This is a speech I gave today at a conference for service providers were the NDIA is being rolled out, for them to hear the experience of of those already involved in the program. I provided a lived experience of NDIA.

The photos are before (to my shame. Why am I showing you?) and after shots of my room and are the latest efforts of my cleaner. Below is my speech with slight alteration for anonymity:

Some stirring of hope, of imagination, of something more than simply surviving is coming back to me. Thanks to my NDIA package. When you’re depressed and feeling incapable of achieving much it lightens the heart to see the lawn freshly mown, the house in a semblance of order.

I have a new cleaner. The last cleaners said NDIA work didn’t pay enough and left. I was sad to see them go as they were friendly, respectful, kind, as well as excellent at cleaning. Having them clean every fortnight gave me the incentive to maintain the basics. When you’re in a rut and can’t see how low you’ve been until you’ve had a glimpse at normality (something that doesn’t swim in self-loathing and allows you to feel the sun in the sky shining gloriously rather than menacingly) I realised I’ve let a lot slip. No, I knew, but felt it weigh me down all the more.

But I’ve got NDIA batting in my corner now. For so long I had to face my mental illness alone. I felt isolated. I’ve struggled with depression since I was about 12 and experienced my first psychosis in my late 20s when I had a career and was seemingly “successful”. Attempts to re-enter the workforce were undermined by recurring psychosis and my diagnosis became bipolar. I wrote about these experiences in my blog 2 Angels and a Black Dog on WordPress.

Initially I was suspicious of NDIA envisaging being told what to do and my limitations highlighted – thinking about my experience with Centrelink and Department of Housing. My psychologist, whom I’ve seen for about 10 years, suggested it would be worthwhile to apply for a package and recommended Team Works in the role of coordination as the two services have worked together and she said they’d be aware of mental health issues.

My encounter with the NDIA case manager reinforced all my fears and I was profoundly disappointed by the package. My psychologist convinced me to withhold judgement until I saw what the package would look like in practice. In my mind I could be totally humiliated and socially controlled. I took a deep breath and took the plunge.

Then I met my support recovery coordinator, who was realistic but heard me. After seeing The coordinator I felt reassured that the NDIA could work for me.

The other day I went to a physiologist. I have about four sessions with him. This time was the second time I saw him. He said he wanted to explain why he didn’t want to push me too hard: he understood something of mental health when he broke his neck when he was an elite athlete in a freak gym accident. For five years after his life was in turmoil. He doesn’t diminish my struggles. He realises there are particular hurdles that need to be addressed. Because he’s been there.

Having an appointment with him gives me incentive to reduce my food intake, stick to healthy food options and increase my exercise. He’s not setting impossible tasks. So he’s asked me to write a food diary, given me a schedule of exercises and said it would be good to walk at a brisk pace for 15-45 minutes at least twice a week.

So far since seeing him for the first time about a fortnight ago I’ve done 6 brisk walks, I’ve cut out snacks and reduced my portion size, although I need to work more on that.

Last weekend I went on Park Run with my four-year old daughter and we completed half of the 5km run. Small steps.

The reason I’m interested in Park Run is because my personal trainer and a mental health worker was a regular runner with her grandson and emphasised that it is for everyone and about meeting others and enjoying yourself.

Part of me says – enjoy yourself? With exercise? Yeah right! Yet another part of me remembers the rhythmic thud, thud of my feet on the bush track while doing cross-country at school, feeling peaceful with the surrounds, and setting myself goals to keep my sore legs moving. This is a metamorphosised body, one that has born a child, bears the scars of ill-use and the hallmarks of middle age. And I’ve put a whole heap of weight on as a result of my medications.

Yet to become slimmer and healthier is not beyond achievability, if I can remain motivated and kind to myself. The physiologist and personal trainer are out of this world. I feel like dancing. In a few weeks I might actually do that.

So my physical health is being looked after and I’m stoked. Then I met the cleaner who I mentioned earlier, and I’m lost for words. She’s well-travelled, active, anything-is-achievable-attitude which is infectious. She is employed as a cleaner but has a lifetime of varied work, including as a chef, interior decorator, organiser and helping people who hoard.

The first week she cleaned out my pantry and made suggestions about decluttering. The second week she cleaned my fridge and mentioned an old love of mine – Pinterest and made suggestions for how I could make the entry to my home more pleasant. This was all done in a very respectful, supportive manner.

I realised I hadn’t done anything to the house in a year and had let it go backwards. Looking at my place through her eyes refreshed my perspective. I’ve renewed my exploration of Gumtree and curb-side finds in order to have an affordable renewal of our home.

The cleaner (aka Mary Poppins) said “I’d move those two pots down here and transplant those into the back yard – they need shade.”

“I suppose I can do that with the landlords pots as long as I’m careful.”

Wow. This was a level of support in a cleaner I was not expecting.

And responsible for the implementation of my NDIA plan, for finding these marvellous people and negotiating their contracts is, as I said, my support recovery coordinator at Team Works. The coordinator after understanding my concerns and priorities, has sculpted this amazing package into something that is invaluable to me.

My package comes up for review in June. Perhaps I have the same case manager. But this time time I don’t come alone, I come with a highly skilled coordinator as well as someone keenly aware of mental health.

One day when I was feeling particularly vulnerable with my mental health and had a meeting with my daughter’s preschool teachers my coordinator accompanied me. This was so reassuring and helped me to step back, if only for a short time, and not to be overwhelmed by feelings of self-loathing and fear.

My coordinator makes it clear she has faith in me. This is daunting but also helps me to believe that maybe I am more than I see myself as.

I was terrified the NDIA would be self-defeating and bureaucratic, yet with my coordinator, physiologist, personal trainers, lawn mowers, and cleaner it’s a leverage up. A promise of tomorrow.

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