On 23 October 2000 my beautiful 24-year-old daughter caught a taxi to the Kuraby Railway Station. She walked onto the platform and headed north walking between the train tracks. As the train to Beenleigh travelled down the slight incline towards Kuraby Station, the driver saw my daughter with her arms outstretched almost welcoming her certain fate. Although he took immediate evasive action he was unable to stop the train in time and my daughter Belinda was killed instantly.
Why had this beautiful, talented girl – a much loved daughter, sister, mother and friend ended her life in such a seemingly tragic manner-
Belinda was the middle of three daughters born 3 years and 3 months apart. She and her sisters were much loved, encouraged, disciplined and praised and raised in a close family, which in turn was supported by many extended family members and friends. Although Belinda appeared to have it all – good looks, talent and a caring sensitive nature she had always seemed to have problems. I remembered early constipation problems. She had her first asthma attack at 7 years old, an illness that plagued her all her life. She was often anxious and suffered panic attacks. Through it all though she was a bright student and she excelled at sport and music.
At 12 years of age Belinda started experimenting with alcohol and marijuana, became sexually active, once ran away from home and her schoolwork deteriorated. She became disruptive in class and became well known to the school administration. The stress started to take its toll on the family. I took Belinda to school and church counsellors but no one seemed able to help. She was labelled uncontrollable, a bad influence, promiscuous and rude. She was a round peg in a square hole. We encouraged her to join the lifesavers and at 15 years of age, while attending lifesavers’ camp, she overdosed on tablets and alcohol. She was hospitalised overnight and discharged the next morning. As a family we were shattered and confused and did not know where to turn.
Our GP referred us to her first psychiatrist and after 5 weeks we were finally given an appointment. She was labelled unipolar and put on antidepressants. During the ages 15 -20 she remained difficult and unstable but was able to complete Year 12 and then attend university and graduate as a registered nurse. During these years there were several more suicide attempts – cutting her wrists, overdosing on medication, running in front of cars and once swimming out to sea at night. She was under the same psychiatrist this whole time but his only form of treatment was adjusting her medication.
At 20 years old Belinda moved away from home into a flat with another nurse. Before long both girls were heavily into the drug scene. Belinda became addicted to amphetamines almost immediately and her life spiralled downhill fast. On her 21st birthday she arrived at our door in an emaciated psychotic state and after trying all day to have her admitted we were finally able to get her admitted into her first psychiatric hospital. She weighed 41kgs and all her body organs were ready to collapse. That was just the beginning of the nightmare.
Over the next three years she endured 20 psychiatric admissions (various private and public hospitals) and several drug rehab admissions. Once discharged from hospital she was never offered support. She was labelled bi polar, schizophrenic, suffering schizoaffective disorder and drug addict. She was told she was delusional, paranoid, depressed, worthless, unmotivated and lazy. She heard voices in her head, had hallucinations, spoke in different voices and was catatonic a lot of the time. I was once told that she was possessed by the devil. The various psychiatrists prescribed an assortment of anti psychotic medications, tranquillisers and antidepressants. These medications nearly always had horrendous side effects, which rendered her fidgety, gave her blurred vision, made it unable for her to concentrate and made her sleepy and unmotivated. She once told me that when she first used speed she felt really happy for the first time in her life. Unfortunately it was too late once she realised how devastating the descent into drug addiction can be.
During a period between hospital admissions she became pregnant. Although strongly advised to terminate this pregnancy she felt that having a child may give her the incentive to become drug free. She cut down the usage considerably and a healthy daughter was born in October 1999. Unfortunately she went into psychosis just after the birth and she was separated from her child and regulated in hospital again. Over the next twelve months she tried so hard to be a responsible loving mother to her child, finally admitting herself into a drug rehab when the going became too tough. She knew that if she did not beat her drug problems she would lose her baby. The Department of Families had become involved. However a couple of weeks after her daughters 1st birthday, the separation from her baby had become too painful and she could see no hope in her life. She had tried every avenue open to her and she could not break her addiction. She ran away from the rehab and took the final steps to end her life.
