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"I'm one of the lucky ones" - how I got mental health support as a trans person

Finn

Guest blog by Peer Ambassador, Finn.

Being transgender, I am always hesitant to discuss my mental illness with others.

There’s this idea that being trans is a mental illness, and that any mental health issues we encounter would be resolved if we could “cure” our transness. In reality, many of us experience mental health concerns before we have even realised we are trans. A lot of these concerns are exacerbated if we are unwilling to accept we are trans.

I was raised in a family of 6, in semi-rural Queensland. My exposure to LGBT+ people was limited to mockery and the hatred of “delusional transgenders”.

My coming out to family was delayed because small actions, small statements here and there made me feel unsafe, to be honest. There were jokes about conversion therapy because I’m bisexual, comments of “what is THAT?” while pointing to a visibly trans person, the insistence that my boyfriend couldn’t possibly be a boy, because he looked too ‘feminine’ (he was 16, and unable to start hormones). These are only a few examples.

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"Lived experience cannot be gleaned from a book, it is a visceral knowledge."

People talking about mental health

"Nothing about us, without us" is a common request among people living with complex mental health issues. But all too often, systems and processes are designed without partnering with people with lived experience.

Ahead of a recent event hosted by the Parliamentary Friends of Mental Health, we asked our SANE Ambassadors three key questions about the mental health system in Australia - and let politicians in Canberra know what they said. Here* are some of their answers ...

Question 1: What have been some of the challenges you’ve faced in accessing formal support (i.e. from a health professional or community service) for your experience of complex mental health issues?

"The biggest one for me has been the financial challenges of accessing formal support. There is very little low-cost/no-cost accessible support for adults of the age of 25 with complex mental health issues. A few years ago, I found myself in a situation where I needed to leave full-time employment to focus on my mental health. This left me with a significant decrease in income, having gone from a full-time paycheck to unemployment benefits. My parents were not in a position to support me financially, and often my need for formal support was a lower priority to everyday living expenses such as rent, bills, food etc."

"Aged mental health is an issue I now face. Public facilities for those with a mental illness, and who are aging, are grim. They don't have rehabilitation as their goal and tend to see people through a negative lens. Older people with a chronic mental illness are not sexy, don't garner as much attention as young folk and are perceived as a nuisance."

"This is a very interesting question to me as I think the challenges can vary so dramatically depending on your life situation. I am in the very privileged position of having financial security, a supportive partner and network and even at my most unwell I am articulate and able to communicate my needs, opinions, etc. (except for a few episodes). And even I have found it challenging to find the right service or service provider.

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'More than the baby blues' - we could have died without private health insurance

Anita-with-baby

Guest blog by Anita Link, originally published on her blog, Thought Food.

Have you ever had a moment when your answer to a question determined whether your life imploded?

I have.

It came five days into parenthood. I was lying on the floor in my maternity hospital room crying because I was trying to outrun a jaguar chasing me towards a cliff. Things were starting to go very wrong in my brain.

In the following months, when my mind warped and writhed in the grip of psychosis and later catatonic depression, and when what started out as postnatal psychosis turned out to be a first episode of bipolar 1 disorder, I could not imagine things being worse.

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Poem: What was the best thing someone said or did to support you?

Aki

This poem was written by young ambassador, Aki, about her experience of being supported while dealing with complex mental health issues.

There was a time I believed, ‘No man is an island’

(except for me).

Said island floats in the depths of my mind,

It tethers me to the bed; I’m shackled and confined.

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Guest blog: Sometimes it's hard to speak

Artist Joanne Morgan gives us an incredible insight into her life, and how it informs her art. You can view Jo's work (along with a range of other talented artists) at The Dax Centre until June 7th.

 

My name is Jo and I am an artist with a lived experience of cPTSD, schizoaffective, agoraphobia and autism.

There have been several times in my life when due to trauma I have shut down my level of communication and ranged from being dissociative and non verbal to selectively mute and only verbal enough to ensure my safety. It has been during those times of silence that my art has become my salvation.

My quiet solitude has been my vehicle to the discovery of another language. And it has given me time and space and a stillness that has allowed me to sit, sometimes painfully, sometimes peacefully with my thoughts and feelings. It has given me a language that did not live in my head. It lives in my whole. During times of silence it has rumbled inside of me and tossed and turned until it moved through my hands onto a page or a canvas or a sculpture or an installation into a story without words but filled with meaning. It is my safe language that secretly begins its transition from my mind to my hands and into the world with the freedom to develop uninhibited, unrestricted, unmonitored and not threatened in fear of what it might reveal.

In that quiet private space where an image has the freedom to grow unscrutinised and in the safety of my silent language it thrives and matures before my eyes into my truth that wakes me from my deep disconnection into an awareness that sits solidly within me and anchors me to my present and I feel it through the finger tips that conveyed it, through my body that supported those hands and the mind that, free from the constraints of illness allows me to speak my truth. 

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Your no-bullshit mental health story

SANE-Youth-Peer-Ambassadors_thumbnail

As part of Be Kind to Your Mind, we asked young people who've lived with mental illness questions about their experience. Here's what they told us.

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How has diagnosis affected your sense of self?

As part of Be Kind to Your Mind, we asked young people who've lived with mental illness questions about their experience. Here's what they told us.

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When did you first seek help?

As part of Be Kind to Your Mind, we asked young people who've lived with mental illness questions about their experience. Here's what they told us.

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What does 'be kind to your mind' mean to you?

As part of Be Kind to Your Mind, we asked young people who've lived with mental illness questions about their experience. Here's what they told us.

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Living with borderline personality disorder: Aaron's story

Aaron-SANE-Ambassador

Following story as told to Fairfax media.

Living with complex mental illness is hard enough, but the accompanying stigma and isolation make symptoms worse and act like a handbrake on recovery.

That was the case for Aaron Fornarino, who was first admitted to a mental health facility at age 14 and eventually diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD). He spent his teenage years and young adulthood in and out of psychiatric wards and foster homes, where he struggled with self-harm, anxiety, depression and impulsiveness.

“It was just a really chaotic time,” says Fornarino, now a 37-year-old public servant in Adelaide.

“Borderline personality disorder wasn’t taken very seriously back then. I was sort of treated like an attention-seeker or a pest.”

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