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Hear Lea's Story

On this episode we are joined by Lea. Having found out in the most awful fashion at 6 years old she was adopted, Lea struggled with challenges throughout high school. Faced with crippling depression and societal stigma, she grappled with finding her place in the world.

About the episode

Having found out in the most awful fashion at 6 years old she was adopted, Lea struggled with challenges throughout high school. Faced with crippling depression and societal stigma, she grappled with finding her place in the world. As a mother of two boys, she wore a mask and struggled alone. She is a passionate about an individualised approach to treatment , finding your own coping strategies and the importance of feeling empowered.
Lea talks about her lived experience of mental health issues and to share her personal story and the moment her life changed for the better.

Read the transcript

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Darcy Milne (0:00)
We acknowledge the lives lost to suicide and recognise those who have survived suicide attempts. And those who struggle today or in the past with thoughts of suicide, mental health issues and crisis situations, we acknowledge all those who have felt the deep impact of suicide, including those who love care and support people experiencing suicidality and those experiencing the pain and bereavement through suicide. We respect collaboration with people who have a lived or living experience of suicide and mental health issues and value their contribution to the work we do.

Lea (0:32)
The first attempt, the family didn't mention it, it was just all washed under the carpet. And I think that in itself felt like it was punishment. And it was like living the stigma rule.

Darcy Milne (0:43)
Welcome to holding on to hope, a series that shares the stories of everyday Australians that have experienced moments in crisis and found a path to support. Whilst all of the stories shared of hope and inspiration. At times, you may hear something you find triggering, if you or someone you know needs crisis support, please phone lifeline on 1311 14 Text 0477 13 11 14 or visit lifeline.org.au/get Help for lifeline chat service, which is 24/7.

Ruben Mackellar (1:17)
Hello, and thank you for joining me. I'm Ruben and I'm a volunteer telephone crisis supporter at lifeline. I'm one of the voices you may hear if you call for support. At the age of 15, I lost my dear father to suicide. Ever since that fateful day, I always wished my father had the opportunity to talk to someone like me when he needed it the most. 13 years later, and four years into my journey with Lifeline. I'm now part of that opportunity. And this is why I'm so passionate about hosting this series. If you're not quite ready to talk, perhaps you will find comfort by listening to the stories of people who have experienced the value of reaching out for help. In this episode, I'll be speaking with Leia, having found out in the most awful fashion she was adopted. Leah struggled with challenges throughout high school. Faced with crippling depression, and societal stigma, she grappled with finding her place in the world. As a mother of two boys, she wore a mask and struggled alone. She is passionate about an individualised approach to treatment, finding her own coping strategies, and the importance of feeling empowered. Leah is joining us today to talk about her lived experience of mental health issues, and to share her personal story. And the moment her life changed for the better. Hi, Leah, thank you so much for joining me, thank you. If you could take me back to the time when he found out that you were adopted and what was going on during that time.

Lea (2:46)
I was trying to remember the age group. But I think I was in about third class at probably about seven or eight. And it was in a very small school in the New England area. It was a time when you thought your friends were your friends. We were out there playing and I can remember distinctly the hula hoop was a hula took time since they were wooden at the time this words come out of her mouth and said she just decided she would pick on me this day and her heart your adopted. I don't think that she knew what that word meant. And I certainly didn't. So it was a little bit dramatic. I was just a bit lost. I think in that feeling. When I think about it. Now I think you know, parents do talk when you've just moved to the area. And they hear that. So that's something that sticks in your mind, I guess because I don't think that the young person knew that was it something was wrong with me or something about me, I have no idea. But and to this day, I don't we've never discussed it, I see it from time to time, but we've never discussed it.

Ruben (3:41)
When you were at school during that time. And you know, being in the part of Australia that you were was there a stigma attached to being adopted?

Lea (3:50)
I don't know, whether it's stigma or what it is, I It's that you're different. And you really don't belong in that family. So I guess it is a stigma with you're looking at it that way. It just felt that I was different to everybody else. And I think that then I didn't know anybody else that was adopted was a really horrible time. You know, and, and it all stemmed from that that moment in time in the in the playground, and I just don't think any eight year old should go through that alone was quite hard. And I'm sure it was very hard for my adoptive parents.

Ruben (4:18)
What were the kinds of thoughts and feelings and probably to pinpoint that when you found out the news that you were adopted?

