Being a mental health advocate is a strange phenomenon. Mental illness, but far, is one of the greatest – and worst – gifts that life has ever granted me. Although mental illness does not define me, Bipolar 2 has very much been a part of my identity and my life. It is because of Bipolar 2 that I have met incredible people. Allan Sparkes. Lucy Brogden. Jessica Rowe. Dame Marie Bashir. Without Bipolar 2, I would not have met them. But it is even more special to meet others who have been through it all.
Today, I had the honour of attending the Colours of KYDS Luncheon as a special guest where I heard from three incredible people. The first was a young man who’s family did not comprehend mental illness. The second was a young woman who’s father took his own life and she developed an eating disorder. The third was a mother who had cared for her son throughout a high school of self-harm, suicide ideation and depression. Each one of them was remarkable, and each one of them was united by KYDS Youth Development Service.
As I sat by Jonathan O’Dea, State Member for Davidson, I spoke about Al – his career in the Police Force, saving little Jai from the drain pipe, sailing the Sunboy around the world and saving the man at Redfern Station. Though Al has done all of these things, even more significant was that I saw Al for the first time in a long time, and he asked me how I was, and whether I was going alright. He is a man who genuinely cares.
And Allan spoke about having the courage to care. In society, a person’s courage is measured by the medals on their chest. Al is one of five men awarded the Cross of Valour. When he spoke today about what makes the difference between those who run into the fire and those who run away is the courage to care about not just themselves, but the lives of others.
Though my mother, father and brother have seen me through the thick and thin, from bad to worse, from better to best, it took the courage of one man to reach out to me with his knowledge and skill. That man was David Citer. I first saw him in 2012 at the age of 20. Three months after 25, he still asks how I’m doing, and whether I’m coping with the sugar and shit that life hurls t me. David has a special place in my memory, because without him, I would not be the person who I am today. I don’t know what I would have been, but I know I wouldn’t be me.
This week, I met up with a girl who I had a short conversation with during a lunch break. She was 16 and homeless. Her father had died and her mother and her new boyfriend were abusive. I asked whether she needed anything, and all she asked for was a cold drink. I asked her name. She asked for mine. On Monday I met up with her and I found out that she had just finished her first day back at school. I had put her in touch with a young women’s support network who found her accommodation, and found her a foster family. Her foster mother home schooled to get her back up to speed with school, and she had a foster brother and sister who she loves. She gave me a hug, and said thank you for caring. I didn’t find her a home and I didn’t find her a family. But that didn’t matter to her, she said. I was the start.
It made me think about life a little bit more, and about those who had that courage to care.
Matt Kean, State Member for Hornsby, was the one who set me on my mental health journey. He was the one who listened to what I had to say and why. He put faith in me to deliver a mental health forum, and he put faith in me to deliver on what I promised.
Rowan Kunz, CEO of Art of Smart Education, after much hassling and nagging, finally answered my email asking him to consider my proposal for more personal development, leadership and mentoring for Art of Smart. He listened, he mentored, he let me make mistakes and he helped me to figure out how to improve. To this day, he listens to my insane ideas and rants and trusts that I will make the right decision.
All these people had the courage to care, and for that, I will be forever thankful.