Where to start?
Do I dare go back to my childhood and look at the triggers that started my journey to mental ill health, or do I leap to the day when I got the toaster out of the cupboard and stared at it blankly, and then at my four children who were waiting for Dad to make their breakfast. The problem was that Dad couldn’t work out what he was supposed to do with the bloody silver thing in front of him.
So there I was, four hungry kids looking at me as I burst into tears. Had lost my mind? The fog was just too thick, the confusion was too strong, I knew I was supposed to be there for my kids, but how? If I couldn’t work this out how could I do anything else for them?
After many tears and some upset kids I managed to get breaky made, what an effort it was though.
I left for work that morning wondering what the hell was going on with me. Here I was a father of four, holding down my dream job as a Sales Rep, a job that had actually been created for me!
I had worked hard to be the best I could at what I did, I was known for my broad knowledge and ability to make things happen. I had a reputation for sourcing the seemingly unsourcable, as well as my quick whit. I was the person my colleges came to when they had a work related problem, often taking on their problems to ease the pressure on them.
I thrived on pressure at work, the bigger the challenge the happier I was. It gave me the edge, a chance to shine above the others, I HAD to PROVE myself, I HAD to be the BEST.
I didn’t know why, I just knew that I had to be seen as the best.
And yet it was getting harder to concentrate on simple tasks, I seemed to be starting lots of little projects and not completing them. It was also getting harder to face customers, [not a good thing in sales]. I would feel nervous approaching a customer, my stomach would be churning, my pulse race, my mind would race trying to work out how I could get through the sale without the customer noticing how much I was struggling, and to keep the toast that had been so hard to cook in my stomach and not all over them.
It was time to get HELP; I couldn’t do IT on my own anymore.
I rang my doctor’s rooms to make an appointment. No problem, “He can see you in two weeks” was the shattering reply. I hung up the phone and figured “I obviously didn’t matter”, maybe it would be better if I was DEAD. After all I couldn’t look after my kids; all the wife and I did was argue about everything, I wasn’t good enough. I seemed to spend all my energy trying to please other people, but didn’t seem to be able to meet THEIR expectations. Whether it was the wife, the boss, the kids or my father, it was never good enough.
NO! I needed help and I needed it NOW. I rang the doctor’s back and asked to speak to my GP, insisting that I would hold the line until I did. Two minutes later I was on my way in to see him. Strangely enough they suddenly had a cancellation.
I sat down and through many of those things that “real men” don’t have, I explained how I had been living in an ever thickening FOG for a long time and that I couldn’t function NORMALLY any longer.
He prescribed anti depressants and made another appointment for me in a week’s time, but insisted that if I needed to see him before that not to hesitate.
It was strangely relieving; just to have spoken to someone about how I was REALLY feeling, and for someone to have actually listened to me. A weight had started to ease from my shoulders.
Within a couple of days the fog seemed to thin out to a heavy mist and gradually started to lift some more. I was feeling better than I had in a long long time.
Over the next twelve months I felt good [most of the time]. My wife and I didn’t seem to argue as much and most days I could handle the boss and the job in general pretty well. I was being more careful about how much work I took on and tried to let others around me use their own minds and work out their own problems.
There was a change in management at work and suddenly I was fired. It seemed that the new manager didn’t think that my position was going to suit her ideas as to the direction she thought the business should go.
At the same time the government had changed the work relations rules, and the boss didn’t have to have a reason to sack someone.
Suddenly it all came crashing in. My world was torn apart; I couldn’t provide for my family, I was a worthless person again, after all, society dictates that we are what we do.
I rang my doctor knowing that I was heading for a big fall. He didn’t hesitate and referred me straight to Psych Services.
The next few months were a struggle, financially we were screwed, emotionally we were screwed, there didn’t seem to be anyway forward. I was seeing a Clinical Therapist [Psychologist] at Psych Services as well as a Psychiatrist who adjusted my medications. I had started seeing a support worker from Aspire and I seemed to struggle from one day to the next, but I wasn’t handling it to well.
Then I happened to bump into a local furniture removalist at the corner shop and asked if he needed any jockey’s? I figured that if I could at least do something it had to be better than doing nothing. He told me that what he really needed was a driver to do a daily run to Melbourne in a refrigerated truck to pick up chicken. I informed him that I had my truck license and wanted a job.
A week later I was on my way to Melbourne to pick up chicken for KFC, Safeway and other stores in Warrnambool, Hamilton and Portland.
The money wasn’t great but I enjoyed the job, and felt that I was at least doing something I could cope with. I could do it my way and at my pace.
Unfortunately, I am a diabetic and the disease was attacking my eyes. Over the next few months my vision deteriorated almost daily, my mood swings got worse and it was a constant battle emotionally to keep focused mentally.
I finally got in to an eye specialist and was hit with the hardest news I had ever received. My eyes were so badly damaged that I was no longer able to legally drive a heavy vehicle. Again I was out of work but worse than ever I was going blind.
My world caved in. I was sent to Geelong for surgery which was able to slow the progression of vision loss. Over the next few months I endured three more operations, but the damage was too great and at 41 I was declared as being Legally Blind.