Lea (4:25)
I just can't remember the conversation with my parents, but I just the feelings I do you remember the devastation, trying to work out who these people were? And who was I? It was all that talk about? Where do I fit in then you know, so, and as a young child, it was really quite hard to take on. And then the parents decide well, how much information you can take on. I just remember being devastated, absolutely devastated that I didn't belong to these people that I grown up with all this time. And it was like that I was living a lie. I think and I think that Where do I belong? Who do I belong to? Do where do I fit? And the response from my dad was, you belong here with us? I knew I was different, you know, once the second child was the first and once that second who was an actual child? Can I can tell the difference? The absolute difference? I grew up looking totally different to everyone else. So I think that I would have gathered that had I not been told that at that time, and I think that they were waiting to the high school years to sell me when a little bit older and more able to take on the information, I guess

Ruben (5:29)
can you tell us about the criticism and the judgement you faced when you became suicidal?

Lea (5:34)
The problems I was having no one knew that I was depressed, you put on that chameleon suit, I think and trying to act normal. After the first attempt, the family didn't mention it, it was just all washed under the carpet. And it wasn't mentioned at all, no discussion happened at all. And I think that in itself felt like it was punishment. It was judgement. And it was like living the stigma rule was so long back in the 1970s. No one knew what to do. And no one knew how to do it. And I didn't know there was such a thing as stigma about and I didn't know that was such a thing as suicide. It was just I wanted the end of pain I wanted to get out of the circle. So they really were leaving the stigma rule then, without them knowing. Does that make sense?

Ruben (6:16)
No, it does, it does. And I suppose to look at it from my end, I probably fit in the Gen Zed category, I think, more than 95. And looking at how far we've come with mental health and even you sharing your personal experience of going through that. But all the external factors not allowing you to be open about that. What was that like for you, you know, you say devastating, but it would have felt trapped in a way in terms of you're worried about what you're going to do and say, but at the same time you're dealing with your own mental health issue.

Lea (6:46)
You're absolutely right, we've been I just think that no talk about my chameleon suit, they want you to be normal, they don't want anything to be wrong with you. So I'm trying to fit into this perception of what my parents wanted, what my parents in law wanted and what my husband wanted, and trying to act normal, so I wouldn't be blocked away again. So and it just kept Compounding the problem. But I didn't know that I just kept falling down. And I just I didn't realise I was so young at the time and naive. And I had two little children. So therefore another attempt happened then another attempt, that system was letting me down too, because they weren't grabbing me and saying these, obviously here a real problem that you've tried three times. But all they did was just write me now the script, I just don't think people knew what to do with someone that was in that sort of high risk sort of place at the time, mine was depression, chronic, every day of my life, I get up and I just wouldn't be happy, I just wouldn't be anything. So just kept going. I kept going and doing the thing. So from my perspective, I think that I didn't acknowledge it either. I was half to blame as well, because I was trying to ignore or whatever normal is

Ruben (7:51)
when it was your first step in getting help for the issues. And you know, the depression that you were struggling with? Where was that for you? And where was that genuine help?

Lea (7:59)
Oh, gosh, it was many, many years, many years, I struggled through the system and kept falling through the gaps with time and move to where I am now. And I found the right GP, we could sit down and discuss medication. It was all about me it was me included in that conversation, which has never been before it was just write the script and give that to me. And I just had to take them, whereas you take them for a couple of breaks. And then you think you're okay, so the discussion was, I had to play my part this time as well. I had to stick with the medication as well, the connection was there straightaway, you could build that trust. And that connection was there for me. And I trusted her. I was absolutely devastated when she left, but she passed me on to another GP that was because I would go to counsellors here. And when I lived in psychologists and I just couldn't build that rapport with them. I could not think so I trust my GP. So the next step to after that was it was a suicide forum held here in Port Macquarie back in 2012. I think that building the courage to go along to this meeting, and I think that was another step for me as well, maybe to get the right GP, in moving to put yourself out there attending a meeting about suicide makes you vulnerable. It took everything I had to go to that thing. My husband was very supportive. And he said, look, just give it a go. I mean, it's amazing people. I think that was my second step

Ruben (9:22)
The GP can often be the biggest gateway in terms of being able to get help, and how that helped might look like but having that trust with them. I feel really invaluable. And being on the phones at lifeline, we constantly say ‘have you spoken to your GP’ and sometimes they haven't. And it's easier said than done having that conversation but as he said, you know having that support around you and feeling when it's the right time and when you think you need to is also important as well.

Lea (9:47)
I think it's very important. I think that that GPS should be the first like I've got what was a great start for me that starting point of talking and connecting to your GP first because then they get an understanding of how you're feeling and then be able to move tell you where you need to go from there. I've talked to so many people, even now that the GPS is the starting point. And I think that's for me was really, really big the trust in someone to talk to, I could talk to her and I could talk about suicide should not panic, call the ambulance and have me blocked away. And that was the fear, I have a lot of them having that trust so that you can sit there and be totally honest, and then find a way forward together.

