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Transcript of Isabella's Story

Warning: 0:00
This podcast series will share personal moments of connection and deeply felt experiences. If anything you hear has a triggering effect, please reach out to someone who can help keep you safe. Or remember you can phone lifeline at any time on 13, 11, 14.

Isabella: 0:19
So I think , um , as a young teenager, a young girl, obviously I struggled with a lot of body issues , um, as probably more as this form of self control . Um, so around eating and that sort of thing. I had a lot of problems. Um , self-harming um, depression, anxiety , um, OCD, panic disorders. You know, quite the umbrella of mental health. I struggle with friends a lot because I wasn't at school. Um, I was missing a lot of classes.

Beverley: 0:49
School days are said to be the happiest days of your life. Many, however, find them a struggle, including Isabella who experienced all the usual teenage angst, along with family issues and mental health concerns. But although she was so down on herself, others recognized what a remarkable young woman Isabella was. And they came to her aid , including a very special lifeline support group.

Isabella: 1:14
I grew up with my , um , mother and two of my sisters. I have quite an extended family, but I grew up in this smaller household. Um, I started experiencing mental health issues, I'd say as an early teenager and throughout young adulthood , um, for a various amount of reasons, my mother also struggled with her own mental health. Um, so I'd say would my sisters that I lived with. I struggled throughout school , um, throughout high school predominantly I cared for my mother through her various health issues. Throughout my teenage years you know, I would always miss first period first class. Um, I never , I couldn't get out of bed. You know , the light of the day was not something I wanted to see. I'd be up all night with insomnia and then I'd wake up during the day and I'd always miss that first class. And the teachers would let me go and I'd come late. And it was no problem. Um , I'd spend throughout the day, not being able to focus , um, just really not caring. My boyfriend, he remembers I was sleeping in some classes, you know, he thought I was a really cool kid cuz I was sleeping, but ultimately, you know, I just couldn't stay awake. I just didn't care enough to be there. Um, so once I started got around around the age of 16, I noticed that my mental health was declining and that it was not good and I needed some sort of help. Uh , I sought out the school counselor who was very nice at the time, but couldn't offer me the support that I ultimately needed. I did try and speak to my mother , um , and some family about it, but obviously with mental Health's that stigma and everyone's quite quiet about it. Um, so I didn't get the help I needed there, either. My relationship that at the time, my friends, they sort of knew to some extent what was going on. But again, with that stigma, you kind of hide it. Um, so after going to the school counselor, I again approached my family and said, look, I need some more help. So I went to the doctor, got some medication , um , antidepressants and whatnot. Ended up not taking that. Um, so then it continued to progress onwards. So I met my now husband when I was in grade 11 and he was in grade 12. We're the same age, but he was a year above me. Anyway, he was set to graduate , um, maybe three, four months to the end of the year. We'd been at high school the whole time together, but we'd never met figure that <laugh>. Um, but yes , so he, we shared some classes together, some year 11 and 12 combined class. Um, and we got to talking and whatnot and we started dating. I went to his year 12 formal, which was fantastic. Um , and he became my absolute support system. He started taking me to the doctor. Um , he got me some medications. We went to Headspace locally, which were fantastic, absolutely love Headspace. Um , but unfortunately my situation at home and my situation at school had not changed. So it was, I was helping myself, but not enough to that extent that anything would ultimately change

Beverley: 4:03
In year 11, Isabella was part of a leadership team. She was encouraged to stand for school captain. In hindsight, she feels it didn't help.

