Brendan from Maitland
Drug addiction robbed me of so much of my life. It’s taken me 40 years not to fall through the cracks anymore. On June 28, 2018 I celebrated 500 days clean; I have the respect of my family and people who believe in me. There’s even hope of a job doing Peer work and it’s all thanks to Flourish Australia and the NDIS.
Things changed when I accessed the NDIS scheme. Another service would visit four times a week to get me out in public and there were transition meetings with carers and doctors. When someone from Flourish Australia came along to a meetings and heard I’d been re-admitted repeatedly, they offered me a place in one of their houses.
This place is amazing! I’ve come through another four months of detox and for the first time, I haven’t looked back. Support is available to me day and night. Without that, it’s easy to get stuck and backslide.
Since being with Flourish Australia I’ve become a different person. My own mum was uncomfortable around me before. I would only call on her when I needed money or help. I’ve realised I need to treat her with respect and she’s actually proud of me. I help with her volunteer work for the homeless and we love spending time together. It feels good knowing my family aren’t stressing the way they used to.
I think about the future now. I’m looking into social studies at TAFE so by the time I’m 45 I might have a good job. I’ll need to learn how to use computers which I can do for free at the library here. There’s hope I might become a Peer Worker which is a little scarey because I’ve failed at so much in life but I have people who believe in me now.
I’ve given up meat because I don’t agree with the way abattoirs treat animals and Flourish Australia support that choice by helping with shopping lists and cooking. They have exercise bikes too, so I’m giving that a go to get in shape.
By living more independently I’ve learned that if I want people to take me seriously, I need to make responsible choices. My pop died in debt and I won’t let that happen to me or my family. I like being able to pay for things now. I used some of the money I earned recently, for a golf membership because I always wanted to be an A grade golfer when I was young so now that’s another one of my goals.
Nothing like this would have been possible for me while I was still in the old system. The thing that’s different this time is that all these opportunities have shown me how much I have to lose. I feel good about myself and I want to keep growing.
I enjoy getting involved with groups at the Flourish Australia centre in Newcastle because its such a calm and relaxed place. When I meet young people who are struggling, I remind them right away that they don’t want to be sitting here at 40, going through what I’m going through. When I went through detox, it was the ex users I listened to and how I’m the person they were so I’d like to get into drug and alcohol work and be part of a lived experience advisory group where I can help others choose a better way, by sharing my story.
Over the past 18 months, thanks to this place, my life is flourishing. I’m clean. I’m earning money and I’m starting to play sport again. I can be trusted and my family can depend on me. It feels so good being fully into everything which is what Flourish Australia has shown me how to do.
If I had my way, everyone in the system would be on the NDIS program and out in a house supported by Flourish Australia because they’d go from hopelessness to possibility. They don’t give up on you which makes you want to keep at it. It’s just a really positive place to get well and move forward in your life.
Judi from Maitland
Flourish Australia has been a safety net for my son and I. Brendan feels safe now and I have the peace of mind that comes with knowing he is surrounded by support people who genuinely care and know what they are doing. They listen to my concerns and we all work through problems together. I have my family back and I’m beginning to reclaim my life.
People tell me I’m so strong, but I’ve only done what any mum would do, to support my son through a lived experience of a mental health issue. I was drawn into Brendan’s struggle with absolutely no experience of mental health issues and everything else that came with it. I had no idea what to do to help him or where to seek help.
My life became a relentless cycle of responding to Brendan’s frequent distress calls and supporting him through repeated hospital admissions. I wondered if what his case workers were telling me was true – that Brendan would never change and I just had to accept that – but I could never give up on my son. I would ask myself, when will this stop? Why is it happening? What would happen to Brendan if I wasn’t here for him; and what about people who have no one?
The hardest thing for me was not being heard by mental health and medical professionals. Brendan was so afraid of being hospitalised that I was the only person he trusted enough to talk to openly about what he had done and what was going on for him. That was a terrible burden to bear on my own but I wasn’t believed by the experts I turned to for advice, because it didn’t fit with their assessment of Brendan.
Just prior to his last period of difficulties, Brendan called in desperation and said ‘mum if you don’t help me, I’m going to do something’. When he eventually came home, I wasn’t equipped to cope with the mental health issues Brendan was still struggling with. Doctors would ask me to bring Brendan in for a script at times when his state of mind was so alarming that I had no idea how I would get him into the car with me. Even after he was placed with an independent living program, I spent most of my days rushing down there, in response to his cries for help.
