Tuesday Tales: A powerful insight – Donna Thistlethwaite

As I turned my blue Mazda Astina sharply to fit between the two white lines in the sparsely populated carpark, my body was tense. I felt adrenalin pumping through my system. It was now five minutes past my 4.00pm appointment time.

This was the first time I’d been late since I started coming to Community Health Clinic a month earlier, although it wasn’t an unusual situation in my day to day life.

The receptionist at the Community Health Clinic smiled and asked me to take a seat after I announced that I had an appointment with Shradha, the psychiatry registrar.

A short time later Shradha appeared in the foyer, greeting me in a quiet voice. My voice probably sounded quite brash in comparison as I apologised for my tardiness. She moved her arm across her body and towards the door guiding me into the room where we’d met for all of our previous occasions. A bland room with a desk and a couple of black vinyl chairs.

Our previous meetings had focused a lot on my history, with Shradha asking many questions about my childhood and my life and career experiences as an adult.

She checked in on how I was feeling and where my thoughts were. I explained I was thinking about my future. Do I want to continue with my employer? Do I want to keep working as a human resources professional? There was a part of me that felt I might be on the wrong path given my mental health crisis. Shradha knew I was starting to have these conversations with my old treating psychiatrist to navigate a way forward for my career.

As we discussed my suicide attempt which had been triggered at work, I told her that a key factor was what felt like an identity crisis. Earlier that year I had established that my key strengths were my tenacity, vitality and my integrity. When I started to feel like my career was imploding, I really started to question these strengths. I wanted to give up. I felt like I’d lost my vitality and even my integrity felt shaky because I didn’t want to be at work but I knew it was one of my responsibilities. With all of these in question, I struggled. “If I’m not these qualities, who am I?” I thought.

Shradha leaned in, listening intently. She allowed me lots of space to talk and process what I was experiencing. Her occasional questions and the opportunity to articulate my thoughts and feelings were helpful.

As I talked I experienced an insight. I realised that I’m not perfect. That it’s ok not to be perfect. That a failure to meet our own or other’s expectations doesn’t mean that we are a failure. It doesn’t mean that I can’t aspire to tenacity, vitality and integrity.

While I recognise that suicide is complex and this was just one factor at play in my decision, I recognised immediately that this insight was pivotal for me. If this was the only thing that I took from my 50 sessions with Shradha, it would have been worth it.

As we ended our session, I thanked Shradha for helping me to achieve this powerful insight and promised that I would be on time for our next session.

If you have been affected by this story, please reach out to someone for a chat. Lifeline provides 24 x 7 support on 13 11 14 or at Lifeline Chat.

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Donna Thistlethwaite is a Brisbane-based speaker and trainer specialising in mental health and resilience. She is an accredited Mental Health First Aid Instructor and Resilience at Work Facilitator with a passion for suicide prevention and for helping individuals, teams and organisations to THRIVE. You can find out about her next Mental Health First Aid courses here.

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