Isabella: 4:13
I still ultimately became school captain. Don't ask me how. Um, I really think it was a nailbiter vote between me and the most popular girl in school. And I do think that it was the teachers that threw me over the line because throughout all of this, I would say I was still quite a respectful young girl who, you know, I didn't stir up trouble with anyone. I didn't get , um , detentions or anything like that, even though I could have because I was late every day . So, you know, in hindsight it is a very, I'm be proud of myself that during that time I became school captain and I got through that role and I did okay. But also it was a lot of stress and, but it did keep me going as well. So it is, it is a catch 22. I think of, I was very proud of myself and it did keep me going, but you know, I was in the , the limelight for one of a better word throughout the school. Everyone knew me and I had to go to Sydney for various things sometimes and put on the uniform and that sort of thing. But throughout this all to some extent, people knew I was struggling, but they also didn't. I would sit in my favorite teacher's classroom at lunchtime on the floor crying because I didn't have any friends. And I did , I didn't have a boyfriend at school cuz my boyfriend had graduated this time. And um, but would still have to go to the , these leadership conferences and that sort of thing. But I would just hide myself in the classroom, every lunchtime and wait till I got to go home and, and repeat itself the next day, not sleep during the night, be late for the first class, whatever it was and continue on. Which, you know, in hindsight to me that's shocking to hear, but I'm sure a lot of young people are doing it right now and experiencing it right now. I think on the outside , um, you know, I was doing a school based traineeship throughout year 11 and 12 in aged care. I was school captain. I had this nice boyfriend , uh , I was doing well in the classes that I did attend. So I guess on the outside, yes, it looked like I was doing okay. Um, my friends and teachers though, they knew that, you know, I was struggling with the home life with caring for my mother and that sort of breakdown that I was missing some classes, but to an outsider. Yes. You know, I was going for early entry in high school , like with the university. So you wouldn't have known aside from the fact that unless you looked really closely. Yeah. So my boyfriend at the time now has been, he obviously stopped me a lot of times from , um , further attempting or going down a spiral. I would ring him crying every night. I can't go on, I can't go on. This happened, you know, I've had enough, I can't do it. He would talk me down. He would take me back to Headspace or the doctor, that sort of thing. You know, he was my rock and he still is. Just after our year anniversary. I knew that coming up, I had my own year 12 graduation and that as school captain, I would have to do a graduation speech. So that was kind of like the final straw for me. I get this speech done. I wear the uniform, I committed to this as a school captain. I need to be up there for the school and for my teachers and for the students that had voted me in. Um , and then after that point I was done, you know, I'd done my duties, I'd done what I'd promised I would do. Um , so I stood up there. I did the speech, my boyfriend was in the crowd , um , hiding mind you because some of my family did not know about him. Um, I did my speech and then ultimately eight days later I was admitted to hospital. Um, but I was proud of myself that I'd done that speech and I'd done my duties. <laugh> so yeah, but I can understand that a lot of young people as well would have things that they're sticking around for. And they'd think that after this that's okay, I'm done now. And I can go now, which is what I thought at the time, which in , hindsight's a terrible thing to think about, but it's very realistic at the time that you would think that because it's true. It's what you're going through at that time. Eight days later after my graduation , uh , I had been arguing with my family, that sort of thing. I'd been crying to my boyfriend. I'd been seeing him secretly, you know, at the library or whatnot , studying for my HSC trials because at this point in my brain, I'm thinking, okay, after my graduation, this is it I'm done, but I'll study for my trials at the same time. You know, it doesn't make sense, the rationale, but I'm sure a lot of people do it. But you know, ultimately the family dynamics still continued to break down. I still struggled at school without him there. Um, still struggled within myself and ultimately he couldn't stop me from , um , eventually trying to take my own life.

Announcer: 8:41
No one should ever have to face their darkest moments alone . Lifeline is here to help. Please call 13, 11, 14 or visit lifeline.org.au

Beverley: 8:53
Isabella rang her boyfriend to say goodbye.

Isabella: 8:58
So yes, I called him the night of , um, obviously a , a complete wreck and he's the one that come and got me and snuck me out of the house , um, and took me to the hospital and got me the help that I needed. And for a very long time, I was very mad that I had rang him with myself. You know, how dare I do that to myself. I foiled myself for want of a better , um , explanation, but in hindsight, thank God I did. Because he came and got me and he would've dragged me out of that house if he needed to. And you think, you know, he was the same age as me, 18 years old coming to get his young girlfriend in the middle of the night and take her up to the hospital because she's done this to herself and he's still here with me today. I, I , he's an amazing person, but obviously I'm thankful to myself that I did call somebody and I did do that. That's a proud thing for me as well, because who knows what would've happened. If I didn't say anything or didn't call anybody, you know, that day might not have been the end all for me, but maybe the next day would've and I just wouldn't have said anything to anybody. So yes, he came and got me that night and he sat by my bedside and looked after me. So, so I was in hospital for about 48 hours and they discharged me into the care of my father who lives a few hours away. So , um , I went and stayed with him for some time for about a week. Um, arranged things with my teachers and whatnot to try and sort out what was happening. I had HSC coming up soon and they were all obviously very concerned. Um, after that week with my father, I came back to Port Macquarie , um , and lived for a few weeks with my uncle who was a very trusted family member of mine. Um, and after that point, you know, I was, I needed somewhere else to go. I needed a house. I needed somewhere to go. I was not welcomed back into the family home. Social housing was trying to help me get something, my use of support worker, that sort of thing, but it hadn't come through yet. And of course my boyfriend jumped at the idea, mum , we're moving her in, she's coming to stay. Um , so I moved in with them. Yeah. So his mum and his stepfather there, my absolute saving grace as well. I can tell where Joshua gets his attributes from. His mother is just, you know, she took in this young girl, very obviously distraught and lots of family issues. And she knew to some extent what was going on prior, but certainly not the whole extent. And she took me in without a word of a thought for indefinitely. Like , I'll bring this girl in. Who's obviously quite troubled at this time. Um, we've met her before. She's a lovely girl. We'll have her in our home for it however long. And she's yeah, she's my mother now

