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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
Older woman chatting with doctor

"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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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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2

Guest blog: Sometimes it's hard to speak

IMG 8236

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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5

Living with borderline personality disorder: Aaron's story

Aaron-SANE-Ambassador
SANE Ambassador Aaron Fornarino

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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6

I thought I’d hit rock bottom. I was wrong.

I thought I’d hit rock bottom. I was wrong.

A few weeks ago I publicly shared my battle with depression and anxiety. The ‘black dog’ as Churchill dubbed it. At the time I felt the worst was over, that the future could very well be brighter, if a little bumpy, as is the way with this beast. But I was wrong.

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1

This is Jock, not schizophrenia

This is Jock, not schizophrenia
My brother lives with schizophrenia. Now before you judge and run away, allow me to introduce him.

This is my big brother John, or 'Jock', he does not have a split personality, just one, and it's loving and kind.
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5

My story: Bipolar disorder and self-care

My story: Bipolar disorder and self-care

I have Bipolar Disorder Type 1 and my husband has Bipolar Disorder Type 2. We’ve been married for 12 years and call ourselves Mr and Mrs Bipolar, in an affectionate way. But it's not always been an easy way. Not by a long shot.

It is so easy to disassociate, not only from each other, but from ourselves when things 'get too hard'. For me, I need more to live beyond 'just coping'. I want to thrive, rather than just survive. But on the bad days I'll settle with survive!

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3

The 80:20 rule

The 80:20 rule

When people think of recovery from an episode of illness – whether physical or mental – they often think solely in terms of hospitals, doctors and nurses.

Clinical care is essential of course, but it’s not the whole story, as David, explains . . .

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10

You aren’t possessed, you are actually sick

You aren’t possessed, you are actually sick

Since becoming a mental health advocate I’ve received a lot of uplifting messages. A very popular message I’ve received is that people are keeping me in their prayers, or they will pray for me.

Although I don’t believe in most of these people’s God, I appreciate it. I used to go to church, but I’ve found another religion that better suits my beliefs. Still, there is comfort in knowing people wish me well, and are praying for me. That’s kind.

There is a thin line with this though…

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