The “Man in the Glass” reflects on life and Peer Work

tony hervey bay.jpg

ABOVE (TONY): ‘…my dad told me what matters is how we deal with the cards we’re dealt…it got me thinking… PHOTO BY NEIL FENELON

By Tony of Hervey Bay, QLD

For me, Flourish Australia means no more regrets! I get to be myself, free from any anxiety about fitting in; and I own every challenge I’ve come through, because those are the experiences that shaped me into the self-assured person I see smiling back at me from the mirror today.

I lived with regrets about past choices until Flourish Australia taught me to see my experiences from a strengths-based perspective.

My best memories of growing up in Albury Wodonga were of being outdoors, camping and fishing.  Around people, I felt anxious about fitting in.  

From the age of 10 I took to skateboarding because I felt that gave me an edge. At 18, I got into DJ-ing, and had the time of my life for about 12 years…until the pressure to perform lead to dabbling in drugs to boost my confidence, which brought everything unstuck. 

Stepping away from music was really tough. I tried to find meaning in life by doing good, like mentoring at youth camps, but it’s only since becoming involved with Flourish Australia that I’ve found a real sense of purpose and feel that my life has come together.

Twelve years ago I was hiding myself away, working in a factory so I didn’t have to relate to people. I realised I’d taken things too far the day I spoke no more than 4 words. 

My girlfriend at the time gave me a poem called “The Man in the Glass” that I keep on my desk to this day. It’s about looking into your own soul to ask yourself what you want in life and whether the person you see in the mirror fits with that vision. I could barely look my own reflection in the eye and that set me on a new path to getting back among people.

Breaking free of my dependence on drugs wasn’t easy, but Flourish Australia showed me the confidence that I craved was already inside of me. I learned how to connect with that part of myself instead of disconnecting with drugs. 

Another milestone moment came three years ago. I began feeling dissatisfied with my life all over again, and I looked to my counsellor to fix things for me.  I woke up to the fact that no one else was going to make my life happen for me. I knew I wanted to help people, so I signed up with Lifeline’s Suicide Crisis Support Line, but that didn’t allow me to explore communicating with other people the way I wanted to. 

The connection I was looking for came with a casual role at Flourish Australia’s Warm Line in Queensland. I was able to use my story as something callers could identify with, to open a dialogue about their own struggles. 

What’s so rewarding about the Flourish Australia approach is that I’m not hiding behind a mask or a job role. I share my vulnerability by talking openly about the things that have been tough. The stigma around my mental health has caused me to fight with myself a lot and avoid anything like medication or other treatment, as that might mean admitting that I had a problem. Flourish Australia doesn’t use labels: they look at who you are and what you want in life. 

Working collaboratively appeals to me now. I see myself moving into a role providing suicide prevention support in hospitals and becoming a peer leader so I can have more of a hand in guiding my team to become the best support we can possibly be.

I’d love to travel with my wife. We put travel on hold a few years ago when my dad was diagnosed with cancer.  That experience taught me how to be a man when my dad told me in one simple sentence what matters: it’s about how we deal with the cards we’re dealt and how we choose to move through that space. 

It got me thinking: if I died tomorrow, how would I be remembered? I didn’t feel there was a lot of good to be said, so I started investing more of myself into others and becoming someone I could feel proud to be.

I coach my son’s soccer team now, which is something I had always wanted, but never imagined I would do. I have discussions with the kids about bullying and ways they can use strengths-based self-talk to come out on top in situations where they might find someone trying to get into their head to affect them.  

That’s what fulfils me now – just being with someone in that moment when they most need support, so they can share what’s going on for them instead of masking it by self medicating in harmful ways. 

As told to Tina Irving

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