My Lived Experience of Mental Illness

My name is Jenny I would like to share with you my own journey and my families experience of mental illness. Both my sister and I have been diagnosed with mental illness as well as my late father. I was brought up in a working class family, I had 2 parents and a younger sister. My childhood was generally happy, similar to most kids I liked playing outside, going to the park and spending my pocket money on a bag of lollies. During my school years however, I was physically and verbally bullied by kids both in primary and high school, after one incident the police were nearly called in. I spent most of my primary school years by myself at lunchtime. When I started high school my results were below average and I was having difficulty keeping up with homework and assignments, but on the bright side I had a lot of friends in different age groups that I got on well with. On the downside I stopped having birthday parties because no one would come. The last party I had was when I turned 12. In year 10 we had to reapply to continue in Year 11 & 12 – my application was rejected and I had to leave at the end of the year, I left behind friends I had grown up with and familiar surroundings. I was forced to start again at a public school, it was a very challenging time for me. I was the new kid on the block, I found it hard to make friends, adapt to a new timetable/new rules and new surroundings that I wasn`t use to. I did however manage to complete my HSC but my results were very poor. When I went to school we didn`t have much in the way of support services like a counsellor, special education teacher or peer support program. I noticed that over many years Dads behaviour was changing, after he lost both his job and his own mother to cancer. he was talking to himself, playing music very loud, staring a lot, pacing up and down the hall way and was verbally abusive towards me and the rest of the family he was very hard to live with. He was unpredictable and socially withdrawn. I started to notice something was wrong when I was about 12 years old. My mother once had surgery which was supposed to be a simple procedure but there was a mistake made during the operation and as a result she nearly died but luckily she got the right treatment and after a longer stay in hospital she was on the road to recovery.This event seem to affect the family a lot especially Dad, soon after he had some psychotic episodes and he thought Mum was using drugs, poisoning his food, then in one instance he poured the coffee out of the jar for my sister and I to check for drugs – one of the episodes occurred on Mother’s Day. On that particular day after lunch we assumed he had just gone for a walk like he did on most days but it become apparent to us that as the afternoon progressed something may have happened to him because he did not return home and had been gone for quite a while, we started to get very worried. Mum noticed the Medicare card was not in it’s usually place – he later called and confirmed he had been to a local medical centre and that the doctor sent him to the local psychiatric hospital. He only stayed overnight, typical of Dad he discharged himself and came home the next morning without being assessed. The local mental health crisis team came to visit, they tried to convince him to go back to hospital but he wasn’t interested and refused their help, he was then referred by our GP to a local psychiatrist but he only ever saw him a couple of times and started taking an anti psychotic drug which he did not take all the time, he thought he didn`t need it, therefore his moods were very unstable, because of recent events my mother separated from my father for a few months fearing for her own safety. I was also very scared because I did not understand what was happening. In those days as a family we weren`t give any information which made the experience of mental illness very difficult. If someone at the time had explained it to us, it would have given us a better understanding of what we had to deal with. It was during this time I started to develop what I thought were stress related symptoms – shaking hands, rapid heartbeat, insomnia, upset stomach, shortness of breath and welts on my skin. During the separation I spent one week with Mum and the other week with Dad. Mum eventually returned home, Dad was still extremely hard to live with, Mum decided to return to the workforce, I was always in and out of training courses, casual jobs and government employment programs, I couldn`t get any permanent work. I applied for lots of jobs and went for many interviews, but I was rejected every single time. My sister was also dealing with her own problems with suicidal thoughts, panic attacks and self-harm she did get some help from a local adolescent health unit but the psychiatrist she saw refused to put on her medication and wouldn`t give her a definite diagnosis. She ended up quitting school before sitting her HSC exams. She also had learning difficulties that were assessed in primary school but never followed up on and as a result she missed too much school. She wasn`t coping at home with Dads behaviour, she thought he was trying to make life difficult for her she started going out all day every day to avoid him. One day unexpectedly she walked out and moved into a crisis refuge which then lead to a placement in supported housing. During this time she became depressed started hearing voices, and attempted suicide by overdosing on medication. On her last attempt her stomach was pumped with charcoal, she didn`t overdosed again. The local mental health crisis team at first weren`t very helpful. They kept changing her medications and that made her more unwell they were also reluctant to organise follow-up care. Mum got hold of an intervention officer and my sister was assigned a case manager who was also a psychologist. After two years of supported housing my sister had no choice but to move into private rental accommodation which did not work out for her. Her case manager suggested she should try shared accommodation that has support workers available. She was only there for a few months before she decided to finally return home, since then she has linked up with the local living skills program, respite service and many other support services. She is currently stable on medication and sees a psychologist regularly as well as our family doctor. One of her medications was recently increased after a psychiatric review. Dad had cancer for nearly 2 years, this was another difficult time for the family – it was a rare blood cancer called multiple myeloma, unfortunately he lost that brave battle in 2005 and passed away on my birthday November 15. I am thankful I had this time with him because during his treatment he was given antidepressants and somehow he was back to the person that Mum first knew. It made a real difference in all our lives. He was a completely different person, His attitude changed, and he was much easier to get along with, looking back now he probably should have been on both types of medication from the very beginning. However I have learnt since then that he had a very difficult childhood, he was an only child, was sexually abused, and he had no father figure, his dad walked out on him and his Mum at a very young age. My Mum told me a lot about the early years of his life that would have contributed to him having mental illness. His Mum my grandmother many years ago was also taking an anti-psychotic drug amongst her other medications. Mum saw the bottle once but at that stage did not