I am writing this book about my son Cameron who committed suicide nearly five years ago. He had suffered from bipolar disorder for many years. It is his journey from despair to paradise. I started writing it in the form of letters to him, but somewhere along the way I found that I had things that I wanted to say to people which could not be written down and addressed to Cameron exclusively. I want the contents of this book to go out there not only for Cameron, his family and his friends, but also for all those people in the same position as I was those many years ago, when not much was known about bipolar disorder. I would like you, my readers, to share this journey with Cameron and me - Cameron through the letters I have written to him and me with the many other things I have felt myself compelled to say. It is not just a book about bipolar. I hope it will be a book also for those people out there who have ever had depression, or have ever had to deal with a mental illness. There is a touch of sadness in some of the pages, especially regarding his diaries. I have only put down some excerpts from them – to put everything down would have been too emotional for me and too depressing for my readers.
But on the other hand in my letters to him I have also written of happy times – times which will always be remembered. I can almost hear Cameron saying to me, “Mum, why don‟t you simply go ahead tell it like it was!” and that is just what I have tried to do.
This book is a mixture of many things – sadness and happiness, indifference and compassion, despair and hope, loss and recovery, lows and highs. These are all part of the shadow world for a person like my son who had to live with a mental illness. I know that for me Cameron‟s story will be never-ending. I will go on remembering things about him that I had forgotten or failed to put down while I was writing this, but it can‟t be helped now. Nevertheless I sincerely thank you, my readers for bearing with me, and I do hope that you will enjoy Cameron‟s story just as much as I have enjoyed writing it.
“I guide you in the way of
wisdom and lead you along
straight paths. When you
walk, your steps will not be
hampered; when you run
you will not stumble.”
It is nearly five years since you crossed to the other side of Life. Such a lot has happened in that time –
good things and bad things. But it all boils down to one fact. You are not here with us any more, and even though I think of you every day I have to remind myself of that.
I have everything you wrote over the last few years, and together with what I have written since you passed over, we might just be able to help other people out there who suffer, just as you did, with bipolar disorder. Also I know that for years I did not understand what you had gone through. Perhaps I was too wrapped up in my own life or I may have put it in the “Too Hard” basket. Who knows? But now, Cameron, we are in this together. OK? So let‟s get this show on the road.
Cameron, did you ever have any idea just how much of an impact you made on people you met? Nobody I know was ever indifferent to you. Even people I talk to today remember things about you – Things that I had long forgotten. Surely that must mean something!
During the last 12 months of your life when you came to live with me at Forrest Beach, do you remember when we used to sit out on the verandah?
The mornings were the best – you with your book and coffee, and me with my Sudoku and green tea.
We used to listen and watch the tropical birds in the trees. We would also hear the “screaming birds”
(curlews) under the house. Eventually they would come out and wait for us to give them their daily treat of bread and honey.
One particular morning stands out in my mind. You had just been speaking to Jaki on the phone and you were so happy. You thought everything was going to be all right, despite the divorce. Later on that day you had an appointment with your Case Manager in Ingham and you were looking forward to that. Then Jaki rang again. I don‟t know what was said but your mood suddenly altered dramatically. The look on your face changed from one of happiness to one of despair. I saw it at once but even if I wanted to, I knew that I could not help you. But still my thoughts and heart tried to reach out to you.
The next thing I remember you went inside and came out with paper and a pen and you wrote the following poem. You called it “Bipolar Dreaming.”
I dream that one day
I will fly down the highway
On a Harley - free as the breeze
The vibrant colours of Life –
The blue of the sky –
The green of the trees and
feel the soft rain on my face as I ride.
I dream about my children –
My beautiful daughter and son;
I want them to be as proud of me
as I am of them
And above all I want them to believe that I am not a loser.
I dream of having a job
Where my workmates don‟t make cracks about my mental state or think
that I am some sort of a freak.
I dream that one day they will learn and try to understand
that I am a human being too
with real feelings.
I dream about a relationship somewhere down the track;
I dream of meeting a soul mate who will not try to mould or
I want us both to be honest with each other; I want her to know the REAL me –
Not the one at the moment
trapped inside a vortex of drugs
and pills and pain;
After all they say that there is
somebody out there for everyone.
I dream of the fellow sufferers I have met in hospital over the years;
I have learned to know how they feel; I dream that they too will get out and have a go –
Just like I have tried to do;
Even if they are told they are nothing I want them to know that they are
I say to them,
“Have a go, Mate, and to hell
with what others think!”
