Caterina didn’t let a mental health diagnosis stop her from changing her life! With the help of Disability Employment Services, Caterina is now loving life.
My name is Caterina, I’m part of a big Italian family. My parents met on a cruise and got married in Australia. I was born here, I grew up in Lakemba and Greenacre. Dad was a shoemaker who worked with his brother. I’ve got a strong relationship with my family. At Christmas, at Easter, we’re always together, we make lasagne, we eat lots of food – till you’re full to the top!
My mum can’t drive anymore, so I care for her. I take her shopping, take her to bingo. I help her out with housework. I’d do anything for my mum.
Overcoming a challenge: my mental health diagnosis
I’ve got anxiety and panic attacks that started in 2016. I was helping my mum with the shopping and all of a sudden, my heart started beating fast and I felt like I was going to die. I was gripping the steering wheel so tight and I was scared. Later at home, my husband saw me and said, “Your face is so yellow!”
He took me to the doctor and I got my diagnosis. I couldn’t cope, couldn’t drive, I was too scared to be alone or even take a shower. My cousin really helped me. She rang me up and said, “Get out of that chair, otherwise you’re going to become an old lady and you’re never going to do what you want to do!” That’s when my mind clicked and I started getting better and better. Now I take medication and the anxiety has settled a bit.
The CanVan and Disability Employment Services
I hadn’t been working for a period of about 2 years. I wanted to work because I didn’t want to always ask my husband for money. I wanted to go shopping, go out with friends and family. I wanted something part time, even to get me out of the house – it helps my anxiety.
One day I was going to the bank and saw the CanVan. There was a nice man there who said to me, “Have you got a job?” I said no. He said, “Do you want one?” I said why not!
He told me about MTC and Disability Employment Services and gave me a number. I thought it sounded good so I rang up. There was an MTC at Hurstville but because I was nervous to drive, someone came to meet me at Revesby Gloria Jeans. And that’s when I met Raida.
We had coffee and cake. We chatted about her role – to help people with disabilities find work, and help them stay in their jobs and be successful at them – and also about my upcoming holiday to Thailand. Raida said, “When you get back I think I’ve got a job for you!”
Loving that working life
Now I’m working Tuesday to Saturday! My job is driving people with disability to various destinations and needs, like the shops or the doctor, similar to what I do for my mum.
To get the job I went for an interview with the office manager and the owner of Nonabel Transport. Raida told me that they’re both very flexible and understanding, and that helped with my anxiety.
Right now I’m dealing with all different clients, young to old, lovely people, really nice. There’s one lovely lady called Joanne, I pick her up, take her shopping, then she wants me to join her for a coffee. Then I take her home and help her put the groceries away, I take her to her doctor’s appointments. She loves to chat.
Some clients are non-verbal and communicate by squeezing my hand, but I chat to them. I think they feel comfortable with me. I joke with them, ask them how their day was, talk about the weather.
It’s been a good job. I enjoy it because I’ve never been to all these places, now I’m learning the streets, from Arncliffe to Mortdale, Campsie, Redfern, all over. I used to be nervous about driving, but if I’m feeling stressed I’ll put some music on and that calms me down.
I’m a new person
It feels like me and Raida became friends. I feel confident talking to her. If there’s anything wrong I contact her and she helps me out and calms me down. She calls me to ask how my anxiety is and if there’s anything I need; I always talk about my job and how it’s going.
Anxiety is a really bad sickness that a lot of people get. It’s very hard for people with anxiety to find work. Some people get it light, some strong and can’t cope. I say to employers – give us a go, give us a chance!
My anxiety has changed since I got this job. I have more control over it. Working has made me a different person.
Now I’m just feeling a lot better and happier, I’m more relaxed. Even my mum said, “Before you looked really down and now you look alive!”
I’m meeting different people. I’ve opened up, before I used to be very shy and didn’t want to talk to anyone. I’m proud of myself that I’m doing this.
To view more inspiring stories like Catarina’s, visit Change the Story, a nationwide storytelling project celebrating ability and showing how sustainable, meaningful employment can change lives and activate communities.
Disability Employment Services
Disability Employment Services (DES) helps people living with disabilities find meaningful and sustainable employment. Through DES, eligible people living with physical and mental disabilities, injuries or health conditions receive practical support to prepare for, find and keep a job.
If you need help finding employment or occasional support at work, register here or phone 1800 226 228 for more information.