Pride Month 2019: Steph’s Story

During Pride Month 2019, batyr recognises the unique experiences of LGBTQIA+ people in Australia.

Being Herd coordinator (VIC) Steph Darling shares her story:

I think pride means something different for everyone. For me, my queerness is something that took a long time for me to find ‘pride’ in.

I remember from about 11, when I started to become aware of sexuality that the narrative of boy meets girl didn’t quite sit right with me. But I didn’t really know why.

Growing up, I had a tough relationship with my dad, and although I struggle to say it out loud sometimes, the absence of the relationship I had with him and my deep need to feel love and approval from him actually unconsciously pushed any queerness down and meant I sought that love and approval from the boys and men around me.

Somewhere in the midst of my anxiety and depression growing up, I failed to realise that by not accepting a large part of who I am, I was hurting myself. My internalised homophobia was part of why I felt such existential despair throughout some of my turbulent teenage years, although at the time, I didn’t realise this. It was as though I was hiding a secret from everyone, including myself.

Locking myself into a 5 -year hetero relationship from ages 14-19 kept me safe from the discrimination I saw others experience, and meant I didn’t have to fear being part of the hate crimes I heard about. Don’t get me wrong, I did love him, but once the romantic relationship was passed it’s used by date, I stayed in it because I was scared of having to explore what my sexuality meant to me.

Once I was out of school, I was exposed to more people like me but who were ‘out and proud’ and I always admired their bravery.

The first person who I ever felt totally validated by was my friend Lan. I have always appreciated her unapologetic nature in just being who she is. I met her through work and I still recall a day where I said something to her like ‘I mean, I don’t like girls’ and she actually laughed at me. In the most loving, unassuming and supportive way – as if to say ‘I know you do mate but you keep doing you till you’re ready’. This was the first time I had felt that the possibility of being queer was actually not a big deal, and after this I somewhat unconsciously but then very deliberately set out to find acceptance in this part of me. This involved starting to talk to the people in my life about it, talking to my psych about it and reading books like Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly.

Fast forward like 5 years from that moment with Lan and I feel so loved by and invested in the queer community. I don’t really like to label my sexuality, despite the fact that people seem to love to ask seemingly innocent yet highly insensitive questions like ‘so, wait are you gay?’ or ‘so, you’re bi then?’.

Personally, I find labelling something stops it from being fluid and ever-changing. Although, the word queer, I find quite liberating and I feel proud to identify with it. It’s the only word which, for me, describes how multifaceted sexuality, gender and attraction is.

So, I guess pride to me, is acknowledging that it shouldn’t have to be an admired act of bravery to be ‘out and proud’. But that it is! And that not all of us can, or want to be out. It’s okay to be discrete and you don’t have to be out to be proud.

LGBTIQA+ young people are faced with prejudice towards themselves and/or their community far too often and this harassment and abuse is a contributor to poorer mental health and reported higher levels of psychological distress.

We are twice as likely to be diagnosed with a mental health condition, six times more likely to have suicidal thoughts and five times more likely to make an attempt on our life than our heterosexual peers.

The daily exposure to campaigning and negative campaign messages on the rights for same-sex couples is linked to negative consequences for our wellbeing.

With Pride Month coming to a close, please don’t stop being brave, showing up or being you. But also, it can be tiring to be brave and show up every day in the face of challenge.

So, we need to reach out to the people around us, our community and our loved ones. And if you’re not queer, and you’re not sure how to be a good ally, here is one simple tip; say something when you hear phobic slurs, ignorant questions and comments or misgendering (even when it’s unintended). It’s more fun to show up and be proud when others are there with us.

Pride month can be so empowering for some, but can be really tough for others, especially with all the media and social media pride content circling (both good and bad!), so if you or someone you know is struggling and would like some queer safe and friendly services to reach out to, check out these ones below.

  • QLife – Call 1800 184 527 or use webchat 3pm-midnight everyday.
  • Reach Out – Find a LGBTQIA+ services in your state/territory.

If you’re looking for a more specific service, get in touch with batyr and we can let you know about some of the services that exist in your region.

If you would like to learn how to share your story, register your interest to attend a ‘Being Herd’ workshop.

Refugee Week 2019: Simon finds strength living with PTSD by sharing his story

During Refugee Week, batyr recognises the impact that the refugee experience can have on mental health.

This is Simon Shahin’s story, a Syrian refugee  and part of the batyr ‘herd’.

I’m a former refugee from Syria; I fled from the tormenting war in Syria in 2015 and was very fortunate to resettle in Australia with my family for the last four years.

Currently, I’m studying Renewable Energies Engineering at UTS and have been working with several organisations in the sector of refugee resettlement; I also seek to share my experience from the refuge-seeking journey to educate the public and increase the awareness about the crisis facing the numerous refugees worldwide (25+ million).

In Syria, I was studying Environmental Science at Damascus University but, during the war, my education was disrupted, and I was forced to abandon it towards the second/third year of the degree.

