Updated: Mar 11
As some of you would have noticed, I have changed industries after 18 years in Advertising. I’ve come full circle actually. When I returned from the mountains of Tahoe in California in 2001, after a career in snowboarding, I did so with a single minded purpose. That purpose was to help people that live with addiction, just as I have.
I remember the moment. I was enjoying my first summer in 5 years, living in Truckee and it was movie night. We were watching Sandra Bullock in 28 days; the coming of age film that shows Sandra’s character, in rehab for alcoholism, outgrow her toxic relationship and begin a new life. The memories of myself as a 19 yr old in my first rehab came rushing back and the realisation hit me like a cricket bat across the face. That’s what I wanted to do.
But 2 years later (now married) I came to the realisation that my salary as a youth worker in Kings Cross wasn’t going to service a mortgage on the northern beaches. So, always having a creative streak and a vivid imagination (hello anxiety), I turned my hands to making TV content and commercials.
My work ethic has always been strong (thanks Dad) so I worked my butt off and took the opportunities when they came my way and all of a sudden I was Head of TV at The Australian Channel winning a webby award. It was at this time that my first son was born, which resulted in severe postnatal depression and panic, ultimately leading to me having a nervous breakdown. The mountains back in Cali started to look attractive again.
Running away (insert drugs, alcohol, food, exercise and sex) was always my go to. But I couldn’t run this time, because I knew I had nowhere left to go. Except to a couch inside a psychiatrist’s office. To some people that may seem like a safe place, but to me and my terrifying thoughts, it was the last place I wanted to go. Why? Well I had this premonition that they would be able to see inside my brain, read my mind and then lock me up in a padded cell. How’s that for stigma?!
I needn’t have worried. I came out of there a changed man. Those horrific thoughts I was having were quite natural for people like me and that with some support and medication, I’d be right as rain. That was it then, I was cured. I didn’t have a problem with substances (I’d stayed clean and sober from the age of 19). I was having issues with ill mental health.
My wife and I went on to have our second boy and everything was so good that it was time to party. And I mean party. I was at an advertising agency by this time and I’m sorry to say I succumbed to the old thinking that brought back my old ways. I rolled in at 3am night after night, developing an opiate pain killer habit to add to my addictions. It was enough to send me back for professional help to once again face the demons that I thought I had seen the last of back in that psyche’s office.
Don’t mistake my candour for bravado or glossing over the seriousness of what I was doing to myself and my family. I’ve had periods of my life that I’m not proud of and sometimes I can still get intense feelings of shame, guilt and remorse. Nothing as bad as I felt when I was in active substance abuse or when I was crippled by panic or depression.
I’ve often wondered what came first with me. Mental illness or addiction? Was it because I felt scared all the time, or worried about what people thought about me or that I wasn’t good enough that pushed me to self medicate those feelings? See, I judged my insides by your outsides. You looked like you had it all worked out, whereas I didn’t have a clue. The two never married up.
The one thing I do know is that there was a level of support, or early intervention, missing from my journey.
That is why we have created Peerhear. It is my contention that at least 1 in 4 Australians are self medicating every night because they have no other option. They’re not in crisis so talking to Lifeline is not really an option. Seeing a clinician like a psychologist or psychiatrist is too big of a leap because it means they have to admit they have a “problem” or it’s just too expensive. Up until now, there has really been nothing for people to turn to that is convenient, anonymous and cost effective.
Peerhear fills this gap. It’s not just me, I’ve heard from countless people not ready for a doctor’s referral and not ready for a Lifeline distress call that this is a gap. We match anyone who has an internet connection and a smartphone to experienced, professional and qualified mental health peer workers, supporters, counsellors. For those of you that don’t know, a peer mental health worker is a professionally qualified person who has a lived experience of mental illness and knows what you’re going through. You work together to come up with the right plan for you and your circumstances.
I am happy to say we are available now to take video calls and each week, we will be putting on new peer workers to give you the support you need. I’ve never been more satisfied in my career and feel like I’m part of something bigger than myself.
I look forward to seeing you on the journey.