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Making Connections - Travis's Story
Travis has fond memories of his childhood on the Gold Coast where the beach and regular family holidays stand out in his memories. Lots of happy moments with the family. At home, he had lots of family support, being affirmed and praised regularly. Travis describes himself as an extrovert and enjoys socialising and connecting with people.
As a teenager, his parents and his high school encouraged him to study hard. Travis formed his identity around his achievements in sports and good academic results.
After high school, he took a GAP year and moved to England. He found a job working with kids at a boarding school and found it hard to achieve as he used to. This lack of ‘achievement’ caused him to experience recurring self-critical negative thoughts. He adopted a less healthy lifestyle in England, started drinking more alcohol and doing less exercise. Things like the cold weather took its toll on his wellbeing. After a while, he started to feel unwell. He thought it was possibly homesickness.
“I think this was when my depression and anxiety started” he explains. But he knew nothing about mental health at the time.
After the GAP year Travis moved to Sydney to study Solar Energy Engineering and where he got a scholarship. Initially at university he was very anxious and would break down in tears. A friend encouraged him to seek help and went with Travis to the university counsellor.
Initially seeking help was draining and confusing. Finding counsellors or doctors who were warm and friendly, was tricky. It took time to find the right people. The lack of understanding from friends and family members and, his and their poor mental health awareness made it very challenging to navigate the mental health system. “Any help with navigating the system was a bonus. It was all trial and error at the time” Travis explains.
2011 was the final year of Travis’s undergraduate degree, where he had to complete a thesis project. After a summer at home and going off his meds, Travis hit his lowest point.
One of the key turning points for Travis was when his mother reached out to find more support. Out of desperation, she emailed Patrick McGorry, an Australian of the Year recipient, a psychiatrist known for his work in youth mental health. To their surprise, Patrick McGorry responded and recommended a psychiatrist in Sydney. Travis saw this psychiatrist and was prescribed new medication that greatly improved his situation within a few weeks. This allowed him to complete his degree and also to lead two youth mental health seminars.
Unfortunately the antidepressant Travis found good in 2011 has decreased in effectiveness over the years and Travis still experiences many difficulties. Often, Travis feels very alone and scared, and his anxiety and depression bring on really strong feelings and unhelpful thoughts quite suddenly. Additionally, he was very sensitive to the weather, a cold wind could bring on or spark a memory that was difficult or unhelpful. He finds it difficult to explain his feelings and thoughts. Travis has developed a few documents and a flowchart to better describe his experience, which has been really helpful in helping others understand.
Many people played a key role in Travis’s recovery journey, including his mother and his friends from church. His wife has been by his side throughout the years, even though at times it has had a huge impact on her life.
“It is a balance trying to figure out how much to share with each support person, not overly depend too much on one person, their willingness to want to understand more was what I valued the most” Travis adds.
Travis also acknowledged that it can be challenging to live with a mental illness and being a Christian. It comes down to people’s knowledge and awareness of mental health issues. Despite the challenges in understanding, in terms of practical support, church group members have been very supportive and Travis feels like he has some great supports.
“It’s not easy to find the right people to be alongside, but with my church it helps that I can share what I experience and what is helpful for them to support me” Travis explains.
Travis also has a creative side. He enjoys listening to high tempo music like hip hop and rap, particularly when he is feeling flat and tired. It is a good way for him to let out frustration along with writing a few raps and poems to pour out his thoughts and feelings.
On maintaining his wellbeing, Travis adds, “I always look to engage in good conversations or interesting tasks to manage some of the negative thoughts and to build meaningful relationships”
Despite of all the challenges and struggles, Travis is currently working in the Peer Support team, providing vital support to others with a lived experienced. One of the people Travis supported over the years was his colleague, Mark Tayar.
Mark Tayar acknowledged this in his story as part of the Tackling the Challenge project. Mark was able to connect with Travis, as they shared similar diagnoses, and Travis helped Mark to navigate through the mental health system. Now, both of them are working as Peer Workers in South West Sydney to help others with their recovery journey.
Travis has learned a lot about himself. His lived experience has made him more humble, and changed his perspectives on life for the better. He is more patient, realistic, and he is kinder to himself and others. He is more aware of his strengths and his abilities to connect with things that really matter in life.