This week I attended the Let’s Talk About it – Deaf People and Mental Health Conference. It was a conference that I had been involved in organising from the very start. With my my friend and fellow deaf professional from Deaf Victoria, Melissa Coe, I was involved in drafting the successful submission for funding. Over the next 9 months I was involved with four other deaf colleagues, professionals and people with a lived experience of mental health, to organise the conference. Finally the day of the conference dawned.
I have been involved heavily with the Deaf Community since I was 18 years old. In those years I have met so many wonderful people. I have met them socially and through my work as a deaf professional. As people arrived to register for the conference I greeted old friends with a hug. Some of the people attending were old romantic attachments, some were people I had played sport with, some were professional colleagues and some were people I has assisted in one way or another throughout my long career. And then there were the interpreters, the captioners who I know personally and have befriended through my work. And lets not forget the parents of deaf children who I have assisted over the years. As I scanned the room it struck me that a large part of my life was standing right before me.
I noticed my dear friend Deb who I have known since she was 17 years old. With her was Kate, a young deaf woman who I had first met when she was just a baby. I was working as a case manager at the time for what is now known as Deaf Children Australia. I was supporting her family including her sister who is also deaf. These two wonderful women were about to present at the conference. Together they were going to present on their personal experience of domestic violence and the issues of providing support to deaf victims of domestic violence. Life’s journey can be a painful one.
Deb is now in her forties. I first met her when she was 17. Fresh out of school she visited me at the Deaf Society for employment support. She was shy and withdrawn, her mother came with her and virtually answered all the questions. I actually managed to find her a job with the public service where she was to remain for over a decade.
Deb was a talented lifesaver when she was young. Her local club denied her a chance to get her bronze medal because she could not use a walky talky. I was part of campaign to protest for her. A group of us spent hours creating placards in support of her. We aimed to march at the life saver headquarters with our placards to protest her treatment. All our planning came to nothing because when we arrived the head quarters were closed. We left all the placards on the steps by the front door.
Years later I was to meet Deb again. This time I actually employed her. She was working as a base grade clerk. Like many deaf people with talent she had never been given an opportunity to progress. I encouraged her to take a years leave from her job and come and work for me as part admin and part youth group leader. My boss took some convincing to let me employ her. “What is it you see in her?” he asked me. I told him that I wasn’t sure, it was just a hunch. They do say to trust your instincts.
During her time working under me I became a sort of mentor for her. I introduced her to some basic case management. Gradually I built up a small case load for her. Fast forward another fifteen years and this young lady is no longer young. She is more academically qualified than me and looking to do her Phd.
But her journey there has not been plain sailing. In between she had married and separated. Her marriage had been an abusive one. Here Deb was about to tell her story of being a victim of domestic violence. She was partnering young Kate who had also been a victim of domestic violence. Deb was supporting and mentoring Kate.
As I said earlier in this piece, I was the case manager for Kate’s family many years ago when she was just a baby. They are a wonderfully supportive and committed family. All sign fluently and they are passionate in their support for each other. My wife had played netball with her and her sister. Her sister had stayed with us for a year when completing her VCE. Kate had actually stayed with us for a short time in a moment of crisis. She had also become pregnant when her sister was living with us.
Here they were together registering at a conference. Deb was mentoring Kate, just as I had once mentored her. They were presenting together about a very personal and traumatic experience. I just found it amazing that these two women, who I had known in South Australia and Victoria respectively, had some how found each other and were able to offer support to each other through what was a very dark and nasty time in their lives. I felt privileged that I had influenced the life of both these women in some way. Hopefully in a positive way.
At the conference Kate showed a video. It was of a poem that she had written. The poem told the harrowing story of her time experiencing domestic violence. I have posted the video here for all to see. It is a must watch.
On the last day of the conference the organising committee were presented to to the attendees. We were all greeted with a standing ovation of waving hands. As I looked out over the sea of waving applause there were tears in my eyes. Even though life has thrown up a challenge or two I was still standing. From romance, sport, profession, friendship and to family it all stood in that room before me. It was easily the most poignant and proudest moment of my life.
I’ve been lucky, thank you everyone!
I’ve been a puppet, a pauper, a pirate,
A poet, a pawn and a king
I’ve been up and down and over and out
And I know one thing
Each time I find myself flat on my face,
I just pick myself up and get back in the race
Frank Sinatra – That’s Life