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Justin was the vice-captain of All Saints Catholic College. He was doing well academically and enjoying his time at school. Justin wanted to live up to his role as a one of the leaders. This all changed at the end of year 10. He became unwell and dropped out of school for 3 or 4 weeks. The following 12 to 18 months were dark times “At 16, how can you be a role model for someone when you’re fighting your own demons? Everything became scary and I lost a lot of my friends. At my lowest point, I felt really suicidal and didn’t want to go on anymore” Justin, explains.
Justin experienced constant dizziness, vertigo, nausea, and lethargy. Justin saw various health professionals who tried to find a physical health diagnosis through blood tests and CT scans. Finally a breakthrough came when one health worker mentioned it might be a mental health issue.Justin returned to his GP and was diagnosed with chronic depression and anxiety. This had a major impact to his life, especially with his plans for the future. He was trying to start a business at the same time.
“I struggled with something that nobody could see and felt that nobody could understand, so, never told any of my friends” Justin adds.
He struggled every day with head spins and always felt like he was going to faint. Fear consumed his life, and he couldn’t leave his mum’s side as he would panic that he was going to die. He experienced suicidal thoughts, and felt that the depression was never going to end and this was now the reality of his life as a 15 year old kid who had big dreams. It was overwhelming. He gave up everything, his sport, his plans to start a business, his social life and family life. This dragged on for about eight months with no clear answer from the doctors. The only way he found comfort was being around his parents, where he felt safe.
Justin went to see a trusted family friend who was also a health professional. He advised Justin to see his doctor for further assessment, possibly for anxiety and depression.
Mum and Dad were the ones who encourage me to talk to people and seek help. The biggest support I had was from my psychologist and my family” Justin explains.
The doctor diagnosed Justin with depression and prescribed medication but Justin has always been inquisitive, and never wanted to just take prescribed medication from a doctor. He was willing to do his own research into possible alternatives. He raised his concerns with his doctor and the GP organised a mental health plan. This meant Justin could see a psychologist at a cheaper rate. This was his biggest breakthrough, talking to someone, letting them know what he was experiencing. The psychologist was helpful and taught him the power of understanding how the brain works.
As part of the mental health care plan, Justin took part in monthly therapy sessions with the psychologist, and was able to practice what was being learnt. It helped him get on top of his struggles and used the techniques learnt in therapy to apply to other areas of his life.
The psychologist worked with Justin on exposure therapy. This meant Justin forced himself into places he did not want to be in for short periods of time where he would be gradually exposed to situations or conditions that will help him overcome his anxiety. For example at shopping centres where he found the noises intimidating, he was able to spend short periods of time in there and the time increased over each session.
“The Psychologist told me that I was making great progress and I really understood how my brain worked and really wanted to get better” Justin explains. Justin acknowledges that his recovery would not have been possible without the mental health care plan. Other important supports he received include the school counsellors during high school and when he founded his business, he had a tight community in the sneaker world pushing him to succeed. His art work and art community support helped him release those feel good chemicals - dopamine and endorphins that countered the emotions of anxiety and depression. ‘Art was my break away. When I painted shoes and worked on myself and made money doing so –I would go into my own bubble and anxiety and depression was never there’, Justin adds.
Justin is happy to give back to the community by sharing his story. He is proud to help break the stigma of mental health and challenge masculine stereotypes by seeking help and engaging in conversations with men about mental health. Justin comes from a large Lebanese family and being able to talk about his mental health challenges with them was very important. His dad, auntie and uncle were able to relate to his mental health issues and they all realised that anxiety and depression were part of their family history.
“As a male from a Lebanese heritage, you are meant to be the traditional masculine figure, however men have emotions and need to talk, which is something I can’t stress enough.”, Justin explains.
Justin is now a mentor or go-to person for other young men going through struggles and is part of the generational change to challenging stigma. He is currently studying a double degree in software engineering and business at University. His business Khameleon Kickz is a custom sneaker, art and apparel store that specialises in turning visions into reality. He has carved a niche in the custom sneaker community in Australia and is now tapping into the international market. He helped build the culture in Australia and offers YouTube tutorials to help others in the industry.
On his recovery journey, Justin adds, “What you are going through today, doesn’t mean it’s going to be there tomorrow. With the right help and the right steps you are able to change your life.
If you need support, call Lifeline: 13 11 14 or the Mental Health Line - a 24-hour telephone service: 1800 011 511.
Justin's story is a part of the Tackling the Challenge Project, a collection of local men’s stories, about resilience and recovery. If you have a story to share or would like to know more, contact Vinh Lai on 0491 174 230 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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