In retrospect, it was a bad day to tell the Access team I was thinking of shooting myself. With a spate of shootings throughout Sydney in the days leading up to my crisis, I’m not sure what alternative response I could have expected.
After a spectacular argument with my wife, feeling stunned and ashamed about my behaviour, I plunged into a deep depression. It was like stepping into the open doors of an empty elevator shaft - straight down into the black. I questioned my worth as a husband and as a person. I spoke to my GP and organised a referral to a psychiatrist, but the appointment was two months away.
My wife has suffered from ill health for a long time and takes a raft of medications for chronic back pain, nausea, high blood pressure and other issues. For six years, I have been her primary carer and the stresses of her health issues, and financial problems related to them, have had a significant impact on our marriage. At my request she organised an appointment for us to see a relationship counselor, which was for the Tuesday of the following week. This made me feel a little better - at least, I thought, I would have some kind of forum for discussing the distress that I was feeling.
On the Monday night, my wife was taken to the local hospital by ambulance for what the doctors ultimately decided was an accidental overdose. Ordinarily, I am very private with my tears, but at two in the morning I can remember sitting in the chair beside her bed in the emergency room, crying until there was a small pool of tears between my feet on the floor, while nurses fiddled with drip bags, asked her questions to determine her level of awareness, and stuck ECG pads on her. I had hit the end of my tether. I finally went home around four in the morning and slept a few hours. My wife was discharged late in the morning.
At eight, after sleeping fitfully, I kept the appointment with the relationship counselor and told her what was going on and some of the background to my own issues and the problems in our marriage. I told her how I had organised an appointment with a psychiatrist but that I didn’t think I could manage the two month wait. She suggested that I could call the local mental health Access team, but that with their workload it was unlikely that I would have any joy getting assistance.
She was both right and wrong. I called the team after my wife came home and told them what was going on and how I was feeling. He said that he had to consult with his team-mates and would give me a call back. When he did, I was given an appointment to see one of their workers the following day. He stressed that the Access team did not provide counseling services directly, only assessment and referral. I told him I was OK with this.
With my wife sprawled across our bed, I decided to try for a nap on the lounge. Shortly thereafter, there was a loud knock at the door. In our building, that usually means salespeople of one sort or another, so I ignored it. But the knocking continued and became louder and more insistent.
My wife answered the door and told me that the Police wanted to speak to me. Three came into our flat, all wearing bullet-proof vests. They asked some general questions about my welfare, then quickly moved on to the issue of my firearms. The biggest of them - a sergeant - told me that I had to surrender them as my license had expired. I knew that was incorrect, and produced the license to demonstrate this. He told me that he had no power to seize the firearms under those circumstances, but that I could surrender them voluntarily if I wished and collect them at a later date. With three sizable men crammed into our small bedroom with me, and quite rigid with fear, I told them that I would surrender my firearms. They asked a number of times if I wanted help or if I wanted to be “taken somewhere”. I assumed the “somewhere” would be the local psychiatric unit and almost vomited with fear, knowing there were only two ways out of the bedroom - through the three police, or out the window. Due to a very violent schooling and child sexual assault, I suffer from post traumatic stress, and being boxed in without a clear escape route causes me great anxiety.
They allowed me to empty the ammunition compartment, but seemed to become agitated when the time came to remove the actual firearms. I left them with the keys to the cabinet and asked if I could have a smoke. I was allowed to do so, but one of the police officers - who was, in fairness, as gentle and civil as he could be under the circumstances - stayed within a few feet of me as I smoked on the first-floor balcony. I’m not sure if he was concerned that I might try to do a runner, or that I might try to suicide by jumping off. Downstairs I could see three police, one of them in plain clothes, watching me just as intently. I worked out in the end that at least seven police attended - three in the flat, at least one in the stairwell, and the three downstairs.
After the police left, having held myself together through what was, for me, a tremendously confronting and terrifying ordeal, I sat on the lounge and cried. I have no criminal record, and this was my first real experience with police as a “person of interest”. I just wanted help, not to be scared out my wits. About two hours later, two of the police returned to give me paperwork to notify me that my license had been suspended and my firearms seized, on the say-so of someone “further up”. Most of them had no real value, sentimental or otherwise, but one was my deceased father’s favourite rifle and another a shotgun, one of two in Australia, that was won in a shooting contest by my great-uncle.
When I saw the counselor the following day for the assessment, he determined that I had no “acute issues” and there was no need for further involvement by the Access team. I was deemed a big enough risk to warrant the attendance of at least seven police, but not to receive further support from the mental health team. I spent a week recuperating and trying to get my head together with friends in the Blue Mountains, mostly doing small maintenance jobs around their decking area just to be working with my hands rather than my head. I visited my GP on my return, who placed me on an antidepressant drug. I don’t know if it was a placebo effect or the drug working (and honestly, I don’t care), but I began to feel better almost immediately - my head began to clear and my anxiety began to dissipate. Even so, it was another week before I could face going to work, and even the most minor of stresses brought me to the edge of panic.
My employer has been very accommodating and supportive, as have been individual workmates. I am still undecided as to whether I will jump through the administrative hoops in an attempt to reclaim my firearms. I still feel tired, the kind of tired that feels like it’s in your bones. I still have trouble working out how the Access team could determine that I did not require assessment by a psychiatrist when the police do. I’m still very absent minded - I can forget literally within seconds, with the box still in my hand, whether I have taken my medication - but at the very least I am beginning to feel hope for the future.