Once you become a parent your life is forever altered and life as you have known it becomes a distant memory. Your financial circumstances change, the stress level within the house raises and you become in many ways a better or worse version of yourself as you rise to those challenges.
Some folks thrive and relish on the challenges that raising a family brings but as a largely solo parent with an absentee partner who spent much time at sea while I was home running the farm and keeping the home fires burning juggling two children, on reflection, there were times when I really struggled.
I had grown up witnessing my own mother's battle with mental health. Back in the ’70s, no one talked about depression the way they do now. When they did it was generally about putting people into white straight jackets and escorting them to facilities where you were locked up and medicated to give society a break and the term mental health became just “mental”. As a child, I had heard people went mental and I was scared as hell about encountering someone like that.
On reflection, I lived daily with the effects of my mother’s mental health deterioration. Witnessing her suicide attempts, violent and emotional outbursts, and general instability were outward signs that something wasn’t right but I didn’t understand it until much later in life. As children we all saw her try and drown herself in a farm creek in flood, try and light herself on fire and throw herself under a set of bog discs being used to cultivate a paddock one winter's day to name just a few. The day she held a bone-handled knife to my throat and threatened to slit my throat was the day I learned real fear and all the while thinking that was the norm. As a 13-year-old, arriving home from school one-day to a note she had left on the table, relief was the only real emotion I felt as I read “I can’t hack the pace and so I have left. Will ring when I get settled”. As my 8 & 10-year-old brothers stood around the table trying to process that note, there was no real sense of panic between us all. No cell phones back then meant even before we could share that news with our father there would be a 3-4 hour wait before he returned from his off-farm employment. Unfortunately, we had all become numb to that sort of drama which as children no one should have to bear witness to, and so from an early age, the coping mechanism inside myself was well-tuned. It wasn’t until my early thirties when I was dealing with all those stresses that I was experiencing early in my marriage with juggling life that the cracks started to show in my own mental health.
You see my medication back then was work – if I worked harder the voices in my head would be too quiet to hear. I would fall into bed at night buggered, wake up recharged and hit the ground running. Every time I left the farm it was dressed to the nines, dripping in gold and red lipstick and providing a breath of fresh air to everyone I came across. To the world, I had it all but when I took that mask off I was dead inside. The overwhelming sense of guilt I felt behind closed doors for feeling so shit when I should have been on top of the world only exacerbated my sense of failure. My inner critic got louder, my self-esteem lower and even the smallest of things were like mountains to conquer at that time. I became reclusive and only did the bare minimum for the kids and myself to survive. Most of my energy at that time was going to rearing the 150 bobby calves I had elected to do at an already stressful time just to really test myself!
It was a stock agent who visited the farm to see how the calves were going that found me sitting in the hayshed with my head in my hands contemplating my future that saved my life. He recognised the signs in me with the mask off, and he was in the right place at the right time and for that, I will be eternally grateful to that man. He listened, let me cry out loud for the first time in a long time, and seemed to get where I was at. He was brave enough to tell me that I needed to get some help.
Two decades on from that moment and there is definitely a much greater awareness of the need to look after your mental health. Yes, we are talking about it but at a time when the world is more connected than ever thanks to technology, there is a real disconnect and the numbers of people affected by depression continue to rise, so does the suicide rate.
Back in March this year a young man I have known since he was a little boy took his own life. He was part of a close family network with great friends, his own home, a job he loved he had everything to live for. Trevor Molloy – who was also known as “Stump” to many of his friends and family was silently battling with bouts of depression and despite all those positive things in his life at that time, succumbed to what many call the black dog. In the lead up to his death and as part of an exercise regime to improve both his mental and physical wellness, Trev and best mate Tom "Noddy" Kelynack made the commitment to each other that they were going to get fit and aim to complete the Queenstown Half Marathon scheduled for later in the year.
In the past decade, the number of suicides in NZ has risen by 29 % with numbers in the 20-24 year age group increasing from 76-91. To raise awareness of mental health and male suicide, a team of Trev’s mates and friends are going to join Tom and run the event as originally planned and would like to raise as much money and awareness about this terrible epidemic that is affecting our young men with all money raised going to the Will to Live charitable foundation. The foundation focuses on Teen Suicide Awareness & Prevention and is dedicated to preventing teen suicide by improving the lives and the 'Will To Live' of teenagers everywhere through education about mental health and encouraging them to recognize the love and hope that exists in each other.
So on Saturday the 21st November 2020, friends and supporters of the late Trevor will be wearing their “Don’t let life Stump you" T-shirts in force and completing the event he was training for in his honour. What started out as a personal challenge for a couple of mates has grown into something that so many people have embraced and chosen to be a part of, in their own way doubt resonating with Trev’s story. There has wonderful support from a number of generous sponsors who will be represented on the singlets and shirts the competitors will be wearing and there has been a Give a little page set up for anyone wanting to donate which can be found by following the link if you wish to donate.
Nothing can change the heartbreak and the unanswered questions of the last six months for all those who knew Trev, but stepping up and taking responsibility for your own mental health and watching out for your mates, will ensure that as a society we will continue to develop wellness and resilience in a time when sometimes the odds seem short.
To all those running, walking, or supporting the Sotheby's Realty Queenstown Marathon at the weekend against one of the most scenic backdrops in the world, take a moment to reflect on all the wonderful things in your life right now, seek support and help if you need to talk and remember that love is the answer to everything.