Group Support Session, Chatswood NSW
It was going to be just another day. Maybe a few tears, maybe a few laughs, but maybe, just maybe I would have a different outlook on life today. There were different thoughts that entered my clouded mind already, scary thoughts mainly. I just wanted some clarity. I wanted answers. I wanted to know why I am the way I am? I wanted to know why it happened to me? I felt like I was holding my nose and about to jump into water.
Anxious, hopeful and just terrified of what my first support group experience was about to bring, I wanted to hold onto anything from my past; it was my security, my sanctuary. All I knew was this feeling was horrible and I wanted help.
For years I had never ever thought about this way of life - living in fear. Never had I called a therapist for help or a counselling group - only AA, ‘as the last mosquito that bit me had to check into the Betty Ford Clinic’ - not that I ever thought that I was all about the liquid. I was just a girl who was socially confused sometimes during the week and who guzzled beverages to numb the pain or celebrated anything that required well, celebrating.
A housemate would always make up some excuse to drink a drop or two and so our recycle bin basically got its fair share of work and 99 bottles of beer on the wall was simply just a myth. Our walls were decorated with Jack, Jacob, Jim, Johnny, Corona, Two Dogs, Strongbow and Tequila. After all, we were professionals who worked for a promotional agency, promoting these yummy beverages in Taverns, Bars and Night Clubs. Beroccas also became a well known item in our pantry - we ate them like lollies!
Club Speranza’s community support group was a volunteer group in Chatswood and even though it took me around an hour to drive there, plus petrol money, I still felt that this was going to be a good place to be. A safe place. Speranza stands for ‘Suicide Prevention, Education, Research, Australia, New Zealand, Action = HOPE and so I was feeling a little nervous and wondering what would be exposed? What would I find out to make me fight more? The battle scared me. The thought of working on myself was exhausting. I had no idea how or where to start.
I pulled up out the front of an old house in Chatswood. There were lots of trees – which gave me a comforting feeling - and the garden in the grounds gave off a beautiful sweet aroma. I could not tell you the name of the actual flower, but it was sweet smelling. I could hear voices inside as I approached the screen door, and saw a man approaching me. He introduced himself as Tony Humphrey, the Founder, and welcomed me inside.
This was the moment I had been dreading. This was the doorway that I would either hate walking through, or bounce through. It was now. An aroma of coffee filled my nostrils. I love freshly brewed coffee! Tony led me through to the kitchen which I assumed to be the hub, as a bunch of people were there chatting. I said my hellos whilst wondering if they also were suicidal. They looked happy, content and quite vocal.
If you could ever think of a moment where you thought your world could be fixed, it would be now. I had come here with the hopes that Tony and the support group could 'fix’ every problem I had. In the past I had written them all down, put them in a bag and thrown them out, but of course they would always turn up. Alternatively, there was the mature way - drink three bottles of wine, do some major ciggy sucking and listen to Elvis. Next day, Harry Hangover, sore throat and still the same problems. Maybe not so mature.
Tony was older than I expected, but his shuffle was a hustle and he was very aware and approachable, with a soft voice. As we walked through the hallway into the meeting room, I felt the fight or flight response. Not because I was in danger, moreso that I did not know how I was going to feel. Was I going to have a major meltdown?
As I took a seat and fiddled with my bag, I scratched my nose – (which was not itchy – I always do this when I am nervous) and saw in front of me 'a page of faces'.
Tony explained the faces by saying that we needed to own our thoughts and feelings in order to understand if we had any control over them. I thought this was quite bizarre as I felt punished, controlled and trapped by all that was happening to me and I wanted to blame someone or something because I was angry. He went on to say that circling how we were feeling starts to lesson the load on our brain. When we are consumed by so many feelings and thoughts, how can we possibly feel alive? I figured I was just existing, and circled the faces I identified with.
I felt like I was in kindergarten with no crayons, but I studied the 36 faces carefully. After a few minutes I circled the feelings that I identified with.
Nervous Embarrassed Angry Confused
Sad Inferior Numb Shocked
Trapped Hurt Frustrated Depressed
Lonely Afraid Overwhelmed Happy
Wow! Out of 36 faces I did not think that 18 different feelings would describe me; it was only ever 2 words to me - "lost" and "disconnected".
