"You've delivered me from a life I never wanted."
Change has been a constant in Tanya's life. Originally from St. Petersburg, Tanya spent her childhood in Harbin, a Russian outpost in northern China. She lost her father when she was seven years old.
She attended a Russian school in China and in summer would go with her uncles on butterfly catching expeditions, learning how to find and catch those bright, gentle creatures, so well-acquainted with change. They flit on the air, and alight on a branch for a moment, only to fly away again.
The highlights of Tanya’s childhood were the long train rides back to St. Petersburg to visit her grandparents. Her grandmother was a pianist, and they grew very close as her grandmother taught her how to play music. Remembering these visits, Tanya says, 'My grandmother made life more beautiful for me, like a jewel. I loved her very much. My favourite memory is of hearing her play the piano. She had the ability to present each piece in its best form.'
In 1954, when Tanya completed high school, her family joined a wave of Russian immigrants who relocated to Australia. Having done well in school, she enrolled at the University of New South Wales and studied psychology. But over time Tanya dwelt on the memories of her childhood visits to her grandmother and keenly wanted to see her again after so many years. But while planning her trip she received news that her grandmother had actually passed away years before. No one had told her.
Remembering this news many years later, Tanya says, ‘I can still feel the emotional impact of this shock, it was agonising’.
Tanya entered a stage of her life marked by transience, restlessness and confusion. She was diagnosed with schizophrenia and a compulsive hoarding disorder. Finding stable accommodation during this period was an enormous challenge, and she was evicted from a number of leases due to her illness, often under traumatic circumstances. During these times she would live in her car and have extended stays in motels.
Eventually, while being evicted from a motel, Tanya was referred to HammondCare. Initially she resisted help. Her recent struggles had left her suspicious of strangers and very protective. She would often find ways to break her appointments and send our carers away. One was turned away four days in a row before Tanya allowed her in.
Her HammondCare case manager, Sue Chadburne, knew the key to caring for Tanya was to build a relationship with her. ‘I knew there must be more to her and more to her story than what was on the surface, so the first thing I did when she eventually began to trust me, was to ask her about her story’.
As Sue began to learn Tanya’s story, Tanya’s demeanour began to change. Together they planted a garden in her bare front yard and went for regular walks to the shops. The frequency of Sue’s visits began to increase, and Tanya began to allow her to help throw away things she didn’t need. As Sue listened to Tanya and helped her with housekeeping, Tanya experienced something she had not felt in a number of years – the transforming power of friendship, and the peace that comes from being understood.
Sue says the focus of her care for Tanya has been to build her self-esteem.
‘I want Tanya to see that she is worth something – actually, that she is worth a great deal. I want to show her that people care about her. She’s had a fairly tragic life, and before she came to HammondCare she really didn’t believe that she was worth very much. But that’s starting to change now, which is a thrill, it’s what it’s all about for me’.
Today, Sue and her HammondCare team visit Tanya five times every week. They consider it a privilege to provide Tanya with a sense of belonging and security, something she has lived without for many years. At the end of our interview, Tanya is speaking about a friend she had in primary school in China, when her memory alights on an unexpected thought.
‘Chinese culture was always very foreign to me, I never felt at home. I think you can drift when you don’t connect with what is around you. But life today is like paradise for me. I realise that I took a wrong turn somewhere, but you’ve delivered me from a life I never wanted. Sue and I really understand each other. She has helped me see that I have something to live for’.