Having worked in mental health for nearly a decade, Ai has become highly adept in supporting others through their struggles. Compassion and empathy come naturally to her, yet being kind to herself has proved more of a challenge.
“For a long time, I was ashamed of my own lived experience and kept it to myself. It happened when I was much younger, and it was the darkest period of my life. I think the stigma that exists in Japanese culture has contributed to my feelings of internalised shame. Even among friends, people just didn’t talk about mental health.”
Looking to make sense of her experience, Ai went on to study psychology and social work at university. After graduating, she managed a team of lived experience workers on the Gold Coast before joining RFQ four years ago. The process of getting comfortable sharing her story has been an ongoing journey for Ai.
“Being open about my experience is something I continue to struggle with to this day – it doesn’t come as easily to me as it may to other lived experience workers. But if I’m asking my clients to be vulnerable with me, I need to be vulnerable with them too. Sharing helps us create strong connections and builds rapport very quickly.”
“It never occurred to me that one day I would use my own experience to instil hope and empower others. I didn’t think anything positive would come from it. But without my lived experience, I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing. It guided me to where I am now and made me the person I am today.”
Now a Senior Recover Mentor, Ai says working in an environment fuelled by honesty and authenticity has enriched her life in ways she never thought possible.
“Clients are very perceptive. There’s no hiding – I bring my true self to work every day. For someone who finds it hard to share, it’s pretty much facing my fears every day! But the result has been a lot of growth, both personally and professionally, and I can’t ask for more than that.”
“I learn from my clients every day. I consider it a huge privilege when they allow me to be part of their life and recovery journey. Often it can be hard for them to put trust in another person as they’ve been judged, misunderstood and mistreated in the past because of their experience. I consider this work an honour; I feel truly blessed.”
Ai’s experience proves that a rich, fulfilling life can be sewn from even the most deeply rooted seeds of despair. She is testament to the fact that while we can’t always control what happens to us, we can choose to move forwards with courage, clarity and conviction.
“I now feel gratitude towards the experience that I’ve had. It’s made me a more compassionate person and given me greater depth and understanding of the way life is. Life is not perfect; it cannot consist of only happy moments. Experiencing a full spectrum of emotions and events, both positive and negative, is all part of living a full, rich and meaningful life.”