‘I came to Melbourne five, nearly six years ago from regional Victoria ‘cos there were no services there. I had a breakdown. I came down to live with my eldest son who cared for me for a while. I was referred to a service that I didn’t hear from, then my son went through Dr Google and came up with Neami in Box Hill. I went along to an intake session and my whole life changed. I went from a place from being on the couch for three years to being encouraged to be part of a community again.
My first worker changed my whole life by saying, ‘I’m not going to do it for you. I’m here to stand beside you.’ It was all about empowering me to discover where I wanted to go, set some goals and allow me to do it, but not do it for me. He encouraged me to do peer work, so I’m now back at work. And, I think it comes back to him empowering my belief that I could do it. It wasn’t him saying, these are the milestones that you have to meet. It was more like, how are we going to do it? There were lots of dark times, and I probably called him some unpleasant names at times, but there was that non-judgement, no matter how bad I was.
I’d never had that experience before. Until I’d moved to Melbourne, I didn’t even know what a CCU (Community Care Unit) was. My mental health experience was in-patient and a GP, and I didn’t even know there were mental health services available at all. I think I was 44 at that time, and I remember thinking, why didn’t I know about this 20 years ago? How different my life would have been. In regional areas, there was nothing. I think I’m very fortunate I walked in that door at Box Hill that day and got a place. It hasn’t been easy, and I still have my days but I’ve been able to put things in place to be able to deal with that.
My support worker taught me mindfulness, which was a huge thing. Now I go outside and stand on the grass, or do some gardening instead of popping a tablet. I’ve learnt to socialise again and have a safe space. Sometimes it’s uncomfortable, but you deal with it.
The growth that I’ve had, I’ve been able to share back. I’ve been encouraged to do it on my own, but to share my story of recovery with others. I’m now a Consumer Consultant. I started out at the Dual Diagnosis Consumer and Carer Advisory Council. They wanted people with lived experience. My support worker encouraged me to go along to it, and I’m Chairman of it now. It’s all about sharing your experience in that dual diagnosis space.
It’s funny. You can go into a setting, like a focus group. And the minute you say, I’m not a clinician, I’m not a worker, I’m the same as you, you just see everyone relax. Clinicians like to meet you in their clinical offices, and straight away there’s badges and lanyards and a hospital uniform, and there’s that power imbalance. And in a community setting, you don’t have that. From a consumer’s point of view, that’s gold. We’ve struggled through the clinical setting – you must take your medication, you must do this, you must do that. Here, we don’t get asked ‘have you been compliant?’, a technical way of saying have you been taking your medications. Here, it’s, have you been taking your meds? It’s just that difference, from the clinical to the Neami experience. They’re really on the right level.’