So these are my dreams –
My kids, a job, a happy relationship, A “Harley”, my fellow sufferers finding peace.
But mostly I dream of being a worthwhile person –
Just being me and able to cope with day to day Life; For a start this will do;
Then I‟ll have it all, Mate,
And my life will be real!”
I cried when I read it, but I want you to know that your poem has been distributed throughout North Queensland to people suffering from bipolar disorder and depression. The feedback from people (including your friend Pastor Diane) has been absolutely tremendous.
So on that sad morning at Forrest Beach, nearly five years ago you did not know that you would help so many people!
Cameron, I love you and I am so proud of you!
beside me and be
Heaven in Chaos „Cos My Angel
I always knew that you had a wicked sense of humour- like when we used to walk along the beach you would stride so far ahead of me that I used to yell at you, “Hey, Cameron! Wait for me! Who do you think you are? A trainee Ayatollah or something! “ (No doubt this was to do with my Afghan heritage.) But we did have some good times on our beach walks, didn‟t we? In time I did learn to walk faster to keep up with you. But then again you probably felt sorry for me and slowed down a bit.
Your sister Shona told me about the following episode just a little while after you had passed. She was having a night out with some girlfriends in Fortitude Valley, Brisbane, and as expected on a Saturday night it was very busy. She couldn‟t find a parking spot so she said her usual, “Hail Mary full of grace, please find me a parking space!” She finally found one and then she set off with her friends to enjoy themselves. But somehow she got separated from her friends and, oh dear, she had forgotten to bring her mobile phone with her! She then tried to look for the car, but because all parking places look the same she couldn‟t find the car. So, what to do next? She told me that she shut her eyes and said, 10
“Go on, Cameron, do something! And do it now!”
And believe it or not you did! You showed her where the car was and soon after, her friends turned up! What a drama! But the night was not over yet.
One of Shona‟s friends decided to drive home and guess what? After driving around for hours she found out she was lost; and there was no Refidex in the car. So again, what to do? Her friends said, “Go on, Shona, ask Cameron for another sign!” She did and when the girls looked out the window they spied not one poster – but two. Guess what was written on both posters? The words, “Sign Boy!” How amazing! And, of course, just past the posters was another sign with directions on how to get home!
Pretty amazing stuff, eh? You were certainly on the ball that night! I‟ll bet you are still chuckling over it.
Soon after that incident something amazing happened to me. I had a great idea that I would write a rap song about you. I talked to Nick, my grandson and his dad, Malcolm, and it was agreed that I would write the words and the boys would write the music.
I thought this was a terrific idea as both boys were excellent guitarists and already I could see our names in lights after we had become famous. I must confess that I didn‟t know much about Rap music so I asked my other grandson, Alex, to give me the names of a couple of Rappers. He came up with Eminem and Snoop Dog, so I went out and bought a 11
CD by Snoop Dog. One of the tracks began with,
“I‟ve got a motherfuckin‟, story to tell! I‟ve got a motherfuckin‟ story to tell!” Being over 70 years old, I was a bit shocked at this language but I thought to myself, “If I‟m going to write a Rap song I might as well get used to that sort of speech!” After all, the Rappers out there are raking in heaps of money! I figured that if I was going to be famous at my time of life, I had better start! So that night I took a deep breath and began on what I thought was to be my new career! I started with, “Listen all you motherfuckers out there, I‟m gonna shock you from your head to your toes! I‟m gonna shock you from your head to your toes!” That would do for a start.
Then I went to bed and tried to dream up some inspiration in order to continue my Rap song.
About 4.30 the next morning I was woken up by a resounding crash in my room. I turned on the light and found books scattered from my bookcase all over the floor, and a heavy ornament of a parrot (which I used as a door stopper), smashed and it was lying in the corridor outside my room. I did not know what had happened. At first I thought that my cat had caused the damage but the books and the ornament were far too heavy for her to move. I came outside and searched the house but nothing else had been disturbed. Then a thought came to me. It could have been an angry spirit. I knew such things were 12
possible because some of my relatives in Brisbane were Spiritualists and I believed in the spirit world also. So I rang my aunt and explained just what had happened. She then asked me what I had done to upset you. I told her nothing at first, but then I remembered the Rap song I was in the process of writing. She went out of her brain for a start, but when she had calmed down a bit she told me to give up the idea of the Rap song, because obviously you didn‟t agree with it and so I did. (I can‟t say I was sorry to do it – in fact I was rather relieved!) After that everything pretty well returned to normal, so I‟m sorry about that, Cameron. But wow! You gave me one hell of a fright!
