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Big goals and great support: Riley’s tips for navigating life through anxiety and depression

Riley Chapman was living more than two hours outside Mackay, in Moranbah, when he realised he was struggling with anxiety and depression – and not able to access supports that would allow him to live the life he wanted.

At the start of 2022, Riley moved to Mackay, applied for a job as a teacher’s aide, got the job, and this year was offered an annual contract.

When he’s ready, 22-year-old Riley now believes he’d like to be a teacher full-time – and he wants to inspire others to believe in themselves and chase their goals.

“I like seeing the kids’ faces every day and being able to say ‘hello’ to them is great. And then, when you work with them, you can really see the progress you’ve made.

“Even little things they do – including the things that make you laugh – are rewarding.”

Tackling stress and making life changes

Riley was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome when he was in Year 7 at school, and has lived with anxiety which was increasing over the past four years.

He previously worked for an airline; however, while he loved the job, there were aspects of his work that he found very stressful.

He began considering a life change, including switching vocations to a workplace that he could enjoy daily and not feel overwhelmed or debilitated by.

Riley says that while his anxiety was worsening initially, and the condition continued to progress, he was struggling; however, after embracing the assistance provided through support networks, talking about his mental health experiences, and identifying
and applying himself to work that he knows isn’t exacerbating his anxiety, his mental health is stable and he’s able to enjoy life.

“These days my job isn’t elevating my anxiety.”

For Riley, this means he is able to manage life’s daily tasks – like going to the supermarket or work with bigger issues like supporting a friend – without feeling like his own mental health will deteriorate significantly.

Strategies and positive self-talk

A “big, big, big” contributor to Riley’s mental wellness has been accessing NDIS funding so he can identify and use supports that allow him to focus on recovery and do the things that make him happy.

These supports have including attending regular sessions with a psychologist and a psychiatrist, combined with appropriate medication to help manage his anxiety and its impact on his life.

“I talk about my problems and I get techniques about anxiety. Sometimes, even if I just don’t know what to do about something, I can get advice.

“It varies – I might go every two weeks and sometimes once a month, or sometimes if I’m really quite anxious about a certain situation or problem I might go once a week.

“If didn’t go, I probably wouldn’t be very good. I would get quite anxious and might have depressive thoughts. For me, I would say being able to talk to a psychologist is lifesaving. They have taught me breathing techniques, positive
self-talk and things like that.”

Riley’s Local Area Coordinator with Feros Care, Romina Bettega, says Riley is “excelling”.

She gave Riley information about counselling that was available locally and says that with his professional support network, as well as the ongoing support from his parents, he is “doing amazingly”.

“His parents are super proud of him and they often check in with him.”

There are times, Riley says, where he’s felt certain strategies aren’t enough, and he’s made an appointment with his GP and psychiatrist to review his medication or explore or reinforce the importance of continuing to incorporate anxiety-reducing
methods in his daily life.

“It can help to stick to what I’m doing with strategies. You can’t just click your fingers and it’s gone. Some days you’re just going to have to deal with it.”

‘Lifesaving’ supports

When he’s feeling well and his coping strategies are effectively in place, Riley likes to spend time with his friends, go for walks on the beach, and visit scenic lookouts.

“And I like nature – just sitting there in the nature and the calm is good. You might have all these things on your mind but you can focus on the nature around you rather than all these things that are on your mind to give your mind a break.”

As he looks to the future and living with anxiety in a way that means he can also live the life he wants, Riley says he’ll continue to explore new strategies and new ways to cope as needed.

“Essentially, I think this helps when you can eventually get to a stage where you can still access the support but be more independent.

“Moving to Mackay was a big step in independence for me. It’s good to have my parents close to me so that’s a bonus, and if I need to go visit them I can.”

A society that continues to have important conversations

Riley says it’s crucial that as a society we continue to break down barriers around mental health conditions such as anxiety in an effort to better support people in their recovery journeys.

“I would recommend for anyone that doesn’t understand anxiety to learn about it and get more consideration. A lot of people judge but they don’t know what is going on for a person.”

For people battling anxiety and mental health issues including depression, Riley says it’s important to know that there’s always help available.

“You’re never really alone – even if you’ve got no family or friends there’s always professional help available.”

Riley says that often people might seem okay, but they’re struggling internally, and it can be helpful to ask the question, ‘Are you ok?’ or ‘How are you?’

“A lot of people these days – and it is probably one of my pet hates – they go ‘Good morning, how are you?’ And the person responds automatically with, ‘I’m good, how are you?’

“But they never reply with, ‘I’m not good’ or ‘I’m anxious’. I feel like sometimes we need to not say so automatically that we’re good.”

One way, he says, that we can help each other is to look for or recognise signs that someone might be feeling anxious.

“For me, when I get quite anxious, the signs would be that I would appear frozen in myself, my behaviours, or frozen in my brain. I can forget what I’m doing. For other people, they might be a bit shaky or a bit more sweaty than normal or
even just their facial expressions might be different.

“A person might look good but they’re not actually. If I’m feeling anxious, you’ll know because my face won’t be smiling.”

At Feros Care, we’re proud to help people with disability live healthy, fulfilled and connected lives. Click here to find out more about how we support people throughout our LAC office locations.

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