Suicide, northern beaches: Survivor shares heartbreak

SURVIVOR: Penny Holbrook now says
SURVIVOR: Penny Holbrook now says "I wouldn't miss out being here for the world". Picture: Giles Park

A heartbreaking decision that almost cost Penny Holbrook her life has left her working to try and save others just like her.

"Today I'm almost six years older than I should be. February 23, 2015 is a huge day of reflection. I look back on that day with such sadness at the distress that it brought to myself and my family and friends.

Each year I also post a number on Facebook which reminds me of how much older I am than I should have ever been because I was actually declared dead.

My kids were 23, 24 and 25 at the time. They were crying because I was here and I'd survived, but then they were angry because my mother had done it. They couldn't understand that I knew how they were feeling because I'd been a child of a suicide and now I'd (almost) made my children the children of a suicide so then the anger comes. My mother was 55 when she completed suicided, when I was 23.

I stayed for five weeks in Royal North Shore, a week in ICU and then onto a ward. I was happy, sad, angry, but by the time I got onto the ward I was glad I was alive. I felt 'I'm so happy I was here and why did I think that was going to solve the problems?' Suicide doesn't solve the problems, it creates more problems. It creates tragedy for the problem that was in my head.

It was a combination of things that led me up to that day. I had sold my house on Collaroy Plateau from my ex-husband and they say some of the biggest things that can rock you is divorce, the sale of a house, the passing of someone and it's also stress and work. I felt the enormity, I can remember standing in the driveway with my ex-husband and both of us had a bit of a cry and gave each other hugs and walked away from a house that we thought we'd be in forever.

I was happy, sad, angry but by the time I got onto the ward I was glad I was alive. I felt I'm so happy I was here and why did I think that was going to solve the problems. Suicide doesn't solve the problems, it creates more problems.

Emotionally I felt I'd failed at being a wife, I was now an ex-wife. I felt like I was failing as a grandmother, I felt I'd failed as a mother due to the deception of a family member. I felt I'd failed at everything. It just built up and built up.

We moved on the Friday, on the Saturday I was just crying and my partner was saying 'look everybody moves, it's not that big a deal' but for me it was, it was part of the divorce, the house sale, the moving, the unsettledness.

I've had an eating disorder, I've been 39 kilos, I was a self harmer. You never actually think that someone will do it. It was about nine days prior that I knew what I was going to do.

When they found me, I was blue, I was dead. They rang triple-0, the operator told them what to do to commence CPR.

My first memory after that is choking. I remember the tears running down my face. I was so angry I woke up, so angry.

My first memory after that is choking. I remember the tears running down my face. I was so angry I woke up, so angry.

I've definitely thought about doing it again, probably four years ago, but I've got people around me now, the people who support me. I've my own lifelines of people that when I do have a bad day I can literally just phone and say 'I'm having a shit day'.

I talk about it now to educate people, I talk about it to save a life. It was a taboo subject when my mother died when I was 23, nobody spoke about it. What we're trying to do now in the mental health world is change that, take that taboo out of it. Talk about it, be honest, ask the direct question to someone in need of help.

They're actually scared that if they make a call to someone they think that the ambulance is going to turn up, they're going to put them in a locked ward.

I look forward to that number each year, on February 23, because if I didn't I wouldn't be here doing what I have such a passion doing now which is working in the mental health arena.

I wouldn't miss out being here for the world. I just love it. When I go to bed at night I actually look forward to waking up the next morning. I enjoy my days, I spend a lot of time in the garden which I just love. I do a lot of volunteering which I love. Life is fantastic now, life is joyful.

You've just to find the serenity, that's what I look for now."

Ms Holbrook will be part of a mental health panel Q&A following the screening of Suicide: The Ripple Effect on Wednesday, February 24 in Warriewood. Lifeline counsellors, representatives of the Northern Beaches Suicide Preventing Steering Committee and the founder of Brazengrowth will also be on the panel with the public welcome to come along to find out more.

  • Lifeline Northern Beaches offers low cost counselling, call 9949 5522 or email admin@lifelinenb.org.au to find out more.
  • For help in a crisis call Lifeline on 13 11 13 (24/7)

Find us on social

Follow the Northern Beaches Review on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

Got something to say? Send a letter to the editor at: editor@northernbeachesreview.com.au

Want the latest news direct to your inbox?

Sign up for our free newsletters here...