Beverley: 11:34
Isabella went onto university to study to be a paramedic. But life changed again when one day her phone pinged, it was her sister and she'd sent her a message. I was given this for you. It was a photo of the front cover of a pamphlet. Eclipse come out of the dark, a support group for those who've attempted suicide.

Isabella: 11:54
So at this point I still had a lot of breakdown with my family. I hadn't been welcomed back into the family home and I still struggle with that today, but it's, it's not the oversharing thing in my life anymore. Um, but I remember being in the car and my twin sister had sent me this photo of this, of the eclipse pamphlet and we hadn't talked much about suicide. I hadn't been saying the word suicide. I was getting help, but it was sort of, it still wasn't that pinnacle moment for me, it wasn't the life changing thing, this help that I was getting. And I remember getting the pamphlet and saying to my , um , boyfriend at the time, oh wow, this is really interesting. I wonder if I should go and do this. Dunno if I'm up for it, but I did. So I made the appointment to come and speak to the people at lifeline. And I can remember saying to the lady that day, I've let out this breath I didn't know I was holding in. You know, this is exactly what I needed and I had no idea I was even searching for it. And hence why I continued to go on and do three different groups , um , which is eight weeks each with lots of different people coming through because it was just, that is my pinnacle for recovery and survival and going on, even now, after having done those three groups, I know I can come back. If I need to, I've got those contacts in my phone, I've got the contacts in my email. They were absolutely astonishing and throughout everything that's what I attribute to life is to my recovery and survival is lifeline. And those people at that group,

Lee: 13:22
It was sort of like I was the grandmother, I think of these , um , young ones that would come through, but the connection was there, which absolutely blew me away that I could connect with the younger people as well as older people, the yes, and an absolute privilege to sit in a room with these people and hear their stories.

Beverley: 13:39
This is Lee . She was the person who first approached lifeline with the idea of the eclipse group after her own suicide attempts. She'd also struggled with getting help and understood the importance of being heard and validated ,

Lee: 13:54
I'm a survivor of three suicide attempts. And they were way back in the early seventies, but I've had to struggle on my own as well for a long time until , um, I attended a suicide forum here in 2012 in Port Macquarie and , um, that gave me the courage to speak. And I came over to lifeline and said, can we please have a group to support people so that we don't become one of those statistics you , that we were talking about at this forum. And thank goodness that , um , the lifeline here in Port Macquarie said, okay, let's go do it. So we did.

Isabella: 14:26
So the group was called eclipse. It was a coming out of the dark for those who have attempted suicide. And you did eight weeks in a row , um, with different people come in, you know, five to eight people who ever had signed up for that group , um , that throughout that session , um , you'd have some facilitators there with you. They gave you a rundown at the start of the group, what you were gonna go through each week, the different topics , um , little homeworks for you. If you wanted to do some readings, that sort of thing, and you would come and you would sit. And obviously the first group was very daunting, very scary, the first session of any group. And everyone's kind of looking at each other. Um, but you know, that you're supported, you know everyone's here for the same reason. So that is in itself is very validating and very comfortable. Um, and it was very casual. We had topics we'd go over, but if we went past those topics or we were talking about something else or someone needed something, that's what we'd do. Um, and you get to the, you start this start of the group thinking this is really scary. I don't really wanna be here. I dunno about this.

