The last twelve months have been pretty big MEGA in my world, personally and professionally, Actually, the space between my ‘home’ and ‘work’ life has diminished. Not because they have merged and I am living unbalanced or without boundaries. In contrast they have expanded into so much more possibility than I thought available to little me here in little SA (South Australia).

 

It feels like I am living in absolute alignment, I am doing what I feel I am here to do pursuing my life purpose with the luxury and privilege of being paid – mostly – to do it.

 

How I am spending my time is bringing together 20 years of hard work and education as well as years of living on the edge of life and struggle. A beautiful mish-mash that adds to the perspective and drive that I have.

With the busyness and re-jigging of things I have been less present in some areas of my world, like online and with some friendships. Yet I have been very active and involved in others, particularly my advocacy and at home with our little people. Now that things are settling, or I at least have had more time to survey the land I now tread, I am shuffling things again and trying to put things in place based on my values, my prioirites and my imagining. Stopping the hastiness of reaction and proactively putting things in place so I can live and be the way that I want and need to be.

So here I share some of the happenings, changes and beauty of my last twelve months as well as some of the things that I am committed to making happen in the next ones.

 

 

My words appeared in a book:

 

In 2015 I was increasingly open online about my struggle with an eating disorder and incorporating that lived experience into my therapeutic practice with others. I saw a callout from June Alexander, a woman well known in the eating disorder world of Australia due to writing and speaking from her own experience with recovery from anorexia, seeking submissions for a book she was writing that had a working title of The Diary Healer.

June was inquiring into how people write about their experiences and the impact of journalling for recovery. I submitted some of my poetry and reflections and at the proofing stage I found out that some of my words would actually be the opening quote to a chapter titled Navigating the Minefield of Abuse.

This posed a dilemma for me as whilst I was open and ok talking publicly about my anorexia I had never mentioned that my anorexia was actually a result of chidhood sexual abuse, among other things, and the way that I coped with complex-PTSD symptoms.

I had been thinking and feeling for a short time that I needed to find a way to talk about the link between eating disorders and trauma so that I could be absolutely real about my experiences and speak with integrity when people asked about the reality of my anorexia. June choosing my words for a critical point in her book was a major turning point in how I speak up and what I speak about.

 

 

I entered the world of lived experience advocacy and representation:

 

Through random meandering on the internet I discovered that South Australia has a register for people with lived experience of mental health issues who want to be involved in consultation, representation and make recommendations from the perspective of their lived experience. Again, the timing of this discovery was serendipitous and perfect.

Through this register a number of things snowballed, providing great opportunities to share my experience and gain connections with wonderful people who ‘get it’, validate this path and support me to do/be better. By being on the lived experience register and expressing interest I:

  • have been on the selection panel of the SA Suicide Prevention Community Grants scheme in 2016
  • am a member of the Office of Chief Psychiatrist’s (OCPs) Lived Expereince Reference Group and elected as co-chair in late 2016
  • am a member of the OCPs Clinical Services Reference Group
  • will be invovled in the roll out of training for the new SA Mental Health Act

Through other avenues I have also been selected to be on the following committee’s:

  • a Statewide Trauma-Informed Care Committee with the Womens & Chidlren’s Health Network
  • the South Australian Health & Medical Research Iintitute’s Health Consumer & Community Engagement Committee

And I have just found out that I was successful in my application to be on the National Register of Mental Health Consumers & Carers which is facilitated by Mental Health Australia.

 

 

Then I got offerred ‘regular’ and consistent hours for my lived experience perspective:

 

By talking to various people and seeking help for an idea I had I started a small project with the South Australian Mental Health Commission on Strengthening Pathways for the Voice of Lived Experience. In SA we have fragmented, divisive and somewhat absent structures in place for people with lived experience to have a say and make a difference. I believe this can be changed through either a peak body or some other mechanism that I am researching and consultaing around at the moment. The plan is to have the report for that project complete by late April.

The biggest lived experience role that I have is as a Lived Experience Advisor to the SA Mental Health Commission. Through this I am centrally involved in the Commission’s governance structures (I co-chair their Community Advisory Committee, sit on the Project Steering Group for the next State Mental Health Plan and chair the Prevention, Promotion, Early Intervention & Research Reference Group) and provide a lived experience perspective to all of their work. It’s big and exciting and it is constantly evolving as we all work it out.

 

 

I started to be less afraid of sharing my ideas in bigger ways:

 

With more opportunities becoming known to me and with more people listening I have explored other ways to share my ideas, knowledge, skills and experience. I presented at the TheMHS conference in Auckland New Zealand in August 2016 and unsuccessfully submitted an idea (that I think is) worth spreading to speak at the Adelaide TEDx event.