The next day I wrote a poem for you and called it
“Heaven in Chaos „Cos My Angel Wears Tattoos.”
We loved you then
When you were here
We love you now
That you are there.
How is heaven this morning, Cam?
I‟ll bet you‟ve swapped your wings
For a set of weights and more tattoos And other way out things!
When many angels visit you
Do they look at you with dread
When they see your tattooed body
Do they believe you‟re really dead?
And when they see you lifting weights On their white and fluffy floor
Do they raise their hands in fright
Or cry, ”Oh please no more!”
And when its time for smoko
And their harps they try to play
Then you bring out your music And scare them all away!
Oft on still and starry nights
When we feel your presence here
You‟ve thrown your angels‟ wings away But we know that you are near!
Then we see a brighter light
And we know it‟s “orright. Mate!”
Mr. Big has pulled you through
That far-off pearly gate!
You don‟t need wings and harps and things That‟s OK for a start;
All you need is love and faith
For Sir can read your heart!
Enjoy your weights and music, Cam,
And your tattoos – well, we‟ll see
We now know Mr. Big loves you
Because He‟s set you free!
We loved you then
When you were here;
We love you more
Now you are there!
So, Cameron, like the poem, I love you more as each day passes.
And I know that your sister Shona does, too!
“It is not because they are
spirits that they are angels.
They become angels when
they are sent.” ~Augustine
Dreams and Stars for Cameron
I am sitting here at my computer with Princess at my feet. As usual she is licking my toes and then trying to bite them. But that‟s Princess! Do you remember when you first met her? She was only a kitten then and we were living in Brisbane. You had come to stay with me for a while and I remember one night we were watching the movie “Gladiator” with Russell Crowe. You were lying on the floor on a bean bag half asleep when suddenly Princess jumped on your chest. You let out an unholy yell and I nearly killed myself laughing.
I‟ve had Princess now for nearly 11 years and we‟ve shared some great times together. She has moved house with me many times and there was always something interesting to remember from nearly every place we lived in.
The most outstanding memory I have of Princess was just after you had passed over. I had returned to Forrest Beach after your funeral. But I could not find her anywhere. I searched and searched and I finally found her under your bed. That was OK, but when I went to feed her she refused to come out of your room. I tried coaxing her to come out but she would not budge. So I had to take her food and water into 16
your room. I also had to take her litter tray in there too. During this sad time I had quite a few visitors and we often went into your room because a lot of your photos and things were still there. But whenever anyone came close to your bed Princess would miaow and claw at their legs.
This bizarre behaviour went
on for nearly six weeks and
not only with one set of
visitors but with every
visitor. Nobody was excluded. Sometimes when my visitors had gone and often before I went to bed I would stand at your door just to see what Princess was doing. Mostly she was under the bed but every so often I found her sitting on top of your bed staring upwards. She looked as if she was concentrating intently and her ears were moving backwards and forwards. I felt sure that you were both talking to each other. Even now occasionally at night she will sit at the end of my bed and look upwards. I love you both so much for letting me share in these little interludes.
One night I had such a wonderful dream about you and Princess and me. We were all sitting together on a mat on the floor in your room. Suddenly the room seemed to get smaller and smaller and the furniture seemed to move all around the room. I didn‟t know 17
what to make of this and I confess I felt a little bit scared but you said “Don‟t worry, Mum, you‟ll be OK “, and with that, the mat we were sitting on rose from the floor, floated through the furniture and the walls and the next minute I knew we were in the air above the house looking down on the lights of Forrest Beach. It was so-o-o exciting! Higher and higher we flew till we could not see any more lights below. We seemed to be enveloped in soft fluffy clouds and then something amazing happened! Our mat turned into a beautiful white horse with wings!
You told me that the horse‟s name was Phoenix –
named after the Egyptian bird which had risen from the ashes. Up and up and up we climbed until we reached such a beautiful place nestled in the clouds.
