Man trudging through snowy landscape



"My own community did not understand the issues of mental illness. My half sister did not support or understand me even now …Some friends abandoning me - I feel let down…They should understand what I have been through."

My name is Andrew and I was born in Venice, Italy and I am 34 years old. I arrived in Australia with my mother, Rose, when I was three. My biological father remained in Italy when we left; and he died in 2003 in Italy. My mother married my stepfather and they had one daughter. I also have one older stepbrother from my mother’s marriage to my stepfather. When my mother and I arrived in Sydney on 24 December 1975, my stepfather came and met us at the airport. My stepfather sponsored us.


Adapting to Australian culture

I did not have any problem adjusting into Australian culture and I believe that in general, Australians understand Italian culture too. My adjustment into a new life in Australia was not a cultural level, but a personal one. When I was young, I was picked on a lot by school kids both at primary and secondary schools because I was Italian. I used to be called a “wog” all the time. I stayed in high school until I finished Year 9 then I left school. I started working with a courier company, then with the Streets Ice cream factory, then a furniture company. In 1988 I went to Italy and stayed there until 1993. I worked in a Supermarket in Italy.

I did not get along with my stepfather. We fought all the time. He always complained about every small thing. I love my mother and she always gets in the middle of the arguments between my stepfather and me. I believe that my stepfather cares about me but he has problems in expressing it. I wanted to hold him and cuddle him but he always gave me the cold shoulder.

We never played in the backyard together (cricket, ball, etc.). I do remember I was taken to a soccer game once and he expected me to understand the game, but I was too young to understand it and that was the last time we went to a game together.

I am now living in Wollongong to be close to the group where I have to attend to keep myself well. I moved here last year. My mother comes to visit often. Every time she is in Wollongong, she cooks for me, which is good.

In the beginning

 In my late 20s, I started drinking and used drugs (marijuana, pot, coke). I started to hear voices and have suicidal thoughts. I spoke to my mother about the voices and suicide. She did not believe that what I was going through was real. In 1997, I slashed myself for the first time for no reasons!! And in 1999, I slashed myself again, then my parents realised that I had some problems.

I remember that incident: It was at night-time. My mother rang an ambulance. They took me to St George Hospital in Kogarah. I still remember the whole street was lit up with police vans, ambulance, police dogs…I guess they thought that there was a crime being committed at my place.

At the hospital, I was stitched up and I was told that I had schizophrenia. I cannot remember how many psychiatrists spoke to me. I was admitted into a psychiatric ward for about a month.

I have never spoken to anyone about my illness. I wanted to talk to someone, but I never did. But after I was discharged from the hospital, my mother and I went to see an Italian speaking counsellor in Rockdale.


I was prescribed with: Zoloft, Zyprexia (at the hospital) and now I take 350 mg per day of Clozapine. From Zoloft and Zyprexia I had the following side- effects: weight gain, irregular sleeping patterns, tiredness/sleepiness, lethargy (not wanting to do anything) and I still heard voices. From Clozapine: dribbling.

Effects of my illness on my family relationship

With my half sister, she did not believe or accept that I was having problems. She was not supportive or understanding…even now. With my stepfather, he was supportive, but not much. He would say: “Yes, you’re sick, but maybe you are smoking too much.” Talking to counsellors helped me to cope with the illness. In one session, the counsellor arranged for the whole family to be there and everyone was there. I had a chance to express my feelings towards everyone and everyone also had a chance to talk to everybody.

I believe that that session gave me an opportunity to express my feelings towards my stepfather, and in turn, he expressed his feelings towards me. But the relationship between us did not improve.

Dealing with illnesses

When I was three years old I used to hear a voice who I will call “Bob, the Demon”. He came to me more often when I was older. Bob used to be a person that I thought walked the earth, then death came and he died, but he didn’t accept his death and he haunted me for a very long time. Bob used to talk to me as I was growing up. Thanks to him I harmed myself, slashing my own arms about nine times. I wasn’t proud of what I did to myself. But I killed Bob two years ago.

It was very hard. I’ve been in and out of hospital many times. I’ve lived in a boarding house and also went to a rehabilitation program. Here I was taught living skills, paying for my medication and how to live day to day. Then I moved to various group homes in the Illawarra area, finally ending up in Wollongong. After all of this time of living in the area I kind of made a life here in the Wollongong area, and I have enjoyed my time here.
After being in hospital the psychiatrists gave me advice on how to cope with the illness, but I never understood because I was very confused. There seemed to be a lot of confusion in my head. I sometimes punched the pillow (disability still remains). My mother was present and my mother helped me to cope – by talking to me and reminding me to take tablets.

I attended a counseling service called Co.As.It., which is in Leichhardt and Fairfield. These sessions were conducted in Italian. The counsellor was nice. She helped me in many ways. She helped me to discover who I really am as a person. She also helped me discover my inner self by confronting my demons, especially Bob. I gave up smoking and drinking.

After me seeing a counsellor my mother also got involved and she was able to talk about her feelings about my illness and her experience as well.

Getting better

The signs of me getting better were:

  • I got more involved in artwork, music, and using the computer.
  • I managed my own finance matters.
  • Feeling more open with people (before, I was shy and scared).
  • Doing things that I never could do before.
  • Being more motivated. BUT I still experience some ups and downs:
  • Mood swings still exist.
  • “Bob” never came back, and I also killed his “twin brother Rob”.

Hardest things

  • The voices
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Family not understanding
  • Some friends abandoning me-I feel let down…They should understand what I have been through.
  • Stigma
  • Job security – employers ask for a history.
  • The Italian community: Our friends don’t seem to understand the issues of mental illnesses. They seemed (or pretended) to understand. But I believe that they were just being polite to pretend to show concern.

Thanks to

  • My mother
  • Myself
  • My mother’s friend
  • My counsellors

Personal perspectives

I saw two psychiatrists. The first one did not help. The second one was okay but the third one whom I am with now is very good.

I am really happy with my life at the moment. Firstly I enjoy doing the things I do and I’ve made new friends since I’ve joined a new program called Compeer. I am going on outings and doing activities each month. One of the recent changes for me is I’m going to open my own art gallery with all of my artwork, which is exciting.

I have not had a girlfriend for a long time. Even now I’m still trying to find my princess. So if you are out there somewhere, please think about contacting me.

I would like the opportunity for my story to be published out there in the world. Maybe some of the information may be useful for those who might be going through a hard time with their lives. I hope it might inspire others to know they can get through hard times too, as I did.

My advice to others

Stay off the drugs and alcohol; if not, you are looking for trouble.
Take medication as prescribed to you.
Do group sessions that are required of you.
Seek professional help.

Download Andrew's Story in PDF here (92.7KB)