know what it was for. After working as a preschool assistant for a few years I decided that I would become a primary school teacher I applied and was accepted at a local university as a mature aged student. It was always something I wanted to do from a very young age. But unfortunately it wasnot working out for me no matter how hard I tried. I did not pass all my assessments which meant I had to make up the marks in the exam to gain a pass grade I was putting a lot of pressure on myself to do well. In the end I passed 3 out of 5 subjects in first semester. We then had 3 weeks of practice teaching in a school, my placement was with a Year 6 class I had been working with them during the semester so I knew the kids well, we were very limited in the subjects we could teach in first year it was only Maths and English. I didn`t last 3 weeks, At the beginning of the second week I asked my university supervisor directly if I was failing she said no, however the next day unexpectedly she arrived at the school with an envelope which had a letter inside and told me that I was at risk of failing the placement even though I had been improving each time I`d taught a lesson, she also told me the senior university supervisor would be coming in to observe me teach the class at the end of the week, I had 2 days to prepare for what could be my final lesson as a student teacher I was under a huge amount of pressure and felt really anxious. It was the first lesson of the day and the senior supervisor was watching me from the back of the room. I tried to stay as calm as I could while teaching even though I was really nervous, after my lesson the kids left the room for their PE class he then spoke to my class teacher about what he observed while I waited in the room next door, he then walked in and spoke to me, provided me with feedback about the lesson but ultimately it was decided that my teaching skills were not up to the standard required and I was given a fail grade. I burst into tears, the final decision had been made and I was asked to leave the school that day. I was told I’d be better off not coming back for the third week. I cried all the way home. Unfortunately I didn`t receive much support from either, the class teacher or from the university. I was totally devastated as I tried so hard to improve but my best wasn`t good enough. I did however go back to uni for second semester but that was a total disaster so I decided to leave at the end of the year. In the finish I felt that I had no other choice. After that my own mental health took a turn for the worst I became very depressed, I didn`t seem to be coping with life I lost confidence in myself and my abilities, I kept telling myself, I wasn`t good at anything I didn`t have many friends, I`d lost interest in my usual activities, and felt I was worthless to society, I gave up on everything I previously enjoyed and I didn`t know what to do. I was happy enough just to lay on my bed or sit around doing nothing and watch the world go by. I knew there was something wrong and I had to take action so I saw my GP who is very aware of our family history and she started me on anti-depressants and I had some counselling. I also struggled for the first few months after Dad died it was a very challenging time for me. But I got thru that with the support of my Mum and sister. My medication was increased for a short time during this period of grieving. I always remember Mum and Dad telling me to take one day at a time. Before Dad died he told me to be happy and to get on with the rest of my life. I have been stable on medication for several years now. I have a good relationship with my Mum and sister who understand that I have a mental illness. My sister and I have grown closer together over the last few years and we are able to help & support each other. I have learnt a lot about myself in recent years. I think to survive a mental illness you need courage, resilience and perseverance as well as a good support network. Today I am generally well and I am a survivor of mental illness. I think the most important thing is to take baby steps with whatever challenges life throws at you. No matter what you are going thru there is light at the end of the tunnel, sometimes it might just be a matter of taking 2 steps forward and 1 step back. And remembering when one door closes another door opens, which was one of my Dads favourite quotes. In 2015 I decided it was time for me to learn as much as I could about mental illness in order to help my sister in the future. I have completed several courses including a Consumer Advocacy Course, Mental Health First Aid, Wellways MI Recovery and Partners in Depression. I have attended a local carers group and completed workshops they facilitate. I am part of a local Consumer Advocacy Group that was established thru Partners in Recovery which we now run independently. I participate in regular activities that Inner West Respite Services oversee. I`m a Mental Health Consumer Adviser for the Sydney Local Health District and I currently sit on 2 committees. I`m also a mental health educator for Remind in which I share my story of lived experience with other people, my main objective is to educate the public and reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness, in this role I have been able to conquer my fear of public speaking and develop my presentation skills. Based on what I have achieved so far, I was chosen by the Remind team to be a case study/success story for the SFNSW Annual Report and FOCUS newsletter which has since been published, It was a lovely surprise that I wasnot expecting and It`s great to be recognised for the work I am doing. Even my GP wanted a copy. I am currently working towards becoming a peer educator with South Eastern Sydney Recovery College. I am in the process of completing their Educator Training Program and I`m gaining practical experience within their local community mental health centre education program. I`m working as a volunteer on the telephone referral information support service (TRISS) I attend a weekly shift where I make outreach calls to people who have limited social contact and are isolated because of mental health issues and need extra support. I`m also a member of the SFNSW Consumer Committee. My Lived Experience Story appears on the WayAhead and NSW Mental Health Commission websites. I consider myself to be very lucky because one opportunity has led to another and I`ve had fantastic support from everyone. My level of confidence has dramatically increased and I`m doing things now that I never thought I could or would do. Mum said to me once she can`t believe what I have accomplished in such a short period of time, to be honest neither can I. I sometimes wish my Dad was still alive so he could see all the great things I am doing in my life now. Even though I am involved with a lot of different activities I make sure I spend time doing things I enjoy like art/craft & colouring in, writing short stories/poems and reading. It`s an outlet for me to be creative, a way to relax and have some fun. I have been going to a local cardmaking group for over 12 months, in that time I have learnt new techniques to create birthday and Christmas cards. I enjoy attending local craft shows during the year. Mental illness is however only one small part of me, I should be recognised, acknowledged and treated as an equal just like everyone else in the community rather than discriminated against. In reality mental illness can and does happen to anyone. Be aware it can strike anyone at anytime. Thank you for listening.