Lee: 15:30
You know , we're traveling the same path. Yes okay there are differences, but we're on that path and we all want the same thing. We want some respite . We want a little bit of , um , those happy days that that Isabella spoke about. And I think it's really important to just validate people. That's all they want. They walk in that door. They're so brave on that very first day, they walk in so brave to walk in and they sit down and all they want is someone to listen and someone to understand and to validate them. That's all they need . That's all I ever wanted someone to , to just stop, sit with me in my pain and, and just be there.

Isabella: 16:07
So I kept a journal throughout my group sessions , um, for my first group that I went to, just to, I don't know, in hindsight, I guess it was to put down my feelings and to just get it out of my head, ready for the next group. And , um , I've got a reading here that I wrote , um , from my first ever group session one , um, it's just to paraphrase from it. And I said, it was really good to sit and listen to other people's stories of struggles and survival. I felt relief in that. I finally felt normal or validated, validated in that my past actions were not hidden or treated like they were something to be ashamed about. Sitting in a room full of complete strangers. I finally felt like I belonged. It's so odd to think that or to feel that, but for once in a very long time, I didn't feel like I was hiding anymore. And then by the fourth week you're thinking, oh yeah, this is good. I know. How are you going today? Or how's this, you know, you get to know these people. I still feel like I belong somehow that I'm accepted. I feel myself absentmindedly nodding along as if it's something I've felt or thought many times before. and through reading all of these, I was learning a lot about myself at the time, without even knowing it. I think I'm so amazed that I wrote these things because I feel it so deeply even reading it again. But the groups were just such a , an opportunity for reflection, without it being a chore or , um, something that I had to do because I was made to do it or anything. It was a voluntary group that I came to and I knew that all the people here also had volunteered to be here and they wanted to be here. And we were all reflecting on each other and able to notice throughout the group , um, everybody blossoming and coming out of their shell. And I think if you ask any of those people from week one, I said nothing to week eight, you probably couldn't make me be quiet, which is just, you know, it's exactly . It's just like you were hanging out with your friends, but there were complete strangers at the start, but they knew exactly what you thought and you knew exactly what they were thinking. And you also would accept the parts that maybe you didn't understand if they were going through something else in their life, which I just, yeah, without that group, I obviously did it three times for a reason. It has made me be able to reflect and acknowledge the parts of me that perhaps I didn't want to focus on, but be okay with those parts now, which is pretty phenomenal. I just wanted to listen this week. I didn't want to think about me and the actions in the past. I never do, but I know I've been given an opportunity to learn and grow from it. I still wish it never happened, but I'd also not take it back because at the same time it was my only option. I don't want this group to trigger me . I want to learn and grow from it. So at the same time, I need to learn to cope with the conversation that is so desperately needed. And then slowly it gets to week eight and you go, oh goodness, it's finished already. Well , how has this happened? But then, you know, you've got your coffee catchups, you've got the contacts in your phone . So we would catch up with these people. They'd ask about my paramedics. I'd ask about what they were doing. You knew these people, they were there to support you and still thereafter you run into them in the street. Everything's good. So I think it really shows the benefit of the group. Um, I've got a little section here that I wrote six months after that first group. I'm not sure why I wrote it. Um, but I did six months later after I'd finished. And I said, in my eyes, the group was a success. I learned not to be ashamed of what happened or what led me to it. Although I cannot change the things around me or others. I'm learning how to just focus on me and how I view things by accepting myself and the path I took. I'm slowly learning to let the pain go. It's like, when you go to the gym, you see very fit people going to the gym. But if they don't keep going, they're not gonna keep up that support. So you know that it's something you need to keep doing. Contacting these people, talking to these people, coming to the Christmas catch up , doing a coffee catch up every six months, whatever you need, because with mental health, it's not just a one and done thing. It is a continual thing for your whole life. And I used to be daunted by that thought, you know. In these groups, I was often one of the youngest people and I think, oh my goodness, am I gonna be their age and still struggling? No, you get to their age and you're still living with it, but that's okay because you're working on it. You know how to work with it. It's not something that you just get over, like a broken leg. You know, it's something that you are always working on, which I think is a fantastic thing in itself because it's okay to know that. And very much at the start of that group, I would not have said that. I would've thought that's quite daunting, but it is something that you work on for your whole life. And I think if someone had to told me back as a teenager, you know, you're not just gonna recover and just get over it. Cause everyone always just get over it. It's fine. If someone had to said, it's okay, you're feeling this way. You may again, but that's okay. We all do it. Would've been such a, you know, a thing that wasn't cause you always just think as a young person, okay I need to stop being sad or stop being anxious and I'll be okay. Whereas in fact, you're always sad. You're always anxious in parts of life, but you're happy to , but yeah, I just think it's an ongoing thing. And if you work at it continually, that's okay. That's what we are here for.

