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Hear Matt's Story

Matt's story of holding on to hope after suffering with depression and anxiety and attempting suicide which left him wheelchair bound.

About the episode 

Matt is a suicide survivor, mental fitness facilitator, and humanitarian.

After suffering with depression and anxiety from the age of 12, Matt attempted suicide in 2016 - which in turn, left him wheelchair-bound.
After sustaining his injury - Matt managed to shift his frame of mind completely and is now on a mission to instruct, inspire, influence and positively impact millions of people’s lives as a ‘mental fitness facilitator’.

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Matt in a wheelchair

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Speaker 1 (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.

Matt (0:32)

I felt guilty for even just feeling like that. And I didn't like the person I saw in the mirror whatsoever, at times wished there was no one looking back.

Darcy Milne (0:44)

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 1311 14 or visit lifeline.org.au/get Help for lifeline chat service, which is 24/7.

Ruben (1:16)

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'll find comfort by listening to the stories of people who have experienced the value of reaching out for help. On today's episode of Holding on to Hope, I'll be speaking with Matt. Matt is a suicide survivor mental health facilitator and humanitarian. After suffering with depression and anxiety from the age of 12, Matt attempted suicide in 2016, which in turn left him wheelchair-bound. After sustaining his injury, Matt managed to shift his frame of mind completely, and is now on a mission to instruct, inspire, influence and positively impact millions of people's lives as a mental fitness facilitator. He's certainly been on a huge journey and I'm really looking forward to hearing more about it. Matt, thank you so much for joining me today. I wanted to sort of dive straight in and discuss you know, you and your story, and what drove you to reach out for help? Could you take me back to a year believe it was 2016 and describe what was going on in your world?

Matt (2:48)

Yeah, the beginning of that year was the darkest time of my life. It was like I was living two lives, the outside life that I was living, putting on a pretty picture for everyone. And the inside life that was under very edge, a lot of shame, guilt, hurt, self-hatred, that was just really underneath it all but was masked brilliantly by what I was doing, you know, I was obsessed with the gym, six days a week training and eating to the extremes, what looks like I was achieving my goals. And despite all the attention I got afterwards, feeling like things were overwhelming to the point where there was no other option, I felt like and the only way to remove that pain was to go and try to end it all. And so that's what I tried to do. I attempted suicide on January 9, 2016 snuck out of my parent's house, and unfortunately, my parents and family woke up the next morning with this son and their brother not home.

Dary Milne (3:45)

Yeah, and for you to be able to share that means a lot. You know, it's not often that people go through an experience like yours and have the opportunity to share that and share that with me. So I'm really thankful for that. Prior to your suicide attempt, what feelings were you experiencing at the time?

Matt (4:02)

It had been going on for four years. It started when I was 12, the most predominant thought and feeling that I really had was like I was worthless. Feeling as if I was a waste of space, you know, not having any job. Feeling like I was just a burden not only on my family but to society as a whole. I wasn't playing any role. I wasn't contributing in any way. And so I was judging myself for that. And I used to see everyone smiling like my friends, my family. And naturally, to me, I was thinking well, that's how I should be. I should be happy as well this morning, but deep down I don't feel the same and constantly comparing myself feeling like I need to be better and that I was never good enough.

Darcy Milne (4:44)

Yeah, I was gonna say at the age you were and when you look at the pressures that we all have, but specifically around you know that age do you think looking back that was you know, a big contributor to your feeling that feeling of worthlessness, like it's a very strong feeling to feel went to have that was that you know, every day for you, would it get worse?

Matt (5:02)

it was amplified each and every day. Like, especially when I've gotten to certain habits when those feelings first come up, they're not, at least for me, it wasn't as bad wasn't as heavy, though quickly, it became a sense of shame. And, you know, I felt guilty for even just feeling like that. And I didn't like the person I saw in the mirror whatsoever at times wished there was no one looking back.

Darcy Milne (5:30)

Now that I understand with what you went through that you did sustain injuries, and you did have to go through quite an intense process from that, can you sort of open up to us about what you went through at that time, and I suppose particularly for your mindset, how that had to, I guess change and how you had to adapt through that?

Matt (5:47)

Waking up after attempting suicide, and not just having the same mental and emotional challenges, but waking up and not being able to feel a function anything below my ribcage, put me at a point where if I felt like I was worthless, constantly judging myself for that alone, how pathetic was I now was the constant thought that I had, and I had 35 injuries in total, but the main one that really made all the difference was my spinal cord. I had severed my spinal cord and was told that I will never walk again. I was told that nothing below your ribcage is ever going to function ever again and unfortunately, there's no way to reverse it. That's what I was told. Hearing that in the mindset that I was in, if I already felt helpless, that for me, at least at the time, eliminated all hope. I felt like there was nothing left. That there was nothing but a black hole waiting for me. There was only darkness ahead and then I was just being punished to what I thought. It was quite a mental journey to go through at the time.