A bunch of poems i have written

One day of the year is a celebration of my life and my dads life too

for we have something in common that not many do

I was born in November and Dad passed away

both on the 15th and on a Tuesday

32 he was when I was born

32 I was when Dad passed on

10 years have passed in 2015

So heres to a day full of fun and cheer

Hoping Dad will be smiling at me from heaven this year


I`ve had some successes and failures to date

Good and bad times are what make

Me never give up and keep on trying

To achieve my dreams and keep on shining

This is my very own life story so far

Hope the next chapter will not be as hard


Remind me i`m great

Remind me i`m strong

Remind me that I`m a person that keeps going on

Despite my hardships, I have really tried

To make my life a success and help others shine


42 has gone so fast

Another birthday is here at last

43 candles on my cake

I blow them out and I make

A special wish that I can create


Once upon a time

Farytales are read to me

I thought that’s how life was meant to be

Nope I got that wrong

Its been more like one challenge after another

And they lived happily ever after – not, well maybe

more poems

I`m trying my hardest

I`m trying my best

I keep on trying when I`m put to the test

Sometimes I fail

Sometimes I succeed

Sometimes I think well done to me


Changes in Me
Over this last year I have truly seen
A massive change in part of me
I`ve taken a risk
I`ve learnt new skills
I`m more confidence
What a thrill
I`ve grown alot as you can see
But the best part of all is I am still me


Overthinking.i`ve over thought

Self doubt kicks in

Who would of thought

The anxiety and panic, I`m going through

Can only mean one thing is true

I`m scared of what will happen to me

When I face up to my fears

As you will see