Twenty years ago in June 1995 one of the most defining moments of my life started when I went on a seven months, 58,000 km solo journey through Australia. I had sold my lovely home in Fremantle’s Bolton Place and most of my belongings as I did not know if I would return to Freo, but of course I did because I always felt a special connection with this place.
A huge life-threatening depression forced me to make the drastic decision to try to stay alive by changing my life. If all I had did not make me happy I might as well let go off it all and travel and find out who I am and what I want from life.
After seven months of rollercoaster emotions from deep satisfaction to deep despair and seeing some of the most stunning and remote parts of Australia I returned to Fremantle, and what a good decision it has turned out to be.
On return I had my very first article published in the Fremantle Herald in mid 1996 about the discrimination against Aboriginal people I had witnessed during my trip, and I became an avid writer of letters to editors of newspapers on all kinds of issues. I had found my voice and the desire to engage deeper and more publicly with the community I lived in. I engaged with the Walyalup Reconciliation Group, the Fremantle Society, Roundhouse tour guides, the arts industry, local government, events and markets, and many more things, to try to be a positive influence for Freo’s future.
Over the last twenty years Fremantle has grown on me and we are now like an old couple living very comfortably together but not without having the odd quarrel. Freo sees all my shortcomings and good bits and I see hers. That is not a bad thing because it is based on mutual respect and the desire to make our world a better place.
My trip had taught me that I should not just be an observer but a participant and that if I could find the courage to speak out I could make a difference.
I am now in the last quarter of my life and I have no intention to leave Fremantle as I really love this city. My intense and passionate engagement will continue because I believe I can help make Freo an even better place. Not everyone appreciates what I write on Freo’s View, but that is good because it has inspired many people to take part in the community debate and speak their mind, and that is great for Fremantle.
I am so glad and grateful I returned to Freo after my trip because there is no other place I feel more comfortable in.
It’s MENTAL HEALTH WEEK and I have just watched a really good Q&A on ABC TV and decided to let it all out and make my own small contribution. I realise it is risky and that some people will judge me, but so be it. I have little to lose. I hope that maybe it will help some people to speak up and ask for help. My story started here in Fremantle in 1994:
And you come back to Freo after stumbling 58,000 kilometres through Australia to find a place to die, and you start again, all over again not realising how much of your self-esteem has been sucked from you. You want to throw yourself back into the work you love doing, but have lost the confidence to go out and promote yourself, so you unconsciously create and artificial reality and build a cocoon around your depression.
You become a social advocate then an activist, supporting minority groups, you get deeply involved with your community and local politics, you become a volunteer.
Financially you start to struggle when the money from the sale of your house is drying up and not enough assignments are coming in, but after many years you even fall in love again. She is perfect of course until you find her in the arms of a friend. Your heart is broken and hatred destroys you, because she has taken what you valued most; trusting people.
Life goes on, it has to, but the cocoon you have created around your depression is not strong and it bursts, and another suicide attempt is gone. You have to admit that you are not brave enough to pull it through. Whoever said that people who commit suicide are selfish cowards have no idea about the intense darkness and aloneness, where death seems to be the only solution. The despair is so deep that it physically hurts, it’s a pain-and the fear off it- that never leaves you.
A few more failed love affairs and broken hearts, and little money left. Your lifestyle is getting worse and pulls you further down. What great relief and gratitude to have caring and generous friends and loans and food parcels, but it is equally devastating and demeaning. This is not the life you want to live.
The noose comes back and with it the fear for eternal darkness. You want to be dead but don’t want to die. You just don’t want to wake up tomorrow. And the worst thing is to know that you will never feel the relief you crave for and that you will hurt the people you love.
The GP tells you that you should just go to ”dancing halls” where a rich woman will pick you up and look after you. He also tells you not to worry about having no money for rent because you can sleep in your car, and not having food is also no issue ”because you have plenty of fat to burn.”
You feel like a total loser after that, someone who does not even get empathy from a medical professional.
But friends push you through and the psychologist is more understanding. What even he does not understand though is that the fear to deal with the almighty government department is too overwhelming and that you can’t make that call, you just can’t. They all think it is so easy and no doubt it would fast-forward to some sort of outcome, but the overwhelming anxiety is debilitating.
The amazing thing is that you are still very active and that you like who you are. You also realise that many people like you and even admire what you do, so you continue being the giver, he who does not charge for his services to help others, while being broke himself. You dream about helping others while being unable to help yourself. There does not seem to be a solution, but death, and that is hard to accept for someone who loves life and people.
There is no end-yet-to this long journey that started in 1994. I am still here but it is getting harder each and every day. Who knows, maybe I’ll be lucky one day soon and I won’t wake up with a chest full of anxiety, and there won’t be a tomorrow.
Sadness about the suicide death of actor and comedian Robin Williams, but he is just the celebrity face to all the thousands of nameless and faceless people who take their own life every year.
Depression makes one feel utterly alone, even with support of friends and family. It’s like battling a war within.
It is hard to understand depression, because we still care, we still smile, we still want to give. We say we are okay because too often when we were honest we were told we were negative, drama queens, to lighten up, and not be so narcissistic.
So we tell you we are okay and that we can cope, while the war inside us keeps raging. It destroys us from within, the chest is burning and the head is heavy with fear for what seems to be the inevitable act.
No we are not okay, but we try to battle on and many of us pull through and survive, but the scars never leave and the fear never totally goes.