Susanna Story

When I first heard about Peer Work from someone working in the field I thought wow! It immediately appealed to me as a career direction and now I’m able to apply my artistic passions purposefully through the work I do to support people who share those creative interests.

I enrolled in a Certificate IV in Mental Health after hearing someone who worked in the industry talking about Peer Work. It was a new concept to me, so I undertook some volunteer work to gain more insight and experience and once I met some people from Flourish Australia, it was the first place I applied for a position on their Peer Workforce.

Initially I worked in NDIS support and now work with the HASI program, supporting people to stay in housing and out of hospital as well as running various support groups that help people to integrate into their community.

What I enjoy most is building rapport with the people I support and seeing the difference it can make to their outlook. Just this week I began supporting someone who has artistic interests and my background is in art and graphic design.  One of their goals is to work toward a photographic exhibition and we had talked about a journal they wrote, so I suggested producing an artwork for each page in the journal as the basis for an exhibition.

About 15 years ago, I moved on from my career in graphic design to become a chef which proved to be a high pressure environment. My lived experience made the stresses that came with the hospitality industry quite distressing and my health and wellbeing suffered but I kept it up for ten years because it was my passion at the time.  Then a person who was doing Peer Work crossed my path and I realised as I listened to them that this was a turning point for me.

Since my 20’s, my mental health had been up and down and I took steps to seek help but didn’t know where to go with it.  I saw many counsellors but this didn’t really resolve my core issues and I was misdiagnosed on several occasions by some psychiatrists which only added to the confusion I felt.

I was eventually diagnosed and placed on medication which helped to stabilise things for me so I felt able to get on top of life. The experience taught me the importance of making informed choices, on my mental health journey and because I know that not everyone’s support coordinators will address their needs thoroughly, I will go above and beyond if necessary, to make sure that a person is aware of and able to access the resources they need within the community, to be able to achieve their goals.

It can take time to build relationships with the people we support.  They can see me as someone who has it all together, and therefore not someone they identify with, when they are struggling to envisage themselves working or achieving success. As we spend time together, sharing specific experiences from my own journey and talking about what has worked for me in my recovery, can establish trust and open their mind to possibility.

Listening to what they want for their lives and working with them to identify the best way forward is what I love. Someone may aspire to a particular job but lack the credentials, so together we might look at options for skills development or a work experience placement that will take them in the direction of that dream becoming a reality for them.

Honesty and integrity are everything to me and I try to be very open in the workplace to create an opening for those around me to be authentic about what’s going on for them, too. This week I’ll be in the Mardi Gras parade and I’m very happy to talk openly about LGBTI matters and my beliefs. 

Being a Peer Worker with Flourish Australia has given me a better quality of life. My life is in balance between work that I find rewarding and time to explore my artwork.  Within the next six months I hope to be able to devote one day each week to pursuing my interest in painting.

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