from left: Anna H Gray, Fay Jackson (General Manager Inclusion), Janet Paleo
by Grant J Everett
The benefits of peer support and peer-to-peer services for people recovering from mental health issues only grows more obvious with time. Knowing this value well, Flourish Australia was the first not-for-profit organisation in the country to host the powerful Focus for Life seminar. Run at our Sydney Olympic Park branch over three solid days, Focus for Life allowed participants from all corners of our organisation to accept how much we can offer the world around us and to declare that no matter what we’ve been through or what people have said to us, we all have a high intrinsic value.
There were a lot of unfamiliar faces on day one of the group, but this simply meant that it would be a good opportunity to network face-to-face with people we wouldn’t usually get a chance to meet. We broke the ice by introducing ourselves one by one, stating where we were born, and sharing the most exotic place we’d ever been. We also mentioned what we wanted from the following three days. Some of the things our group desired were self-confidence, bravery, being better at motivating people, being more positive, having better self-care, gaining the confidence to share our innermost selves, being more grateful, having better self-esteem, having more compassion for people with a disability, being able to debunk stigma, having greater self-awareness, getting out there more, having victory over the past, and polishing our recovery language. All worthwhile goals!
“Focus For Life was such a practical and informative course. Anna taking off an Amygdala was definitely a highlight.”
– Kim Jones (Project Officer Inclusion, Head Office)
The Focus for Life group was run by its creators: Anna H Gray and Janet Paleo from Texas in the USA. Something that became crystal clear from the very start was how much our facilitators truly cared for the participants. You could just tell they believed in what they were teaching. They valued our individual wellbeing so much that it was touching, and I didn’t think that anything they said was lip service. In particular, Janet and Anna taught us some very useful techniques concerning the way we perceive the world, and how we tend to tear ourselves down without even realising it. As the saying goes, we can often be “our own worst enemies.” For instance, it’s common for people to say that they “can’t” do something. The word “can’t” implies a lack of strength or ability, and it’s the sort of word that takes away your power. Saying “I choose not to” makes it a matter of choice rather than a matter of ability, and this will lead to more self-belief. Our group was loaded with great revelations like this the whole time.
By the time the seminar ended on the third day, there were actually a lot of tears. It felt like we’d accomplished so much, and it was an experience that I think will have a lasting impact on everyone who attended.
Like anybody who steps into a peer support role, Janet and Anna have a history of mental health issues. Their lives were filled with depression, feeling suicidal, hating life, engaging in destructive behaviours and spending huge chunks of time in hospital. At one point or another, both women were basically told that they’d never recover from their conditions and that they’d never live in the real world, let alone have a job or contribute to society in any way. These ladies know what it’s like to have pain and hardship eat away at their hope. If you’ve read Panorama magazine before, it’ll come as no surprise that Janet and Anna proved those “experts” totally wrong!
Janet and Anna’s firsthand knowledge of the mental health consumer movement in America was a great launching pad to develop the Focus for Life program. After discussing their brainchild with other consumer leaders, Janet and Anna recognised that self-direction and self-responsibility are two of the most essential components to any recovery. Keeping these core elements in mind, Focus for Life allows participants to build on their strengths and develop their resiliency by changing the way they see the world. A big part of this process is problem-solving and figuring out how to use our current resources to attain what we want from life.
All of the Focus for Life the participants would like to thank Flourish Australia for hosting the group, for actively involving us all, and for generously covering all the expenses to make sure as many people as possible could benefit from this experience.
As always, the Figtree Conference Centre staff put on a great spread, and were very professional, so a big thanks to them, too.
Want to know more about the Focus for Life group or the Prosumer movement? Contact Janet or Anna here: