my mum she persevered and organised a meeting with my support workers. And upon meeting both my support workers I realised they were really nice and down to earth, they both seemed very similar to me and while it was still difficult to accept I eventually came around. And I am so glad that I did.
My Carer Respite support worker used to take me to counselling appointments, grocery shopping and to lunch. My PHaMS worker used to sit down with me and discuss my Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP) and helped me set and achieve goals. I saw my Carer Respite worker for a long time until eventually funding ran out and the came time to move on and I would only have a PHaMS worker from that point on. I have had many PHaMS workers over the last 2 years and all have been different from one another but equally as important in my recovery. They each helped me grow into a more confident, adventurous, mature person. I also found attending a wellness group with my PHaMS worker was a very positive experience. It was fantastic meeting other people with similar experiences that I could talk to and learn from.
I continued to attend the Auslan class for 2 years and really enjoyed it and my class mates encouraged me to pursue Auslan at Tafe, I was very hesitant at first but after a lot of thought, prayers and discussions with my support worker and counsellor I decided it was the right choice.
And with the help of a social worker through Interwork I was supported to apply for Tafe and was assisted in catching the train to Perth. I successfully went to Tafe and studied Auslan Certificate II part time for one year and the following year continued my studies full time. I have now completed Certificate II and III in Auslan and look forward to completing Cert IV and Diploma in 2014.
I also recently acquired my drivers’ license. 2 years ago I was far too anxious at the thought of driving but with the help of my Carer Respite Worker, was able to secure funding for driving lessons and eventually after a lot of hard work passed my Learners and Provisional Driving test.
This has given me a great sense of confidence and independence and the world has now opened up to me.
Despite everything I have been through over the last 5 years I am extremely grateful for the journey. I learned so much through my experience and came out the other side a more confident and well rounded person. My outlook on life is positive once again I have great hope for my future.
I hope to use my experience with Mental Illness to encourage and support other people in a similar situation.