Stories From Past Participants
by Shanelle Peace
As far back as I can remember I have always felt disconnected from everyone in my world and like I did not fit in or belong anywhere. I spent years and years running away from my problems always ending up with what I was running from coming back in full force. I had tried the mental health system and was apart of it for approx 8 years having a couple of hospital stays due to being suicidal or having a suicide attempt. I was not functioning well with all of the medication they had me on and often my family would see me ‘zoned out’ and it concerned them and they questioned me being on it. They had me on a lot of medication and had me convinced that I had Bipolar. In fact I had many label I thought they must be right because they are the professionals so I accepted it as there was something wrong with me right back from a 5 year old and it had been missed.
In October 2010 I was in my local supermarket I was days away from ending my life. I thought I had tried absolutely everything to fix myself and to take away the pain I was feeling deep down inside. I felt like no-one understood me and I was alone and isolated with no support. The day I walked into the supermarket I was being my usual self head down trying not to make eye contact with anyone as I felt ashamed about who I was so I wanted to get in and out as quickly as possible.
In the queue at the checkout a man was standing in front of me and he turned around and said, “How are you, mate?”
I cringed on the inside thinking please do not talk to me I’ve got nothing nice to say no-one ever listens so whats the point so I responded with my usual and ever so empty robotic response, “I’m good, thanks.” This man must have sensed something in me and he gently touched my arm and said “No, no. How are you?”
I was not used to people asking me how I was and being so genuine in asking the question and his kindness was so overwhelming it brought a tear to my eye I honestly was trying really hard to not break down in line up at the check-out. Clearing my throat I said “I’m not doing okay but I cant talk about it I feel like I’m going to cry.” Our conversation led to us talking in the car-park at the supermarket and thats where my journey began. Thats the day Pat O’Connell saved my life. Pat told me that he and his wife Jenny helped run a not-for-profit organisation called Leading From Within. He gave me his number and he said if I would like some help I was welcome to call. I mentioned to him that I felt I had tried absolutely everything and nothing seemed to work and that I had been scared from the Mental Health system and had completely lost hope that anything could take the pain away.
I thought to myself what the heck I might as well give it one more try and he seemed like he genuinely cared. I really went into it thinking not much. I had to really force myself to go and I had to convince myself that they would be different from the mental health system. I was so terrified but I knew I had a end plan if it didn’t work.
I have learnt so much about myself through doing the Leading From Within Program. I have learnt to trust people again and that there are safe people out there to talk to and share your vulnerable side to who are not doing to take advantage of you. I also learnt about the effect of Trauma and how it effects the body. I learnt about generational pattern. I learnt to not feel ashamed about who i’am and that due to my life experiences that its ok to be me. I learnt to find my voice for years and years I was too scared to speak up and tell people how I was really feeling because when I had done in the past I got responses like ‘get over it’, “‘you need to toughen up’, ‘What’s the big deal?’
Also when I had in the past disclosed information about struggling I was treated differently and many times people would not know what to say and would slowly loose contact with me. So I was terrified to speak up. I learnt about my masks I wore on a daily basis hiding my true self from the world in fear of more rejection and hurt.
The biggest thing I learnt was my story was important and that a lot of the things I had chosen in life and bad choices I had made was me just simply living my life in reaction to the things that had happened to me all of which I had no idea that they in fact had a impact on me right back from the age of 5 years old. The things that happened when I was 5 years left me feeling different to everyone family and friends and I found it really hard to connect with people and if I did I would usually connect with unhealthy people. I was severely bullied at school I remember one time I was walking home from school and I had rocks thrown at me by younger kids and I was always worried about getting bashed because of the threats.
My experience with LFW was life changing.
As a young man I was unfortunate enough to have close friends and mentors suicide.
I reflect on that time now and know that had I not been lucky enough to receive support and guidance from Pat and Jenny I would not have dealt with my emotions and feelings in an appropriate manner
The experience taught me many lifelong lessons. Now as a school principal, coach of senior and junior sporting clubs, friend and father, I often call upon what I learnt during that time in 2002.