I felt I had lost my human spirit and identity. Who was I?
Then I saw the word - "Depressed". Loathed it.
I was not going to identify with it or attach myself to it. I would just write how I felt about it. Depressed!
Tony then asked us to write why we were feeling that way. "Big breath in, release, and now write why." were his instructions.
To get through this next hour. I want to know now, how I will feel when I walk out the door.
With everything and everyone. I feel like I have to start from scratch. Learn how to crawl and then to walk. I have lost my identity. I am 28 years old and I hate my life being like this. I want to be happy again.
That I have missed out on what I had planned for myself for the next few years. I was on track, and then this damned injury set me back. I should be in America!
Why has this happened to me? Am I supposed to learn something from this? Where am I supposed to go now, when I cannot do what I want to do?
Because I have lost me. I feel crushed and numb.
Unfortunately, I have become jealous of my good friends who, to me, now have it all; the good job, the great boyfriend, the nice car, the comfortable lifestyle, the cool clothes and a social life. Nothing good about mine! - just broke all the time, struggling to survive week to week, and in pain.
I am tired. My head is hurting and my cheeks are sore. I just feel totally drained and exhausted. Sometimes I feel like I cannot fight anymore and I want to fade away forever so I don’t have to worry.
With every one of these 18 faces.
I feel so trapped and controlled. Struggling with low financial assistance fortnightly, I have to budget to the last dollar. It is demeaning and humiliating for me, standing in line at Centrelink.
I feel like a failure. I don’t want people to look at me and think I am incompetent, or that I am an irresponsible adult. I don’t want anyone to think I am weak. I was once so full of life and strong and resilient. Where did that go?
My body is hurting and it is exhausted. I just want my old life back - to play softball, to dance, to be able to go out and to have the finances to do so. I want to feel free again.
This is not me! I do not like this word. I am disconnected and cannot cope with what has been thrown at me – I have lost my human spirit and believe the word ‘depressed’ is just made up so the Government have a label for this condition. By doing so, they saturate the nation with it and it keeps the pharmaceutical companies thriving with the purchases of anti-depressants – yuk! I will do it the hard way. No short cuts and no pills!
I feel like I am alone through this. I know my heart is aching and my head is so muddled and foggy with it all. I can’t imagine anyone understanding this. I just feel so alone. It is horrible.
Wondering if there will be another morning where I will feel so bad, that I will try to do something again.
To think that I'd have the courage and strength to get through this.
That I have made the decision to be here, and know that I will try to work hard to get “me” back.
What happens if I cannot get through this? Scared of not making it and becoming nothing. I want to be something! I want to be part of something that is bigger than me. Scared of doing this by myself. Scared of every minute of every day.
That this session will show the way to me getting back on track.
A tear fell onto my scribbled page and I realised that writing all this down had unravelled my mind and my heart, and before I could control it, I was bawling. I grabbed the tissues out of my handbag and headed for the door. All I could hear was my sobbing, and was feeling that my heart was about to break into little pieces - so much so that I did not hear my name being called and as I was opening the door, a hand touched my shoulder and an arm slid around my waist. Tony had followed me out. His eyes showed concern and he spoke in soft comforting whispers.
I could not look out, or up. My head just felt so heavy and as we made out way into another room, the carpet was blurred by the rain. It took me a while to stop crying. He sat close, with more tissues. Blowing my nose, sobbing, dribbling and trying to gasp for breath was not how I imagined this group session would start. Yet with all of this - I felt calm and safe, as if for the first time I was understood. He could feel and see my pain, yet I had not spoken a word to him. My sobs grew softer and I blew my nose a few more times. Now that was embarrassing as I really sounded like a trumpet. It made us laugh. By the time I had wiped my face and had a drink of water I felt cleansed. It was a strange feeling. I always cried in the shower so my sister Kylie and her friend Kelly would not hear. It gave me the illusion that I really was not crying because my tears blended in with the shower. Crying was hard. I felt I was breaking; it was like poison, slowly eating me up. It hurt to cry and when I would get out of the shower, I was so drained and exhausted that I would go and lie on my bed and look at my old photo boards hanging on the walls and finally drift off to sleep. I had woken up 3 hours ago and it was still only 11am. There were many days like that. But here I felt relieved. I asked Tony if my mascara had run and he assured me that my face was intact, just a little puffy and blotchy, so I went and washed my face.
