This is the 40th episode of Get Real: talking mental health and disability. It’s a special milestone for the podcast, and for ermha365 because it’s coming up to forty years since we were established by a group of passionate carers living in Melbourne, Australia who were concerned about the lack of support services for their loved ones who were experiencing a mental illness.
A content note for listeners: There is some discussion about suicidal ideation in this episode. Call Lifeline on 13 11 14 if you’re affected by anything you hear in this episode.
For this episode of GET REAL we meet John S. Payne a veteran who served the Victorian community within Corrections, Government Investigations, and as a Volunteer Firefighter. During a career spanning nearly three decades, he worked on many incidents, including the state’s worst ever fires since colonisation, known as Black Saturday, which started on February 7 2009. 173 people died in these devastating fires, more than 400 were injured and 450,000 hectares of land was burned.
John detailed his experiences in a memoir 'What My Eyes Have Seen', to share his lived experiences with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, a condition that he was diagnosed with a few years after Black Saturday.
Talking about the beginnings of what he now knows was PTSD and his body’s signs (including several migraines within one week whereas he’d only experienced these a handful of times) John said: “In those early stages I was more concerned…with the welfare of everybody else and I wasn’t listening to myself, to my own body’s reactions…”.
John explains his PTSD developed over several years and caused panic attacks, impacts on his short term memory, his moods, ability to make decisions and he lost interest in things he used to enjoy.
“I’d gone from being the life of the party to the person who sits in the corner, if you can get me to go. My wife would ask me what I wanted for tea and it was too hard a question to answer…everything just eventually became too difficult.”
It was a conversation with his daughter, who said, “Dad, there’s something wrong” that propelled John to reach out for help. John says she was the first person who had what he now calls a “courageous conversation” with him about the changes in his personality.
John’s journey with PTSD has seen him become a passionate advocate for mental health and suicide awareness to encourage people to get help and know the warning signs of this condition earlier.
CONTENT NOTE: if you have been affected by anything discussed in this episode, you can call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or go to lifeline.org.au
You can find out more about John and his book What My Eyes Have Seen at his website whatmyeyeshaveseen.com.au
Phoenix Australia is the National Centre of Excellence in Posttraumatic Mental Health.