By Mitchell Clarke
Life for Kerri Nolte has been far from easy.
The 56-year-old lives with debilitating anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and bipolar disorder.
Her mental illness has left her hospitalised, and on many occasions, in life-threatening situations.
Ms Nolte has, as she explains it, “sunk to the depths of her despair”.
Just over a year ago, the Pakenham woman couldn’t leave her house. She barely left bed, despite the fact it was the very place where she became subjected to terror dreams, which woke her between 2am and 4am every night.
“I hadn’t left the house in years, I couldn’t walk to the letterbox – everything outside my door was scary. I stayed in bed, curled up in a foetal position and could hardly move,” she explained.
But a friend suggested she join the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).
Despite having never heard of the scheme before, the recommendation was both lifesaving and life changing for Ms Nolte.
“Thank God I found it because I would be dead now, there’s no question, and my whole family would be destroyed,” she explained.
“It has saved my life. I made seven suicide attempts before I was on NDIS. It was sent to me at rock bottom. My life was like a snakes and ladders game where I would feel I was making progress with my mental health recovery and them bam – I was back to square one on the board.”
Her NDIS plan provides her with support workers who come to her home, a mental health occupational therapist, and a support coordinator, who has helped her to access the tailored support she needs.
During the first lockdown in March, Ms Nolte was able to use her NDIS plan to buy an iPad, which she uses to manage her plan and access Telehealth appointments.
She enjoyed the feeling of being in charge of her support and having choice and control over which support workers she allowed into her home and how she uses her funds.
“It makes you feel important, I am CEO of the Kerri Nolte NDIS plan,” she said. “It makes me so excited, I’m beaming.”
Now on her own path to recovery, Ms Nolte is sleeping better and is starting to see a positive future for herself – and others.
With an inspiring story behind her, she wants to help others who may be living in a similar situation.
“I’ve gone from feeling like I was in a coma, a coma of trauma, to feeling a pulse, to having a heartbeat, to wanting to live,” she said.
“I know I’m not cured – I’ve got a life sentence – but I’m learning to live with it and manage it because of my supports and because the NDIS is helping me.”
The “proud” mental health advocate said living with an “invisible disability” left her feeling with “a lot of dread” every day.
“Having an invisible disability is so hard, I’ve suffered a lot of physical pain, I’ve had broken ribs and surgeries, but that physical pain is nothing compared to the mental anguish I’ve had. And people don’t understand,” she explained.
“It is lonely. You are near people but you feel they don’t know you. It is a battle, it is a battle every day.”
The Covid-19 pandemic, and particularly Melbourne’s strict lockdown, has inadvertently created a mental health crisis.
“My mental health recovery has definitely been impacted by Covid-19,” she said.
“I remember first hearing about an invisible virus that is shutting the world down. For a moment I thought I was living in a nightmare. It’s definitely made me more anxious, however I have coped with the isolation because I was sort of only just coming out of isolation caused by my invisible disability.
“I was really only taking my first steps in my recovery journey and taking my first steps into my community with the help of my workers. I was just starting getting used to going out with my carers and then I couldn’t.
“Getting out in the community is hard during Covid-19 and hard with mental illness. I wish there was a suburb you could go where there was no anxiety and no fear. I wish there was a place that was disability suitable for people with mental illness.”
Thankfully, support workers remained an “essential service” throughout the Stage 4 lockdown.
Prior to restrictions, Ms Nolte and her support worker, Kerrie Hart, from Hart to Hart Counselling, had enjoyed visiting local op shops together.
Ms Hart said it was inspiring that Ms Nolte was able to keep up her recovery journey during the period of increased anxiety.
“Kerri’s story is inspirational and I hope that readers are getting the same sense of her courage and commitment that I have seen as Kerri has undertaken her recovery journey,” she said.
“The community can underestimate the hardship that mental illness imposes on people. I think we can assist by making the communities more inclusive for people with a mental illness, including rather than excluding and having respect for people with mental health conditions and their carers.”
The pair’s next goal is to see a movie together when restrictions allow cinemas to reopen.
“I haven’t been out at night for probably about 12 years,” Ms Nolte said.
“It’s something to look forward to. I’m also looking forward to Christmas when I can sing at the Myer Music Bowl if we’re allowed.”
But in the meantime, she just hopes her story will help inspire people in a similar position to continue their fight.
“Mental health is not something that you choose. The ramifications are huge, it’s a battle. It’s a battle every day in this pandemic and even the most daily act of showering is hard,” she said.
“I hope I can represent a voice for the voiceless who are suffering alone in their homes not knowing what to do.
“I used to always pray there was somewhere that someone like me could go and feel safe. It was the NDIS that saved me.
“If there was one thing I would tell people with mental health struggles, it’s don’t give up, reach out and ask for help.”
If this article has raised issues for you, please consider reaching out for help. If you need someone to talk to, call Lifeline on 13 11 14.