The ability to confidently ask people if they are genuinely ok without the fear of what they may say in response is something that I’ll always value. My time with LFW gave me the skills to understand the importance of talking through problems.
At present I live and work in small communities. Both Cobram and Yarrawonga are lacking in resources when it comes to mental health. After my experience I believe the Train the Trainer model that LFW uses has the potential to help communities through spreading the skills required and upskilling key members of small communities to help (particularly young people) in dealing with mental health issues.
LFW has helped shape me as a person and has provided me with the confidence to help others where possible.
I truly believe the program has already had a huge impact. I hope that it can progress further into the regional areas of Victoria and Australia and believe it has a unique and sustainable approach to impacting positively on the outlook of anyone involved.
by Maree Williams
Five years ago we were a family of 5 people – husband and wife and three great kids, ages 22, 18 and 12. Four and a half years ago we became a devastated, broken, shattered family of four members.
In June 1999, Michael took his own life after a disagreement with a work mate and once face to face with accusations he felt cornered with nowhere to go and no way out...
When I look back over the last 5 years, the first two years were really trying to keep us together and trying to handle day to day events, not only with our own feelings, but also with a lot of Michael’s friends and their families. Initially there was a lot of support from local agencies, but after a time there was nothing. Only lots of anger and lots of questions: each waking moment there were questions.
We were fortunate enough to come into some money a short time after Michael’s death. There was a lot of family discussion on how to spend it and finally it was decided to go on an overseas trip. Here we were able to regroup as a family, share all the exciting things of another world and at the same time wish our Michael was with us – and he was in spirit. Once home again we were able to look at how we could help others. We were able to join Leading from Within when funding became available, to start the group program.
I got involved with Leading from Within because my daughter was one of many who were having a very hard time coming to terms with the sudden death of her friend.
Her friend.s mother asked my daughter to participate and I thought it would be a good idea if I did too, so that I could help my daughter and others. I didn't realise that the program was going to focus on me!
There were seventeen groups of which mine was one. It was one of the smallest groups with only three of us, which was good.
First and foremost the need for what is said in the group stays there. We were not allowed to take what was said out of the room.
It never ceases to amaze me that talking about things in this informal setting with someone just guiding you, you find things you don't think are an issue in your life are causing you to make decisions that aren't really wise!!
I know now that I can do things that I thought I couldn't and realise what it was that was limiting me, the thoughts that stopped me thinking "I could..."
We learn that we all gain things and carry "baggage" from our parents and hand that down to our children just like our parents did to us and theirs did to them.
We also learn about listening and how sometimes it only takes a small off-hand remark to block someone from talking about something that is on their mind. Never say: "It could have been worse..."
I thought that thinking on the bright side of everything was the way to go in life but if someone is trying to tell you something that is difficult, PLEASE LISTEN, and don't ask questions unless the other person can't continue. Silence is okay because thinking is useful.
I am now able to challenge myself to do things I don't feel confident about. Having been through Leading from Within, has reinforced me to keep doing that and challenged me to deal with things like talking about the hard issues with my family.
Another thing I have learnt is that I didn't really think counsellors or psychologists were worth going to but I now defend this occupation very strongly.
The opportunity to participate in the Leading from Within Program has been life changing. I have struggled throughout my life to understand why I am what I am, why I do what I do and why people treat me the way they do.
My natural response to all of these questions was to beat myself up for all the bad things that happen in my life and for not being everything I should be according to what other people thought about me.
I am 39 years of age and I needed some answers to the questions I asked. The lack of confidence and self esteem I owned and lived with stemmed from a period of time in my childhood where I felt rejected. From that point on, my natural reaction was to try and make up for that feeling by doing everything I could to be accepted. That flowed on to all aspects of my life. I tried to be everything to everyone but regardless of how hard I tried, I could not please all of the people in my life.
Leading from Within has helped me to talk through the struggles I experienced and has given me the tools to decipher between what I need to own and change and how much belongs to others.
I have now learnt not to take on and own other people.s issues. I am grateful and thank God that this program has allowed me to see myself differently.
Learning to be a Trainer, I want to help others see that other people cannot make us feel how we feel, unless we give them authority or power. We are all responsible for our own actions and reactions. It is helpful to know that others are responsible for theirs.
