Bobby is a 35-year-old proud Wiradjuri man living in Albury-Wodonga. Here he shares some of his experiences of distress, how he copes, and how he supports others.
For Bobby, good mental health is all about connection. He describes it as a tree with a giant root system that connects everything: his physical being, spirituality, sexuality, family, history, songlines. “When I’m not well, it’s when there’s links broken between those,” Bobby says.
Bobby experiences anxiety by overthinking and catastrophising. When Bobby is in a situation he feels he can’t control, or where he’s overthinking what people are thinking or saying about him, he might experience panic. This causes sweating, and a racing heart, and “in that moment, I’m terrified that I’m going to die,” Bobby says. “I'm terrified that I'm going to have a heart attack and everything's just going to end. I feel physically sick.”
When a Bobby is in a situation where he feels uncomfortable, it might set off a fight or flight response in his body. “My muscles are getting ready for this massive fight that my mind has convinced myself I'm ready to tackle and I know I'm not. It just leaves me exhausted.”
In moments like this, Bobby’s senses are so heightened that he needs to retreat to a quiet, dark space. “Spaces that I need to just focus on retraining, rethinking and getting myself out of this panic that I'm in where I think I'm dying… I've got to retreat and just try and get out of my head by getting into my head,” Bobby says. Using meditation and focusing on retraining his mind helps to clear the overthinking and catastrophising.
“Some of the things I do in tough times are not always the best things for my health or mental health,” Bobby admits. “But I think that some of the positive things I do is connect with country, nature. I love going to the river. I love taking my shoes off and grounding myself in the dirt. I think about my ancestors, about life before colonisation. I think about how healthy my mob were here, and I use that to strengthen my spirit. I love connecting with culture and nature. It grounds me.” This helps to repair the broken links that may have caused him to feel unwell.
Bobby also likes to remind himself of something he learned from Uncle Tommy Powell, who teaches Red Dust Healing, a cultural healing program for Indigenous men and their families. “After a few days of what I'd been telling him about my experiences, and how I was concerned how people would receive me coming out, or being a gay Aboriginal man, he looked at me and said, ‘What people say and think about you is none of your business.’” Bobby describes hearing that as an “Oprah light globe moment.” It was so powerful for him to realise that this source of major stress and anxiety for him was beyond his control, and he could let it go, and just be himself. “I'm me, and there's no one else like me,” Bobby says.
Bobby stays resilient by “learning from experiences and adding to my tool belt.” He stresses the importance of being able to name how we’re feeling and sharing that information, so that we can learn from our experiences, and move away from the shame and stigma of mental distress.
Bobby learns from his own experiences in order to provide support for other people in his life, too. “I know from experience when you're mentally distressed, your mind is so busy that all of these small issues turn into this massive problem that you don't have the time or energy to sort out or to resolve,” Bobby says.
He provides support for family or loved ones that are experiencing situations like this by breaking down what’s happening, helping out, and trying to help simplify the “massive problem that your mind has created and carry some of the weight that you bear.” Recently, he helped a family member this way by helping her book some appointments and manage the tasks on her plate, and encouraging her to set small goals for herself each day. “It doesn’t have to be saving the world or becoming a Kardashian,” Bobby told her, “but do some small things for yourself each day and you will feel better.”
Bobby believes that, “in order for you to get comfortable, you have to get a little but uncomfortable.” Sometimes, it can be easy to get stuck, because asking for help or acknowledging that you need help or are vulnerable can be hard, and uncomfortable. But acknowledging that is often the first step in the right direction.
Given that it can be uncomfortable to ask for support or help, Bobby stresses the importance of being open, accepting, and empathetic to the people coming to you. “I always enter the situation genuinely with kindness, a gentle approach. You're going to receive somebody's information, be grateful that they're telling you their personal business.”
If you need more information about supporting friends or loved ones, find out more here: acon.org.au/withyou
ACON provides confidential counselling to people in our communities seeking support in relation to their mental health and wellbeing. Contact ACON on (02) 9206 2000 or 1800 063 060 or visit the ACON Mental Health page.