For more than 30 years, Geoffrey has lived with paranoid schizophrenia. But rather than let his diagnosis define his life, he’s channeled his energy into more creative pursuits. He’s written more than 200 poems as a way to make sense of his experience, particularly the time he has spent in treatment at psychiatric wards. His detailed perspective expressed through poetry gives us all a glimpse into what it’s really like on the inside.
Initially, Geoffrey was considered ‘too well’ and had to appeal to the NDIS to reconsider. His family lobbied to get him the support he needed and were successful. Once he was granted funding, he did a little research and found OnSide.
“At the planning meeting, I said I was interested in maybe a support worker (now I’ve got two!) to have coffee with and discuss the really big questions about human life. That has turned out far better than I would have hoped because I used to think hardly anyone is on the SAME wavelength as me,” Geoffrey explains.
“I am just like everyone else without a diagnosis – I want to experience more positive than negative ‘stuff’ and sometimes I struggle to keep my chin up but I am slowly getting better at it.”
Writing as a path to understanding
Geoffrey describes writing as a cheap form of therapy but it, along with meditation and yoga, has formed part of the toolkit he uses to manage his schizophrenia. But it didn’t begin that way.
“I had a MOST unusual experience back in 1999 in the psych ward,” he explains. “For 7 days I felt totally euphoric and had little need for food or sleep or entertainment.”
He wrote a poem called One Man’s Heaven (read it below) to articulate his experience and it sparked a love of writing poetry that he still does today.
“I only write when I feel inspired – often the words just “pop” into my head, as if someone is dictating the poem to me.” Geoffrey hopes to publish his poems in a book so he can share his lived experience more widely and break down some of the stigmas associated with his diagnosis.
“I do believe we are all much more alike than we are different,” he says. “But we have developed the nasty habit of focusing on the differences and then we wonder why there is so much conflict.”
Meditation as a life saving practice
As mentioned briefly above, Geoffrey attributes a lot of healing journey to his meditation practice. Starting 30 years ago, he says he would’ve been lost without meditation and mindfulness.
Geoffrey believes that while they’re not a ‘quick fix’, they’ve helped him when he’s found himself in dark places over the years. He recommends ‘patience and practice’ when it comes to meditation as, “you wouldn’t expect to be a concert pianist after one or two lessons”, he says.
Geoffrey has learned so much about the NDIS and how to navigate the ins and outs of the system from his OnSide Support Coordinator, Natasha.
“Natasha has explained how NDIS funding works and what my options are and was very helpful when meeting with my potential support workers. She is always emailing me on a regular basis to see if I need any help – or just find out how well things have been progressing, he says.”
With the support of OnSide, Geoffrey has built up his confidence not only in managing his own life, but also engaging with the world. “I have overcome my social anxiety and my dubious conversation skills that used to plague me when I was in ‘one of my moods’,” he highlights.
Compassion is key
As a man of many words, Geoffrey teaches us that there’s much more to life than just who we are and what we do – it’s also about compassion. He sings the praises of his family for all of their love and support, he explains: “many people with a diagnosis have little or no support because schizophrenia can be a scary experience for the whole family as well as the diagnosed member!”
He reminds us that we need to have compassion not just for each other, but also for ourselves, as he explains: “I would just like to leave you with one of my own personal mottos: Love yourself with your imperfections so that you can love other people with their imperfections.”
One Man’s Heaven
By Geoffrey Allen
I write this little poem as I sit
I’m in Acacia ward until I split
Surrounded by the maddest folk
It is the sweetest, most ironic joke
I’m actually living in another world
Where dreams and magic are unfurled
The people in here have no greed or hate
They all have learned the way to wait
Waiting for the coming of the sun
Knowing they are truly all one
We laugh along with all the staff
My best mate thinks he’s a giraffe
I gladly watch over these fragile souls
Some think their minds are full of holes
They cannot handle the jungle outside
This is their refuge where they can hide
They hide not from themselves of course
We are all connected to one pure source
Our hearts and minds have merged with each other
I call everyone in here my soul-brother
If you want to join us, please feel free
It really is the best place to be
Surrounded by such understanding
You’ll find we are never ever demanding
You’ll never know who you might meet
If you take a walk down our secret street
Please visit us if you get the chance
We may even teach your soul to dance.
If you’d like to read more of Geoffrey’s poetry or talk to him about his creative process, please contact the team at OnSide and we’ll put you in touch.