Tony then talked to me about his experience with suicide. His daughter had committed suicide and so he fought for others. He walked in to the main room and grabbed the page of faces and came and sat beside me while we went over the faces one by one. It was excruciating.
I can do this.
My life flashed before me as it had done so many times. My heart was broken and I did not know how to fix it. I wanted to nurture it, soothe it. I could see me broken. I could see little pieces everywhere and so I cried and cried and cried. I sobbed and howled and wondered if I was ever going to get through this. My head ached more and my eyes stung. I just wanted to get out of here. I wanted out of my body - this life. I needed comfort. I wanted someone to hold me. I just wanted this bleeding body to stop.
Tony explained that there is only one thing that you should control - that is the situation - if you understand the situation you are in - which you do. When you don’t let the situation control your actions and behaviour, then you are learning to cope with life.
It made sense, but my mind was foggy and I was so consumed with the desperate need to feel better, that it just felt unreachable.
I did not return to the meeting room, and said goodbye to Tony. When he looked at me, I felt that my pain was now his as well.
Walking out of the house, the cold wind slapped me and woke me from my zombie-like trance. Getting into my car, I went to turn the ignition on, but froze and started crying again. This time I had no idea why. I felt drained and exhausted. Maybe it was my body releasing more pain, and if so, I wanted to cry for a whole week to release all of it.
It must have been a good 10 minutes of just sitting in Suzie, and once I could see the road ahead, I took another deep breath, exhaled, opened the windows, felt the breeze and said out loud, "I’m okay"!
Driving home took me back, thinking to the past 2 weeks of events.
Mum read in the Sunday Telegraph that there was a Two Day Suicide Prevention Forum at Parliament House in Canberra. She called and told me to go, and she would pay for the expenses. So I registered and made my way down to Canberra and checked into the motel.
The next day was the the first day of the Forum. I arrived at the old Parliament House and was shocked at what I saw before me - 2,500 white crosses in the lawn in the shape of a huge ‘t’ - like the cross. It was daunting, confronting, in your face - and it represented 2,500 people who had taken their lives.
The first day of the forum consisted of round-table discussions with people from all over Australia. In the afternoon I met Paul in a group and we connected. He was a survivor too. In our free time we chatted about our experiences with our attempt and it was comforting to know I was not alone. Someone understood my heartache, my pain and my fears. Paul and I hung out for the rest of the day, and that night we all attended a special dinner at the old Parliament House. Paul and I sat together and met Jack Heath – the founder of Reach Out.
I spoke to him about what we thought was missing in communities. There were AA and NA groups and Paul spoke about a support group – Club Speranza and how it was helping him move forward - and that’s when I knew I had to be part of Club Speranza - to be with others like me and move towards self-renewal and healing.
I showed my poem about suicide to Jack, and Paul urged me to read it aloud in front of the 100+ people, but I could not and so he gave it to one of the speakers, a Salvation Army member, to read. Hearing it – my heart thumped and my eyes watered. It was so confronting, and now everyone knew how I felt. It was about my fight between the conscious and the subconscious me, and I did not know what made sense, or if it made sense, but to me it was a battle - and who knew who would win?
A world of suicide
What does it mean
Where did they go wrong
They couldn't cope, it seems
What brings them to the point
Society cannot judge
For their life may be confusing
the subconscious mind on the run
Do they think of their loved ones
When they take their pain away
do they think of the sadness that we face from day to day
Do they really ever realise the life they had was full
But consequences surrounded them
Their faith was being pulled to a place of peace and harmony
No-one to compete or to lie
Their own enemy has surrendered
Their subconscious mind has died
It had been a big week for me emotionally and when I got home, I went to my room to absorb what had unfolded. I felt at ease but there was some anxiety – I just did not know where I was going and what would happen next.