That was two years ago now. Finally, Flourish Australia became involved and suggested a share home arrangement for Brendan. I had my reservations about group housing, given our negative experiences of supported accommodation, but when I saw the house and the neighbourhood it is in, I felt so hopeful.
The peer support Brendan receives from Flourish Australia has brought peace of mind to my life. A weight has lifted because I know he’s somewhere safe and surrounded by people who know what they are doing and genuinely care. I see the respect they have for Brendan as a person. He’s not just a number or a diagnosis to them. They are so empathetic and understanding and I am so grateful that they take the time to listen to us both. I can share a real conversation with them about my concerns and we work through the problems together. If Brendan slips with his medication, they are onto it right away. They notice things and address him in a straight forward way that he responds to. It’s like a huge safety net for us both.
Flourish Australia have helped me to understand what is going on for my son and why. I am a lot less stressed these days and I relate differently with him. He still overloads me with information but now I’m able to encourage him to speak with his support worker and they’re always there for me too. It means the world to me to hear Brendan say he feels safe now, and to know that he has other people supporting him who care.
Always being there for Brendan meant that I had shut myself off from other people in my life and had little to give my partner or younger son. Daniel has become so wise for his age, as a result of our lived experience of his big brother’s struggle. As Brendan is gaining more independence, I’ve been able to step back a bit and find the freedom and time to take care of my own needs.
The house Brendan now lives in is such a homey, friendly environment that it’s starting to feel like family to both of us. I have my son back and feel I’ve gained two more, in his housemates. I can visit him somewhere that feels like home to him and catch up over a coffee.
Things have turned around so completely for us now that Brendan even likes to join me in the work I do to help the homeless. Volunteering with local charities was an escape for me, to take my mind off my own problems, when I felt powerless to change my life or Brendan’s. Now, helping people is something we like to do together. Brendan and his brother have reconnected too. All of our lives and relationships are so much better and we have Flourish Australia to thank for it.
Bruce from Moree
There was a time I would have struggled to ask a mate if he was ok. Since being a Peer Worker at Flourish Australia I’ve felt the stigma around talking about mental health dissolve. Now I can have that conversation with a complete stranger and I’m committed to seeing stigma disappear completely from the wider community.
I’m a bloke from the bush, born and bred. I spent my early years learning all about farming and grazing livestock and went on to drive trucks all over Australia for about 20 years. A relationship breakdown brought me back to my home town of Moree where I could be close to my sister while I got back on my feet.
Moree is a small town of about 13,000 people, so it’s a fairly tight knit community but being so remote, it can feel quite isolating for people. That’s something I can empathise with as a result of my own lived experience of depression. The support that Flourish Australia offered me at that time in my life showed me how valuable Peer work is to the local community.
Up to that point in my life, farming and truck driving was all I’d known and I was about to take on another contract in Queensland when I was approached to consider a Peer Worker position with Flourish Australia at Moree. That got me thinking long term about whether truck driving was what I wanted to still be doing in five years time and thanks to the support I had already received from Flourish Australia, I had the confidence to give something new a go.
Peer work is completely unlike anything I have ever done. It’s so rewarding to be able to use the experience of a dark time in my life to bring hope to other people who are struggling with their own challenges. I’ve seen the difference my story can make to someone’s entire outlook.
Having travelled a lot, I’m able to talk to most people and many of them around here are off the land like me, so we connect right away. I know first hand from experience with my own father that the best time to talk to a bloke is when he’s on the tractor and has these long straight runs. Like doing long hauls in the truck, that’s when you have plenty of time to think things through.
For me, one of the most positive changes has been going off medication, after I talked to my doctor. As I became more involved with other people through my work at Flourish Australia,
I grew frustrated with feeling tired all the time and started feeling good enough in myself to no longer need medication to get me through each day.
Like anyone, I have down days, but working in such a supportive environment, surrounded by colleagues I can talk to, has made a world of difference to my ability to bounce back. The support you get from everyone here at Flourish Australia is terrific. If I ever needed help with anything at all I knew I could turn to my support person who has since become a wonderful work colleague.
In the past I would never have believed I’d have the opportunity for a job like this – or thought it possible that I could be capable of it.
I feel driven to find out even more about mental health and grow from peer support into a mentoring role. One of my goals is to play a part in getting rid of the stigma associated with mental health matters altogether.