You told me it was called “The Land of Heart‟s Desire” and I could well believe it, too. You were smiling, Princess was purring and I was so happy. I could feel an atmosphere of peace wash over me. I looked around. A soft breeze was blowing. There were green trees with their branches waving in the breeze and the sun was peeping through the leaves. I looked further afield and there was a lake in the distance. The water looked so cool and inviting that I just wanted to put my feet in it. You said. “Go ahead, Mum,” and so I did. The water was delightfully cool as it ran over my feet. You and Princess joined me and we sat there at the water‟s edge just enjoying ourselves. We didn‟t even talk –
there seemed to be no need for words. Everything was perfect. I felt as if I wanted to stay there for ever and ever. To me, time did not seem to have any meaning in that holy place. I really felt as if it was all a dream, but then You said to me, “Well, Mum, I guess it‟s time to go back now.” Reluctantly we climbed on Phoenix‟s back and set off through the clouds. I know that You would have to return to your world and Princess and I would have to return to our world. I remember turning to you and asking you why Princess and I could not stay with you, and you replied, “You‟re not ready yet, Mum. It‟s just not your time.” Then you disappeared and I woke up sitting with Princess on the mat in your room.
I sat there for a long time just thinking about my wonderful experience. It was so real but I still wanted some sort of a sign that it had actually happened. So I sat on your bed with Princess and we waited.
I remember not long after you passed over, a psychic friend of mine told me to put 4 crystals in your room
- one in each corner, which I did. She told me that when I felt I wanted to contact you to concentrate on the crystals in your room. I did and guess what happened? The crystal nearest to me moved slightly in my direction! I was amazed. But after that 19
nothing else happened as my concentration was broken.
I felt at that point that it was another “sign” – you know like the one you sent Shona and her friends when they were having a night out. So I think in future that I will call you “Sign Boy” like Shona does!
This experience prompted me to write another poem about you and I have called it “Dreams and Stars for Cameron.”
“Cameron, My Beautiful Son
I visited you again last night in your world To throw you some stars
And to give you some dreams;
I floated up to you through the clouds Draped in my astral cloak
With my bag full of dreams
And my hands full of stars.
You caught the stars
And threw them back to me
So I could keep them forever;
You accepted my bag full of dreams
And they became your dreams too.
I whispered to you
And I know that you heard me;
We are both spirits
Even though we are on different planes –
You in your ethereal world
And I – a visitor from my world.
I know you have my dreams and stars –
I know you have my dreams and stars; Dreams and stars for every occasion –
Dreams and stars for every occasion; And you answered me
“Mum, of course I have your dreams and stars –
Of course I have your dreams and stars; And we will share them forever –
And we will share them forever;
Just like we share everything;
And I will send some back to you
Especially when you feel sad;
And until we are together in my world.”
“I feel so close to you, Cameron,
It is nearly five years in my time
Since you passed over –
But it is probably aeons and aeons in your time.”
But now I must reluctantly return to my world again.
I touched your face and looked into your eyes once more
And I was so happy that you had accepted my gift 21
Of dreams and stars;
That means all the world to me!
And I will love you forever.
Sometimes when I return from your world, I wake up
And find a flower lying beside me;
And on my pillow there are tears – star-shaped tears But happy tears.
Thank you for choosing me as your parent; You will always be one of my bright shining lights; And the stars and dreams that we both share Will be an everlasting bond between us.
Thanks Cameron for just being you
And I will always love you!
“Whisper to me in the dark-time,
Sing me a morning star song,
Watch with me here til the warm–
time, Wait while I unmake the
Confessions and Regrets
My son Cameron committed suicide on 13th October 2006. He had suffered from bi-polar disorder for many years. To say that I was devastated would be an understatement. After he died I went through the usual “would‟ve,” “could‟ve” and “should‟ve”
scenarios, blamed everybody for Cameron‟s death, including God. I said to myself many times, “Why me? Why should this terrible thing happen to me?
Life‟s not fair!” I continued to feel sorry for myself for quite some time, but then I began to take stock and look hard at myself over the years when dealing with Cameron and his bi-polar. I didn‟t like what I discovered.
Cameron was a brilliant little boy endowed with lots of energy and a great capacity for making friends.
He was also an excellent musician, poet and artist, but sadly I did not see these qualities until later on in his life. He was always the leader in any piece of mischief going with his friends, but one could not be angry with him for long, because it just seemed like a lot of harmless fun which was soon forgotten.
On looking back now I remember that as a teenager Cameron appeared to be hyperactive at times, but I put it down to growing pains that other parents told me their teenage children also had. To my mind 23
now, a few things about Cameron did appear to be a little different. I now remember that he seemed to experience more highs and lows than his friends. But of course I did not notice this at all. I hate the following saying but I find it has some truth in it. “If I could go back in time and realise how I should have dealt with the things that happened then, I know now I would have dealt with them differently!” But sadly this was not the way things were.
