Fi is a SANE Peer Ambassador. Her lived experience of anxiety, depression, and PTSD extends past her own personal conditions. As a carer for her child, who throughout her teens had mental health challenges, Fi knows all too well the best way to improve anyone’s mental health and overall wellbeing is to take ownership of it.
For over 40 years Fi has managed her own fluctuating anxiety and PTSD, along with other chronic health conditions. Providing ongoing parental care and support to her child has been a journey that has seen Fi constantly reassess support options as they continue to try and be their very best.
SANE spoke to Fi as part of Women’s Health Week 2023 about the emphasis she places on drawing on a wide range of supporters, both human and animal, to help deal with the family’s complex mental health issues.
Fi advocates that ‘ownership’ is the best way to deal with complex mental health, combined with a mix of formal and informal support. In Fi’s case her Labradoodle, named Noodle, has provided much needed constant care and support.
"I know it’s my responsibility to ensure I feel well myself, first and foremost, so I can support others and get done what I need to do,” she says. Fi is now healthy, managing her symptoms, and her child lives independently with Noodle.
Noodle, a recognized therapy dog for much of his 13 years, may soon be named SANE’s most adorable Peer Ambassador! He has supported thousands of people with complex mental health challenges both within Fi’s family’s but has also visited hospital mental health units across Australia as an official therapy dog.
“Animals can strip away barriers that may exist between people facing mental health challenges,” Fi says.
Fi advocates for people impacted by complex mental health to try and remain open to trying new, and at times creative, methods of support to achieve wellbeing goals. Setting a plan and being clear on a goal is the key, Fi says.
“We’ve all stuck it out together. Being unwell, and at times scared and isolated over that 40-year period, unsurprisingly created barriers to providing care at times. Now we’re well positioned and in a good place,” Fi says.
Fi, who lives with a partner and her two cats, Max and Mouse, wants women to know the importance of asking for help and continuing to learn and reassess options.
“If you say you’re not well – that’s OK,” Fi says.
Now working in wellbeing - Fi encourages engagement between people to help influence positive individual health outcomes and to create effective teams.
“When I got post-natal depression, I was lonely, and isolated. I talked to a counsellor, then a psychiatrist. I moved cities, found a GP who matched me with a mental health team, and I kept trying to get the care I needed.” Fi says her journey, with Noodle, always had one focus.
“I recognised early in life it’s my responsibility to myself to get well. I owe myself, and my family and other relationships, to take ownership of my mental health.”
Fi manages physical challenges too, but remains committed to building networks, reading and researching how to improve her wellbeing. At work she encourages people to exercise, spend time in the sun (vitamin D) and stay grounded by practicing mindfulness.
Fi’s personal tips: A healthy diet, managing anxiety, with deep breathing exercises and healthy sleep patterns.
Getting support from people with lived experience breeds compassion, Fi says, and gives people a sense of being heard. "When you talk about the low times with someone who knows what it feels like it’s easier to not feel so alone,” Fiona says.
"I’m proud to be a SANE Peer Ambassador. I like to be part of the solution!”
“If a problem exists SANE has an online forum to help. SANE’s social media enables experienced effective support.”
"Many young people are not in great shape these days and SANE is talking their language. Conversations are themed around relevant topics and it’s not one size fits all.”
Women's Health Week ran from the 4-10 September. The 2023 theme “Grow your knowledge” aimed to support women to make informed health choices. Need support decision making about their complex mental health? Reach out to SANE.