Edwina from Marrickville
Many of my choices were driven by fear and anxiety in the past and I masked my vulnerability with big hats and a flamboyant style. Flourish Australia helped me to reconnect with my creative side in an authentic way. Now I aspire to writing articles that people will respect and want to hold onto, because what I have to say has made a real difference in their lives.
It was anxiety, brought on by the Bali bombings that led me to migrate to Australia, back in 2003.
Where I’m from, on the East Cape of New Zealand, it’s very isolated and news of the bombings triggered my fears for the safety of my mum, who was living in Brisbane. So I set my studies in fashion design aside, despite there being just two years remaining, to attain my bachelor’s degree, to be closer to her.
Sadly, after a falling-out with my mum and step-dad, I ended up on a plane to Sydney and found myself homeless on arrival. At first I sold The Big Issue to get by, living on the streets. I was looking at jobs on the internet when I came across Flourish Australia who were advertising packaging work in their warehouse. I’m so grateful I took the step to apply. It’s been a very good move for me and has changed my life in so many ways.
Working in a factory environment was all new to me, but the people are very welcoming and encouraging which put me at ease. Flourish Australia have helped me to secure an NDIS package which gives me access to things like The Academy of Learning, as well as practical support like cleaning, A Life Plus meals and Night & Day products for people with disabilities. All of that has been a big help.
I haven’t taken up where I left off with my studies but I have worked as a tailor with the prestige brand, Easton Pearson, where I contributed to a big Marina boating event, and I would like to do more with design one day. A visit to the Maritime Museum and seeing James Cameron’s art and his work as an innovator in screenwriting and film producing, got me thinking in that direction and re-connected me with my creative side. I’ve already put together some photos, to produce as a video, once I can secure some funding.
For now, I have started writing articles for Flourish Australia’s Panorama Magazine. I’m so proud of that. I’ve always loved keeping a journal and it feels good to now be writing something that others can enjoy. I’m working toward being able to confidently edit a piece of writing that’s suitable for publication in a mainstream newspaper. I want to be able to create something that people in the wider community will respect and want to hold onto, once they read it. I like to believe that one day, people will say ‘here’s what Edwina has written’, because what I have to say, has made a difference. In particular I would like to give a voice to people from the outreach posts that depend so heavily on that support, day in and day out.
Despite how far I’ve come, I still feel quite vulnerable and like I’m fighting with life, because of the discrimination I encounter in the community, around me being transgender. The Flourish Australia team at Marrickville often organise BBQ’s that I find uplifting to go along to. They’ve really taken the time to get to know me but they also know how to give me space to breathe when I need it.
Finding more stability since being with Flourish Australia has also given me the freedom to travel and get back to my love of language studies. Back in high school, I excelled at Japanese, until the teacher left and was replaced with a French teacher; so we all had to switch to that. There’s a part of me that is still driven to know more about the Far East, so I’ve made plans to travel to Japan next year.
One big change for me lately has been doing away with wearing flamboyant hats and statement glasses; a throw-back to the days when I designed hats. People want authenticity. They want to see a face they can identify with and get to know the real me. For the first time in my life, thanks to Flourish Australia, I’m ok with that.
Richard from Newcastle
Finding my Flourish Australia family and getting involved with my local church community were the keys to leaving behind the loneliness and isolation I had been living with.
Although I have lived here in Australia for 41 years, I still identify as Korean and my local Korean gospel church has kept me connected to my heritage. My family migrated to Australia from South Korea in the 70’s. I lived in Sydney, Melbourne and Lismore before mental health issues led to my being hospitalised on and off, over a period of about 30 years. I came to Newcastle because I had family and friends here and now I count my Flourish Australia family among them.
I first started going into Flourish Australia’s Newcastle centre a few years ago, at a time when I was feeling very lonely at home and isolated in the community. My NDIS case worker arranged an introduction for me as part of my NDIS package. It has worked out well for me to be able to drop in there, a couple of days each week. Flourish Australia offer lots of activities, but it’s just being with the people there that I like the most. It lifts my spirits. We do lunch together, or I might join in a game of pool or just chill out in the TV lounge. There’s no pressure. I can just be there and enjoy the positive atmosphere, or be as involved as I want to be, depending on how I’m feeling.
I’m not employed at the moment but I am an aspiring writer and I consider that to be my work. For the past six months I’ve been writing a sort of semi-autobiographical novel, in diary form.
I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was a young boy. It has always made me happy to put my imagination down on paper that way and I dream of one day being recognised as a great writer.
