DARREN Dorey is living life to the full after overcoming hardships, including depression and a serious eye condition. He talks to KIMBERLEY PRICE about his journey.
Darren Dorey has spent many years in the dark.
He's spent much of his adult life refusing to acknowledge his depression and anxiety out of fear of how it would manifest. He pushed away his diabetes treatment because of the vicious link between mental illness and the metabolic disorder, lowering his self-care to almost nothing.
Then, on May 22, 2007, at the age of 41, his life as he knew it as a husband, father and truck driver crumbled.
"I went for an eye check thinking I needed glasses because I was finding paperwork hard to read and headlights would flare up," he said.
"I knew had some damage on my eyes but I had been told I was stable.
"The ophthalmologist looked at my eyes and asked me what I did for a living. I told him I was a truck driver and he said 'not anymore you're not'."
Mr Dorey was told he had major haemorrhages, detached retinas and cataracts in both eyes. He needed immediate surgery and without it, he would go blind.
He handed in his licence and in doing so wrote his resignation letter.
That same afternoon, Mr Dorey was told the home he shared with his four children and wife was being sold and they had 28 days to vacate.
With the threat of blindness and homelessness looming, he spiralled.
"I fell into the depths of depression," he said.
"I had three really serious attempts at ending it all. I lost my wife and four kids and everything I had.
"For a short period I was homeless with $2.20 a pair of shorts and a singlet. I lost my sense of self and worth."
Mr Dorey's vision radically declined.
Not wanting to accept his situation or give up his pride, he showed his face during the day and hid on the streets, behind shops and down at Lake Pertobe, at night.
His marriage had fallen apart, his family was gone and seven surgeries and 4500 shots of laser to stop ongoing bleeds in his eyes left Mr Dorey with 22 per cent vision.
He was in a situation he'd never thought he'd be in.
Yet somehow, he came to the realisation he "didn't want to let the bastards win".
"I was lucky, I got some really good help," Mr Dorey said.
"I came to the realisation that I had two choices - I could either sit in a corner and wait to die or find a new path in life."
Mr Dorey admitted he was six feet short of six foot under.
Acknowledging he had hit rock bottom was his first step, and his second was finding a new lease on life.
Mr Dorey enrolled in a Diploma of Community Service at South West TAFE in 2010. For two years, he attended his classes unaided and scribbled every word his teachers spoke across his notebooks as straight lines had become wild swirls. He tried to make sense of his notes and typed them into his computer at home and managed to graduate the course in 2012 receiving credits and distinctions in all his subjects.
Mr Dorey today works in the mental health industry, helping others with understanding the complex system, guiding them through and sitting down with people who remind him of his former life situation.
"I'm a firm believer in the more we talk about life situations the easier it is for other people to face their own," he said.
"If no one talks about their challenges, no one will face their own.
I used to think the light at the end of the tunnel was a train coming toward me, and now I see it's a new dayDarren Dorey
Every day is a struggle for Mr Dorey but he's learning and he's already adapted to having low vision.
"I describe it as like speaking a second language and translating everything I see into what I remember and trying to decipher that memory into whether that's what's in front of me," he said.
"It's life-changing, mentally challenging 24/7 and exhausting.
"Vision impairment makes things harder but I'm pretty straight forward in saying the only thing it stops me doing is driving.
"I went from doing 750km a day, everyday in a truck to nothing which in itself took away my independence.
"I've lost facial recognition which means I walk past people and I know without realising. I tend to call people 'mate' a lot.
"Spatial awareness is very hard and I've lost all peripheral visions. When I change from light to dark or the other way, it takes minutes for my eyes to adjust.
"But you work your way around it. I can pick up a knife and chop an onion but people don't know the hours I've put in to teach myself how to do things."
Mr Dorey has managed to keep smiling through the dark times by using humour as a coping mechanism.
Instead of beating himself up of situations he can't help, he's managed to find the bright side in life.
Through working in the mental health system, Mr Dorey understands the fractures in the industry. But his lived-experience with mental illness has led to his relatability with clients.
"I went through the mental health system when it was at its best and with the help of a fantastic GP, I was able to turn things around and get back on top of my mental health," he said.
"We live in a system that spends millions on recovery and bugger all on prevention.
"Because of the high turnover rate of psychiatrists in regional areas, people who are suffering are forced to tell their stories over and over again.
"The system is underfunded and we're understaffed.
"I wanted to turn my experiences around and help other people.
"Letting people know they're not alone in what they're feeling is crucial and I'm the first to tell people I've been there.
"To see people put their lives back together is very rewarding."
An avid member of speedway for three decades, Mr Dorey is thankful he's still part of the racing family and isn't planning on missing his 35th Grand Annual Sprintcar Classic.
Mr Dorey continues to speak out about his battle with mental illness and his declining vision and recently took part in the 'Human Library 3280'; an experience he described as "one of the most amazing" of his life.
Five years ago Mr Dorey married "the most amazing, supportive person ever" in Ange. The help he has received from his wife, his friends and his community has been his saving grace.
"They saw me as me and that was really important," he said.
"Recovery from mental illness is the hardest job I've ever done.
"To look back and say, 'wow I got through that' is something I'm proud of.
"The only thing I'd change would be having my kids back in my life.
"Someone asked me if I could rewind the clock and get my vision back would I?
"I stopped and thought about it and my first reaction was if I could drive again that'd be awesome.
"But if I hadn't lost my vision I wouldn't have had the opportunities I have today. I wouldn't have met Ange or the people I've met in the mental health industry.
"As dark as life can be, you have to pick up the pieces and you have to do it yourself. I realised recovery has to come from within."
- Anyone who needs help can phone Lifeline on 131 114 or beyondblue on 1300 224 636
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