Story by Ben Gruter, AQA Peer Mentor
Although it was ten years ago, I still remember the first time I met with one of the AQA Peer Support Mentors. What struck me was nothing he said or did, but the fact that he was wearing street clothes. In the four months since I was admitted to the Austin, and then to the Talbot, all the people I saw in wheelchairs were wearing the rehabilitation uniform – tracky-daks and a T-shirt. Seeing a wheelchair user dressed in the way I had previously dressed pulled me up short and made me focus on life after rehab and on the many ways, both big and small, I was going to have to get used to living that life.
I had four fantastic mentors during the sixteen months I was in hospital and rehab. We talked about all sorts of things from vehicle conversions to bowel care, from dealing with funding bodies to negotiating with employers. Even when we were just chatting, I found our conversations uplifting and helpful. They were easy conversations because I didn’t have to explain how things were with me. My mentors, having had similar experiences, knew, and could tell me what worked for them and where to get help and assistance.
Apart from the street clothes, what also struck me was that every one of my mentors had recovered from their spinal cord injury (some much more debilitating than my T5 injury) to live fulfilling and useful lives. Not only that, some were very high achievers in their fields. Over time I was to meet doctors, engineers, business people, journalists, farmers and tradies who you would think could no longer practice their occupation, all continuing to succeed in their personal, professional and work lives. Even now, after all this time, I am in awe of what some of my spinal cord injured friends have achieved.
Four or five years ago at the urging of my wife, who thought I was getting too slack, I became a peer support mentor. After initial training at AQA I embarked on my first visit to the Talbot. It was my first time back in five or six years. Going back that first time was not easy and I was very nervous about approaching people. All that passed when I was having those easy conversations that only people who have shared a life changing experience can enjoy. I have heard a lot of familiar stories, but everyone is an individual and everyone approaches recovery in their own way. I am glad to help where I can. Not that I am a do-gooder. I get as much out of being a mentor as hopefully those who I mentor get out of the program.
The last three years have been very difficult for the Peer Mentoring Support programme. For a long time we were unable to go into the Austin or Talbot and we had to do mentoring by telephone with those who were there during that terrible time. AQA and the Austin are now trying to revitalise the program. I would urge everyone to consider it. Everyone can make a difference and you never know what is going to help someone on the path to recovery. It may even be the clothes you wear.
If you are interested in joining the Peer Mentoring Support program contact Naz Erdem or Josh Hose on 9489 0777 at AQA.
- January 25, 2023