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Evan Bichara – Recovery Story


Prior to progressing towards recovery I may comment that back in my days there were no Clinics of Mental Health I might be giving my age away to it was around the 1970's when I was first diagnosed with the illness...nevertheless I might add I did struggle through many hurdles...trying to find consolation through my illness...doctors were also scarce....I only made reference to my family doctor, who knew very little about Mental was not a popular thing back then as it is now...he referred me to a hospital....a general hospital.. The emergency section which was known as the Casualty department back in those days…. they only had interns back then working....who also were deficient in knowledge in Mental Health (compared to the knowledge they currently know)...we certainly have advanced a lot since those days....I tried to make reference to text books to find a solution to the problem at hand....I was socially unstable...had  a lot of inappropriate giggling and other emotional expressions....which did not comply with the standard population’s reality.....after several visits to the hospital...I was admitted to the Psychiatric ward of the General Hospital….and remained their for 3 months (I know it seems rather a long duration but that was the average stay back then).....I stabilised after a while and got out into the work in many industries of our vast economy.  I was diagnosed with Schizophrenia...and have had this since....though my doctors do say I have a very mild case of it.....I am still taking medication for it….though the main treatment is with how people connect with each other in the wider community.....the more interaction with the community whether it be via groups, school or a vocation........this kind of therapy is seen as more important than the medication, though I do consider the two go hand in hand.


I am a Mental Health Consumer Advocate. These words are very important to me because this is something that I never thought to achieve. I have been in retail, sales administration work, worked in the fashion industry, the funeral industry, even done seven years of investigative and clerical work within the Australian Taxation Office and other government departments, worked with Real Estate as well as being a high profiled car salesman in Victoria. Also in the sporting arena became a soccer coach and later promoted to soccer referee for Soccer Australia. You name it, I did it. But always in the back of my mind I wanted to help people help themselves in an advocating role. I would ask myself how can I become this person with very little funds available for me to attend school.


You see folks I come from a country that highly encourages education as well as religion. My Egyptian Greek family – mum and dad with my two lovely sisters and their families have never departed from supporting me in times of difficulty with my struggles of a mental illness.


Getting other relevant support, a good doctor, an understanding working environment and engaging with the local community – has not being an easy process – but the outcome of it all has being well worth it. To say I made it, makes me feel especially able. When people thought I couldn’t or wouldn’t and at times I found myself saying those same words. But I am glad I didn’t listen to some people or to myself. I found that with much prayer and faith in God and myself, I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me.


But at the same token it was critical to listen to those that empowered me to achieve what I thought was unachievable. I won’t mention names, but those that were involved with this process know who they are. Thanks mum and dad for your words of wisdom - and for putting up with me in those difficult moments. Thanks to the many kind people – who now I can call friends. Thanks to God for entering my life the way you have. Thanks family.


So what I am really trying to tell you is that all things are possible if you believe constructively and become empowered, motivated and fulfilled with happiness.


I now realize that there are many opportunities for learning and growth. In this Mental Health Consumer Advocate role I have the ability to impact positively on my peers and the consumers and families that I encounter. At the end of each day I know that I have made a difference and that leaves me feeling great.


In making career choices, many individuals are influenced by observing the successes in other’s lives; satisfaction either through their actions or by convincing and coaxing words that direct them towards the best paths to take in life.


Even though I have traveled through a journey of many careers, there has never been one that has being fulfilling as the Mental Health Consumer Advocate. Through this role I have got to meet the finest people from the community. Those that are sensitive to mental health issues. Here I reside to not only include the consumers but the rest of our community members engaged in this work.


In my earlier times when I was diagnosed with my mental illness, it was the family and the wider community that served as a resource to getting quickly better. Even though I was hospitalized 4 times, had been given as many medications known under the sun and had suicidal thinking for a while. – I came through it all because: You may ask why? You may ask how I overcame those barriers I faced? How I was able to get into a positive way of living and thinking? Well let me tell you that the answer to all those questions resides totally in the uniqueness of my character – my persona – my social make up and my thorough willingness to wanting to get better. My drive and ambition in seeking ways to help as many people as I can, though, in doing this I must look after myself first. That was the key that opened the door to the positive psychology of life in general. One must look after number one first.


