Seven stories of hope - Kathy's story
Published on 22 November 2019
Please be aware the story below may contain reference to suicide. Should you feel this might cause any discomfort, please do not read further.
As a part of Mental Health Week, the Launceston Suicide Prevention Trial presents the personal stories of seven people and their experience, in a series titled Seven Stories of Hope.
Mental health issues and suicide are a concern across all Australian communities, but are often subjects which aren't openly discussed. Seven brave people from the Northern Tasmanian community are sharing their unique stories to break the silence and offer what they value the most: hope.
By sharing their stories, they hope to help someone who is going through a tough time, or help someone who may have lost a loved one. They hope that others can feel empowered to talk about life's difficulties without fear. They hope that people realize all is not lost and support is available -- sometimes in the most unexpected places.
By sharing their story, we hope that you can take something away that will bring a new and unique perspective on an issue that requires all of us to play a role.
This story is by Kathy.
In the 60’s depression and mental illness was not recognised in children and so many like me went untreated and had no support.
I was very quiet and shy and I didn’t do well at school. I believe that trauma I experienced young in life led me to eventually develop and be diagnosed with a mental illness. I had my first suicide attempt at 13 and was in hospital for about two weeks and all the doctors asked me was did I have a boyfriend and will I do it again. They told my mother that I did it for attention. I had one visit with a child psychiatrist who informed mum that I was a normal for my age. I look back and see how depressed I was.
1987 I was living in Brisbane when after a long line of unfortunate events caused me to have a “break down”. I was very anxious and would worry about anything all the time. Then the voices came and took over my mind, heart and soul.
I wandered around the streets running to be where the voices told me to go. I was completely overwhelmed and had no idea what was happening to me.
The television and radio talked to me and about me. Whilst lying in bed I would see shadows of people wandering around my room and had feelings of being touched. Occasionally I would smell really bad odours with no apparent source.
I was terrified and wouldn’t sleep. Occasionally when I managed to doze off for an hour or two and then when I awoke I would wonder what was happening but before long I would be back with the voices and had no control over my actions or thoughts.
Eventually I found help and saw a psychiatrist who gave me a strong medication which came with a whole lot of problems. I became overmedicated and severely depressed. I lost all hope and felt worthless and literally “gave” up. I constantly thought of suicide as a way out.
I was diagnosed with acute schizophrenia and returned to Tasmania and accepted the label given to me and the people around me did not understand and I became isolated and lost all independence and living skills. Weeks turned into months turned into years. Isolation became a way of life for me. I spent many years of staying in and not seeing or communicating with anyone apart from family.
Life has a funny way of presenting opportunities when you are ready to explore and be involved. This is what happened to me when I decided to learn about my illness and medications.
I made a choice to try a new medication that was being hailed as the wonder drug of the nineties. It has a lot of severe side effects but after weighing the pros and cons I made a commitment to use it wisely for it to be effective.
I began to talk about what had happened to me and was happening to me with my family and that was healing for me and enlightening for them. I was no longer drugged out and was able to take on courses and opportunities to train. I volunteered at several places.
Through chance, choice and commitment I have reclaimed my life and suddenly I have hope and a way out of the darkness. found a sense of purpose in helping others who are going through similar situations that I myself have experienced. I have met many consumers, workers, professionals who have inspired and supported me. My life changed because I had family support and people who believed that I could reclaim my life and grow.
I have been now working in mental health now for over twelve years. I previously formed a hearing voices group and established and ran a recovery strategies group before becoming an Intentional Peer Worker four years ago.
I believe that recovery is a right for everyone. I have witnessed how a listening ear and sharing my experiences benefits others who are unwell and “stuck”.
Intentional peer work is as the name suggests using lived experience intentionally to help your peers regain a meaningful life. As a peer worker I bring empathy and instil hope to a person who may be struggling to just exist on a daily basis.
The opportunity to work in mental health and use my lived experience and completing mental health cert IV and Peer Work Mental Health cert IV and participating in training, workshops are wonderful and rewarding opportunities for me, not only in life but in my ongoing recovery journey.
Trust can be a huge issue for people who have been burned by the system and who may have lost friends, family and work. It can take time and patience to build trust with your peers but when the relationship forms and bonds develop the possibility of a future begins to emerge and suddenly there is hope. Recovery doesn’t mean cured so a person may need support during and ongoing in their life. It would be wonderful to think that a person can be totally independent and it happens but only if a person really puts the effort in.
I see myself as a role model and a mentor for others who are struggling and need a helping hand to kick start and maintain their own recovery journey. I also see it as having the ability to instil hope and encouragement to do meaningful activities.
Being able to talk openly and honestly not only about the hardships and challenges faced when experiencing mental ill health but the hope and reclaiming of one’s life is so valid and useful in helping others to think about their own recovery.
As a peer worker I feel that it’s up to me and other peer workers to work at reducing stigma and that’s why I try to be as honest and open about my experiences with participants, workers and the public. Every time we speak in the community we risk being judged or not taken seriously, however in my experiences I have been well received with positive feedback. I always like to end on a positive message around recovery and hope.