Over the past 4 years, I have attempted to end my life 6 times. I have been in hospital 22 times and been admitted to psychiatric facilities 15 times. Ranging from 2 weeks to 3 months. I have been on 24 different medications and at one point was on 8 medications at once, taking 10 tablets every day. I have been put under the mental health act and I have been chemically restrained. I have screamed and sobbed and cried out to God.
I have yelled and cursed at God. I have told Him I hated Him and that I wish He’d never created me.
My spiral into darkness began in early 2017. I was heading into year 12 with top grades, I had just gotten my driver’s license and bought my first car. I’d say I was pretty confident at my small school and was the top choice for school captain. I had a great bunch of friends around me who I loved spending time with. I was working at a cafe in the city, and I was planning to study medicine at the University of Western Australia.
I remember one morning I was on my way to work in the city. I sat on the cold metal chair at the train station and thought how if I ended my life then I wouldn’t have to go to work.
That was the first time suicide became my go to option to escape difficult emotions and thoughts.
A few days later I experienced severe anxiety about going to an event at the church I attended at the time. I cried in front of my mum, something I never did, and I told her how I had been struggling with anxiety over the last few weeks. Being the amazing mum she is, she immediately booked me into see a local counsellor and I decided I would quit my job. Fast forward to March and I remember sitting in my counsellor Beth’s office and trying to explain the emotions I was feeling or lack of. I had lost all interest in school; I had no motivation to study or socialise or even participate in life. I also began suffering debilitating panic attacks and would retreat to the bathroom at school on a regular basis for privacy while I endured these attacks. My mood had dropped drastically, and my GP diagnosed me with Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) and depression, and we decided I would start antidepressants. Over the next few months, I continued to spiral downhill.
In June, my favourite teacher who taught English Literature, announced she was retiring immediately as she had been diagnosed with an aggressive brain tumour. I was distraught. We planned a goodbye party for her the following Tuesday where we would all wear the colour red to celebrate her. During those 7 days, I entertained more suicidal thoughts and on the morning of the 13th, I found some medications left over from a surgery a few years prior. I took them to school with me and I remember having them in my locker and looking at them in between classes, contemplating whether to take them with the intention to end my life. That afternoon I had a session with my counsellor Beth, and it was there that I broke down in her office, sobbed on the floor and handed her the pills. She deemed me too unsafe to drive myself home and we agreed the best option would be to go to the Emergency Department. After hours of being questioned, I was released, being deemed ‘low risk’.
The next few months were like being on a rollercoaster, but with no seatbelt. I was in and out of psychiatric facilities. I was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder and panic disorder. I smoked my first cigarette. I got my septum pierced (by another patient in hospital). I attempted to end my life for the first time, and I dropped out of Year 12. In 2018, I repeated Year 12 with the year below me, but spent 2 and a half months in a psychiatric facility in the middle of the year and was additionally diagnosed with bipolar type 2 and major depressive disorder. Graduating high school was a major accomplishment for me, yet I was still suffering deeply with severe mental health issues.
During 2019 I attempted to end my life twice and spent a total of 4 months in hospital. I also underwent invasive treatments. Known as repetitive trans cranial magnetic stimulation, they use an electromagnetic coil to trigger nerve cell activity and electro convulsive therapy, where they anaesthetise you and induce seizures with the hope that brain cells and synapses will be recreated.
I would like to say that I stepped into 2020 with a hope for the future, but I actually woke up New Year’s Day in a Psychiatric Facility.
I had spent my 20th Birthday, Christmas and New Years in hospital as well as missing my cousins wedding and a family holiday. When I was discharged in the middle of February, I felt defeated and hopeless. I seriously believed that I would either end my own life or I would live a horrible life, on extreme amounts of medication and never be happy or able to achieve anything significant.
I saw no light at the end of the tunnel.
My mum forced me to go to church. I remember I would wear 3-day old clothes with a lot of perfume to church and I would cry before leaving the house because I didn’t want to go. I would force my mum to leave the second the pastor closed the service.
I hated my life. I was also secretly engaging in severe self-harm behaviours. It wasn’t until late April that my mum became aware of my destructive behaviours as I had bled through my shirt. After much discussion, I allowed her to take me to the GP where I received medical treatment. We booked in an emergency appointment with my psychiatrist who I had been seeing for 2 years. It was that appointment that was a major turning point.
My psychiatrist was elderly and had tried pretty much all the medications and treatments on me. He diagnosed me with ‘treatment resistant major depressive disorder’ and declared that I would be on medication for the rest of my life (not that the meds even helped). He said that there was nothing else he could do for me. I left feeling absolutely defeated. I had believed these things about myself for years but to hear my psychiatrist, a medical professional with decades of experience say these things and give up on my recovery, broke me. It did the opposite to my mum though. She declared with bold faith that this was not the end of my story. She believed that breakthrough was near, and that God had a plan far greater for my life than my battle with mental illness.
In 2020, I again attempted to end my life after getting severe urges. I was found and taken to hospital where I had to undergo medical treatment.
A few days later I ended up back in the Emergency Department as I was deemed unsafe. After 7 hours of sitting in the waiting room, I was admitted and then transferred by security to a fifth psychiatric facility where I pleaded my case that I was safe and attempted to leave. I vividly remember that admission. I was sitting on the edge of my rock-hard bed which was bolted to the ground. I looked around my room of bland colours, a tall wardrobe with no doors, a bedside table with two draws and a window with two panels of unbreakable glass. A nurse walked in with the on-call psychiatrist who told me, “I’m putting you under the Mental Health Act.” I started bawling my eyes out and had these two faces just looking down on me showing no empathy or compassion. They left and I continued to cry for the next 18 hours. I didn’t leave my room once, not even to use the bathroom. It was during those 18 hours that I wrote the words that I now can see were the biggest turning point for me. I was distraught, I was angry, yet I called out to Him. I admitted I couldn’t do this alone. I wrote,
“Let’s do this Heleema. All in for recovery. all in for Jesus. you got this. I’m ready.”