As Cameron got older he turned to alcohol and drugs.
In those days I really thought that I knew what was best for him. I made him go to Alcoholics Anonymous, Drug Rehabilitation and Counselling.
Yes, I knew it all in those days. But I missed out on one very important point. I did not listen to Cameron or talk to him about what he wanted.
After one very long period when his life seemed to be normal Cameron got married. I was thrilled and thought that things would finally settle down for him.
He had a steady job. He had two beautiful children whom he adored. But the marriage failed after a few years and there was a bitter divorce. He began being treated for alcohol and drug abuse and it was during this time that he was diagnosed with bi-polar disorder. These periods were really bad for everyone and he was hospitalised from time to time. New doctors kept putting him on new medication and 24
treating his disorder in different ways and this aggravated the situation, especially when any new medication took several weeks to kick in.
At this point in his life Cameron had already made a few suicide attempts and when I look back now and realise that these were cries for help. Though he did not say it, I feel now that he was thinking, “Mum, lay off and listen to me for once!” Sadly I only started to listen over the last couple of years. So this has been a big learning experience for me.
So I now say to parents and people out there who are in the same position as I was so many years ago, please listen and try to do what is best for your bipolar sufferer. Have patience and compassion, but above all listen - even if you don‟t agree with what is happening at the time. I certainly wish I had done that!
On a brief visit to Forrest Beach in 2005, Cameron, in one of his fits trashed my house, broke a whole lot of my crockery, wrecked my car, and screamed at me for hours on end. He was so drunk and disruptive that the neighbours had to call the police. I had to get out of the place because it was very distressing for me and so I went for a walk along the beach.
When I returned home, Cameron had gone. One of his counsellors from Ingham told me later that he had put him on a bus to Townsville and had written a letter to the Mental Health Department at the Townsville Hospital to secure help for him. I was upset about this, but realised that it was necessary for Cameron to obtain help immediately. But he did not remain in Townsville for long. He headed off to Brisbane and stayed with my daughter Shona and my two grandsons, Nick and Alex. I heard nothing for a time except that he was working but still undergoing counselling and treatment for his condition.
Early in 2006 my grandson Nick rang me up and told me that Cameron was on his way up to Forrest Beach in the train. He had told Nick not to let me know until he was on the train. Perhaps he feared that I would tell him not to come. But I wouldn‟t have done that. All the same I wondered just how I would cope. But a certain change was taking place in my life. Over the preceding months I had had a lot of time to think about things. I had taken a long look at myself, and found out that in the past I had definitely gone about things in the wrong way. My first step was to learn all I could about bi-polar disorder. I searched the Internet, talked to doctors, psychiatrists and counsellors and I even enrolled in a Counselling course myself. I thought this might just help Cameron as well as me. I was right. It did help in 26
more ways than one. The first important thing I learned was to take time to think before I blurted out stuff that came immediately into my head and was used to try to tell him what to do on the spot. Most times this advice was rubbish anyway and I learned to regret it later. Then the next thing I learned to do was listen. Being over 70 years of age I found these things a bit difficult to change for a start, but I persevered and after a while it became second nature to me. Today I have no trouble at all in rectifying these past bad habits. In fact it all proves that one can change bad habits at any time of life (even oldies like me!) Gradually I developed a bond with Cameron and little by little he let me into his mind and told me some of the suffering he had endured over the years. I still felt guilty about things which happened so long ago, but I have also learned to live and think about now – and not to live in the past, because I realised that I could not do anything about those things as they were long gone.
Cameron‟s father and I had been divorced for many years and when he was a kid he used to visit his father during school holidays. I was horrified to learn that he had not been treated very well. At one stage a lot of negative thoughts about this flew into my mind, but I tossed them out almost immediately.
At this point in time my way of handling unpleasant thoughts was to throw them out to the Universe and 27
let “Sir” deal with them. From the time when Cameron was young he hardly ever got any support from his father. This was yet another thing that I had not realised. Cameron and I used to go on lots of beach walks at Forrest Beach and it was during one of these walks that he told me that many times his father used to say to him, “Lad, get out there, study hard, find a decent job and make something of yourself!” This is normal parental advice but it was the manner in which it was delivered that hurt him so much. He told me that even at an early age he had felt threatened by his father. I cried when I heard these things and asked why he had not told me about them at the time. I even apologised to him about it, but his answer was, “Mum, I knew you would always there for me!” So I did feel a bit better after that.