Lee: 21:53
Isabella speaks of times now when she has , um , sad days and things and says, that's okay, I call it riding the roller coaster. You know, our mental health. We learn to live with it. We learn to take the medications, but there's nothing like the support of each other that you have. It's so uplifting and it's really bonding

Beverley: 22:12
The eight week eclipse program now available in several lifeline centers, see's participants safely discuss their journeys, learn to give and receive support, combat suicidal thoughts, develop coping strategies and safety plans and recognize triggers.

Lee: 22:27
I can't tell you how grateful I am for me personally, that it's kept me alive as well. You know, Isabella said, you know, she's so grateful. I am too . I am very grateful that I've got a lot of friends now that we've walked the same path and we can support each other, you know, so, and suicide, isn't that bad word anymore. And the shame and the guilt that you have.

Isabella: 22:48
I think when I first went to lifeline or even before that, I didn't even say suicide to my husband. It was, you know, I was admitted to hospital. It's just a thing, but now I can say suicide and it's not a freak out thing. It's it's okay. It's something that we all, well , we don't all go through it, but it's something that a lot of people go through and that's okay. It's not something to be stigmatized. And that's with the lifeline group, you could say the word suicide , and nobody looked at you like you were crazy. No one looked at you like, oh my goodness, call the ambulance. Everyone's like just nodding. Yes. I agree. I understand. We all know someone that has struggled with mental health, if not ourselves, and to be able to say the word suicide now and not freak out about it or not, you know, immediately be triggered or , um, hide away because I think I've offended someone. I attribute that a hundred percent to lifeline because with those eclipse sessions, you were able to have the open conversations and you were able to say things and talk and feel like you were accepted and it's, and that has helped me to be able to say the word suicide to my husband, or to be able to tell people that I'm doing a podcast today because I went through eclipse as a suicide survivor and they not shutter away because we're having that conversation and we're talking about it. And I think if as a young person, someone had had that conversation with me, are you thinking about suicide? Or if I was able to say suicide's on my mind, perhaps I wouldn't have gotten to where I've gotten to. And perhaps a lot of young people wouldn't have as well,

Lee: 24:17
The dark space. Um, I find it very difficult sometimes to, to , to , and it really , um , I don't want to go back into that area again, the dark space Isabella spoke about it as well. I find it really frightening. Um , I don't wanna be in that space. So I've learned the coping strategies. I get a bit bored with my copping strategies at times, but honestly , um , they're the things that I've learned through eclipse and , and when you talk to someone, honestly, you can talk in the group and you can hear something from someone else you learn from those people every time. So therefore I try that. I'd like this. But I've learned to hang onto that rung so tightly that I don't fall into that dark space. And that's because I've had the support of people like Isabella. And, you know, even though that I'm the peer support, they support me. They give me so much back that that I've learned to do that my , for myself as well, but that is what I need them to do too. I want them to help us themselves as well. So when you tell your story, you know, you know , we tell our stories to , um , parts of our stories that we wanna reveal that makes them feel comfortable. That they're , that , that we , uh , have been through the same thing. You know, we're not just sitting here saying you'll be alright , you'll be alright . No , it's it's, the dark space is still scares me, but I haven't been there in a long time.