Ruben (10:23)
How did it feel for you after finally being able to realise that you are taking that first step in what you were dealing with and have been

Lea (10:3)
I wasn't confident at first I really wasn't. Because of the past, or what happened falling through the gaps. We've talked about the trust and connection. And once I learned that, I was able to have a say in what was going to happen to me, and what medications we were, you know, was all trial and error diverse and that sort of thing. Having a say, and having input into your health, and my mental health was huge for me, no one's ever done that before. And it's fallen truly into my 60s when I moved down here. And I think it was life changing for me, because it got me on my path to where I am now. It was huge. And I think that the changes that were made included me and I think that that's a big step for anyone sometimes that in the past, they have made this decision for you. And I think it's very important.

Lea (11:15)
Lea, can you explain what you mean about not taking a one size fits all approach to supporting someone?

Ruben (11:22)
This is a real big one with me, I think that if you suffer with bipolar of yourself that you seem to put this in a box, you know, I mean, so and we're all individuals. So one size doesn't fit all. And that's what's my big first cry, we have different diagnosis, different stories, different traumas. And we need to see the person when they really need to see the person, not a diagnosis and connect with them. And you've got to build that trust report, you've got to build that with every individual and to really listen to them and have them as a person, not a diagnosis you there to talk to them. When we're having bad days. I think we're all individuals again, because we all go down in different ways and things like that. So I think that we need to be treated as people before. I'm a mother of three boys. I'm a grandmother of six grandchildren. That's me first, before my diagnosis. When I talk to people, that's what I want to know about them first.

Ruben (12:13)
What forms of supports do you draw now that help you when you're having a difficult time, your non negotiable?

Lea (12:21)
Being honest with myself. That's a big one for me not putting on that chameleon suit time. And it really fits very well still, if you were allowed to, but that's a big one. When I talked to a couple of people that lifeline you know, it's stopped, you know, just stop for a minute, take a breath, slow down. And I think that they really good things to listen to, I'm learning to reach out and have the conversation. When I'm having a bad day, the suicide prevention manager whose work with clips is bunker down, just a bunker down. So it's bunker down and let it pass. And the old sort of thing is saying it's okay to have that bad day before I when I have this think oh my god, here we go. And you thought you were going down that spiral in the dark abyss again, you know what I mean? So every time that you start to think, oh, here I go again, like you're able to suffocate, just stop, let it wash over you or just take a breath. But reach out and talk to someone. It just relieves that pressure. And I think it's really important to sort of say, and there's so I'm learning that I'm still learning that Ruben, I really am and it takes practice because they also was there for so long. And that was so easy to slip back into and being positive and not being negative. They were all new things to learn. So I think it's okay to have a bad day. Just don't let it unpack, just don't let the depression unpack they might non negotiables, Ruben

Ruben 13:41
I always think are on a very simple level and go everyone's got all their thoughts going on, around and around, around in their heads at times. And you don't realise that actually being able to just verbalise it in its most simple form, just talking to someone forget actually what's being discussed as a subject, but just actually verbalising it how much that can make a difference when you've had that vent, or you've had that situation where you've just let it all out. Sometimes I get it with myself and like my mindset has completely changed no matter what the subject was I was talking about, but I've actually just let it out.

Lea (14:13)
We have one of our participants where it takes us to call them distractions. And I like that word. You know, they're coping strategies, something to distract you, even if it's just getting up and going, making a cup of tea or whatever. I have been really sort of not coping very well, I got up and my husband was satisfied. And I don't know why I'm liking but the action I took was to pick up my phone and text my suicide prevention manager. I knew she wouldn't get it cuz she switches the phone on, but I knew she'd see it the next day. And that was enough to stop my mind. Going to the next step, stop, breathe, do something but just do something to stop those thoughts. My two dogs they have great distraction as well. So just to stop the train of thoughts. We're just break it.

Darcy Milne (14:58)
We hope you're enjoying this episode. If you're not ready to speak to someone, but we'd like more information, curated resources and personal stories to support your journey, please visit toolkit.lifeline.org.au. Now back to the episode

Ruben (15:14)
What do you do in your day to day life that helps manage the frequency and severity of the difficulties that you can have distraction.