Darcy Milne (6:55)

How do you think it really impacted you? You know, what feelings were you feeling or what was sort of happening for you then?

Matt (7:02)

I was aware of how I was feeling. I knew that I was struggling, I knew that I was upset. I mean, I just remember many times even just not getting sleep because of how, I you know how down I felt. Deep down I wanted to open up. If I listened to that voice, where would I been today? It would have really made the difference, it really would have. Maybe it's my ego, maybe I don't know what it is but this other voice in my head got in the way. I just listened to my heart, but it made all the difference.

Darcy Milne (7:38)

When did you realize you needed support? 

Matt (7:40)

It's interesting because there was never a moment where I felt like I needed support the entire time I felt like I could deal with it on my own as though there was a moment in hospital which did start to shift me. Yeah, yeah, I was, you know, four months into my hospital stay and I was out with my mum getting piercings and on the train trip back home or back to the hospital, it's funny I call it home. This guy comes on the train like halfway through and no filter on him just walks on before even sits down. ''What did you do to yourself?'' And it's like real loud and abrupt. And I mean, here I am. I'm the scrawny 16-year-old sitting in a wheelchair with my mom next to me. And, you know, up until that point, like I said, I never liked talking, never liked opening up. And everyone before that I had lied to I said I'd had an accident or it had a fall. This was the first guy or person I ever told, four months after my injury, you know, I I attempted suicide. And he laughed at me. And he said: ''It was pretty stupid, look at you now.'' It was nice. He just kept laughing and laughing. And it wasn't like that moment that really sort of shook me. It was the next morning waking up and feeling a sense of lightness, going and seeing my social worker, just openly telling her what had happened. What happened when I got on the train, how I felt and all that stuff. And you know, she made me realize something and see something that I didn't see before. And she told me: ''Matt, you opened up for the first time to a complete stranger. Just what happened. You've been lying to people for so long, and you said you felt lighter? And then she asked a question that I'' never forget. What if you were to open up to the people close to you in life? Could you potentially strengthen the relationship you already have with them? Something I didn't want to hear? And so I left the room, but her words stuck in my mind like concrete.

Speaker 2 (9:44)

We hope you're enjoying this episode. If you're not ready to speak to someone, but woule like more information, curated resources and personal stories to support your journey, please visit Self Support Toolkit. Now back to the episode.

Darcy Milne (10:00)

What was your first step in getting support?

Matt (10:03)

And when my girlfriend came to visit me that afternoon, when she asked: ''How are you?'' That's when, for the first time really, I was honest with her. I just shared everything, how upset I was with myself, how much I'd been lying. And just ''thanks, sorry for everything''. She'd seen and been through a lot as a result of, you know, my attempt and being in hospital for nearly four months at that stage, just feeling like, why are you still with me? My identity was so caught up in the fact that I had this body that I'd built before my injury and feeling like all these muscles was who I am and who I needed to prove myself to the world. And I asked why she staying with me why she was still visiting me in hospital. I call myself half a man. She said: ''Matt, look, I've never seen the bigger man in front of me. I get you're in that wheelchair. But I've never felt closer to you.'' Hearing her, like, say all that to me at that time, just I'm speechless, even thinking about it. Because it was the one thing I didn't do for so long, which was just be me.

Darcy Milne (11:06)

What do you think was holding you back from getting support? Prior to your attempt?

Matt (11:11)

It was the fact that I felt like I was the only one. And mental health wasn't spoken about, you know, if you were down, you're upset, you kept quiet at the time, and everyone around me did the same. No one would approach the conversation. So someone was struggling, no one would go over and check in with them, they will leave them, let them be all that, you know, figuring stuff out. And so I did the same, stayed in my own space, kept things to myself and did my absolute best to put on a front for everyone trying to smile for people, though all these different things that I would, you know, try to do, especially when people were asking: ''Hey, Matt, how's it going? Yeah, I'm alright, not bad.'' ''Hey mate, you look a bit down today. No, no, no, I'm just tired.'' You know, constantly feeding these answers, and hiding the truth from everyone. It was almost like a full-time job. I was very scared of not being the man, looking soft. You know, you know, growing up here, I'd always hear you know ''Have a cup of concrete and harden up'', all these things, right?

