Sheree's Story

My passion for helping others took root in my teenage years when I first experienced mental health issues. Being able to use my lived experience purposefully through my work gives meaning to what I’ve been through

I’ve been with Flourish Australia for more than 10 years now and worked in mental health since I was 20.  I’m originally from a little town called Narromine near Dubbo so I feel at home in a small community.

At 16, I experienced depression as a battle to get myself to school each day and keep up my activities.  I was fortunate to have a deputy headmaster who went above and beyond for me to ensure that I completed my studies and attained my HSC.  Without his input and the support of my family, things could have worked out very differently for me.

I went on to study Community Services at TAFE then worked in Mental Health and Disability for a number of years. I was a single Mum when I commenced employment at Flourish Australia and the flexibility of the workplace proved to be invaluable for me. Flourish Australia make it possible to balance pursuit of my professional passions with being a mum to my kids.

I believe that working with purpose, in such a supportive environment, has played a big part in my recovery journey and helped to maintain my mental health for about 13 years now.

Throughout my 20’s I experienced anxiety and post-natal depression and being able to now use my perspective to help others who are going through those things, means so much to me.

My current role is as Manager of Flourish Australia staff within 2 sub-acute mental health units (Dubbo and Bathurst), and over the years I’ve worked with the HASI and PHAMS program (Personal Helpers and Mentors). Peer Workers weren’t a thing when I first started out but using our experience to support others was what we did. Knowing from first-hand experience what it’s like to feel you’re at the bottom of a deep, dark hole is humbling and powerful. It’s what positions me to offer hope.

There are people who will say “it’s alright for you, you’ve got a family and a job and your life is perfect”, and sharing something of where I’ve been with them creates a shift in their thinking by opening their eyes to the truth that recovery is possible.

Watching that reality form for people is what it’s all about for me. I’ve always said that if it only ever helps one other person, that’s enough for what I’ve been through to seem worthwhile.

There was one person I worked with over a period of three years who had been experiencing some specific mental health issues, and as we were sitting on his veranda chatting, he suddenly became very defensive and said “what would you know, you just work out of a text book.” I only share my story when it’s helpful to someone’s situation and he knew nothing of my back story to this point but as I revealed that I had some idea of what he was going through, his whole disposition changed.  Our bond strengthened and we were able to move forward from a fresh outlook and shared hope.  It means the world to me, to know that he went on to live a long life.

Being in a management role now, I often miss working face-to-face with people, but I’ve re-focused on supporting and building our staff to become the very best support they can be to others by encouraging them to be the person my Deputy Principal was for me.

I’m proud to have graduated with distinction in 2017 after putting my study goals on the back burner for so many years.  Completing a university degree was challenging while working and with four children at home but it was something I needed to do for me, so I viewed it as self-care to set aside study time each day instead of seeing it like a burden. The support of family and Flourish Australia, made it possible to balance my work and family commitments and achieve my dream.

My work can be full-on some days, but I carry what I’ve learned from my wonderful mentors here at Flourish Australia, into what I teach. We need to make it ok for people to talk about how they are doing and feel safe enough to seek support. Over the years, a lot of work has been done locally to educate the community about mental health and break down stigma but many locals are still unaware of what Flourish Australia ‘is’ or does.

When my life is chaotic these days, it’s in a good way, with the constant activity that comes with children, grandchildren and living out my passion at work. I have the best of both worlds, because it’s always ok with Flourish Australia if I need time with my family.  I still identify with my lived experience because it shaped my morals and values but it’s removed from the person I am now.  Even if I could, I wouldn’t go back and change a single thing.

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