Lea (15:22)
Over the years, I've built a tool of coping strategies. And these strategies need constant updates, as far as I'm concerned, because boredom really is my biggest fear of being bored. I think, Oh, the thoughts come in, floating around if you see the air and got nothing to do, so I feel like sort of invade my space, my headspace, and I thought, right, so then then the negatives come marching in and, and then you start going to that headspace where you become unwell. So I don't allow it to be able to go that space anymore. So one day it could be writing the other day could be ancestry, my love my family history, the best strategy, as I said, You are my dogs, they run around like madmen, and they have the best time and they show you lots of love and affection, and they don't answer back. So that's really nice. We've got new puppy back in June, good for me. And for my mind, I felt I was getting rather sad entry. So I thought, well, I have to get up to feed him, I have to take him to the toilet, I have to walk in. And it really did change my outlook. It's a living thing that needs my constant thing. So that's given me a purpose, I guess, I'm starting to lose interest in cooking as well. And as I said to my husband, we've got to find something else to change of recipes and things like that. And he's getting a bit bored with foods. So they're things that take time, and we discuss them and they're distraction. So that's my non negotiables. And my difficult days of trying to stop going further down the track. So if I'm sort of sitting there, I don't feel like doing that don't feel like doing that, I have to get up and move, give any chance for your brain to stop that negative coming around, I find it very invading. So I need to keep myself busy.

Ruben (16:59)
I feel the word purpose, we can use it always very broadly. But sometimes I like to go pretty micro with it. Getting up in the morning, brushing your teeth, having a shower, it's giving you that purpose, making your bed which sometimes I don't do from time to time, but I realised the feeling of purpose or that fit that, you know, having that purpose after I've made my bed, it sounds really simple, but it's huge. It extends from there, absolutely. Add them into your non negotiables, you're onto a winner

Lea (17:25)
I have a diary for things, I'm gonna tape with workwise. But I have it for my daily achievements as well don't write down the making the papers, that's a non negotiable, I have to do that I have to have a shower, and I have to clean my teeth, doing the washing the sheets and having washing the towel. So I'll do that on this day. So I don't forget. So I write things in my diary, and I check them off. And I feel a sense of achievement at the end of the day. And I've marked them off. I felt very self righteous yesterday, because I achieved an awful lot yesterday. So that makes you feel really good. You know? So I think that having a plan, I think but some days, she's just, you know, someone will be listening to me and saying, oh, but that's alright for you, you're further down the path. And that's, that's fine. That's okay, but only do what you can do. If you can only make your bed for the day. That's fine. That's fine. You've achieved that. So I think that what we were able to do on the day just to make ourselves feel good about that we've achieved something, the negatives pop in again, don't they? They just bring a look at you. You're sitting around doing nothing. That's what happens. So yeah.

Ruben (18:25)
Now you touched on it before around the Eclipse programme. But just for the listeners and the viewers, what is the Eclipse programme? What's your involvement with it? And how did it change your life?

Lea (18:36)
Eclipse is a support group for people who have attempted suicide. It came about by attending that suicide forum and sat next to two wonderful ladies who had lost a husband and when it lost a son. We had the conversation at lunchtime, they were asking me questions of trying to find some answers for themselves. And I sit and that's when my individual talk came in again, got I can't answer for your family. But I can only answer for me. They said please stand up and talk and say that you need a support group. Because if you had a support group, our family may be still alive. And I thought how very important was that to hear from them. And I will never forget that day when I really weren't. So I stood up and be counted. And I just said we need a support group because I don't want to be one of those statistics they were talking about. I didn't realise that lifeline CEO and lifelike medicine coordinator was there at the time. I went over and knocked on lifelines door here at Port Macquarie and Catherine Barra, the CEO and the ad for the life matters coordinator at the time. Absolutely on the same page. Yes, we so we want to go with that. So that changed my life. It really it did because someone believed in me and someone listened to me. Then the first group started in August of 2016. And I was a participant in that group. And it changed my life. It was 10 to eight weeks. It's a curriculum that we go through a tour and I was able to talk about suicide. They're sort of fully trained and they really consider it you know, When you talk about a clinician with clinicians from lifeline are just so different. Absolutely. They've got that lifeline training behind them, they've got that understanding you've been trained. So you understand exactly what I'm talking about in the 2017, Catherine has to be the peer support. I've had done my peer support training at TAFE, mental health peer support. So all that change helped me that even the TAFE course, during the peer support course at TAFE, I got so much out of it, really, I did. And it was just amazing. So I did the course. And then I've done a lot of training since since then. And on the suicide side of it, I just can't explain it properly, because I get really excited about it. But I'm so passionate about just helping I just want to help one person we have we've made a difference. Our suicide prevention manager has come in contact with them, they pop in and see her if they want to, or they can see a ps4 if they want to it's supported role along the way. We've still got people from poverty, though fourth group is still in contact with us. They all turn up to a Christmas thing and everybody sort of supports one another and it's so considerate. This is what's kept me alive as well. Ruben is really has it's the passion of of the people around me and consideration and the understanding that they get did you sit there in relation to these participants? And you just they understand that you get them? Just the word you get me Don't utilise it? Yes, I do. So it's changed me considerably.

