How Susan conquered her fears for her first train trip to Cairns – with a little help from Feros
Susan Breitkreutz has recently achieved a major life goal – an accomplishment worth honouring as until recently the mental health challenges she faces meant that, at times, she wasn’t able to leave her own house let alone travel independently.
The Townsville resident knew she really wanted to visit her son in Cairns, however she could not imagine how she could navigate the journey, especially the train trip.
“For example, when I go shopping, I have a list and I can put all the things in my basket, but the big drama is getting through the checkout
“And again, once I’m on the train, that’s okay, but it’s getting on and off the train that are the drama bits.”
Last month, with encouragement and coaching from her team of support workers – funded by her NDIS plan, which was created with Feros Care – Susan was able to not only successfully manage the train trip, but also a holiday in Cairns with her son, Michael.
She enjoyed it so much, she’s now planning another holiday in March and a visit to the Undara Lava Tubes.
Family time and reasons to be proud
Susan says that without her support workers, “I couldn’t have done it – there’s just no way.
“Life was getting terrible and I would never have been able to even think I could travel on the train by myself.
“We practised the scenario of getting on the train for a few weeks and then got to the point where I could do it.
“A support worker took me to the train, Michael met me when I got to Cairns, and a support worker met me when I got back to Townsville.
“That’s one of my goals done and I wouldn’t have been able to do it on my own.”
Once she had embarked on the five-hour train trip, Susan says she was able to relax and enjoy the ride.
“I had my pillow so I could have a little snooze. And I found the food carriage so I could buy a cappuccino … and it was lovely. It was a beautiful trip up there.
“I went up on the Thursday and came back on the Monday and Michael took the Friday off work so we could be together.”
While in Cairns, Susan visited surrounding areas and went out for Devonshire tea.
“I love Cairns. It’s a beautiful area. There’s nine pools in the resort where Michael lives, so we got to go swimming and went to the markets.
“It was so special for me.”
Challenges and life changes
“My biggest challenge is my bipolar and I have to be very careful of anything that triggers that off,” Susan says.
She has a tendency towards experiencing mania, rather than depression, and has spent time in mental health clinics for six-week periods.
“If I go into a manic state, I run on about half an hour of sleep a day. It’s like a little mouse on a wheel and I can’t get off. The other thing is auditory and visual hallucinations which are a big concern – I don’t like that when it happens.
“Even when I’m in a well state, I still can see some things that aren’t actually there.
“I see cats and rabbits. A few years ago I would hear and see people talking in the room when they weren’t actually there.
“That’s a part of me and I just have to realise that I’m safe and they’re not actually there and I don’t panic about it.”
Susan also lives with anxiety, and says the support she receives from her care workers helps alleviate any symptoms and allows her to “get through my life in a nice settled way”.
Support and breaking down stigma
Susan says that receiving assistance with weekly tasks such as food shopping, appointments and housework has been vital to her ongoing recovery and the maintenance of healthy mental health.
On a regular week, support workers spend time with her each Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.
“They are three-hour shifts – it’s amazing how many things you need to do in a week.
“Wednesday is bingo day. It’s a very low-intensity bingo and they do it to raise money for Angel Paws which is an animal refuge. It’s a nice relaxing thing to do. You have a cup of coffee and you have your bingo.”
On Fridays, Susan attends aqua aerobics, and on other days she has a physio appointment, goes to the post office, the supermarket, out for a coffee or has a meeting with her support coordinator.
Recently, Susan has begun experiencing ‘shaking’ in her hands and she finds it difficult to write so support workers also help her write cards and letters.
“The shaking is very frustrating as you can imagine, and I will be referred to a neurologist as I’m not sure what is causing it.”
Susan says her support workers are “very helpful” and they don’t treat their clients like ‘patients’.
“They treat you like a person and they don’t ever embarrass you.
“You don’t feel inferior. You feel dignified and respected. That’s something my support workers are very conscious about.
“I really enjoy my shifts. It’s what gets me through the week. I’d be lost without them. Quite a few years back, just to walk out to the bins, made me frazzled. I haven’t had any admissions into hospital since I have had support workers.”
Susan says her workers are aware that certain loud noises can impact her wellbeing, and they will take her somewhere quieter if she wants.
“It’s so important to break down the stigma about mental health. I always mention to a new worker and let them know that they are seeing me at my best time ever but that I’m working really hard to be at that level and a lot of things could trigger me off.
“You could walk past people at the shops who are struggling and are keeping it to themselves and you wouldn’t know.”
Finally, Susan attributes her ability to enjoy life and look forward to the year ahead, to her domestic, short-haired cat, Jersey, who she cherishes her time at home with.
“He is seven and his birthday is on September 21. He’s always there for me.
“He’s been one of the best things for my mental health – asides from my support workers.”