Life is for Living 2005: 25 New Zealanders living with disability tell their stories
Craig - Varsity student, music lover, partner and dad
Craig Hayes is 34 and lives with his partner and their nine-month-old baby boy in Berhampore, Wellington. Craig is in his final year of a BA, studying mainly in the field of human rights. He is a full-time student at Victoria University and hasn't decided yet whether he'll go back next year for post-graduate study or go out and work before going back to do a Masters degree. Either way, he will be continuing his university education in the future.
My day-to-day life is fairly busy with university, being a dad and a partner. For fun I love to spend relaxing time with my partner and our baby. I personally love to relax by reading loads of books, listening to old reggae and punk music and watching far too many DVD films. I like to get out and wander about Wellington. Both my partner and I love the arts and cultural aspects it offers. I favour punk rock Ts, cheap trainers and scruffy jeans.
I'd like to think who I am is everything I've mentioned, and then comes my impairment. I've had a 20-year history of mental health issues that generally exhibit themselves in the form of constantly recurring issues of clinical depression and its accompanying mood disorders. I was also heavily reliant upon drugs and alcohol for a decade as a form of self-medication, although I have been clean now for almost five years. I was hospitalised five years ago and diagnosed as having post-traumatic stress disorder and a form of bi-polar disorder, although I have never suffered from any of the 'highs' associated with that condition.
I have a strange mix of family and friends. My partner's family, who we spend a lot of time with, are fantastic and so are our friends, but my own family is less so. I spend a lot of time with my aunt and her kids who have been amazingly supportive of me. I have no real contact with my direct family.
We live in a very small rented flat, on a busy road, in a really multicultural and hectic neighbourhood - we like it! I'm just beginning to make some tentative steps of getting involved with our community. I belong to some 'social justice' groups, but I'm a bit restricted by time with varsity and being a dad.
The noisy location of our flat contributes to me feeling unwell sometimes. It would be better for me personally to live in a quieter neighbourhood but as we are restricted financially we have to live where the cheap flats are. In the future I would like us to own a house which, with the help of my partner's family, we will try and do as soon as possible. I'd like to stay around the same neighbourhood, but just on a quieter street in a much bigger place.
I would need financial resources to support this as my finances are limited, and like many other mental health patients I know, I don't have anywhere near an acceptable financial history. I would also need the support of an external support person to achieve this because I find changes hard sometimes and I'd find it pretty stressful.
My financial situation is very poor, the same as anyone else on a benefit who cannot earn extra money, and that impacts upon our lifestyle. That said, we have very supportive family and friends who help us out when we get stuck.
My impairment makes me highly susceptible to stress and, as a third-year student, there is some of that. If unmanaged, my illness makes it incredibly difficult to even get on a bus let alone get to class. I suffer auditory and environmental distortions that make it difficult to concentrate and relate to other students and my lecturers. I also suffer serious physical pain from my assorted injuries accumulated over my years of abuse. I also have a mild learning disability in the form of dyslexia.
In order to eventually do my MA I would need the continued support of Disability Support Services at university, financial support in the form of scholarships and continued mental health support.
I was a successful chef for many years but eventually I was unable to maintain a consistent mood in order to remain employed. My employment will always be governed by my ability to manage my health in negotiation with employers.
I would love to be able to support my family better, but I don't want to pressure myself about it. I'm about to begin some voluntary work with Amnesty International. I have not worked in four years so it's a bit of trial and error. In the future I hope to work full-time with a non-government organisation, hopefully within the field of human rights or humanitarian projects. I'm unsure about what resources or support I would need to achieve this. I guess someone who could facilitate (advocate) between employers and myself would be best.
Managing my health can be really difficult so sometimes it's just too much hassle to do anything if I'm feeling unwell. I would like to access better health care to learn how to manage my health better and make the most of the time when I'm feeling good. I suffer poor physical health due to my impairment, high blood pressure, stomach complaints and general stress-related illnesses. They make my life quite difficult and limiting on many occasions. I would love to be physically well so I could just concentrate on dealing with my mental health issues. It would be great to have support in the form of some decent affordable health care and a doctor who could work with me in getting my health back.
"I hope that 10 years from now that disabled people are not being called 'disabled' and are seen, like anyone else, as people with a few issues, just like the rest."
I use Disability Support Services and counselling services at university and I simply could not have gone to university or have achieved such great results without their help. Disability Support Services have been a godsend to me, fantastic.
When I finish varsity I will be without any external forms of support and that worries me a great deal because I have come so far in five years I don't want to lose everything I have gained because I can't get the right support. Outside of varsity I have no idea where to go for help, I have obviously used the mental health system countless times in the past, but I wouldn't know how to approach them now as they have such huge waiting lists.
My self-esteem is reliant on my mood. I used to have horrendous problems with self-harming actions and really low self-esteem. I think my self-esteem is great when I'm happy and achieving but not so great when my mood changes.
I guess the cynic in me feels mental illness is a really misunderstood illness because I have suffered directly from prejudice over the years. I would have to say that attitudes are improving.