Our biggest obstacle to mental health is something we can change together
This is the full-text of a speech I gave to a Workshop on Mental Health and Neurodiversity held by the Sydney Alliance. The Sydney Alliance has been on a remarkable journey, and is now committed to lead change on the public dimensions of mental health (for more on that journey see a speech I gave in December 2019).
When I started the Sydney Alliance I faced a conundrum. The reason why I was working so hard to set the Alliance up was too secret to share.
When I was 19 I had a psychosis. I was hospitalised and locked in a psychiatric ward for 2 months. As I recovered from that crisis I abandoned my plan of becoming a lawyer, and committed myself to a more meaningful life working for social change.
But I couldn’t imagine explaining THAT to anyone. I mean, too many people thought that the idea of the Sydney Alliance was crazy enough!
After a few trusted conversations I found a safer way to tell my story. I would explain that at age 19 I had a terrible health crisis, and that doctors told my parents that I might not recover. But having experienced the fragility of life, I wanted to make the most of what I had and that’s why I work for social change. It was still my story, just told in a way that I felt comfortable to express in public.
Slowly over many years and hundreds of conversations with Sydney Alliance leaders I found the words to talk more directly about my experience of bipolar disorder. It was a gift to finally share more of myself in public, but it would not have been the same if it had been rushed.
But my journey with the Alliance was uneven, as others have acknowledged. While I’ve experienced pain, more recently I’ve been grateful. I don’t know of any other person who’s been treated badly at work because of their mental health, then received a public apology. And I feel like the only person on earth who has then been asked by that workplace to help make amends.
A few years ago I had a beer with Sr Maribeth Larkin — a great friend of mine and the Sydney Alliance. As we reflected on my journey she leant over and said “you will teach us through this.”