#Tear It Down
#Tear it down
Our first plog. Podcast blog. We realise some people don’t read blogs so we are going to do some of the blogs as plogs. So this blog is also available to listen to, on our usual channels.
This blog is going to be a little different. I am going to discuss mental health. How does this relate to Kirra and her unsolved murder? Well, it has a LOT to do with it. It’s clear to see from what we have heard so far that leading up to Kirra’s death her life was spiralling out of control. Her marriage had ended, She entered into what appears to be a violent, abusive relationship and lost her kids as a result. You heard Tamiqua say on that fateful night, Kirra snapped, and wasn’t herself, hysterical and angry. We know Kirra was prescribed anti depressants, and we know she suffered depression. After Kirra’s death, Alison’s mental health was far from good. Alison became a hermit, and lost who she was. The universe collapsed for her that day. Alison said she would have died 4 and a half years ago if it wasn’t for her grandkids.
Someone close to me is going through a crippling episode of anxiety and depression. It’s tough to watch someone go through something like that. After all the research, all the developments, all the exposure in this field, there is STILL a stigma surrounding mental health. If you are one of those people who thinks anxiety and depression are not real, open your eyes and pull your head in. Suicide is one of the largest killers worldwide. According to the World Health Organisation, a staggering one MILLION people die from suicide each year. Thats approximately one suicide every 40 seconds, globally. This cannot be just a ‘MOOD’ or something someone can simply ‘snap’ out of. It’s time we address it and remove the stigma. It’s time we tear it down.
This is a conversation we need to have. We are going to do our part in removing the stigma by telling you our story and battles with mental health.
When I was 16 or 17 I remember hanging out with a mate, smoking durrie’s out the back of a 7-11, as teenagers do. We were talking and all of a sudden my mate said “don’t you just want to die?” Although I would have been around mental health issues before, this was the first time I was face to face with the illness and its effect. It knocked me, hearing my mate tell you they wanted to die. It didn’t get better after that, this mate began self harming and grade 12 was rough for him. It wasn’t easy for me either. Up until that point, I was young and excited about the future. I told my mate I didn’t want to die and I was looking forward to the rest of my life, finishing school, meeting a girl and having kids. It was like night and day, all of a sudden I was changed. I was now aware of the fragility of mental health and what it can do to a person. You hear all about this stuff, but It’s completely different when it’s your friend. For the next few years this impacted me as I remained close to my mate. Just everyday things like going to parties, hanging with a group of friends, meeting new people, were all challenging and I had to navigate that as a young person trying to live life but also be conscious of my friends mental health.
I finished school and worked for a few years before heading to Canada in 2006. I lived in Banff with my brother, Joel. For those that don’t know, Banff is a tourist, party town that many people from all over go to visit, work and live. It was there that my own long term relationship began with mental health. It started off as the best year of my life, and ended as the worst. I was drinking plenty, sleeping minimal and had some heart break. It all came to an abrupt halt. I started having this feeling. I couldn’t put my finger on it but I remember saying to myself “I’m going insane” and that in itself was fucking terrifying. I remember one time I couldn’t stop shaking. I physically shook all night. Like I was freezing cold, but it was just anxiety (I didn’t know that at the time). It’s incredibly isolating. The feeling that you are losing your grip on reality is something I wouldn’t wish on anyone. This is when you learn to act. You have to act all the time, just to get by. For example; I worked as a cook in a fairly well known hotel. I was cooking one morning and a customer asked me where I was from. I told them “Sunshine Coast, Australia. The funny thing was, It was just a rehearsed answer. I had to program myself to answer questions and really concentrate on conversations with people. Otherwise, I’d be a million miles away, but stuck in my head. This to me was a major red flag, even in my depressed state I knew I wasn’t quite right. I felt so detached from myself I had to ‘remember’ where I was from, it didn’t just come naturally to me. At that point, I thought to myself, I am completely and thoroughly bonkers. My acting only got me so far. I had started as a kitchen hand and been given the chance to become a cook and learn from some of the best. This was when everything was peachey. One co-worker said to me one day “You use to care and try but now you don’t give a shit.” I couldn’t agree more. In hindsight I should have been honest and upfront. It would have saved years of relentless struggle. I should have said that something was not right in my head and I need help. Instead though, I did want many do, and just islolate myself and get worse. I would use excuses like ‘I’m tired’ or ‘homesick’, or whatever I could think of to validate my behaviour to my friends. The truth would have been much more helpful to everyone.
The Panic began to rise. I was a zombie, a terrified zombie. The thing with depression/anxiety is you feel like you have the worse case of it, and while some people may be cured, you are shit out of luck. I felt more and more like my world was caving in and I had no idea what was happening to me. I didn’t know because I didn’t reach out or go the doctor. If I knew what I know now I would have screamed it from the roof tops. If I knew I’d spend the next 10 years with anxiety in my back pocket I would have done everything possible to get control over it. There was no amount of money I wouldn’t have paid for just a moment of relief. The trouble is I did not have any money.
