My journey towards becoming a peer worker by Glenda Paton: Part Two

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ABOVE: Glenda’s graduation (with support from a very proud husband, Dave)  PHOTO BY GLENDA PATON

Last issue, we introduced our readers to Glenda, sharing the journey she has taken through mental health issues on the way to gaining the life that she wants. At the end of part one we revealed that Glenda and her husband, Dave, found out they were pregnant with twins…now read on

By Glenda Paton

I had a healthy twin pregnancy and an uneventful labour. Apart from being induced, I was able to have both the babies naturally, which was unusual in Bathurst hospital as twins are often caesareans. We were fortunate that a midwife friend of ours was able to get us into contact with another midwife who was studying to be a doula (a woman who provides guidance and support to pregnant women and new mums). She really helped support us through the pregnancy and postnatal periods. 

Unfortunately, after our babies were born I became unwell again. My husband had never seen me like this, so all of a sudden he was a brand new father of infant twins who had to also deal with a wife who has mental health issues. This was a really challenging time for both of us, and we only got through it with God’s help (as well as family, friends and various organisations around town). Due to my husband’s brain injury he slept very heavily at night, so we needed outside assistance to look after our twins when I was in hospital. 

Everything happened in fives. My twins were about five weeks old when I was finally taken seriously by the mental health team and admitted to hospital after repeated unsuccessful attempts to get help. I spent five days in Bloomfield Hospital in Orange and five weeks in Panorama Clinic in Bathurst. My husband and the babies were consistently visiting me during this time. 

”A large percentage of Flourish Australia’s workforce is made up of people who have a lived experience of a mental health issue, and it is a key focus of the organisation to employ peer workers.“

I had a persistent delusion that my thoughts were being “broadcast” to car radios, and that people driving past me could hear what I was thinking. This meant that when I was walking down the street I would get distracted and be unable to follow conversations as my mind was elsewhere. Unfortunately, when I got some day leave from the Panorama Clinic it was right in the middle of the Bathurst 1000 V8 races. Having all the hoons around town constantly revving up and down the street wasn’t easy for me, so I was content with just having weekend leave at Panorama Clinic until I became well again.

“A large percentage of Flourish Australia’s workforce is made up of people who have a lived experience of a mental health issue, and it is a key focus of the organisation to employ peer workers.”

I spent a further five weeks at St John of God in Burwood, Sydney. The hospital patient transport people had to borrow a car seat from a nurse at Panorama Clinic, as it was unusual for them to be transporting twins. My babies could stay with me at St John of God, and for a small fee my husband could also sleep over. He usually came down for three or four nights each week, and he particularly enjoyed the continental breakfasts! St John of God was expensive, though we were provided with four paid weeks by the DOCS Brighter Futures program, specifically so I could have an opportunity to bond with my children. We had to wait a month for our private health insurance to get bumped up to the level where they could pay for a mental health admission, so Westfund paid for the final week there.  

Many of the other mums I met in the ward had post-natal depression or anxiety, and I was the only mum who had twins. Other mums would wonder how I managed with twins, yet luckily for us our twins were very settled and content, we just had two to deal with.

A setback

When my kids were in preschool, I attempted to change my medication. My psychiatrist had suggested coming straight off Clozapine and switching onto a drug called Solian. I had gradually weaned off Clozapine with no dramas in the past, but doing it suddenly was another matter. After about ten days of very little sleep I was at the end of my tether, and I voluntarily admitted myself to Bloomfield Hospital. I was becoming manic again, so I wouldn’t stop talking and couldn’t sleep. It was Mother’s Day, and I needed help. 

I was in an acute ward for a few days before going to Amaroo Ward, and then onto Panorama Clinic. My husband took the twins to his parent’s place and stayed there for a while for help  with looking after our kids. Whilst I was at Amaroo I visited the O’Brien Centre and came to appreciate the down-to-earth volunteers, the welcoming environment, and being able to visit somewhere that was off the ward. 

I spent most of my admission wandering around Bloomfield, buying magazines and reading them in the sun at the golf course and going to Parklands. I also raked up the leaves at Amaroo and at Parklands to keep myself busy, as going from being a mum of twins to sitting in a mental health ward doing nothing was not helping my mental state. To this day I find keeping busy is what keeps me well, though I also need to make sure I don’t over-commit myself to too many things at once, as that can also push me over the edge into becoming unwell.

Glenda2.jpgABOVE: Twins Laura and Joshua off to school PHOTO BY GLENDA PATON

Stepping stones

After I was discharged from hospital, I decided that the O’Brien Centre had been so helpful to me when I was a patient that I would volunteer with them. I always hope that new patients will see how the O’Brien Centre can help them with their recovery like it helped with mine, and I’m sure to let them know that they can still access our support even when they are discharged. At this point my children were in preschool two days a week and I was working from home as a transcriptionist for Charles Sturt University, so I had enough time to volunteer regularly at the O’Brien Centre on top of everything else. 

Several months into volunteering, our team was visited by representatives from the hospital who encouraged us to study a Certificate IV in Mental Health Peer Work that the Mental Health Coordinating Council was offering in Orange. I secured a scholarship, and as I was only volunteering in the mental health sector at this point, I felt lucky to be given this opportunity. I studied the Certificate IV alongside some of the other O’Brien Centre volunteers and other students from other backgrounds. 

Finding my calling

A few months into the Cert IV I heard from an O’Brien Centre volunteer that Mission Australia was looking for a peer worker for their Personal Helper and Mentors Program. I had a successful interview with them and ended up working at Mission Australia for almost three years helping people in the community who have mental health issues. I had my own caseload of up to seven clients, and I also ran arts and craft groups. I enjoyed the work, yet I often wondered what it would be like to become a peer worker in the hospital. At times, I found it challenging being the only peer worker. And while most of the caseworkers had a good attitude towards the other staff and clients, some of the caseworkers did not.

I am excited to say I have continued on my path as a mental health peer worker, though in a different setting: Bloomfield Hospital in Orange. I am employed by Flourish Australia under the Pathways to Community Living Initiative, a program specifically created to assist patients who have been in hospital for longer than 365 days. We primarily help the people we work with to establish themselves in the community in whatever home setting suits them best. I am currently in the process of securing funding from PCLI for a ten week arts program, and I’m gradually getting to know the seventeen male patients who are currently on the ward. At the moment I’m building a rapport with them and learning how I can help with their recovery and eventual transition back into the community. 

Looping

I’m employed two days a week on the hospital ward at Bloomfield, and I volunteer an additional day at the O’Brien Centre. In addition to three days a week at a very people-oriented role I also do some transcriptionist work, typing at home alone with just my computer and headphones. This schedule allows me to be a mother and a wife on top of my work commitments, and gives me enough variety to keep life interesting. Basically, I’ve found the perfect balance.

My story has now come full circle. Who knows what the future holds? I hope that I can still continue to make a difference in the lives of people who have mental health issues, and show clinical staff, consumers and the wider community that it is possible for people to recover and live a fulfilling life.  

BELOW: Dave and Glenda holding their twins PHOTO BY GLENDA PATON

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