Flourish Australia encourages me to set goals and work toward them. I have a number of goals I want to accomplish; like establishing a soup kitchen, here in our suburb, so that anyone who is disadvantaged can come in for a nice meal when they need to. We have a professional chef at Flourish Australia, and it’s so comforting to come in and share a lovely meal with my friends, that I would like to find a way to give more people that feeling.
Thanks to the support of Flourish Australia, I’ve found I get a lot of satisfaction out of maintaining my day-to-day responsibilities; like grocery shopping and caring for my canaries. One was a welcome gift from my neighbour when I first moved in to my place. I bought a mate for it and now I find so much joy in listening to the two of them and feeding them once or twice a day.
Staying active in my local church community and regularly taking communion helps me to feel fulfilled too. It’s a Korean, Christian church, so it has meaning for me both spiritually and culturally. They give me a ride to and from church and after each service, we share in a nice Korean meal. That sort of inclusion, and courtesy are aspects of my Korean heritage that I value greatly and feel proud to be aligned with.
Getting involved, in my church and Flourish Australia families, has taught me to be more open minded and generous. When I see my Peer Workers going out of their way to do such nice things to support other people, it makes me want to be more like that. Flourish Australia have done so much to improve the quality of my life and I’ve found that giving to others, the way they do, makes me a happier person too.
Flourish Australia Peer Workers are more than support staff, they are my trusted companions.
Since spending time with them, I’ve become more outgoing in reaching out to others in the community. When Flourish Australia staff first started coming to my place and talking to me, they were so understanding; so now if I see someone struggling, I greet them warmly. They are always so appreciative that I feel a lot of satisfaction knowing I’ve been able to brighten their day in a small way. They will still have their on-going challenges, but I know, from experience, how much the smallest gesture of kindness can mean to someone who is feeling low and alone.
Jessica from Penrith
Since graduating from Flourish Australia’s Youth Community Living Support Services (YCLSS) program I hold high hopes for my future. The support I received from Flourish Australia empowered me to start living independently and achieve significant life goals. It’s given me the confidence I needed to create a new career path for myself.
For the first 13 years of my life I was exposed every day to abusive behaviour. My own struggle with post traumatic stress and anorexia proved to be too much for my family, so I felt I had to strike out on my own, at a relatively young age, to survive. I resorted to living in refuges to escape the volatile home environment. The turning point was my referral to Flourish Australia’s YCLSS program 18 months ago. Since then, I’ve regained my independence and now live in a unit of my own, without requiring any community support.
My journey had been a long, lonely one, with repeated hospital admissions. Once I was part of the YCLSS program, Flourish Australia’s outreach team would come to me, on a weekly basis. What appealed to me most was that their approach was in no way clinical. The Peer Workers felt more like buddies to me than therapists and as we spent time hanging out together, the trust between us grew. Knowing that they had once walked in my shoes gave me so much hope for my own future. Because I could identify with them, I felt able to open up about things that I would hesitate to share with a psychologist.
Having greater stability on the home front has freed me to think about my future. I had previously been studying medical administration but a recent opportunity to address the Prime Minister of Australia, on matters of mental health, has inspired me to set my sights on a career in advocacy.
This came about soon after my graduation from Flourish Australia’s YCLSS program. I was feeling highly motivated and took the initiative to respond to a Facebook post that invited participation in ‘politics in the pub’ at Penrith, with the Prime Minister. I have always taken an interest in politics but, in the past, it would never have occurred to me to act on something like addressing the Prime Minister in person. My time with Flourish Australia has taught me the importance of persisting with the goals that are meaningful to me and I felt confident that what I had to say, on the subject of mental health, mattered a great deal to many people.
After many years of hospitalisation, I feel very strongly about the poor conditions I’ve experienced in the public mental health system. Others have shared their own stories with me over the years and I saw this as my chance to give us all a voice. I was selected to address the Prime Minister and his Minister of Defence and spent the night prior formulating my speech, to be sure I would get my point across.
I feel so proud that I was able to make a real impact by sharing my lived experience, within the mental health system. They were genuinely concerned with what I described and receptive to being further informed. I am currently awaiting confirmation of a one-to-one meeting with the minister.
Being heard had a profound effect on me. I realised that I had the power to make a difference by talking about my lived experience and the whole experience has inspired me to carry that advocacy role into my future. I want to become a voice for people everywhere, who are struggling with mental health issues and feel so strongly that much needs to be done, to improve awareness of the unique challenges faced by people in the public mental health system.
