Dad and daughter’s suicide hell
WARNING: Graphic content
IN his darkest moments, Jason Nelson several times did the unthinkable. He loaded his service Glock 27 pistol and prepared to take his own life.
It was only when he saw his youngest daughter overdosing that he realised, with a burning intensity, just how much he valued life.
"It's horrific to watch your own kid overdose, the drugs she'd put in herself," he told news.com.au. "Her eyes rolling back in her head, she was just limp. In the moments where she was lucid, she was just sort of scratching at her skin."
Jason, 45, and his wife Emma, 43, both took time off work to be with Holly at the hospital. "We wanted her to know we were there," he said. "I had a lot of conflict within myself, (wondering) why wasn't I able to see it, blaming myself.
"We didn't know what was going on. We knew she had depression and anxiety, we didn't realise how bad it was. Especially with teenagers, when they go into a room by themselves, you don't know if they're just going to watch TV. We now know she was really planning to take her own life."
It was the then 17-year-old's third suicide attempt in three months, and her last. "She's completely different person now," said Jason. "It was a monumental shift in me, how I looked at life. I thought, this can't go on."
Holly, now 19, doesn't remember much about her suicide attempts. "The first time, I was kind of in a psychotic episode," she told news.com.au. "I can't even remember it myself, it was like a blackout for me."
She remembers deep feelings of rage, and throwing things at her father. But it was not until her later attempt that Jason and his appalled wife were forced to watch their terrified teenage daughter losing her grip on reality.
"I kind of snapped out of that episode," she said. "I was having side effects from the medication I'd overdosed on, so I started to get drowsy. I couldn't keep my eyes open, I was scared."
It was only later that Holly learnt from listening to her dad chatting to a friend at the dinner table that he had been through something so similar.
"You could tell there was something wrong, there was almost like an atmosphere in the family but I never actually knew, I was so young," she said. "I just knew he was upset, because when I was young and I walked into his room he was, like, crying on the floor in the corner."
For the former navy officer and police detective, those episodes are seared into his memory. On many days, his wife found him sobbing his heart out in the shower or curled up in a darkened room. "She knew I was suicidal but didn't know I had tried," he said. "I was a mess."
The family moved to Perth from Merseyside in the UK in late 2007 and Jason was trying to settle into a new job, settling in with his family and building a house. "People I was working with saw me as being parachuted in," he said. "I was going through a period of personal pressures and they were systematically bullying me, they wanted me to fail. It caused me to spiral, I got very depressed.
"I really didn't want to be what I thought at time was a burden to my family."
His problems culminated in April 2008, when he had a breakdown and left the force, finding a new role with the state government. A sleep-induced panic attack after a hernia operation sent him on another downward spiral.
"I started suffering from panic attacks, nightmares," he said. "I was irritable, paranoid, hypervigilant. I was sobbing my heart out on packed commuter train coming into Perth."
He began seeing a psychiatrist who was a Vietnam veteran and identified that Jason was suffering from post traumatic stress disorder. "I had been sexually assaulted as a 13-year-old, by a person in position of trust, that was locked away," he said. "There were other things - the loss of my grandmother; the first sudden death I experienced as police officer, I never really got over. One of my best mates died in tragic circumstances on my wedding day after my buck's night, I hadn't processed it.
He was most haunted by what he had seen in his job as a police officer. "Dead bodies, traumatic scenes, delivering death messages, horrific road traffic collisions, observing autopsies and working on covert policing teams in high risk situations," he said.
"[The operation] was the trigger point to all of the trauma, short stories, falling off my subconscious library bookshelves and reappearing in the forefront of my mind once more."
Speaking to somebody and starting to take antidepressants was the first step towards his recovery - which was cemented in 2015, when he watched his daughter going through the same agony he had.
Holly - who has been diagnosed with anxiety, depression and borderline personality disorder - says she and her father clearly share some "life experiences", although she's not sure whether her condition is hereditary.
"It's different because he's got PTSD rather than borderline personality disorder but whenever I've had episodes, Dad does say he can see what he has in me," she said.
She and her dad have a bond deeper than most fathers have with their teenage daughters, and both do public speaking for mental health charity Sirens of Silence, where Jason is Vice President.
He is taking a course in mental health, launched the Rogue Runners Club, has completed 22 marathons and is training for a Lake Argyle 20km swim in May.
Holly has just qualified as an assistant nurse and has found the right antidepressants for her, after previous medication made her constantly fall asleep.
"There are so many people dealing with it there's no point being quiet about it," she said. "Everyone has problems. It's kind of a blessing, if that makes sense, because it did bring me and Dad closer. I can talk to him about anything and everything and if I'm ever feeling down about things, a boy or anything, I can just go to Dad, I know he understands me.
"I've got a good group of friends now. I don't have major episodes like I used to.
"I think I'm more mature and I'm less anxious about everything. I wouldn't have been able to walk around a shopping centre before because I'd be scared there were too many people.
"I want to travel and just keep on going how I am. I guess that's the main goal of my life, to hopefully one day be able to deal with it without medication - but if I have to live with that for the rest of my life, I'm fine with it."
If you or someone you know needs help, call Lifeline on 13 11 14.