Tristan shares his story for World Mental Health Day

10 October 2019, Brisbane – The theme for this year’s World Mental Health Day is ‘Do you see what I see?’, with the aim to:

  • Challenge negative perceptions of mental health.
  • Encourage people to shine a positive light on mental health.
  • Make a way for people to seek the support they need.

At batyr, we want to amplify the voices of young people in order to smash mental health stigma and increase help-seeking rates in Australia. It has been proven that sharing lived experience stories is the most effective way to change negative perceptions of mental health.

Tristan shares his mental health journey and talks about what World Mental Health Day means to him.

I grew up in a large family where rugby league and sport were quite prevalent in my household. Growing up with three older brothers and one younger sister saw me living in quite the masculine household where I felt the pressure to behave in such a way. However, my passion was in the arts, in particular, dance. I also discovered that I was gay early on in my life which put a lot of cracks in this façade of masculinity that I was trying to live.

I danced in secret in my younger years and was actually quite good at it. There came a time when my dream was realised – I was accepted into a dance scholarship program where I was prepared to leave my family and life behind and pursue my passion. However, life likes to throw spanners into the works when you really don’t want it to. After one of my greatest performances on stage, I collapsed. The hospital recognised a pre-existing health condition that put my dance dreams to rest, for good. I was crushed, devastated, beside myself. All this anguish and mental heartache that was spent pursuing my dreams, had all washed away in this one uncontrollable moment of ill health.

I started to ask questions about myself and who I am – started to repress my identity to the point where I would wear a mask to hide who I really am. I emulated my brothers and their masculine attitudes and literally fought with anyone who would question any different. However, these false identities and fake mannerisms led me to self-harm and make attempts at taking my own life.

A good friend talked to me about the concept of counselling, and told me all about it and talked me through the process of going to see one so that when I was ready, I knew how to take that first step.

Nowadays, I do live a much happier life. I live out of the family home and am loving my independence. Since leaving the family home, I have graduated university with two degrees, started and sold my own business, and am now living the good life in full-time work. Plus, I’m dancing again! Not professionally, like I used to, but I am committed to dancing for 30 minutes, three times a week. It is my passion and I know that I will be dancing long into the future.

But above all, I now live as my true self, my authentic self. I have no need for the false masks and false identities anymore. And I am happy and proud to say that I am here today as the me, the real me, and I have never been happier or more comfortable in doing so.

Did stigma prevent you from reaching out for support?

Yes it did. Growing up I had this impression that seeking help was weak, that going to psychologists or counsellors was for people who had major problems, and I had convinced myself that this turmoil was just a phase I was going through. Mental health issues were the big ones like depression, anxiety, eating disorders, things that I had heard so much about on social media that were always shrouded in this aura of negativity. So I chose to push all of that aside and decide that I didn’t have them, much to my detriment.

What do you wish someone knew about what you were going through?

I wish that someone knew that it wasn’t any easy street to get where I am now. I am not going to lie, reaching a positive sense of being takes a lot of work! Many people believe that you take medication, go see your counsellor and things just get better. However, for me and for many others, this is so far from the truth. What most people don’t hear about is the constant uphill battle, and pushback that come with the journey. Dealing with a significant mental illness requires a lot of resilience and a support network; you can’t and shouldn’t do it alone. Myself, there have been many times where I have seen psychologists and they just didn’t fit, so I went back to square one with finding one again. Finding the right psychologist can be quite the trying experience, and I knew this going in. 

Eventually, I sought a recommendation from a friend who I tried out. The friendly psychologist really came to my level and let me control how the sessions were run so I could be comfortable at all times. And that’s just it – every psychologist is different. So it is important to keep on pushing, keep on trying until you find the right one for you. Because it can make a world of difference in the end.

I have brought myself to a positive state of mind, thinking that I am “cured” enough to want to neglect the support and medication that I had been receiving, much to my detriment. It is a constant uphill battle and It isn’t something that necessarily needs to be cured. For many, like me, you come to a state of being where you learn how to best manage and assess your own mental health on a day-to-day basis.

For me, I like to stick to my routines and practice mindfulness. This has helped me really reflect on the day and help me recognise and manage negative thoughts and processes. Above all, the main things that help me through the days are my amazing friends and my deep love of dance. Dancing helps me release my emotions while my amazing friends help me overcome them. We all have something or someone that can make us feel great like nothing else can. The way I manage my mental health today is that I embrace those things in my life and keep on moving forward.

Tell us about a moment or conversation you had that ‘shone a light’ on the challenges you were facing and encouraged you to reach out. What was that moment like?

It took a dear friend of mine to make the life changing difference that I needed. She walked up to me, looked me dead in the eyes, and told me to cut it out, and asked what’s going on. I pretended like she had no idea. I brushed her off and told her to back off. But, she was a hard woman to deal with. She just stood there, arms crossed, and, after a long awkward silence, she comes out with, “It’s ok. I know. I have known for a while. You’re gay. But that’s ok.”

At this point I was hysterical. I was panicking. I was angry. I was crying. My mask had been stripped away. All that was left, was Anna standing there, smiling and reaching out for a hug. Someone had finally said the words I had wanted to hear for so long, but I was not actually prepared to hear them.

She was the life-changing person I needed at this time as she had the courage to approach me and help me to start dealing with my issues head on. She talked to me about the concept of counselling. Initially, I told myself counselling wasn’t for me, that it was for people who have real problems and this is just a phase I was going through. But she told me all about it and talked me through the process of going to see one so that, when I was ready, I knew how to take that first step.

How do you challenge misconceptions about mental health and encourage positive conversations? 

Nowadays, I am a lot more open about my mental health journey and the trials and tribulations I have faced. Through my work at batyr, I am able to speak directly to high school students who are going through their mental health journeys as we speak. For them, to see someone go through a journey and come out positive, gives them a sense of perspective on the idea that it does get better, but you have to work on it. It has taken me quite some time to get to this point. Breaking down built in long-standing misconceptions about what mental health is and the struggles that come along with it is hard, but we do have to try. Those built in stigmas and misconceptions could be the barriers that are preventing someone in need from reaching out for the support that they need.

What is your pledge for World Mental Health Day?

My pledge for World Mental Health Day is simple. I pledge to embrace my authentic self in all of its glory. I will embrace who I am wholeheartedly, flaws and all, and try my hardest to create environments and spaces where everyone can feel like they belong, and feel safe to be who they are. 

If this story has brought up strong feelings for you, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14, Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800 or the Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467.