So this is my first post and probably my most important. Some of my closest friends and colleagues are probably wondering what I’ve been doing in the last month? To understand how I’ve come to be doing what I am today, it’s best to begin this story in November last year. Unexpectedly, I had a positive thyroid antibodies blood test returned from my doctor. The comment “Positive for auto-immune disease” struck me at my core. Hashimoto’s disease as it is affectionately known was causing my immune system to attack my thyroid and affect my metabolism. That would explain why I was struggling to get through a week without feeling drained. Travelling every week to remote communities was tiring enough without having this disease to fight against, so I told my boss I couldn’t keep doing my job as a Children’s Counsellor and Community Worker in the Tiwi Islands in 2014. This was the most difficult decision I have had to make professionally but I had to deal with my health. Thankfully it seemed I had caught it early and there was hope of treating it naturally before having to resort to taking synthetic hormones.
I desperately didn’t want to leave Relationships Australia NT as I loved community work and I had established a great team of Aboriginal colleagues. So I put a proposal to them. Keep me employed for a three month term to find the funding to establish a new program we had been developing called ‘Healing Our Children’. This would allow me to keep working with the Tiwi communities but without the heavy demanding schedule of travelling every week. It would also allow me to move into an area of work I’ve become very passionate about – PREVENTION OF TRAUMA.
Now I want to take you back four and a half years. Since 2009, I’ve been providing counselling and follow up support for many Indigenous women and children who’ve been affected by family and domestic violence. Indeed, some of the children we were counselling were going straight back home to an unsafe environment! I picked up strong messages from Elders and women on the Tiwi Islands and in NE Arnhemland that they were worried about their grandchildren. Much of their concerns related to children’s responses to witnessing domestic and family violence, alcohol and substance misuse in their families, intergenerational and personal grief and loss issues, child abuse or neglect and other traumatic events. I started talking with a couple of Elders about how we could have conversations with women we knew were living with violence, but would feel shamed and blamed if we talked directly with them about their experience.
Around this time a number of other things were happening. We were co-ordinating family healing bush camps, taking our clients out bush and co-facilitating narrative group activities such as the Tree of Life. It was very obvious to me that being on their country improves the holistic health of the whole family – physically, mentally, socially, spiritually. Their relationship with the land provided entry points to engage in difficult conversations! There was also a growing interest towards neurobiological perspectives of trauma which we brought to our counselling work, and I began to teach our Aboriginal support workers some of these stories about what happens to the brain when young children are exposed to violence. Out of this, grew a desire to collaborate and produce a resource, which would invite women into safe conversations to explore the effects of trauma on children’s development at four stages of the life cycle. Elders felt that women must hear the ‘brain story’ to give them a proper explanation of why their primary school aged child might be “going off the rails” or their teenager harming themselves! This was an opportunity for understanding, integration and healing. The conversations would also provide food for thought about what women might do differently if they were pregnant or had a young baby. An opportunity for prevention! And so after an extensive period of consultation, trialling and development with communities in Tiwi and NE Arnhemland, the “It Takes A Forest to Raise a Tree” talking tool was finally launched in August 2013.
Relationships Australia did keep me around until April 2014 to try to find funding to launch ‘Healing Our Children’, but despite my best efforts, funding for this new program was not found. This program would employ, train and empower local people to run educational support groups using the resources we’d developed. However, without the funds to keep me any longer, my employment ended. So here I am, on the road to recovery from my own health challenges and chasing the dream. I decided to set up …Metaphorically Speaking as a launching pad to make ‘Healing Our Children’ a reality. I’m just not willing to give up just yet.
It’s time we started looking at preventing the long-term impact that exposure to violence has on the generation being born right now. I know that I can’t stop the cycle of violence. But I do believe I can make a great difference in stopping the cycle of trauma, through culturally sensitive education and support of Aboriginal women with children (especially unborn babies and toddlers) who are at risk of exposure to violence. By stopping the trauma in the first three years of life, I believe we will start to see a decline in behavioural issues in older children, mental health issues including suicide in our youth, aggression and rage, and even criminal behaviour and incarceration, as these children instead grow up to be strong, healthy, functioning and proud Aboriginal men and women.
Relationships Australia NT has demonstrated their ongoing commitment to ‘Healing Our Children’. I also have the written support of a number of child and family services on the Tiwi Islands, ready to host this program. All we need is a funding partner who wants to make a real difference in the lives of children in remote Aboriginal communities. A small commitment for a pilot project would allow us in partnership to implement a 12 month trial and evaluation. I am really excited about the potential of this work in other communities across the NT. If you know someone who shares our passion to stop the trauma, just send them this five minute video clip. Click here for further information about ‘Healing Our Children’.
And for those who are wondering, I’ll be sharing more about my own journey of healing from subclinical autoimmune thyroid disease in further posts. I’ve made some amazing discoveries that may be of benefit to others questioning if there are alternatives to taking synthetic thyroid hormones for the rest of your life.