Thank you, Jen and Pat, for sharing your experience, wisdom and knowledge and developing a life changing program. I hope I can take the tools you have given me, share them to empower others so that they understand their worth, their purpose in life and help them to experience life with joy and passion.
Is a male someone who freely expresses his emotions, and I don't just mean anger!? I mean happiness, sadness and everything in between? Is a male someone who has fashion sense and who cares about his image? Is a male someone you can sit down and tell your deepest darkest secrets? Chances are you answered NO to at least one of these questions! My name is Lachy and I am all of what is written above, and yes I am male!!!
In 2002 I participated in the Leading From Within program! During this time I began to have serious doubts about my sexuality! How can I be so sensitive, emotional and expressive and be heterosexual? How can I care about my image and be straight? Why am I friends with so many girls and why don't I get along so well with "the boys"? These are all questions I asked myself, so I decided to see whether I was in fact gay? (and no I didn't decide to hitch up with some guy..!)
I broke up with my girlfriend at the time in fear of hurting her and Jen and Pat helped me explore my sexuality constructively rather than doing something I may regret later. Jen and Pat didn't pressure me to be gay, straight or otherwise, instead they encouraged me to sort it out in my head and in the group discussions. I started looking at guys and letting loose that stereotypical gay inside of me! I was actually being more of the person I wanted to be; the person who was hidden inside in fear of being slammed down by others around me.
But I was soon facing a problem with being gay.. I didn't find men in any way attractive!! Confusion started to take over, I am everything a gay guy is, so why am I not attracted to men??? But that was it. I'm not gay and never have been!!! I discovered that stereotypes don't mean a thing when it comes to yourself, for stereotypes are just a tool that people use to avoid confusing themselves!!! In a sense I developed my own unique stereotype for me and me alone: a stereotype called Lachy.
My third year of high school wasn't just a period of my life full of parties, boys, growth spurts and hormones. Towards the end of that year, the unexpected happened. My father, my protector, my friend, took his own life.
Coming to terms with this new world full of vulnerability and insecurities was the most confusing and challenging moment in my life. For a young girl who has just stepped out of her shell, experiencing what it is really like to be a teenager and then having to deal with the agony of losing one of the two most important people in her life, well, it really is unexplainable.
To complicate things more, I felt I didn't just lose one parent but my mother as well. When she started seeing another guy, only months after the tragedy, any securities that were left inside after Dad's death were quickly demolished, and I started seeking comforts in the wrong places. All I can say about that time in my life is if it wasn't for the morals I had been bought up with (thanks to Dad), well I don't even want to know what could have happened.
I.m only now coming to terms with my mother.s choices and accepting her partner and the new life on the way. But it is progress. The past two and a half years have been volcanic, but with the assistance of Pat, Jenny, the Leading From Within program, and the faithful support of my group of friends, I have learnt how to make the right decisions and how to maintain some kind of sanity when I'm faced with challenges such as have happened. I still think about Dad constantly and will always grieve what has happened. But I've learnt to grow because of the negatives and look to a much more positive future.
Mark McDonald trained as a Trainer in Leading from Within during 2002 and with a cofacilitator, conducted a group with people who had experienced adversity and were interested in growing and giving back to the community.
Mark was one of the people involved in the Youth Mentoring program who were encouraged to write articles for publication or broadcast as a point of discussion. He has identified the following story as one that may prompt other "Aussie blokes" into action for their own well being:
The struggle to work our way through, sometimes difficult and often discouraging, life circumstances is something common to all of us. Across the whole range of humanity, in our personal, professional and family lives, we all experience adversity and tragedy. These are the things in our life that test us, challenge us to the limits of our resources and shape the way we move forward in our lives.
I see myself as a fairly unexceptional Aussie male. I love my family, a smoke and a beer, am a pathetically hopeless Richmond supporter; not particularly successful, but doing ok.
I think there are a lot of men out there not so different from me. If you're listening fellas, I'd like to share a few thoughts with you...
I urge you all to be brave enough to find someone to lean on.
A mentor in learning to own and heal your lonely soldier.