TheMHS is a learning network for improving mental health services in Australia & New Zealand. Just last night I submitted a joint abstract with my husband to speak at the 2017 TheMHS conference about our shared yet individual experience with mental health issues. We titled it Recovery in Partnership; How a Husband & Wife Continue Strong Depsite Her Struggle.

Recently I have successfully applied to be a BeyondBlue speaker to share my story of mental health issues and recovery with others around South Australia. I am really looking forward to this starting after an induction and training in May.

 

 

I asked others to invest in me:

 

I have never been good at asking others for help but over the past year I have realised that to do all the things that I want to do (and believe that I am a good choice for) I need help to make them happen, either by seeking recommendation / references from other people or financial support to make my attendance possible. Without the support of others in these ways I would not have:

  • made it to New Zealand to present at the TheMHS Conference – thanks to a bursary from Country Health SA that covered flights, accomodation and the conference fee
  • attended the Brook RED dialog conference in Brisbane – thanks to a national scholarship that covered flights, accomodation and the conference fee

 

 

I visioned and have started taking action for social change:

 

Through the advocacy / activism I am doing and surrounding myself with more of my ‘right for me’ people I have been very much in the lived experience space. This has allowed me to think and act towards creating the change that I see needs to happen and to do my small part to re-shape the conversation that we are having about mental health issues.

With this is in mind, on a random night in winter, I imagined and have since started editing a digital mag – our voice – on the lived experience of mental health issues by South Australians for South Australians.

 

I originally thought that this would just be a 20ish page once-a-year newsletter type thing.

 

Due to the number and quality of contributions though this is now a qaurterly mag and the first one was a mega 76 pages long. The third issue will go live in April and I have the vision to make this a published mag. I am exploring ways to make this happen and am keen to hear from anyone with ideas for making this a reality.

 

 

I am ready to lead:

 

Taking a large risk for putting myself out there and signalling that I am ready to step up I applied in late 2016 to the South Australian Leader’s Insitute to be a part of their Governor’s Leadership Foundation Program (GLFP). Going in to this I knew that I not only had to secure a place on the program but also receive a scholarship to cover the $12 000 fee. I was successful in my application and was awarded a partial scholarship, and I have received sponsorship for the remainder of the fee.

Already the GLFP has been phenomenal and we are only one month in. I am surrounded by a group of South Australian men and women who have had amazing personal and professional lives. We will be exposed to extensive readings and seminars with recognised thought leaders about a wide range of topics whilst also being supported to develop our leadership styles and skills.

As a small way that I give back for the opportunities open to me and put the ideas into practice I will soon be starting a Lived Experience Leadership Collective in Adelaide. This will be a space where I share my learnings and the ideas from the GLFP with other leaders in the lived experience space and brainstorm the ways that they can be integrated into our context or used to help us progress the way that lived experience is understood and utilised in our services and state. This will kick off late March.

 

 

I became the captain of my own seas:

 

Due to devoting increasing hours to the world of lived experience and still needing to sleep I decided that after seventeen years in the non-government sector it was time to leave my part-time gig and give my private practice and these opportunities my complete attention. I finished in NGOland in December and since then have been moving through the ebb and flow of finding my legs as a solopreneur.

 

I have grand plans for writing more, speaking more and supporting more but have not really worked out what that actually looks like or how.

 

Whilst I have more time I also have less time which has been an interesting place to sit and be.

I have expanded my private practice that I have been slowly growing for the past three years and I will be offerring groups and workshops later in the year, including one that incorporates restorative yoga from a trauma-informed perspective. I have had to cancel twice on the restorative yoga teacher training due to my monthly three-days blocks for the GLFP. I will get there though which is great solace and a sign of my acceptance for what is.

 

 

I truly feel alive:

 

In reflection with my husband on Christmas Night I realised that last year was the first whole year that I felt truly well and alive and ok with myself and the world. It is a remarkable time and I am committed to making the most of it.

I, and he, have worked hard – so freaking hard – to get here.

 

 

I don’t want to take these opportunities and this life for granted. I am very aware of the privileges I have that opened me to these possibilities and bear some responsibility for not stuffing it up for others. I want to consciously, ethically and with integrity do what I can to influence things in small, even tiny, ways.

No one, nowhere, can tell me that the way we talk about mental health issues in society or the way that we are treated through services and systems is ok as it is. I am seeking change and I will speak up, even when my voice shakes.

 

I am dreaming big and I am doing it my way, with a big dash of winging it thrown in and a nice side order of support and love from others.

… with heart,

Ellie.