Finding light through darkness

By Carmen Hall

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Federated Farmers launched its 'When Life's a Bitch' rural mental health campaign earlier this year. Carmen Hall caught up with the guest speaker who shared her own personal experience with Bay of Plenty federation members at their 67th provincial conference on Tuesday night.

Marilyn Robertson talks openly about her battle with depression and the traumatic events that left her in despair.

She is unguarded when discussing her sister, a mother of three who committed suicide, or her own teenage daughter who was killed in a car accident.

She will tell you her first husband died 11 months later of an aneurism. Marilyn Robertson wants others to know that if she can make it through so can they; that there is hope after grief and life beyond depression.

Guilt was the overwhelming emotion Marilyn felt when her sister took her own life in 1982 and she said that tragedy planted the seed of depression.

"I was wracked with grief because we had always been close but I'd shifted away. There are no words to express how I felt and even today I still think about her."

The 1980s were tough for Marilyn, husband Barry and their children Jolene and Kody. The couple had bought a farm at Te Wera in Taranaki and financial pressures started to mount. The initial loan interest rate was 3 per cent but it soon skyrocketed. The Government then withdrew its subsidies.

"All of the debts kept worrying the life out of me ... even though we were frugal and doing all our own shearing, mustering and docking, I could see things were too tight.

"It was like someone had dug a hole with me in it and thrown a black blanket over the top. I couldn't climb out and started doing things out of character like sitting in the bush for ages with my arms wrapped around myself. Finally I crashed and told Barry who sensed something wasn't right but he didn't know how to handle it."

That meltdown encouraged Marilyn to seek help. She was diagnosed with severe depression and given medication. They sold the property and purchased 40 acres of land for a commercial goat milking herd/shed.

But 1990 and 1991 would change everything forever.

"I have had to make the call and switch off two life support machines," Marilyn explains.

"Jolene was critically injured in a car crash. They had dropped her off at netball and she had spent the rest of the day with her boyfriend but never made it home. Both drivers including her boyfriend's brother were killed instantly and another occupant was paralysed."

Doctors told Marilyn and Barry that her head injury was so severe if she survived Jolene would be a vegetable. Life support was switched off.

Less than one year later Barry collapsed in the bathroom after an aneurism caused a brain bleed.

He was flown to Wellington hospital, operated on and seemed to respond well before Marilyn was faced with the same dilemma and outcome.

Forced to face deep anguish and her own state of mind Marilyn went on auto pilot.

"I didn't have a choice, I lived for my son - he was still missing his father and sister. I was either going to sink or swim and I opted to swim."

Marilyn said she will never be 100 per cent happy but that is fine, on average it's about 80 per cent. She moved to Katikati with Kody in 1993 and jokingly said she visited the bank for a loan and came out with a bottle of port and the manager who she married in 1999.

There is still a stigma surrounding depression but people needed to know they weren't alone. "Depression won't go away on its own. However you can seek help in the form of counselling and medication, you just have to be honest with yourself if you aren't feeling well and own up to someone that you need help."


Getting help

Speak Up There is A Way Through / phone: 0800 111 757

Lifeline 0800 543 354

Emergency 111

- Bay of Plenty Times

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