Donna Manion (left) and Jeanette Rodriguez (right) first met by chance ten years ago through Donna’s work. Today they both work together again at RichmondPRA’s St Marys service. First, Panorama listened in as they reflected on the positive changes over those ten years.
Jeanette: I had been on medication for anxiety since the age of fifteen. I have had five admissions to a psychiatric hospital on the outskirts of Sydney. The last was my worst and longest stay. They would wean me off one medication and then put me on another. I wondered why it was taking so long. A doctor told me it was because “you’re not cooked yet.” Then one day I was walking with the doctor down past the place where they do ECT (shock treatment) and the doctor said if this medication doesn’t work ECT will be our next option.
After I was discharged I lived like a hermit for about a year. One day, it was really hot and I was at home in my flat when there was a knock at the door. It was a cleaning crew from WestWorks and they wanted to know where they could plug something in. One of the cleaning crew was Donna!
Donna: I used to have panic attacks and couldn’t get out of the house. I couldn’t even go to the shop without panicking. I still find it hard on public transport or when I go out of my comfort zone. When my son got married in Wollongong and I had to go down for the wedding, I really felt ill, but the thing is, I HAD to do it. But at the time I met Jeanette, I had been working at WestWorks (forerunner of St Marys Enterpraise) for about a year before that, since 2005.
Jeanette: Anyway, as it was so hot that day, I offered the crew a cool drink. So we got to talking and it turned out they were from WestWorks and the supervisor suggested I might like to come and work for them. I said no, I had mental health issues. They said no worries, that’s what we’re all about! So I thought and I thought for a while and finally I called and went to see Pam Branch and Brian McNamara, who were in charge of WestWorks in those days. I started work the following week. They took me on. But I was very quiet.
Donna: Yes, that’s right.
Jeanette: Slowly my confidence came back and I made friends with the team. Actually, my whole world changed. Today I am able to do things that I hadn’t been able to do since before my illness. There is a whole world out there besides Penrith. It has all opened up. I like connection with people. It’s important for me. But I was like a hermit, but slowly my confidence came back.
Donna: The friendships you form are important. And unlike other places, if you have an episode when you are really unwell on the job, the other people just calm you down.
Jeanette: They are able to do it without putting you under pressure. They let you take your time.
Donna: The people understand and accept you the way you are. That is a key thing.
Jeanette: Yes, I agree with that, but years ago before WestWorks I would have thought to myself, “who is going to understand me?” I remember when I was working in a shop at The Plaza that I was becoming unwell. The boss called me aside and told me I had three days to get over whatever it was, or that she’d have to let me go. So I pretty much ended up in hospital after that. But, you see, she didn’t KNOW anything about mental illness. How was she to be expected to know how to handle the situation?
Donna: I was always in bed a lot. That was my way of dealing with the panic attacks.
Jeanette: I was the other way, I was always hyped up a lot!
Donna: I still have a long way to go. I hate driving on Freeways. And there are a lot of things that I want to be able to do. Everything, actually. I’ve always wanted to have a farm!
Jeanette: She loves animals.
Donna: I already have the animals; I just need the land to put them on. And I need to be able to get out of my “zone.”
Jeanette: We want to organise some trips away from Penrith!