It was a peaceful life at Forrest Beach and I‟m sure that it helped Cameron. Of course he still had panic attacks, and sometimes we had to pay visits to the Ingham and Townsville Mental Health Units.
However, these visits only lasted a few days rather than a few weeks like they had done in the past.
When he was really down I used to hug him over and over and tell him how much I loved him.
He had a good job, supportive friends and was taking part in a Bible Study group. His big dream was to go and work in the mines and make a lot of money for 28
his children. He became more sociable towards people and as well as our walks along the beach together, we used to talk more, had lots of laughs and listen to different types of music. He also collected shells on the beach. He told me laughingly that this was his “feminine” side; “feminine side” indeed –
with all those tattoos!
So what was the problem? Why didn‟t he make it? I feel that there were certain persons out there who manipulated him and knew just which buttons to press to make him feel badly about himself.
But to sum things up I had the most amazing ten and a half months with Cameron. In fact it was the best time in my life with him. I had finally learned to listen and let him talk! People still tell me that it was wonderful for us both, but sometimes I continue to feel that if it were so bloody wonderful why then did he have to die? All I can think of is that maybe it was just his time.
“Teach your children well,
Their father's hell, did slowly go
And feed them on your dreams,
the one they fix,
the one you'll know by.”
Friends Who Remember
Lately I have been thinking about a lot of people whom you had touched during your life time and even now some of them tell me things which I knew nothing about when you were here. Some of the people I didn‟t even know either, so it is a new experience for me as well. But I am happy about it too.
Before I left Forrest Beach I remembered talking to a young aboriginal boy on the beach and he told me that he had shared walks with you many times. In fact he told me that you had both become very good friends and used to have long discussions about all sorts of things. He told me that he had liked you very much. He was a lot younger than you and he thought that it was great to have somebody older who took the time to talk to him – and not in a patronising way either. I had never met this boy before, but as soon as we started talking with each other I felt that I had known him for ages. He told me that he had been so sorry to learn that you had passed on but that he had hitched a ride to Townsville and was able to go to your funeral at Rowes Bay.
Pastor Diane still talks about you. She had only known you for a few days and she told me that you 30
had promised to attend her church service at the Outreach Centre in Ingham on the following Sunday.
But unfortunately it was not to be. Diane told me later that during the service she went outside to check whether you had arrived. When you didn‟t turn up she had a feeling that something was wrong. How right she was! On your first anniversary Diane performed a wonderful service for you. It was very moving and her father Trevor composed a beautiful song for you and played it on his guitar. There was not a dry eye on the beach that afternoon.
Then there was Tom Venables. Tom has only just passed away but I know that I will never forget him.
He was such a great man and a wonderful friend to us both. He certainly put you and I on the right track about life, and he told us about many great experiences he had had over the years and we loved to listen to him. We learned such a lot in the short time we knew him. I still feel so sad when I think about him.
Remember your New Guinea mate Reldi? Think about the last time you saw her. You told her to love her children. I look back on that night when we were sitting in her lounge in Townsville. You had just come out of hospital. That was about two years ago and she still misses you. Also another New Guinea mate – Nancy Curtis. She was one of our best friends 31
many years ago when we lived in Papua New Guinea. She wrote two very famous books for children about New Guinea and called them, “Little Chimbu” and “Little Balus.” I remember she gave copies of these books to your children Adrienne and Mitchell. You and your sister Shona grew up in Papua New Guinea with Nancy‟s twins Nia and Ngaire. You were all around about the same age. I used to take yoga classes then for all you kids. We had some great times together up there with them didn‟t we? We used to go driving and we had heaps of “singalongs” with our favourite folk singer, Joan Baez.
When we lived at Forrest Beach our next-door neighbours Scotty and Julie were some of our very favourite people. Remember when you were living with me and you did not like to visit people very much, but you adored Julie and would spend hours and hours over a “coldie” just talking to her while Scotty and I toiled over a hot barbecue. Julie was responsible for two tiny teddy bears that suddenly appeared for your children. (A psychic friend of mine called Lisa told me that this would happen and it did!). I took the teddy bears down to Townsville and gave them to Adrienne and Mitchell on one of my visits, and they were so pleased to get them.) Julie was so psychic that she scared me sometimes.
