MIKE Gardiner knows about depression.
He believes he’s had it since the day he was born.
He knows what it’s like to live in “complete hell”, yet he survived it.
And that’s why he wants to help those struggling now.
“Too many of my friends have lost a child,” he says.
“I found in my journey through depression, one of the healing aspects was to talk to people in a non-judgmental way.”
The Howlong man searched for a local branch of Compassionate Friends, a support network for people whose child had died, through suicide or another way.
It had helped his friends in Sydney when they lost their child to suicide.
But the closest group to the Border is at Benalla.
So, he’s rallying support to form an Albury-Wodonga-based network.
Mike says that support, either through a counsellor, family or friends, is the thing that guided him through.
“No one can cure you or get you out of depression — that’s a personal journey that you’ve got to undertake, but it does help if you’ve got a map with you,” he says.
There were times when he really struggled and he wrestled with the thoughts of ending his life years ago.
“But when I was a young bloke, I was brought up to believe that taking your own life was a mortal sin — you couldn’t get to heaven, you’d spend eternity in hell,” he says.
“At the same time you’ve got the other part of the equation, saying ‘I just can’t live up to the expectation of this religion’.
“The same thing that’s pushing you over the edge is holding you back.”
Mike now manages his depression through medication, diet and support.
He remembers what helped him, six years ago, at his last meeting with his psychologist, he was told to buy two books.
One was Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart, Thirty True Things You Need to Know Now by Gordon Livingston, a psychiatrist with 30 years experience and who lost a son to suicide and another to leukaemia within 13 months.
The book’s simple messages resonated with Mike so strongly he refers to it as his “second bible”.
Two years later, he went to confession.
Instead of the usual Hail Marys, the priest told him to perform a random act of kindness.
He bought a copy of the book and gave it to someone he believed could use it.
Mike says that he has now given away up to 12 copies to people going through a hard time, even if he’s never met them before.
One recipient, who lost his daughter to suicide, remarked how sometimes a complete stranger gives you comfort in a time of need.
In his journey through depression, Mike has worked out the importance of allowing time to grieve.
He learned that by making his own mistakes.
For years, Mike forced himself to believe his father died in a good way, surrounded by family, while ignoring his grief.
“I just didn’t allow myself to grieve — I spent four or five years rationalising what a good thing this was without acknowledging the pain, and that drove the depression I already had even deeper,” he said.
He wants a new Albury-Wodonga branch of Compassionate Friends to be a place where people can talk openly and share their grief with people who can understand, instead of trying to escape.
Mike knows that running from problems, instead of facing them, just causes more pain.
He quotes a man who months ago told him “I spent my life running away from my problems, and every time I ran away the first thing I packed was misery”.
A public meeting about forming a Compassionate Friends group in Albury-Wodonga will be held at Howlong Country Golf Club on Thursday, August 30, from 7.30pm.