Further, me and my family underwent endless moments of fear, anxiety, worry, stress, tension, etc, from the near-misses of the constant mortar shelling, car exploding, bombing, air-raiding, stray bullets firing, etc—to make things worse, we used to experience prolonged blackouts of electricity, water supply shortage, food scarcity and even poisoning, etc, and so, our lives were very much like a living hades!

But, at last, we managed to flee to Lebanon with my family and apply for refugee status under the UNHCR mandate (and it was a very hard journey); we then had to wait for about two to three years and were finally granted the humanitarian visas to resettle in Australia (truly, a dream coming true—the chances of being granted these visas are close to those of winning the lottery).

When I arrived in Australia in 2015, I didn’t know much about the country and was amazed by several things and matters, including Vegemite, Christmas on the beach, kangaroos, etc, but mostly, I was overwhelmed by its incredible diversity (it’s an astounding strength).

Then, I started to work in the refugee resettlement sector and study and improve my English proficiency, but I was also battling with intense PTSD that was caused by the horrors and dreadfulness of the war (e.g. every time a balloon pops or a window shuts, it would trigger the tragic memories of explosions and bombings and would even force me to duck down to the ground—that’s how vivid and powerful it was, and this is common amongst most of the war refugees).

To overcome these reactions, I started running and playing piano—two activities that helped me be more confident about myself.

But, truly, it was only when I heard about batyr and attended one of their ‘Being Herd’ workshops that I first spoke about these feelings and their burdening dark past; in fact, I didn’t acknowledge that I had the issue until I’d actually talked about it, mainly because of societal stigmas surrounding this topic.

To reflect back, I can’t thank batyr enough for offering unique and genuine help; their heart-warming welcoming and attentive ear was second to none.

I now cherish having gained a second family which truly cares about my wellbeing as if I’m its child.

By sharing his story with the support of batyr, Simon was able to better manage his mental health.

If you’re interested in learning how to share your story, register your interest to attend a ‘Being Herd’ workshop.

Refugee Week 2019: Tamana’s Story

During Refugee Week, batyr recognises the impact that the refugee experience can have on mental health.

Tamana went through our Being Herd workshop in early 2018 and is a first generation Australian whose parents migrated from Kabul in Afghanistan. This is her story:

“There are lot of ways I could describe to you who I am. I could give you a brief summary of what I have done and where I have been. But I do not let my experiences define me rather they have shaped the way I perceive the world today. As a third culture kid, I often wonder to myself how does it feel like to be in a place you can call home and explore a sense of belonging. For me I have always valued the idea of connecting to places hence I do love traveling. But let me tell you to know a bit about myself. I was born in Kabul, Afghanistan in the early 90s and wanting a better life my parents wanted to migrate to Germany. However, before we could reach our destination we had spent 4 years in Moscow, Russia as our temporary settlement location. Once we made it to Germany life started to become harder and every day I could see my parents struggle. It was the uncertainty that has challenged them the most. What would happen next? My Parents struggle shifted on me and I slowly started to feel anxious. So this is where it began.

In 2007, I moved to Sydney with my family and now again I had to learn a new language, familiarise myself with the way of life in Australia and of course, make new friends. I hated it. I just wanted to be a place I could call home and for me, Germany was slowly starting to become my home. The moving of countries multiple times going through different resettlement stages had really affected my mental wellbeing. But I did not realize this till years later. I remember in year 9 I was so depressed and felt so anxious all the time I decided to seek support. On my first encounter with a therapist I actually felt so anxious I did not want to be there hence I had left abruptly. I did not feel understood. I did not feel heard. Most of all I did not feel in control.

For years I spent reflecting on why I had felt this way and how could I become better. But then one day I realized I have been feeling so anxious all my life because there are a lot of events that occurred that was beyond my control. Anxiety makes you think of countless scenarios ultimately preparing you for the worst. I thought maybe I wanted to be mentally prepared for the worst hence I had these thoughts constantly in my head. Later on, in my life, I decided to seek support again and this time I found it quite helpful as I felt connected to my therapist. I felt understood. I am actually glad I tried again as it provided me with more tools to reflect.

Today I am grateful for having a great sense of self-awareness and being able to reflect on my journey. My feelings. My mental health. In 2018, I participated with batyr’s Being Herd workshop and it was so happy to give a platform to frame my story in a way that I was more confident in sharing it with others today. batyr provided me with a safe space in which I had the opportunity to learn from others, connect and participate in a mentally friendly way. There are so many stories out there that need to heard. I will finish mine for today.” – Tamana

We’re so proud of the inspiring young people like Tamana we have sharing their stories as part of our herd.

If you’re interested in learning how to share your story, register your interest to attend a ‘Being Herd’ workshop.

Refugee Week 2019: “My parents didn’t understand what mental health was” – May Lyn

During Refugee Week, batyr recognises the impact that the refugee experience can have on mental health.

May Lyn is a batyr speaker and a first generation Australian whose parents migrated from Cambodia in the 1980s, having been living in refugee camps following the fall of the Khmer Rouge regime.