She was almost “spot on” with nearly everything she 32
told me, either about myself or about those closest to me. Julie and I often used to sit outside at night and share a wine when Scotty was away on his trips. He was a “Truckie.” He had the funniest laugh I had ever heard plus a heart of gold as well. They were great neighbours and nothing was ever too much trouble for them. They provided great support for us especially during “cyclone” times or during the big
“wet” seasons. Sometimes I wonder just why I left Forrest Beach, but some say that it is right for one to be in a place for a certain time and then it feels right to move on. I guess that is why I am in Charleville now – I feel that I am here for a purpose and that purpose is to write about you. And when this is finished, I will probably move on again. Who knows? But I am dreaming of a place, preferably near the sea where I can spend the rest of my life with all my favourite things around me. (Sometimes I think that 74 is a bit old to be putting down roots!) You had such a lot of friends in Townsville.
Although I had never met your friend “Brownie” you often spoke about him. He was the one who teased you mercilessly about collecting shells. He thought collecting shells was your “feminine” side.
Remember? You told me that you both used to spend a lot of time out bush fishing and camping and you certainly seemed to have had some wonderful times together.
Other friends you used to hang out with were Warren, Peter and Sue. They were friends of Shona‟s also and I can remember when you were younger waiting up for you when you all went out together at night. I used to worry myself sick until you all returned home safely. Sometimes when you had not returned home and it was really late, I would get in the car and go to look for you. I was a great worrier in those days, wasn‟t I?
One of your greatest friends when we lived at Forrest Beach was Brother Kelly. He lived at Cassady Beach which was a couple of kilometres from us.
You used to go fishing with him and when Mitchell visited us from Townsville he used to go too.
Brother Kelly often talked to me about the special fishing spot that you and Mitchell had. You always seemed to catch heaps of fish there. I was so envious when you all went out in the boat. You never invited me and I was really disappointed about that. I even had a boat licence but that did not make any difference. I guess when it all boiled down that fishing was more of a “male” thing than a “female”
thing. Brother Kelly had been one of your teachers when you attended Ignatius Park College in Townsville, and now Mitchell goes there too. Also when Brother Kelly had to go away anywhere you used to look after his house and dog. The house was 34
great as it was situated right on the beach and Brother Kelly had a wonderful collection of books too. I remember you telling me that you used to read sometimes till the “wee small hours” and when you came back home your eyes always seemed to be redder than usual. (But perhaps you got stuck into Brother Kelly‟s alcohol stock as well.) You never told me much about that. Maybe I‟m just guessing!
When Brother Kelly was transferred to Townsville I knew how much you missed him and sometimes when you took my car and did not return I would get a call from Brother Kelly saying, “Hey, guess whom I‟ve got here now having a drink with me? None other than your number one son, Cameron!” I used to really enjoy those calls no matter what time of the day or night they came and I always felt so relieved that you were OK.
There were other people who were friends of mine whom you did not know, but who now know all about you. For instance, my mate Sharon (Shaz) who had never written a poem in her life, she wrote a beautiful short poem about you one weekend.
Sharon used to live at Forrest Beach and worked with me at the Endeavour Foundation, where we both were support workers for the disabled. However Sharon transferred to Townsville to look after her grandchildren for her daughter who worked for the Corrective Services Department out at the 35
Townsville Prison. But she still regarded Forrest Beach as her favourite place and she used to come up from Townsville every few weeks and stay for the weekends, as she had a job in Townsville during the week. When you could not contact me one night (I think I was busy doing something in the house, or probably reading or doing Sudoku) then you wrote the following through Shaz:
Hi, my name is Cameron, I went away to die.
I didn‟t want my mum to see the pain I had inside.
I got to spend some time with her to make amends you see,
I‟m now at peace, remember this when you remember me.
Pretty neat for a first time poet, eh? You certainly seemed to spread yourself around, Cameron, but I love you all the more for that!
You did not know some other dear friends of mine either – Amanda and Tony. They were great
“animal” people who had quite a menagerie at their place in Ingham. They had cats, dogs, chooks, geese, and heaps of birds and they were always adding yet more animals. Word seemed to get around that there was always room at their place for stray animals too, so most strays inevitably ended up with Tony and Amanda. When I was away at the Gold Coast participating in an “Animal Dreaming” course, Amanda and Tony used to come down to Forrest 36
Beach from Ingham to feed my stray cat, Smoky, and also my birds. I never used to keep birds in cages, so Amanda and Tony used to put out sticks of birdseed on the trees for all the birds that came in from the bush. Of course they did not forget the bread and honey for the “screaming birds” (curlews), which lived under the house. You used to love all my animals and birds, didn‟t you, Cameron?