Darcy Milne (12:13)

Like looking back on my schooling journey, and how much that culture came into play. I went to an all boys school, you know, that sort of feeling of machinists, or you know, not wanting to open up, it was amplified even more. The reflection that I have, since I've left school is seeing a lot of the individuals that I felt were covering up certain things or didn't want to be themselves and that schooling environment, you really feel their pain now because you can see the life that they're living or the lives that they're living and you go Wow, if they would have had that opportunity, you know, how things would have played out''. Something else I wanted to ask you, and particularly around the support that you've received, you know, whether it is having that conversation, or even on a bigger level, if you can just sort of explore some areas for you where, you know, as your life is now where you'd be able to find that support.

Matt (13:02)

The moment I felt closest to someone was when I was just me. And then I started talking to some of my friends after that, even my parents and you know, my relationship did grow close, not all my mates knew how to support me. And unfortunately, those relationships did slowly fade away but I found out who my true friends were. And those that I was transparent with, I could support them much more as well, because I was me, I wasn't some facade and some fake personality that I'm trying to prove to them. And that really started shifting things for me because I had a supportive network, actually having people I could go to, to just share and be open and honest with. Trying to do your best and wear a smile for the world is exhausting. It takes it out of you. And anyone struggling, like I've urged them to reach out, really reach out for support. Support is out there. On the other side of that, making sure you check in with the people that you love because you never know who's at that place, right? You never know who's on the edge, so to speak, and someone who looks like they're doing so well could really be hurting the most inside. And when I looked my best on the outside was really when I was hurting the most.

Darcy Milne (14:11)

That is really important. Even vocalizing what you're feeling. You know, I sort of put the analogy of a pressure cooker in play with an issue, you know, we can hold it in, we can hold it in. Now I'm not going to get very detailed as to how a pressure cooker works. But when you want to let off that bit of steam, that is you just vocalizing and, and it could be yourself in the shower or it could be to family and friends.

Matt (14:31)

And I'd love to just add to that too because a lot of times when someone's sharing with you, someone's like wanting support, on the other side, you might feel like you want to save them. It's never your job to be a saviour but to just be a support and the biggest thing we can do is just listen. By holding the space for someone to share open, be vulnerable be themself when they really need it. That takes so much pressure off them. They don't feel judged. If you're really present you actually listening to them, trash your empathy, put yourself in their shoes. you're not only doing that, but also validating them, validating their emotions, that it's okay to feel that, that it's understandable why they feel that way. Because no matter how we're feeling, it's always justified. If feelings and emotions come up for a reason, if we're supporting someone, we just need to be there to listen. I think it's amazing what it can do, I think it halfs the load for someone,

Darcy Milne (15:21)

What changes did you make in your life to take you on your path to, where you are today? You know, to improving your overall well being and how you live your life?

Matt (15:31)

I think it's important to, yes, have a supportive network, but know also how you can support yourself. You know, basketball, I played it before my injury. Took me six years to get back into it. But just getting out on court, even just shooting hoops by myself, I love it. It's time for me. It's something I love. And it's also fitness as well. And then actually following your passions, me going into my work in mental health, running my workshops, doing the work I do, that's me following my heart and doing what I love. And going down that path has been the most fulfilling, because I've been able to become the person that I needed when I was younger, not healing others as pain, that's not my job. My job is to help influence the space that I once found painful. And by doing that, I think that's given me such a deep level of purpose and has personally for me at least that first feelings of worthlessness now just negated, because I know that I'm following my heart and doing what's meaningful, not only for me, but for other people, that's the biggest way I support myself, is just doing things that you know, quote, unquote ''recharge my battery''. we all have those things, whether it be a shower, a good meal, good friends, even a walk by yourself, and a nap. There's so much we can do. 

Darcy Milne (16:49)

Of course and you know, it's having that ability to realize that you're in that moment, but need to remove yourself from that moment, you need to find that special place or special space, can you sort of touch on a bit of what your life is like now?

Matt (17:02)

My life just revolves around a few things. You know, everyday rehab, that's a big part of my life, whether that's with my trainers in the mornings, or with my physio. Then it's basketball, then it's speaking, running these workshops, developing that further as well because there's a lot that I would like to let out to the world and a lot of my life is revolved around that, yeah, achieving those goals. But I do make time to socialize, have fun, and connect with loved ones. That's still an important part of my life too. Though, recognizing what's important to me. And getting rid of the fluff that, you know, I don't really appreciate doing things that don't enjoy, because that contributes to me feeling like I'm just wasting time. And I don't like that feeling. I like to enjoy my time. So, just filling my space for that.