In her culture, there isn’t a word for depression, which made it really difficult for her to speak with her parents about her mental ill-health. This is May Lyn’s story:

Growing up in a Cambodian family in Cabramatta, I learned pretty early on that my Mum and Dad didn’t really understand what mental health was, particularly after their experience with the turmoil back home. The closest word for depression in Cambodian essentially translates to being really sad, which doesn’t really encompass the entire meaning.

Luckily, during this time, a lot of my friends were also first generation Australians and came from cultural backgrounds where mental health is just something you don’t talk about.

Social-mobility is really important in my culture: getting into selective schools, getting good marks, getting the right job to get the high income.

It wasn’t until my first year at uni, studying a double degree in Arts and Primary Education, that I decided to reach out to a counsellor in order to better manage the severe anxiety I was feeling.

I was diagnosed with generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), with the latter a result of an abusive relationship I was in at the time. There were also signs of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) but I was not formally diagnosed.

However, even after diagnosis, I didn’t feel like I could open up to my parents right away, especially my Dad, whose English isn’t as good as my Mum’s.

I didn’t want to explain that I wasn’t in a good head space and that I probably wouldn’t be graduating on time.

A lot of this had to with my own guilt. I felt like I didn’t have a right or didn’t deserve to reach out because of my parents’ own experience migrating from Cambodia to Australia, a country of opportunity and a place where they could raise my brother and I in safety.

The thought of being diagnosed with a mental health issue could not happen: I didn’t want to disappoint them.

It’s clear now that this was also affecting my focus on following through with my mental health care plan: I was flitting between counsellors and I wasn’t engaging the services available. Instead of using coping strategies, I would, for example, lock myself in the bathroom when I had an anxiety attack. Out of sight, out of mind.

It wasn’t until a year later that I spoke with my Mum, but, even then, I wasn’t being fully open, essentially telling her that I was having “a bit of a hard time” but that it was due to the 2-hour travel time to uni.

So instead of being open with her, I transferred to a closer uni and a different course.

I was essentially masking what I really wanted to tell my parents with academic stress. Of course, this wasn’t the full picture of what I was going through.

Eventually, I decided that I needed to be actively working on my mental health and I re-engaged with counselling at my local headspace centre in Liverpool.

I later became more involved with mental health and became a member of the headspace Youth National Reference Group (hy NRG), which eventually saw me go through a ‘Being Herd’ workshop.

I felt more comfortable in sharing my story and that was a really strong starting point for me to open up to my parents a bit more, especially my Dad.

There is still sometimes a bit of tension with Mum and Dad when it comes to how my mental health affects my study, and it does sometimes manifest into anger and arguments, but I’m glad I made the decision to speak up and reach out for support.

May Lyn has since graduated with a distinction in arts and a double major in Japanese and Primary Education, and also has a Graduate Certificate in Applied Linguistics and TESOL.

She is currently studying a Masters of Secondary Teaching and has progressed to become a Youth Advisor for hY NRG 19/20.

If you’re interested in learning how to share your story, register your interest to attend a ‘Being Herd’ workshop.

Prime Minister attends first batyr program, reiterates $2.8m funding promise

Prime Minister Scott Morrison made a surprise appearance at a [email protected] program in Burwood in Sydney’s Inner West today.

This is the second program batyr has run at Burwood Girls High School and the first program the PM has attended since committing $2.8 million over three years to fund our digital storytelling platform.

The digital platform will enable batyr to amplify young voices and take education, lived experience stories and support to young people anywhere, anytime.

The sharing of lived experience is at the core of batyr’s programs and batyr acknowledge the value young people with lived experience can contribute to smashing stigma.

“[Batyr] is an amazing organisation and the funding will enable them to continue what they’re doing here today and reach out to young people all across the country,” Morrison said.

The program today saw ‘Being Herd’ lived experience speakers Livvi and Malaika share their incredible stories of hope and resilience.

In between, the Prime Minister got amongst the action with a game of Scissors, Paper, Rock with the Year 11 students, one of our favourite ice-breakers.

ScoMo gets some selfies

Prime Minister Morrison was joined by Minister for Health Greg Hunt and Liberal candidate for Reid Fiona Martin.

“Today we are saying to each of these magnificent young people that your lives matter, that you can seek help [and] that what you’re going through is normal,” Minister Hunt said.

The funding commitment by the Morrison Government forms part of a larger national mental health and suicide prevention plan, with $5.3 billion expected to be spent next financial year alone.

batyr’s digital platform aims to ensure that young people are educated on how to access the support they need.

The Prime Minister with Year 11 student leaders, batyr founder Sebastian Robertson (far left) and batyr general manager Nic Brown (far right)

batyr general manager Nic Brown said that storytelling is at the heart of everything batyr does.

However, with only 23% of Australians accessing support for mental health issues, the digital platform will allow us to build on the peer-to-peer model, which is still the most effective way to smash the stigma around mental health.

Brown added that young people need to be at the heart of policy addressing suicidality and mental ill-health in Australia.

“We support the Government’s ambition of ‘zero suicides’ and acknowledge the need for young people and their lived experience with mental ill-health to be involved in these conversations,” he said.

“batyr can help facilitate making that happen.”