Within a couple of weeks I lost my vision, my job, the house we were renting was put on the market, our dog that had been with us for ten years got out and was killed by a car. Life was as bad as I could ever imagine. I WAS useless, I WAS worthless; I couldn’t see properly, I couldn’t do “it” anymore!
I hooked a hose to the exhaust of the car that I could no longer drive and into the window. It was time to go to SLEEP. My thirteen year old son heard the car running and knowing that I could no longer drive came out to see what I was doing. He saw what I was trying to do and pulled the hose out and called his mother, who effectively confirmed just how useless I was, I couldn’t even kill myself properly.
Psych Services and Police were called and I agreed to go to hospital. I was a shell, I couldn’t think, I couldn’t function, I was spent.
It was agreed that it would be best if I was admitted to ward 9. That was it, I was going to the NUT HOUSE, life was over, I was a NUTTER.
I went in and was shown around, but it didn’t matter, I couldn’t take in anything. I just wanted to go to sleep.
The next day the staff were fantastic, they seemed to know when I needed to talk and when I needed to be alone. Gradually I ventured out of my room and discovered that “THE NUT HOUSE” wasn’t as bad as I imagined, I wasn’t treated like a Leper, I wasn’t put in a white jacket with long sleeves, I wasn’t put in a padded cell and the other patients in there weren’t scary at all [Well not all of them anyway].
After a few days I felt strong enough to go home. But my Wife had other ideas, over the next few months our marriage went down hill to a point where it was beyond repair. Another argument fuelled by frustration of not coping with my loss of vision, my inability to provide for my family, I had always worked hard to be the best at what I did, I provided for my family the best I could, I strived to be the best person I could be.
Here I was 41 years old and having to call on the assistance of the Salvation Army to help provide food for my kids. Me! Who had worked hard all my life to provide, me who strived to help others where I could, me who didn’t take handouts.
On top of all this my wife had major surgery to her shoulder to repair damage that had occurred when she was younger and had progressively got worse, this left her unable to do the day to day stuff that is required to keep a family of six running,. The pressure was on me to keep up with the jobs like cooking, cleaning, washing, bathing the kids, helping with home work etc. My now fourteen year old son was a great help, he would jump in and do the dishes or help bath and change his younger siblings. Until I got the phone call from his school saying that he had injured himself playing basketball at lunch time, and that it looked likely that he had broken a knuckle in his hand. There I was at home with my wife incapacitated, neither of us able to drive and ten kilometers away from his school. The only thing I could do was phone my Father-in-law [who I didn’t like] and ask him to take my son to hospital. The bone was broken and my helper was out of action.
It was ALL up to me. I tried to do the jobs, but learning to do so many tasks with very little vision left was so hard.
My CT from Psych Services was fantastic she made sure that she caught up with me at least once a week and kept emphasizing that if I needed her help she was only a phone call away.
There were many times when I wanted to ring, but I tried to battle on. [Big Mistake]. In late October 07 it all came to a head. I couldn’t do “it” anymore; my wife was frustrated that she couldn’t do anything. And I was frustrated because it didn’t matter how hard I tried I couldn’t make her happy. We had yet another argument and things were said and objects thrown in anger and frustration. I told her if she wasn’t happy she should leave, to which she replied that she wasn’t going anywhere and in fact it should be me that left because I was the “Psycho” in the house.
I was spent; I agreed that it would be best for everyone if I left. The catch was, she had control of all our money and wasn’t prepared to let me have any to facilitate me leaving. With the mindset I was in I knew I had to get out that I couldn’t let my children live with the constant turmoil any more. I felt trapped, I wanted out she wanted me out but wouldn’t let me leave, I saw only one other way to go.
Realizing where I was heading my wife called Psych Services and told them to “get here fast” Then she and the kids left the house to leave my CT to FIX me. When Sarah arrived she saw the look in my eyes and realized that no matter what she said, I was to far gone to listen. She rang the police; I grabbed a knife and headed outside to be alone in my last minutes. As irrational as my mind space was I didn’t want anyone to have to see me do it, how could I expect anyone to live on with the vision of another person taking the most precious thing we have, LIFE!
I was strangely calm with where I was at. If not for the intervention of someone finding me I was on my way to PEACE. Reality bit, the police arrived and I willingly went back to the Psych ward for the help I needed.
My wife threw another spanner in the works by having an AVO served on me while I was in hospital.
So there I was, out of every thing I had in life. If it were not for the support I had from my CT at Psych Services, my psychiatrist and the organizations such as Aspire and Mind I know that I wouldn’t have still been here to write this tale.
It’s been a long hard journey and it still has a long way to go, but with the help of the wonderful people and the organizations that have been there to help me, I CAN see a future although through poor vision, and hope to work towards helping others who are going through personal crisis.
With continued help from Psych services and the facilities at South West Healthcare, I am learning to see each day as a step forward.
Some days are harder than others but I hope I can look back on my journey and see all the lessons come together to help someone else.
It hasn’t been an easy JOURNEY but it IS my JOURNEY.
Each day I take another step into the JOURNEY that will be the rest of my life. I know that I will occasionally take steps down the path that isn’t going to be the smoothest, but with the lessons I have learnt, and the skills that have been shown to me by the wonderful people at Psych Services, Aspire, Mind, The Salvation Army Lifeline and Vision Australia, I know that I will eventually find MY path and continue this JOURNEY that is my LIFE.