By Julia Wade
Although the recent Christmas season held joy for many, one determined Mangawhai man reached out to those who were instead struggling with melancholy and despair.
In a recent revealing and intimate debut public speech, local ex-painter, Grant Gardner, bared his soul by telling his own story of depression, drug dependence and the consequential downward spiral of loss – relationships, finances and self-identity – in an attempt to help others who may be feeling depressed and close to suicide.
“I’ve had a fair bit of catalysts in the last nine years but I’ve learnt a lot from it,” he says. “Everyone feels depression in their own way and can heal themselves in their own way, there are no ‘should and should nots’, we’re all entitled to free-will and free-choice. This message is about how you can lift yourself out.”
Gardner’s focus is on exploring positive and negative energy, and breaking the cycle of self-destructive thoughts and behaviours, saying that although everyone has different catalysts the trick is about learning how to react differently.
“When ugly things happen to you it’s important to forgive and let go for your own sake, stop drinking the poison of anger and stewing in your own pile of resentment and negativity. If you’re thinking a whole lot of ugly about yourself and others, you’re just going to get sick,” he says. “It’s good to remember that the ugly things in your life have also helped make you the beautiful person you are.”
The 55-year-old knows first hand the impact of depression and suicidal ideation after struggling with nearly a decade of prescription medication addiction. Nine years ago Gardner ran his own painting business, employing up to five people, when he suffered a serious compression injury after smacking his head on a beam and crunching his neck backwards.
“From that moment on I have had a headache… a crushing feeling which feels like someone is turning a screwdriver onto the top of my head,” he says. “That headache has been with me 24/7 for nine years and it’s never gone away, it’s for life.”
Unable to work, Gardner lost his business and began to do out-of-character ‘strange things’ such as hiding behind hedges to avoid talking to people and crying for no reason.
“I also couldn’t sleep at night for weeks on end, which magnified everything and was torture in itself,” he says. “Living rurally, I found it hard to get to see the people I needed to as they were in Whangarei or Auckland and for nearly three years I actually didn’t get any help.”
Gardner’s escalating symptoms eventually saw him prescribed on up to 24 high-dosage pills a day for depression, anxiety and pain relief. Medication included Codeine and the highly addictive OxyContin which he says ‘changes you into someone you’re not, ugly, angry and violent’, while the anti-depressants ‘flat-lined me, turned me into the walking dead’. The cocktail of drugs also caused Gardner to pick at his skin, ‘similar to a heroin addiction’ leaving sores all over his body.
With ongoing financial pressure causing further hardship and Gardner’s mood swings steadily growing worse, Gardner’s wife decided to leave the family home to protect the couple’s two children.
“That was a really low point… I had the thought they were leaving a sinking ship,” he says. “I got a rope, made a noose and hung it from a beam in the bathroom… I nearly went through with it a couple of times… the rope hung there for over two years.”
Realising how irrational the medication was making his thoughts after thinking and acting on the idea that it would be ‘a cool thing’ to stab his hand to the table with his hunter’s knife, Gardner began to self-detox. Going ‘cold turkey’ on one drug at a time beginning with three weeks of constant vomiting which nearly killed him, the detox took nearly four years to achieve.
“Detox is an extremely hard thing to do physically but I had a realisation about some of the difficulty. When you’re an addict you’re not nice to people and now that you don’t have the drugs, you don’t have an excuse to be an arse anymore… I had to start behaving and acting more adult-like,” he says. “I also had begun to realise that healing comes from within.”
Through self-analysis, Gardner discovered his self-judgements, how to let go of negative past events and how to channel his attention away from his constant pain with mind-control, re-focusing his attention instead on enjoyable activities like trout fishing. He says he now practices beginning each day with a positive thought and having gratitude for the good things in his life ‘even if it’s as simple as liking the cat or a walk on the beach’.
“Most important of all I learnt about the flow of energy, how we are lifeforms of pure energy and there are two polarities, positive and negative,” he says. “Every thought extends from these two polarities, negative thoughts are generally fear-based while positive are generally life-reinforcing. Like magnets, negative attracts negative, positive attracts positive. When we have one negative thought it attracts another and then another until we become immersed in negative energy… and we create this.”
Gardner says he has also learnt the importance of having a balanced lifestyle, a healthy diet and hydration, decent sleep and exercise as well as practicing deep breathing, mindfulness and movement meditation like Tai chi.
“When you’re down in the hole and you can’t see any light, it’s extremely difficult to climb out. You need to consciously break out of the constant negative circle and get back into the flow of life,” he says. “Try not to compare yourself to others, we’re all the same, it’s your life, what matters are your choices. I’m here to help anyone who may want to just talk, if I can help anyone in any way, I’d love to do that.”
n Like to talk to Grant Gardner? Contact on 021 0275 5060.
“When you’re down in the hole and you can’t see any light, it’s extremely difficult to climb out. You need to consciously break out of the constant negative circle and get back into the flow of life.”