You’ve heard people say they were bed ridden whilst they suffered depression or anxiety. I was lucky to never have that. I did however have all my energy and motivation zapped from me. All I wanted to do is nothing, and nothing is the worst thing to do. To be at home, alone, doing nothing but stuck with your thoughts. I played a game of footy one day with some friends. It was autumn and the cold was setting in. I was running around so much I was absolutley buggered. For the FIRST time in months I actually had a moment of relief. I completely forgot about my depression in that moment. I was quickly reminded and thought “Oh that’s right FTW”
At this point I had told a few people what I thought was going on, so I reached out in a way. I formulated a theory for my mental state. I was living in Banff which is surrounded by mountains. It made perfect rational sense to me that all this was a result of being ‘closed in my mountains’, you can’t see beyond them. I needed to go home, to see the ocean and the vast open space, and that would cure me. Makes perfect sense.
So I headed home after 12 months away. The relief was momentary when I arrived home. It was great to see my friends and family, but that big dark cloud followed me back. Damn.
The next few years were tainted by anxiety. I still didn’t go to a doctor so I was never ‘diagnosed.’ Things like surfing (which I loved) would be almost not enjoyable because my anxiety manifested itself to be everywhere. I was now petrified of sharks and deep water even though I am a strong swimmer. Seriously. Anxiety is more then nerves or stress. I felt like I was in the gas chamber and they were closing the door. That kind of nervous. Next level. It controls your life and dampens everything. My anxiety became centred on health issues. I was fit and healthy but I was dying from everything. I also experienced what I now know were panic attacks. Going to the dentist was hard because I thought I may have a reaction to the anesthetic 🤦♂️. I also bought a blood pressure monitor so I could keep checking I don’t have high blood pressure...you get the point.
In this time I did catch a break however. I met Renee who would later become my wife. She knew all about my battles and was very supportive. I’m sure it wasn’t easy dealing with me all the time so, thanks 😉. I will never be able to repay you for all the times you brought me back to earth. I also reconnected with my faith. Although I’m not an ‘every sunday’ church goer, I have my beliefs and that helps.
I decided to join the police. Because that’s a great easy going job for someone who hooks themselves up to a blood pressure monitor all the time just to ‘check.’
When I look back now, I’m proud of what I accomplished in that time. Despite having pretty bad anxiety, I still put myself out there. I joined the police, competed the academy, and was told I was actually a good cop. But after several years I was burning out. It’s a stressful job, especially if you take it home.
So I left. It helped that I had a fulltime job waiting for me to go to. My family has a soap business and I make soap in their factory. I went from fighting crime to fighting grime. .... oh I wish I could take credit for that one but my Senior Sergeant at the time Steve Mcreight came up with that little ripper.
The last time I wore the blue uniform was for a somber occasion. A funeral of a fallen comrade. In November 2016, Dale, a fellow officer and mate, finished his shift, completed his paperwork and the usual end of shift procedures as he always did. Dale said goodbye to his co-workers and went home. He called 000 and told them he was going to end his life. He did. The police and paramedics arrived but it was too late. It was a tragedy of unbelievable measure. The guilt and sadness was felt by all who knew him. A reminder to have that conversation before it’s too late. And those poor police who worked daily along side Dale don’t get paid enough to attend a colleges suicide. I remember hearing the senior sergeant who arrived on scene tried to stop other officers seeing Dale, because you can’t ever un see. RIP Dale.
I am much better. I slowly learnt ways of dealing with anxiety.
Renee and I now have two boys and they just rock my world and are a constant reminder to live in the moment. I still have anxiety to this day but it’s way easier to live with. I have since seen a doctor and had treatment. Don’t worry I still get down and dirty with the irrational thinking from time to time. I liken it to a washing machine. Your clothes are your thoughts and anxiety spins the shit out of them.
Anxiety can hit even when you thought you had a grip on it. Life happens. In November 2018, my wife had a stillborn. 36 hour labour and all. It was gruelling and completely tore our hearts out. I have a new found admiration for midwives and doctors who experience these tragedies on a regular basis. We are thankful for family and friends who helped us through this. We will always remember and love you Gabrielle.
Despite all this, it doesn’t define me. It’s just an aspect. I still get on with it. I have hobbies and interests. I have still completed an apprenticeship, lived overseas, got married, joined the Police, had kids ect. To be effected my mental health doesn’t mean you are smearing poo on the walls of the padded cell. Anyone you interact with could be silently suffering. I wrote a quote 10 years ago when I was in the thick of it. It was something like this:
“An anxious person is a strong person. Their burden is heavy and it never leaves them.”
I want to encourage anyone who is going through something like this.. ask for help. Don’t wait 10 years. We all fight battles. No matter your beliefs, if you were created, evolved or spawned from aliens, we can all agree that life is nothing short of a miracle. Let’s look out for each other.
