The Small Fighters Making the Big Differences

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Jacinta is the most heart-warming and lovely person you’ll ever meet and the most vibrant soul in any given room at any given time. Despite this she feels surrounded by lost time and like her time is running out as she suffered from chronic fatigue for 10 years of her adult life, and therefore embraces everything the future could hold for her. With her infectious and encouraging smile always plastered on her lovely face, an average conversation with her can be the most inspiring chat you’ll have all month. Her passion for all things everywhere in the globe is truly amazing and she will have you believe that anything is possible.

Chronic fatigue is a difficult syndrome which causes extreme exhaustion after everyday activities and varies in severity from person to person. There is no single known cause although scientists have narrowed down that genes are often a factor alongside an individual’s issues with the circulatory, cardiac, immune, neurological, hormonal and digestive systems, biochemical abnormalities, viral infections or the body’s ability to convert and transport energy.

Jacinta started experiencing the symptoms working in Sydney after having moved from Bathurst a few years prior straight after finishing year 12. She was living on her own and working very hard to maintain the big city life. Her parents would come up and stay with her occasionally, but she claims on some days she’d finish work, go home to watch TV with her dad and promptly fall asleep on the couch before dinner.

When she first started experiencing the symptoms of CFS, Jacinta tried to ignore them and run away from them as she couldn’t understand just what was happening to her. The doctors were unsure originally what was causing her condition and this didn’t help her recovery. Jacinta says she got lazy with her health and would eat junk food and turn to coke because of the caffeine content, just because it was all she would have the energy to get. “I just had zero energy to function and I just got unhealthier. If all you can do I drag yourself out of bed occasionally to pee, then you know, when you’ve got the energy to do something and you realise you’re starving, you’re not gonna be like ‘Right! Now I’m gonna grow some vegetables and make a nice big salad.’ You’re just like whatever.”

Nutrition is a big part of the recovery process as your body needs healthy food to turn into energy, and Jacinta believes her eating habits was part of the reason she took so long to recover. But eating healthy is a luxury and you don’t realise how much until you physically cannot function anymore. “…there was this one time, it nearly broke my heart, I made pumpkin soup and I made a massive pot of it so I could keep it in the freezer and keep eating it. So I made it and it was so yummy, I was so proud, I had a bowl of it and then fell asleep on the lounge. I woke up 15hrs later, and I’d left the pot sitting there. It had cream in it, and it had been sitting out, so I had to throw the whole damn thing out. It broke my fricken heart because it took so long for me to get to a place where I could make the bloody thing in the first place.”

As the illness got worse, her loved ones often struggled to understand the severity of Jacinta’s condition. As it is so hard to recover from, chronic fatigue can be seen as a ‘yuppy flu’, as everyone just sees you falling asleep all the time. This misunderstanding of the illness lead to them sometimes forcing her to go out to dinner and participate in social activities.

You have people around you who try to think they’re helping by making you do things, but they don’t realise. I would have members of my family be like, oh lets go out to dinner and I would be like, ‘you guys can go out, enjoy yourself, I’ll see you when I get home’. And they’d be like ‘no, you’re not being fair I wanna hang out with you come out with us to dinner.’ Then I would sit there like a zombie with my face almost falling into the plate while they would sit there and go ‘isn’t this lovely!’ Sometimes I would have to just go out and vomit because I’d be feeling stupidly sick, and then come back and not be able to eat anything because I was feeling actually sick, and they would just act like nothing weird was going on.”

Jacinta’s recovery was very gradual and no easy task, understandably as this syndrome completely incapacitates its sufferers. She said one day she just woke up and wasn’t feeling as shithouse as she was yesterday. From there she began to do a little more each day and eventually got on the right track towards a happier and healthier lifestyle. Now on the other side, Jacinta has realised her calling was in the radio and music industry. Instead of asking for lollies as a 5yr old in the supermarket, Jacinta would beg her mum for records and be that little girl running around and dancing in the isles. This is something that she has always had a passion for and she is now currently studying to get a career in music or radio.

“…life gets in the way and then you get to a point where you realise ‘Oh I’m getting old what’s gonna make me happy?’ but it’s the same thing that I thought I should be doing when I as 3. It turns out the 3 year old me was smarter than the 30yr old me.”

Jacinta volunteers at an organisation called Dandelions, which she has been doing for two years. Having moved to the Sutherland Shire and being unsure of the local community surroundings, a want to help others despite having suffered so much herself lead her to a volunteering convention. There she found Dandelions, which is a charity started out by two mothers which collects baby and children’s clothes and necessities and give them to mothers who are getting out of violent relationships with have little to survive on.

Jacinta said of all the charities at the convention doing wonderful things, this was the one which really spoke to her and she felt she would be really making a difference in the community. Which Dandelions do, in 2013 there was a report claiming that they had helped 520 families and given out 900 clothing packs, this was two years ago. Jacinta believes that the number of families they have helped is not well into the thousands. They’re sourced out by 60 different agencies which then put Dandelions in contact with the families in need of assistance such as the Red Cross, numerous community mental health agencies, refugee agencies and Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander organisations.

Each of these families will have specific needs and therefore a different care package will be crafted for each of them with their individual situation in mind. Jacinta says that included with each child’s pack is a bag of luxury and practical toiletry items for the mother, provided by The Beauty Bank, a charity run by the inspirational Jennifer Armstrong, herself a former grateful recipient of assistance from Dandelion. This thoughtful gesture is so appreciated as the mothers are often so caught up in caring about their children and finding a better situation that they forget or don’ t have the time to take care of themselves.  All of the other products they give out are purely community donations, which are picked up at drop off spots on certain days depending on where you live.

Jacinta and the other volunteers sort through the donations and put them into individual packs for each of the families. Making them as nice as possible. She says it’s really important that the goods are in a good condition, they want the families to be proud of the gifts they receive and not feel worse about their current situation. She told me about a donation they once received where a mum had vacuum sealed and sorted all of the children’s clothes into different sized packs which were all immaculately labelled.

“I almost didn’t want to open it, it was done so beautifully. I even took photos of it I was so excited. The majority of the stuff we get is amazing and were so grateful, because what we’re giving to the clients, it’s a gift… We want them to feel happy, proud and pleased with what they’ve received. We don’t want to give them games with pieces missing and things that are dirty with rips everywhere and stuff like that we want them to have things that are in really good condition…They’re already feeling so wretched about the situation they’re in, we want to elevate them… So we want the goods to reflect that.”  

Everyone goes through different levels of hardship, some suffer unfairly and bad things always happen to good people. Jacinta’s perseverance to help herself and then offering up her free time to help those who need it most is truly inspiring. There is good in the world everywhere, but its people like Jacinta who selflessly keep the world spinning.

If you or someone you know needs help dealing with CFS head to http://emerge.org.au/ .

If you would like to donate or find out more information about the amazing work the girls at Dandelions do head to http://dandelionsupport.org.au/.

To learn more about The Beauty Bank https://www.facebook.com/thebeautybankau

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