I spent the next 3 weeks in hospital, coming off my medications and suffering from withdrawal symptoms. However, this admission was different. I went in with a passion to get better. The facility was in the city and due to my leave restrictions, I was unable to attend my home campus of Kingdomcity in Canning Vale, so mum would take me to our Western Suburbs campus. God really used those three Sundays to speak life into me.
On the final Sunday, our Pastor, Mark Varughese, was preaching on the topic of ‘Purpose’. Towards the end of his message, I just felt I needed to record it as it was going to be monumental and I needed to look back on it in the future. It was during those 2 minutes that God used Pastor Mark to speak life into me. He said these words, “Maybe it’s not a coincidence that you are here tonight. When a sense of purpose is awakened within you, you feel a reason to get up in the morning. It doesn’t mean everything goes well all the time; it just means that there is a pulse going through you that is more than just a physical heartbeat.
There is a sense of purpose, and when something is dedicated, purpose comes alive… Maybe this is the season that purpose comes alive. It makes sense of your past; it makes sense of your experience. All of a sudden… you aren’t a coincidence.
When you are dedicated to God you come alive with a sense of why I was meant to be here and that alone will start to shape your journey.
I was discharged the next day and I began attending Kingdomcity, by choice.
It hasn’t always been easy, but I can honestly say my life is completely different. People that knew me a year ago can’t even recognise the woman I am today.
And that’s not because I pulled myself out of my mess, but because God reached in and saved me.
And I realise even in the midst of it He was always there.I don’t know your story and I don’t know what you’re going through. But, from one girl who’s struggled and survived so much pain, trauma and mental illness, let me encourage you today, don’t give up! Don’t quit. Things can be different. Your life can be different.
Here’s just a few simple things that really helped me on my journey.
I don’t know where I’d be today without the people in my world who never gave up on me, especially my mum and my church community. When I started coming back to church, so many amazing people came into my world. They genuinely cared about me, would reach out to me and never stopped praying for me. I decided I wanted to make Kingdomcity my home church and get involved with the young adult community. I stepped completely out of my comfort zone and drove myself to the mid-week young adults service. I got connected into a connect group and I started attending our 5pm Sunday service. After searching for a place to belong for so long, I finally found my place and my people.
Daring to be vulnerable
One of my new favourite verses is Philippians 1:14, “And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear.” Being vulnerable doesn’t come easy to me, but knowing that other people’s faith is strengthening because of my testimony encourages me to continue to share the goodness of God in my life.I shared my testimony at Kingdomcity’s New Years Eve Prayer Praise Party and I have been so positively overwhelmed by the outpouring of love and thanks I received. B
Falling into the arms of my heavenly Father
It wasn’t until I fully fell into the arms of my heavenly Father and let Him into every part of my life – my spirit, my soul and my mind that I actually started to see change. He started to love me back to wholeness and I did everything I could to participate in that process. I stopped believing the voices in my head and letting the enemy rob me of my peace and joy.
Realising that helping others had a way of helping me
Towards the middle of last year I felt a passion to raise up the next generation and started serving as a youth leader. Initially, I felt so unqualified, so unworthy to help others. If only they knew where I had been just 12 months earlier. While meeting with the youth pastor I remember an internal voice nagging at me, “Who am I kidding? I am too great a risk to take on, no one wants me.” I even told the pastor that maybe he shouldn’t bring me onto the team. In that moment though, he said something really significant. “Heelema, God will use you while he changes you. We would love to have you come and serve.” At that point, I was still on medication, I still had regular support sessions and I believed my mood was just a ‘high’ and I would probably relapse and end up back in hospital. Well, since then I have spent every Friday night with the most incredible bunch of young people. I have seen them worship passionately, reach their friends and grow in their faith. Sometimes the best thing we can do is take our eyes off ourselves (our problems and our feelings) and put them on someone else. It has incredible way of changing our perspective and giving us a bigger purpose.
Living in my true identity
Over time I slowly started to realise that I am so much more than how I feel or what I’ve been labelled in the past. I no longer identify with any of the diagnoses I once received. I have come off all my medications and I no longer suffer from suicidal thoughts or self-harm urges. I’ve learnt to silence the voices of shame and condemnation. I’ve learnt to turn to God, not away from Him. By reading His word and putting it into practice I have begun to discover who I really am and heal from the inside out.
Focusing on my future
When I finally graduated year 12, my principal who had also been my mentor for the year spoke Jeremiah 29:11 over me. The verse says, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” As I read it more and more I began to see the significance of this verse. God had never planed for me to suffer, in fact, His ultimate plan for my life was to see me thrive. Even through the pain, even through overwhelming feelings, I can still have joy. I can still have peace. Ultimately, I still have Him.
I am currently in my second semester of studying a Bachelor’s degree of social science counselling and I work as a mental health support worker. I know that my story and what I have learnt from the last 4 years is going to impact others in a beautiful way.
Of course I have down days, just like anyone else. But now that my life is anchored in Him, no matter the storm, I am held securely in His arms.
Heelema Rawlings is 21-year old, currently studying a Bachelor of Applied Social Science in Counselling at Tabor Bible College.Sabrina Peters is a Christian writer, an avid Sex & Relationships blogger and part of the team at Kingdomcity. She is married to Ben and mother to Liberty & Lincoln. www.sabrinapeters.com.
Matthias Browning | Reporter