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Beneath the Surface Mental health is a Lifelong Journey

Posted 19 Aug 2019

My mental health journey started when I was a kid.

For the first nine years of my life I lived with my Mum and Dad in Melbourne, however it was mostly just my mother and me during that time, as my Dad worked long hours. By the age of nine, my dad had lost his job and we moved to Perth not long after. That was when my life changed. I had trouble adjusting to a different school setting, one that was very different and very rough. Home life had also become extremely unhappy however I had no idea why.

Home life became more chaotic when I reached high school as things turned violent and the psychological abuse started. My dad would threaten me on the drive to school away from earshot of my mother, and I would go to school terrified, angry and confused, so much so that I started unleashing that terror on my classmates.

That sort of environment tends to act as a self-fulfilling prophecy. I started acting out as I couldn’t understand what was happening at home, however my teachers and classmates had no idea what was going on. I started getting into a lot of trouble at school, and was labelled as a troubled child which triggered the rage inside to increase.

When I was at school in the 90’s, mental health wasn’t really talked about, and so I didn’t feel that I could reach out to any of my teachers and tell them what was going on. Things ended up culminating with me dropping out of school as I hated the environment.

It wasn’t until later in life that I realised my upbringing had helped to trigger anxiety from a young age.

The road to homelessness and back

One day, I confronted my Dad about what had been happening at home, which quickly led to me packing up my stuff and walking out. When I heard the door slam behind me, I felt like I couldn’t return, and from there on I started couch surfing. However, there are only so many places you can stay at the age of 16 without wearing out your welcome.

In the nineties, the system was very different. As I was under age, I couldn’t enrol in TAFE or register with Centrelink without parental or guardian consent. Therefore, I found myself stuck, sleeping rough, and without any money to get out of the situation I had found myself in.

young man sits on bed

One of the things I would do to sustain myself would be going to cafes, and when people left parts of their meal, I’d race in there to eat the leftovers as fast as I could. I’d also scrounge for food that had been thrown in the bin. Being 16 and going through puberty, I was constantly hungry. And this led to me fearing hunger – something which still affects me. The feeling of being hungry takes me back to that place as a teenager.

I ended up sleeping rough for about ten months and during that time, I experienced not only hunger, but violence and other things that destroyed my mental health, so much so that today I suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD due to what I experienced on the street.

My time on the streets ended because of a violent incident where I was attacked and left for dead.

I am thankful to an old family friend who also happened to be a nurse. I had dragged myself to her house, and she took me in, helping me to recover and start to get my life together. She helped me get into TAFE and get a house. I went from being homeless and a high school dropout to getting my Masters and going to University to do post-graduate study.

Mental health is a lifelong journey

Being able to identify that mental health is a journey is important, as is remembering that you’re not alone and that there’s a lot of people who feel the exact same way.

Last year things got quite bad for me. Even though I felt as if I was in a good place mentally, I had just been diagnosed with PTSD and really didn’t understand it. In addition to that, I was in a part time job and my anxiety levels were extremely high. Therefore, I found myself not being able to function and ended up taking some time off work. I’d been putting so much pressure on myself and hadn’t been looking after my mental health. This really help to put things into perspective in that I knew how to manage myself when I’m doing good, but I also needed to know how to manage myself when I’m really low. That’s such an important skill to develop if you are suffering from mental health issues.

How I Act-Belong-Commit to Keep Mentally Healthy

Exercise & Eating Right

Being from a background where I was over 200 kilos and suffering from PTSD, exercise and eating right is a huge thing for me. It really helps me to regulate my mental health. I am also sensitive to things that trigger my anxiety, so I try to stay away from caffeine, and try not to have too much sugar, as it tends to amplify my mood.

I used to have nightmares that would ruin my day. These days, I have found a positive way to deal with it. If I have a nightmare, I get up – even if it’s at 3:00am – and I go to the gym. Finding motivation at that time in the morning is hard but I am always thankful, as when I get home, I’m able to go back to sleep.

man lifts weights in gym

A Trusted Network

Other than that, I have an amazing partner and a good circle of close mates who I can talk to about anything. Having someone to open up to can really help to give you a different perspective, even if it’s a psychologist or an anonymous person on a helpline. I still have my psychologist, who I can reach out to if things get bad.

Beneath the Surface

My business is called Beneath the Surface. I provide talks and workshops to organisations and community groups about topics based around my lived experience, such as the lasting effects of homelessness, the impact of domestic abuse have on people, and living with a mental illness.

man gives presentation to a group of people in gym

Being able to educate people about homelessness or domestic abuse or the need education gives me real purpose in life, helps me to feel good about myself, and to a certain extent normalises my experience, as I am able to talk to people about what I have experienced. It has also solved my employment problem, since I work for myself now! That has been a huge key to my mental health success because waking up each day feeling positive about what I’m doing in the world and knowing that I am helping myself and others people at the same time.

About Matt Vapor

Matt Vapor founded Beneath the Surface Motivation and Coaching (BTSMC) in 2018. Matt overcame many challenges in his life and wanted to use them to help people to change their lives. He has overcome domestic abuse, dropping out of high school, homelessness, violence, addiction, super obesity and mental health issues, and has gone from being homeless with limited education to earning his Masters and became a university lecturer.