I had never given up hope of her getting her life together and the shock was overwhelming. As a family we had gone through every emotion during the previous 3 years and although we had all done the very best we could to support her, we were all in our own private hell. It was so hard to come to terms with the fact that my beautiful, perfect baby girl born 24 years ago had such a miserable life and had literally self destructed.
Several weeks after her death I called in to the drug rehab where Belinda had spent the last couple of months of her life. Along with her meagre effects, I was handed her journals – a partial record of her life during the previous 3 years. That night when I opened one of the journals I was shattered to read one entry that had been written a couple of years previously, during her most successful hospital/drug rehab admittance when she was about 80 days clean of all drugs. Amongst the many daily entries detailing her daily struggle with life and drugs there was a poignant entry detailing the sexual abuse she had been subjected to, by someone trusted by the family, when she was 4-5 years of age. At that very spiritual moment I realised why she had taken her life. How could I have been been so blind- How could I not have known what was going on in my daughter’s life- How could I have missed all the signs- I had trusted this person without question. He had always seemed so fond of all my girls – a father figure in fact. Why had I believed the health professionals when they told me my daughter was mentally ill- Why couldn’t I have seen the extreme anger and pain my daughter was experiencing every day.
I have spent the last 18 months coming to terms with this knowledge. I have had extensive counselling and help from a variety of alternate therapists and friends and come to recognise my own spiritual journey. I have educated myself on sexual abuse, addictions and mental illness. It is my belief that my daughter’s psyche was irreversibly damaged at such a young age by cowardly acts of abuse. Those acts had defined her and she had been unable to see that she was so much more than someone of shame and low self worth. She had never been able to reach anywhere near her potential because she had been so damaged. I believe her brain blocked out these deeds so she could cope but the feelings of shame and pain kept surfacing and she acted out in an attempt to control them. I have recently been told by one of her friends (someone who was also abused and had travelled a similar path) that the memories surfaced when Belinda started using drugs. I can only surmise that she felt she would not have been believed. She could not face that as well as all the other disappointment she felt she had brought on her family. The counsellor who she was under when she wrote the entry said that when he tried to get her to talk about it she would disassociate. He said he believed that about 80% of girls in rehab have been sexually abused. He was unable to get Belinda to talk about it at all, a not uncommon occurrence with sex abuse victims.
On looking back on Belinda’s life I wonder what would have happened if I had recognised why she was so angry and in such pain and despair. Would the medical fraternity have diagnosed her differently- Would society have been kinder- Would I, her mother, been more understanding- Would Belinda have been able to face her demons and find ways such as counselling, the 12 step program, religion, exercise, nutrition, hypnosis, meditation, yoga, massage, reiki, reflexology and acupuncture to repair the damage that was done to her soul. I am sure that when Belinda died she had a chemical imbalance in her brain but I seriously doubt that she had one when she was born.
I know my daughter is in a better place now. Her soul is soaring. My hope is that we as a society stop labelling people whose mind is disordered and feelings are overwhelming because of psychological damage. Let’s start looking for causes and not just treating the effects. We must acknowledge that every person is unique and has their own personality and life history and unless we walk in another’s shoes we cannot judge. We must become empathetic and acknowledge the mind/body connection. We must look for many different strategies and therapies and not just rely on pharmacology. For every person labelled ‘mentally ill’ I am sure there is a personal story and their spiritual progress is determined first by their own empowerment and then by finding their own path to healing. Let’s start looking at the relationship between sexual, physical and mental abuse and the onset of so called mental illness in later life. Finally we must learn to love one another and acknowledge that we all have a special place in this world. Until we change our mindset from ‘survival of the fittest’ to the ‘brotherhood of man’ our world will continue to disenfranchise so many wonderful souls.