My life was like a dead end, but then I found the best peer worker

Claudio recently shared their experiences with us after receiving support through our Early Intervention Recovery Program. During the program, they developed a connection with their peer worker, who supported them in setting goals and finding hope along their recovery path.

I work at a vegan café and am an artist. I draw a lot, love clothes, and have developed a sense of fashion — I am happy to dress however I want now as I feel comfortable in my skin.

You also wouldn’t recognise me if you were to see how I looked eight years ago.

I experienced physical and emotional abuse when I was growing up, which impacted me greatly. I came out as gay to my mum when I was 18. Unfortunately, this led me to become homeless as she kicked me out a few times. I was homeless for three months and couldn’t continue studying graphic design. However, I still have a lot of passion for it.

In April 2021, I was in toxic, abusive friendships with two of my exes. They ended up together, and it broke me because I was codependent on my relationships with each of them for happiness. My biggest fear was being alone, so drinking became a coping mechanism. Once they left me, I thought there was no life after, so I overdosed and ended up in Fiona Stanley Hospital. It was my first admission to the hospital, and I was disorientated, in shock, and had no clue what was going on. It felt like I was in purgatory.

After a week in Fiona Stanley at my family’s insistence (the ‘usual’ stay is 72 hours maximum), I was transferred to Fremantle Hospital on Alma Street. It was much more chill there. I feel lucky to have had a good experience as I know many people don’t have good experiences in the hospital. I never imagined I would end up in this position. Still, I have come a long way because of the referrals and support, especially from MIFWA through its EIRP.

Connecting with MIFWA’s EIRP

After being transferred to Alma Street, I was given a case manager who I told about my alcohol and eating habits. They then referred me to the EIRP, so I had someone visit me once a week as I wasn’t mentally well and had trouble with addiction.

To be honest, I was nervous because I didn’t know what I was getting myself into, and I was initially intimidated by the program because of my expectations. I thought it would be like, “We will help you get a job. We’re going to help you do this and that.”

I was in Hampton House (a mental health rehabilitation service) when my peer worker, C, visited me. She was lovely and explained to me, “I’m going to visit you one or two times a week and if you need someone to call, here’s my number.” I was happy to know I had her support in addition to those at Hampton House. She always had a plan, and I’m a person who likes to have goals. So, we hit it off pretty well!

Goal setting with my peer worker

The EIRP was heavily focused on me, and my peer worker supported me a lot.

C, my peer worker, would ask me what I liked and how I was doing. It was good to have someone interested in what I was doing. From there, with her support, I went through an epiphany. Before, I didn’t see there were many options for me. My life was like a dead end, and when I was referred to all these different things, they opened doors for me.

Getting a job was one of my goals. C helped me make a resume. Another of my goals was budgeting because I’m impulsively fun, and I love my clothes! She helped me with budgeting. It’s a long process. She gives me sheets of budgeting papers, and I always use them.

My other goals are finding stable accommodation and seeking support when needed, which is one of the hardest things to do because I don’t like asking people for help.

C also helps to keep me busy. I love that because I love being productive, and she has opened my eyes to so many doors. I always feel like she’s on my side and is my number one supporter.

The impact of peer support from a peer worker

At first, I was very withdrawn and detached from my peer worker, but the program opened my eyes. I was so withdrawn and cut off from the world. Now when I see C, I’m very expressive. I have developed such a good connection with my peer worker. I feel comfortable telling her what I need and what I want to do, and when I’m feeling crap, I seek support.

Usually, when people support you, they tell you what to do, taking away the focus from yourself. But with C, she heavily focused on my recovery. It was all about me. She would be like, “What do you want to do? What do you think we need to do to make your life feel better? What needs to change?” She wasn’t telling me what to do. Instead, she asked me what I wanted to do and how we would do it. And that’s what I loved about it. It has helped me focus on myself more. That’s what makes a good peer worker.

When I told C I was getting referred to Ngatti House (youth program), she helped me stay positive. Ngatti House is a hard place to get into, and I was lucky to get in. So many people come into the house thinking it’s just accommodation, but it’s so much more. There are a lot of expectations, you’ve got to be very committed, and you have to attend the programs.