Darcy Milne (17:56)

Hearing what you do, and how much you're willing to do, I think that level of determination is quite amazing. You know, where you consider the spinal injury, and obviously, the recovery that you've had to do for that, but you know, that it is, you know, an ongoing journey. And I wanted to ask - that journey, do you find that you're enjoying that? Like, does it bring you enjoyment at the same time? Like I feel everyone knows that there's an end goal, or there may be an end goal, but are you enjoying that? Because for you, you must find that there's unique things that come out of that and unique learnings that you can draw upon.

Matt (18:26)

The biggest thing this journey has given me - I do like to call it a journey too - is actually appreciating the journey. It's the whole, like ''I'll be happy when...No, You won't be happy, be happy now'' The fact that I can wake up early in the morning, start my rehab at 6:30 and do it with a smile, despite you know how challenging it is. And it is challenging, I'm not gonna sit here and say it's easy. I do appreciate the fact that I can do it though. It's really gotten me to love the process of overcoming it. Each and every day I show up is me actually strengthening my mindset further because I'm waking up earlier than I like to will, whether it be actually doing the exercise or whatever. It's not the path of least resistance. It's the path of most meaning for me.

Darcy Milne (19:10)

Considering your own life and what you do now, do you find there are times where you're still having to look at yourself and go: ''Hey, look, do I need to check in? Do I need to speak to people? What do I need to do to ensure that I'm able to give the best of myself?''

Matt (19:24)

Yeah, I do have moments where I wake up in the morning and I'm like: ''What the hell am I doing? And it does bother me sometimes. But one thing that personally it's not going to be everyone's cup of tea. I do enjoy my own company. Actually just taking those moments for me when those moments come up. So allowing myself to sit back and say ''How am I feeling? Try to just be aware of what's really going on right now.Because we can let things run in the background but not even be aware of the things that are going on. So it's taking moments to say ''Alright, where are things at?'' Feeling into myself. ''Okay, what do I need to do right now?I have not been feeding my social life, have I not been feeding my family life, my spiritual life'' If I'm not doing enough in my business or whatever, like just trying to find what area of my life play needs feeding a little bit, maybe I shouldn't pick up the guitar and play for a little bit.

Darcy Milne (20:12)

Where you are right now. And particularly with your rehab, how does the next year, 5 years 10 years look for you?

Matt (20:19)

Putting a timeframe to this, for me, I find is very, very tough. It has been a very slow burn of recovery. I'm essentially learning how to walk again. I am, it's like being a baby. Once again, going from some of my muscles having literally no function. When I woke up in hospital, nothing was back, not even my abs, I couldn't even sit upright. Working on and strengthening all these different muscles is taking a lot of time, five years from now I couldn't tell you where it's at. I can tell you that, you know, even medical science is progressing. Recently, I've started up using the exoskeleton, which is a robot. It's assisted walking. Yeah, it assists me. But it also measures how much I'm giving the exo, how much effort I'm putting in. And each week, we can track my progress and other numbers coming down from the robot and are my numbers going up. Yeah, it's amazing where medical science is going and where it's headed. And so I believe anything's possible. But whether that actually comes through for me or not, I know, with absolute conviction that I am going to walk again.

Darcy Milne (21:16)

What's next for you?

Matt (21:19)

So the vision for everything moving forward. One thing that's really, at the crux of everything I do, if you ask me this is my purpose. It's to influence meaningful change in millions of people's of lives. And so that word in their millions, that's the number of people I want to reach, I want to reach at least a million people, I want people to know that they can have it inside of them to overcome whatever that life throws at them on a personal level, but I'm big on family that's in the future as well. Having a wife and having kids.

Darcy Milne (21:49)

Well, Matt, thank you so much. It's been great to speak to you and be able to obviously share your journey. Our favourite word keyword for today's podcast, for me, I guess to take from this, really, is just to always remember that, gosh, you know, perspective can be there and I really sort of put myself in your shoes at your age and think of what you must have been going through and also understanding how complex it can be. And I'm sure for yourself that there's probably still unknowns for you that sometimes you need to unpack, but that's okay. And to be, you know, cognizant of that, that, gosh, you know, from what you've been through, and where you are now, you know, I respect you so much for that. And as I've said before, I really do hope and you're only 22. I'm 26. So we've both got our lives ahead of us. But I really hope that for your sake, you can keep doing what you're doing and overcome those hurdles, but enjoy it and really make the most of it. We're all here for a reason what that is, we might not know. And we'll keep continually trying to work that out.

Matt (22:47)

Isn't that a question we answer every day?

Darcy Milne (22:52)

Exactly. Thank you, Matt. I really appreciate it.

Matt (22:54)

It's been a pleasure, man. Seriously, thank you.

Speaker 1 (22:56)

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 13 11 14 Text 0477 1311 14 or visit lifeline.org.au/get Help for lifeline chat service which is 24/7.