It may seem ambitious, at the age of 24, to aspire to influencing political decision makers in mental health matters, but my life experience has shown me that changes need to be made, and I want to play a part in making that happen.
I feel I’m now in control of my own destiny and wellbeing. Being able to get out of bed each morning, with a sense of purpose is fulfilling for me. Before the YCLSS program, I had reached a point in my life where I was resigned to the belief that the way things were, was the way they would always be and that nothing would ever improve for me. Flourish Australia showed me that I am resilient and walked alongside me with the support and encouragement I needed to claim my place in the community. I feel like I’m on my way now and there’s no doubt in my mind that I will get to where I want to be.
Louise from Griffith
I’m a townie from the Riverina. I was schooled in Griffith and went on to work in administration for Barters Eggs Head Office. I had an opportunity to move to country Victoria and turn an old dairy farm into a beautiful vineyard, with a friend of mine.
I became the manager there and for seven wonderful years, we rallied the community together, planting, harvesting and supporting a local hospital in the process. The venture unfortunately came to an end and we had to find somewhere else to live, so I moved to Narrandera on the Murrumbidgee and was lucky enough to find wine industry work, 30km away at Leeton. For seven years I loved working as a lab assistant for a family-run winery there.
Everything changed for me suddenly, when a series of traumatic life events led to a lived experience of a breakdown and suicidal thoughts. I spent almost five years, in and out of specialised mental health care, between Albury and Wagga Wagga. Having family and friends around me to help me get on top of things was so important but it put a real strain on them, having to travel 170km each day to spend time with me. I also faced the challenge of having to travel to appointments from Narrandera to Griffith, Leeton, Wagga Wagga or Albury and needing to rely on others for transport and support.
Mental Health support services in country areas can be very frustrating. For almost five years, it seemed that, just as I had developed enough of a rapport with a care worker to start opening up, they would move on or be transferred. I would have to begin the process of building trust all over again, with a new person. While I was so completely withdrawn, my partner Peter felt unable to leave me alone at home, so he became as house bound as I was and that placed us under significant financial strain. They say it’s a journey and for us, the hardest part of the journey was finding out where to turn for help.
Things took a turn in the right direction for me when a care worker recommended Flourish Australia. They were very accommodating and met up with me at our local bakery in Narrandera. 18 months later, their support has made a world of difference to my life and wellbeing.
All my life, I had held back a lot and wished that I could just let go and enjoy life the way other people seemed to. I struggled with anxiety, guilt and social acceptance. In just 18 months, with the support of Flourish Australia, I have become a completely new person and live with more hope, joy and confidence than I have ever experienced. I allow myself to laugh out loud now, without letting other people’s opinions get in the way.
Flourish Australia’s social group in Griffith had been exactly what I needed. I had always kept things bottled-up and avoided expressing how I really felt or what I really wanted. Being together with new people on the bus trips and social outings, and trying new activities with the group, helped me to develop my confidence and new skills for communicating.
I can talk to people now, without hesitation, when once I would stay in bed all day, sometimes for months on end, just to avoid communicating with anyone. My social outlook has changed completely. I am more outgoing and positive and better able to express my feelings than ever before. I’ve also become more aware of other people’s feelings and needs and I’m beginning to look after my own as well.
The best part is – I am only just getting started! Flourish Australia offer so many opportunities to grow. They’ve encouraged me to go after my goal of pursuing further education, so I’m doing a Certificate II in business at TAFE. Before Flourish Australia, I felt too intimidated to go within 10 feet of a computer.
My Peer Worker, Colleen, is like family now. Peter and I are both able to sit and talk through things whenever we need to. The trust that comes with knowing I’m unconditionally accepted and supported has made my relationships richer and more rewarding. What the people at Flourish Australia have shown me is that, even though they are from vastly different backgrounds and life experiences, they all share a willingness to listen and help you to laugh, so that you can start to relax and enjoy life again. It was with my friends at Flourish Australia that I realised I was laughing out loud for the first time. That wasn’t something that came naturally to me in the past. I would stress all the time and wish that I could be like other people who seemed so chilled. Allowing myself to just enjoy life has been a massive shift.
Being a part of Flourish Australia has helped me to be able to love myself and honour my own needs and see all the shame and guilt I’ve carried over the years as the very experiences that brought me to a better place in my life. Without that sort of support, it can be difficult to accept where you are at and almost impossible to move forward.