It’s only stigma if we let it be. Let’s Tear it down.
“PTSD and me” by Tom Daunt
I suffer from severe OCD, Anxiety and PTSD. There you go I said it, it’s out, I can’t take it back and now you know as well.
As our Beenham Valley Road podcast series gains momentum, there have been a number of satellite themes present themselves.
The obvious one is Domestic Violence, but really, when you look at the state of Kirra leading up to her death, her mental health was in decline. In fact, she, like myself, had suffered from a suite of mental health issues for the majority of her life.
I have been told by many health professionals that I have seen over the years that I am genetically predisposed to mental illness. There are a number of people in my family who suffer, albeit to a lesser degree, some sort of mental health issue and I guess I just carried on the tradition.
For me, it all started when I was eight-years-old. I was riding my bike, like eight year olds used to do back then, in a spare paddock next to my house. I was doing wheelies and jumps and all kinds of cool shit. But, as fate would have it, I came off and started bleeding everywhere. Again this was nothing new. I am one of three boys and come from an extremely male dominated environment. Not a day went by where I was not bleeding or bruised or injured in some way. Mainly from jumping off roofs or swimming in dams or wrestling my huge family dog. However, on this occasion, it was different. See the night before I remembered watching an add on TV about AIDS. Little did I know that short, public health announcement would trigger in me a lifetime of internal struggle. When I came off my bike in that vacant paddock in the summer of 1994, some neurones connected, some hormones were released and some nerves started firing and just like that my life changed.
I had suddenly contracted AIDS, at least that’s what I though. I had a panic attack. “How will my mum and dad cope when I die?”
“I’ll never get married.”
“What’s going to happen with my dog? Should I give him away now?”
This is all pretty heavy shit to deal with when you are eight.
In my mind the best way to deal with this was to start twisting the dial on my new Rip Curl watch. One twist would mean I didn’t have AIDS. Two twists would mean I wasn’t going to get it and three twists would just be for general wellbeing.
As time went on, these preventative rituals got more complex and more time consuming. After about 18 months it was taking me anywhere from 10-20 minutes just to leave my room. Twists of a watch, turning of a door handle, flicking of a light switch, the number of breaths between the bed and the door. These were all designed to divert my mind, even for a split second away from my perceived terminal illness.
As I got older, My OCD grew with me and started to become self-sabotaging. By 14 I finally came to the conclusion that I didn’t have AIDS, rather something more sinister. Brain cancer. My watch twisting hit an all-time high. I started underperforming in exams on purpose thinking with the rational that if I was unsuccessful academically then I wouldn’t have cancer. It was at this point my parents intervened. I was taken to see a psychologist and subsequently medicated.
Fast forward a year or two and I am off my meds, the OCD came back but with a little bit of anxiety thrown in there just to make it interesting. I am not going to bore you with tales of every panic attack I had or hand washing marathon I went on. Let’s just assume it was a shit ton.
Anyway I managed to finish school, get accepted into UQ Law (which I swapped for journalism after about two minutes) and continue on my merry watch twisting, hand washing, pen tapping way until I joined the police.
Here is where shit takes a bit of a dark turn.
I reckon the majority of operational police in this country, possibly the world suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. The very nature of their work leads them to experience traumatic shit so it stands to reason that would cause some degree of stress.
I’m not going to go into the stuff I’ve seen. Again, just assume the majority of it wasn’t overly pleasant. But because of my existing mental health issues, I was prone to feel the effects of PTSD in a way that was truly debilitating.
I want to take this opportunity to debunk a few myths about PTSD. Firstly, it doesn’t make you weak or sensitive or gay or soft or any of that bullshit. PTSD is simply a reaction to some sort of stimulus that your mind picks up as being stressful and processes in a weird way.
Secondly, PTSD manifests itself differently in everyone. How I display it is different to the copper next to me for instance. While they drink themselves into oblivion every chance they get, I may go two or three days without saying a word.
PTSD is the reason why I am no longer a police officer. I didn’t recognise it at the time but it is. I left the job because I got, what I thought was a better offer from a commonwealth branch of government. It wasn’t until I finished and went back to my first career choice as a journalist the true nature of my PTSD surfaced. I became extremely withdrawn. I wouldn’t speak for days. I wouldn’t drive, I wouldn’t exercise. I wouldn’t use my phone and I deleted all my social media. I drank heavily, I ate shit. I gained almost 20 kilos.
My mental health is something that I still struggle with every day. It may not be obvious but it is there.
The opportunity to work closely with Jamie and the BVR project means the world to me. Its helping me close out some things from my past that needed to be shafted. The opportunity to tell Kirra’s story and provide some insights into her struggle is also a big part of my motivation.
I still take medication. It knocks me around sometimes. I have a tremendous amount of support from my family, my wife and kids and my close friends.
There is a stigma around mental health and I guarantee that nothing I say on this platform is going to change that. Doesn’t mean we can’t try.