Ruben (21:24)
Thank you, I suppose for you know, off the back of what you've been through, and you know, the life you've lived in an experience to be able to invest your time and energy with Lifeline. It's, you know, tremendous

Lea (21:36)
Thank you. But also too, we all fit in a certain place, don't we, you're doing what you need to do. And I'm sure that opportunities will come along, as time goes by, you are doing something so positive right now, you know, doing this interview and being on the phone. And I think we all have an ability to make a difference to people's life in our own way.

Ruben (21:56)
Exactly. If you could tell your 16 year old self anything looking at the life that you've led. Now, what would it be

Lea (22:03)
16 would be saying stop. Just take a breath, slow down, and just stop trying to escape. From what you don't even know what you're trying to escape from, you know, you have no ID. And I think that that's what I did, I kept that chameleon suit kept going and saying, Oh, look, I'll go over here. And we'll try that that'll be better. And we'll do this delicately, enrol change, then it doesn't it keeps following you around. And sometimes No, this is going to sound rather crazy. But sometimes I was trying to pretend I was someone else. Just wanted to get out of your head. And just stop that pain. I just think it was really think so I think if I could say go back and say just let your mind be still for a minute. I love it when I can get some respite from from those horrible thoughts. And you know, you get it, you think. And I appreciate that. And it happens more and more now. Just let your mind be still for a minute to be able to say, I need help. And I'm sure if I had done that. Maybe I had to do the asking, not them doing not my parents coming to me and saying what do you need, because I didn't know how they didn't know what to do. For me. I think maybe if I was brave enough to say I need help. I think that would be a big point, being brave enough. I really think that they're the things to stop, breathe, stop trying to escape and let your nine be still enough to be able to brave enough to be reached out. And that just asked, I think so important. We think that we might get into trouble. Or we do you know, no one's going to understand, of course, they're not going to understand, you know, but if we don't take that step to reach out, we're not going to be any sort of better off if I was talking to someone now young enough to say, just give me a moment to sit with me for a moment. And just give me a moment of your time and just talk to me. I think that that would be a big thing. I think if someone had done that to me, I think I would have been much better off. But I'm so glad I am where I am no, Ruben I really no.

Ruben (23:55)
That's good to hear. That's good to hear and considering the right here. And now what's next for you.

Lea (24:00)
I'm not really quite sure I was thinking about this. I didn't know I'd be sitting here right now doing this 10 years ago or achieving what I have. So I'm excited to see it clicks grow and help people like me and keep being involved because that's what keeps me going. So I'm going to keep doing that Reuben to Allah. I'm getting to the stage where I might need a walking frame. So thanks, but I really enjoy going there on Tuesday and I love meeting new people. And I love seeing them sort of grow and get some get the support but also get the understanding they've been validated. So I think that that's what I think I'll keep doing and I think that's what's next for me, Reuben, just stay where I am and putter along.

Ruben (24:42)
For whatever comes next for you. I honestly do wish you the best and I suppose to wrap everything up. Thank you so much for being part of this layer. I'm sure that the listeners and the viewers that have taken on your store and in your experience with mental health can certainly learn more but also understand that they can go through the ups and downs, but we can certainly hold on to hope in particular situations and then find, you know, the right way that suits them to get that help,

Lea (25:08)
please reach out. And it you know, I know it's very difficult, we need help, you know, we're just acknowledging and just need help. It may be just a short space of time, but just reaching out that moment when you need that. So I do hope that someone gets something out of my podcast with you, and thank you for having me. I just would do anything for lifeline because they helped me so much. So thank you, Ruben.

Ruben (25:32)
And thank you so much for sharing your story with me. I really do appreciate it there.

Darcy Milne (25:36)
Thank you. Thanks for listening to holding on to hope the podcast. Lifeline is grateful to all holding on to hope participants for choosing to share their personal lived experiences openly and courageously. In order to offer hope and inspiration to others. Your act of kindness makes for a better world. And remember, if you or someone you know needs crisis support, please phone lifeline on 1311 14 Text 0477 1311 14 or visit lifeline.org.au/get Help for lifeline chat service which is 24/7