Age at interview: 57
Background: Ballagh is 57 years old and lives with her husband and son in an outer metropolitan suburb. Currently studying, Ballagh identifies as English.
Ballagh has cared for her son, aged 32, since he was a small baby who slept very little due to chronic ear infections. Diagnosed with hyperactivity disorder when he was 18 months old, Ballagh's son received multiple diagnoses from the age of six including attention deficit disorder (ADD) and chronic deep depression. Between the ages of 21 and 25, he was diagnosed with bipolar mood disorder and psychosis, and at the age of 28 he received a diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder. Ballagh's son currently lives in a flat which Ballagh and her husband built for him adjacent to their house.
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More about Ballagh
For Ballagh, caring for her son has been a lifelong process that began when he was a small baby who slept very little due to chronic ear infections.
As a baby, Ballagh recalled, her son was really easily 'overstimulated'. At 18 months, he was diagnosed with hyperactivity disorder and prescribed medication. Ballagh said he was a 'beautiful, gentle' child but 'big and clumsy'. After his Grade 1 teacher claimed he was disruptive in class, Ballagh took her son, aged six, to see a child psychologist who diagnosed him a year later with attention deficit disorder and, when he was nine, with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. When he was 10, Ballagh said he began to express suicidal thoughts, writing 'really dark stuff', and a psychiatrist diagnosed him with 'chronic deep depression'.
When her son was 12, Ballagh remarried and they moved to the city where Ballagh's son was expelled after two years from his school for 'uncontrollable behaviour'; he had been expelled several times before that from previous primary and secondary schools. At his new school he made friends with people under whose influence he eventually left home and stole a car at the age of 14. This led to him spending six months in juvenile detention, aged 16. Following his release, he ended up living on the streets at the age of 18, which is when Ballagh believes he began using drugs. She did not know if her son was 'dead or alive' for two years until she received a call from a police officer saying he had been admitted to hospital where Ballagh's son was diagnosed with bipolar mood disorder, aged 21. A few years later, aged 25, he received a diagnosis of psychosis and then was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder when he was 28.
Ballagh described challenges she has faced finding accommodation for her son: she has leased apartments, secured a public housing apartment, and a few years ago, her husband suggested they build a flat for her son in their backyard for him to live in. Ballagh said when her son is 'well' he knows he is 'really lucky' to have their support but when he is 'unwell' he thinks Ballagh is 'controlling his life'. Around the time her son was sentenced to juvenile detention, she said she was traumatised by events and became 'unwell' herself. She received a diagnosis of bipolar at the age of 44, and ever since has regularly seen a psychiatrist who helps her deal with the 'stresses' of supporting her son on her health and wellbeing. Ballagh said she and her husband are 'exhausted' at times but services often do not 'listen' when they ask for respite. Instead of only 'listening to the client', she said, practitioners and providers should 'take everybody involved in their care into consideration'.
Caring for her son his whole life has meant she has become 'pretty good at fighting battles', Ballagh reflected. She has always managed to 'find that last little bit of energy' to fight for her son and for herself.