Isabella: 25:37
If you were struggling with the flu and you felt you couldn't go to your doctor and you couldn't say I've got this flu, it's, you know, it's making me really run down. A lot of people would die from the flu. Whereas it's the same as people don't go to their doctor and say, I'm really struggling today with suicidal thoughts because they think they're gonna be shipped to the hospital or because they think their family's gonna freak out. Imagine if we could say this and get the help that we needed, without it being stigmatized, we wouldn't have half of these problems. It's just amazing to me that there is even a stigma because it is such a physical illness as well. It's not, you're not crazy or you're not, you know, you don't need to run to the hospital straight away . It's a very diagnosable illness, mental health and things that we should not be ashamed to speak about because why, why is it so stigmatized? I don't understand. And I think if more people were willing to have the conversation, we wouldn't be seeing the amount of young people or whatnot , struggling and ending up in the hospitals or worse. Because people couldn't have that conversation with them because they were scared. I think as a teenager, you know, I struggled a lot with, like I said, eating disorders, self-harming , um, just being, you know, panicking, OCD, depressed and sad all the time. And, and I think something that's so not talked about is with mental health. You're mad at yourself. Why am I sad today? Why did I do that to myself? Why can't I get over it? And you know, other people might be struggling with the way you're acting or your demeanor, but you are also very mad because you don't want to be that person. And I think the group allowed me to go, okay, this happened to me to myself, but that's okay. I've forgiven myself for that. And even just saying, I'm so glad I rang my boyfriend that night for so long. I was very not happy with myself that I'd done that, but now I'm so glad. And I've accepted that I did that and that I called the help I needed and that that's okay. And now I can have those conversations with my family. Um, particularly you know, my husband and his mother and say, I'm not doing so well today, but that's okay. I'm not mad at myself about that. I'm validated in that, which is phenomenal. I would not have thought that four years ago coming into that group, you know, I finished my uni degree. I started another one. I didn't finish that one. And that's okay. Like I could never have imagined myself thinking, I dunno what I'm gonna do with myself now, but that's okay. And solely lifeline and the help that I got there and the friends and support that I still have there have allowed me to not only feel validated externally, but most importantly with myself. And even if I don't get that validation from my own immediate family dynamic, that's okay. I don't need it. It would be nice, but I don't need it because it's okay within myself. And I think again, if someone had to told me, you know, at 16 years old, it's okay that you're feeling like this. Because of course you think you're gonna get in trouble. You think someone's gonna get mad at you. But if someone said, it's okay, it's okay. Like we'll get through it. It's okay that you feel like that you're allowed to feel like that within yourself. That would've been such a validating thing to hear then. And it's ultimately what I sought for for many years after. And I have that now, and that is the epiphany really, to me, the, the , the key to my survival and ongoing recovery and success. So fast forward now I'm married to that then boyfriend, then , uh , we own our own house , um, working full time at the nursing home, which is great. I still love it. Um , I have a degree and a half under my belt. <laugh> not going anywhere with either of them necessarily, but that's okay. Um, my husband and I are looking forward to starting a family in the near future. Um, and you know, there's still the bad times but they're not all the times. And even if, it really is that light at the end of the tunnel that people talk about. I used to see this such dark tunnel and there was never a light. And I couldn't , if you said there is a light, I'd say no, there isn't, I can't see it, but now I know it's there even if I'm struggling today. Because I can contact lifeline, I can contact my friends and my support from there. I can talk to my family about it without feeling ashamed. The conversations I'm having now is just phenomenal. Um, I'm validated within myself, even if I'm having a hard time. I know that it's it's okay. It's gonna pass. I can say that to myself now. It's okay to be sad today, you know? Um, so yeah, life's great. And there's still bad times. Of course, there never won't be, but that's with anything and that's that's okay. So

Lee: 30:21
I'm , I've had to stop myself crying a few times. <laugh> I'm so bloody proud of you.

Isabella: 30:25
I thought I was rambling. You couldn't get me going now I wont stop . You couldn't get me going and now I can't stop.

Beverley: 30:36
Thank you for listening to holding onto hope. Lifeline Australia is grateful to all our interviewees who share their stories in the hope of inspiring others. We also acknowledge all of you who provide support to people in crisis and those on their journey to recovery. If you found this podcast helpful or inspiring, please share it, rate it, write a review or subscribe wherever you download your favorite podcasts. If the story has affected you and you require crisis support, please contact lifeline. You can call on 13, 11, 14 or text on 0477 , 13, 11 14 , or visit lifeline.org.au to access web chat . You can access all these services at any time , 24 hours a day, seven days a week. If it's inspired you to be a lifeline volunteer or donate, please visit lifeline.org.au With thanks to Wahoo Creative for interviews, editing , and production, and the voice of lived experience, which is essential in the development of our work .