You see folks my parents did have high expectations of me in my education. They wanted me to be a doctor or lawyer – I did get high marks when I graduated the final year of high school – but chose to enter a Bachelor of Science (B Sc.) degree at Melbourne University. I enjoyed being in that course among some very fine talented students – though it was unfortunate that my illness had to develop which prevailed me from completing my B Sc. degree qualification. During my recovery years though I have done a number of courses – some completed some not so completed.


As a Mental Health Consumer Advocate for the Victorian Transcultural Psychiatry Unit, I was fortunate enough to be further encouraged to complete a Victorian Certificate IV in Disability Work. This in itself allowed me to do my role more professionally and with great ease working around other consumer workers and the remaining community engaged in this line of work.


I have long wanted to marry a Greek girl and when the time was right for me I found her within our Church parish. And may I say for those who have not met her – she is the most caring partner and wife, very understanding and also has a mental condition similar to mine. We share so much together – this commonality bonds us in a unique way – to be able to say we share a happy and enriched life together. Meeting “Tammy” has been my ultimate ambition in life. God has given me this relationship with Tammy as a safeguard and to further strengthen us to help those in need. We constantly attend most Church services, we participate in Church activities, and most recently have taken a leadership role in becoming a Church Committee Member- where I participate in the Church activities more closely.


Besides all mentioned, I have been a determined Community Educator and Trainer in breaking down the Stigma about Mental Health within our community. Hoping one day we eradicate this stigma still attached by some uninformed people. People generate problems when they show stigma and I say it is their problem and not mine if it is directed to me. I think people should think twice before they make any derogatory comments towards people with Mental Illness. It is now a known fact that most of these people (the mentally ill) are the most caring and loveable people of our community.


I am glad I have developed a Mental Illness in some way. It has allowed me to become a more compassionate person, understanding with empathy and can comment with great emotion on how this mental health system should look like.  This is a lot different from academics commenting on this topic. The persistence, drive, enthusiasm and commitment to this task has allowed me to excel in this current career of mine to the level of being very multi tasked and talented, a high performer and a quiet achiever. I hold a number of positions currently being on a number of boards. Working closely with consumers, carers, clinicians and academia throughout  Australia hoping one day we would reach a level of refined Mental Health System whereby consumers would be seen on an equal plainfield as  clinicians and policy makers to address innovative measures in refining this what people sometimes call a fragmented system.


I do happen to run a support / advocacy group called the Spectrum of Cultures Mental Health Consumer group –and through this group can still see how the system needs improvement in some quarters within the service providers .But we have come a long way since those earlier days where people would be just shut down and not given the opportunity to voice their concerns.


You see folks it is the service users who are best informed of the service and are driven by emotion to state ways of improving the services provided. This is quite universal in all services throughout the land.


Besides working my work as a Community Educator and Consumer Advocate, I am also engaged with a research project whereby recently being awarded a Fellowship Research Grant to evaluate the Strengths Model of Case Management run through St Vincent’s Hospital in Melbourne. This will entail setting up a Research Reference Group, a Working Analysis Group, and interviewing a number of consumers to get their feedback of this type of case management. So I am rather excited about this project mainly because I do have a talented supervisor to this task. And I do hope that the final finished product that comes out this research will assist those that follow in this line of field.


In concluding my story I wish to recommend people who engage work in this field; particularly consumers – to consider this vision or mission which has being rather empowering for me to continue this fine work I have been doing for the past 20 years or so. And that is to remember that the highest rewards for a person’s work is not what they get for it – but what they become because of it.


If you haven’t already done so, I am inviting you to submit your Consumer or Carer story on your personal experiences with: - Anxiety Disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder, Depression, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, PTSD, Bipolar, Schizophrenia, Anorexia, Post Natal Depression, Hearing Voices or any other MI I have overlooked.


The average length of stories are 6 to 15 pages. However I do have those that are 4 pages.


Minimum accepted is 4 pages, narrow margins, size 12 Arial font and single line spacing. Send them through to in a MS Word document as per the above settings.

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