It’s a grey and dreary day, when I meet Jane, but when she comes in to the room, she brightens up the afternoon in a pretty pink flowered dress. Her jewellery sparkles and her eyes are brightly made up. “I don’t want to look daggy when talking about success,” she says by way of introduction. Jane’s story is a fascinating one. There have been some dark periods and big challenges in her life, but when I meet her, I’m struck by a sense of positivity, confidence and insightfulness.
Jane is one of 11 kids, and made her way to Australia from England when she was five. She confesses that her childhood wasn’t easy. She was a precocious kid, starting school at three, but she was bullied and her mother wasn’t there to support her. Nevertheless, she graduated with a Bachelor of Nursing in 2000 and worked for just over eight years as an RN. Unfortunately, during her career as a nurse, she was bullied, assaulted, and ignored, eventually leading to a breakdown and numerous suicide attempts. In her darkest days, the police found her after not eating for two months and having ingested rat poison. She is both introspective and surprisingly humorous when she speaks of those difficult times, “I was either lousy at it, or it wasn’t meant to be”.
After being kicked out of her home of 14 years, she was referred to Catherine House. Jane spent about a year with Catherine House, first in the Emergency Program and, later, in other areas. She finds it hard to remember the period just after her breakdown; she couldn’t focus properly, found it difficult to read. During those first months at Catherine House, she continued to struggle, “It drove me nuts, waiting in the dark”. With the help of her case workers, Anna and Andrea, she moved into the Recovery Program. It’s there, Jane says, that she started to see a bit of sunshine again. “There was more independence and we had volunteers who came out to see us,” Jane tells me, “and eventually, I was able to get my own place”.
In Jane’s eyes, the real breakthrough of her recovery process came when a Housing SA worker found her home in a mess and gave her 2 months to redress the situation. She finally felt she had to fix things up. She became good friends with Laura, continued workshops and classes at Sagarmatha, and wanted to return to university. Jane applied for the Kim Adey Scholarship, a scholarship aimed at providing support to undertake post-graduate studies at the University of South Australia. She was successful in her application, and started her Masters of Teaching. Despite her initial success in her Masters, there were significant challenges. She was once again bullied and realised that perhaps teaching childcare wasn’t for her, “Sometimes you have to let it go”. Jane hasn’t let that encounter overcome her. At the beginning of 2016, with the support and advice of Catherine House staff, Jane enrolled in a seven-week sociology course with Uni SA College. At the end of the course, Jane was considered a ‘roaring success’, attaining a High Distinction and fairly glowing remarks from her lecturer. Jane really enjoys sociology and delving in to how we become who we are. “We are born with a certain set of templates, but it depends on how you’re brought up and how it makes you feel”, and Jane is a living embodiment of that statement.
She believes now that her breakdown was necessary; she recognises how some things are not meant to happen, recognises the value of her years and is proud of learning that she can make choices. “There are no limits,” she tells me. “I used to be scared of stuff but now, I think, who cares – you don’t have to hem yourself in, you can always try something and if you can’t do it, that’s okay, you’ve tried”. Jane presents me with two images, one of Charlie Brown failing to hit a baseball with the caption Never stop trying and a picture of Thumper the bunny saying “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothin’ at all”. These two pictures encapsulate Jane’s experience, both the bullying she dealt with and her decision to make the world a brighter place by continuing to show kindness to others. She’s not giving up, not now, not ever. Even after all her hardship, she insists that you should focus on the great, not on the dismal. Jane is a woman who appears comfortable in her own skin, projecting confidence and a happy visage, who leaves me with the sage advice that “You have to work with what you’ve got”.