I had a case manager, and all the patients were lovely – they would ask me to draw things for them. One of the patients asked, “Can you draw a teddy bear for my daughter’s birthday? In a couple of days, she’s turning four.” And I was like, “Oh, I’d love to.” So, I drew one, and he laminated it and showed me. He was so happy.

I enjoyed my time at Ngatti House so much that I started dressing up however I wanted. Because my mum is very old fashioned, she thinks I can’t wear specific colours and stuff like that. However, when I was at Ngatti House, it gave me that freedom because we’re all on the same boat while everyone’s on a different recovery journey. So, there was no judgement, and I started painting my nails. That was the first time I’d painted my nails.

While I was at Ngatti House, C kept checking in and making sure I was alright and if I needed help with anything. For example, I had Centrelink problems, but I have anxiety and get really intimidated by making calls. My caseworkers didn’t have time, so I asked if she could help me, and she did!

C was open about her background, which helped me feel comfortable. She has shared what she had experienced in her life, which helped me open up more because I usually distrusted people. I was also so ashamed of my life and how I ended up in this state. As she’d experienced it and was in a good place now despite everything, I realised I could do it as well. She also helped me realise there was nothing to be ashamed of. It opened my eyes.

C also helped me realise there is hope and recognise I have come a long way. She’s told me, “You are doing so well for yourself. You have changed so much, and you did this on your own with the people supporting you; you should be so proud of that.” That made the most significant impact on me.

C’s biggest impact on me was that I could be open to people and be comfortable telling people my story.

Rebuilding my family relationships

My family is from Chile. We moved here before I was born. I get my creative side from my parents, as I have a very artsy family. For example, my mum designs costumes and the like, and my dad used to be an architect.

My mum has come such a long way and is more accepting now. When I was in Fiona Stanley Hospital, she was very supportive. However, when she saw me suffering, she felt awful for me and blamed herself. I’ve since told her and reminded her constantly that there are way more factors to why I did it. It was a surreal experience.

I have a lot of respect for my mum because my Chilean culture is very old fashioned, very conservative. I mean, they only just legalised gay marriage in 2021. So, I wasn’t mad at her. My mum was scared because she didn’t understand it, and despite everything she’s done, I like to focus on the present and see how far she’s come.

I also have younger siblings — two little sisters and a little brother — and I want them to have a decent childhood. I don’t want them to suffer as I did. And I’m very proud of my mum for not doing the same thing she did to me to my siblings. Unfortunately, my mum is currently homeless because of financial reasons. I’m here and support her, but I also need to focus on myself because I can’t help others if I can’t help myself first.

Advice for young people experiencing mental health challenges

I’ve learned from everything I’ve experienced. I’ve gone through a lot of pain, but it gives me a lot of knowledge and wisdom, and I’m pretty content with it now.

Your mental health is the most important thing. It’s one of the biggest factors in your life.

You can never really stop hurting, but you can always start healing. I will never stop feeling the pain, and depression will never be fully cured. Still, I can manage it better and start healing.

Do what you need to do and keep moving forward. There is a silver lining in every cloud, and even though you might be going through a dark time, the people who care about you will shine the brightest. And if you’re not happy with your life, change something and just keep going. Of course, when you’re in such a state, you don’t want to keep going, but eventually, things will get better if you put the work in. It starts with you.

What’s next for me

I love my job, but I want to work in a clothing store because I love clothes. I think it’d be fun. I also want to find a new place and work on things I love doing, like art, clothing, and fashion. My end goal is to become a youth worker because I needed someone like my support worker in my life, and I want to be that person for someone else.

About the Early Intervention Recovery Program

The MIFWA Early Intervention Recovery Program (EIRP) is for young people aged 16 to 30 years who have been diagnosed with a mental illness, including the first episode of psychosis. Operating across the Perth Metropolitan area, our EIRP team supports people to re-establish or maintain social, professional, and educational networks. The program is initially for 6 months but can continue for up to one year. Read more.

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