You did get to know Elliot, who was my friend Michelle‟s son. He was 8 years old at the time and we used to meet him on our beach walks. I think Elliot reminded you a little of Mitchell. I found that Elliot was just as cuddly as Mitchell! After you passed on Elliot came to stay with me when Michelle and her partner, Jock, went to work in the mines.
Elliot loved sleeping in your room and he said to tell you how much he liked your “Tiger” doona.
Bernie, your Case Manager from the Ingham Hospital, was another great friend, although I only got to know him later. When he used to visit you at Forrest Beach, I used to leave you two on the veranda while I did some work inside. He told me just recently that he had always tried to be honest with you. For instance, he told me that you were in such a great hurry to get completely cured because you wanted to get a job in the mines, so you could make heaps of money for your children. He said that 37
sadly he could not make any sweeping statements or give you any firm assurances about your health, but he did say that you became very frustrated as a result.
These are just a few people whom you made an impact on in your life. Other faces keep cropping up from time to time, but the ones I have mentioned here seemed to be special.
I have reached the conclusion that people come in and out of our lives at certain times and for particular reasons. It‟s all for a specific purpose, don‟t you think, Cameron? Then when the time is right, they disappear. However, we do remember the impact that some of these people have had on us. Life is one great learning experience. Good things and bad things happen to us all, but somehow we learn to deal with the ups and downs and hope that what we learn will make us better people. That‟s what it‟s all about, isn‟t it?
“Some people come into our lives
and quickly go. Some stay for
awhile and leave footprints on our
And we are never, ever the same.”
Cameron – Mum‟s Story
The following is a story I wrote during one of Cameron‟s many periods in hospital:
“The telephone shattered the silence of a hot summer evening in the tropics. I picked up the receiver and the distraught voice of my daughter cried, „Mum, when am I going to get my brother back?‟ A few days before, my son Cameron had been admitted to hospital after yet another suicide attempt.
As usual I had taken off to the beach where I hoped that the wind and the waves would relieve some of my pain. I had sought solace at the beach so many times before, but the situation always came back and followed the same pattern. I thought back to the time when I had never even heard of bipolar disorder. I thought about Cameron when he was young and then I thought about him when he was a teenager. A few things just didn‟t seem right. But I did not realise this at the time. For instance he seemed to experience more highs than his friends, and then these highs would be followed by extraordinary bouts of deep depression.
For instance, when something interested Cameron, he would plunge feet first into that particular interest with such tremendous enthusiasm that nothing could stop his feverish activity. He would speak so fast 39
and would be so frantic about this latest interest that nobody could get a word in edgeways. Just listening to him would tire everyone out and leave them drained of energy. In fact he would exhaust himself until the interest waned and then he would plunge into the deepest depths of despair. Then when things looked bad he would suddenly go on wild shopping sprees, spending all his pocket money, and when all that was spent he would beg me to give him more.
Of course he would promise faithfully to pay the money back, but he never did.
During some of his quiet times he would confide in me and tell me that he felt such a failure. As he got older, this pattern of behaviour gradually led to alcohol and drug abuse and he began being treated for this. However, during this time he seemed to be responding to the treatment well and I began to relax.
After one long period when everything appeared normal he met Jaki and I was thrilled when they got married. They had two beautiful children – a little girl whom they called Adrienne and then a year later a little boy was born and they named him Mitchell.
I thought that things were just perfect for him but then it all changed and the marriage began to fail. I was really at a loss to understand why this should have happened. Finally the marriage ended in a bitter divorce and to say the least Cameron was 40
devastated. He loved his children dearly and I suspected that he was still in love with Jaki, so this made it really hard for him to accept the divorce.
Cameron seemed to go downhill rapidly after this.
He started being treated again for alcohol and drug abuse and it was at this stage that he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. From time to time he was hospitalised and this led to many changes in his medication, depending on which doctor was treating him at the time. These times were really bad for everybody as the new medication often took several days to kick into his system. Sometimes the medication was not suitable for Cameron and the doctors had to start all over again. Cameron often told me that he felt just like a guinea pig! Also different doctors had different ways of treating bipolar disorder and this only made the situation worse for Cameron.
During this time I learned a lot about Cameron as well as this complicated disorder. Instead of just being a bystander I really tried to listen to what he said and what he believed was good for him personally. At times he would disappear for days on end and I would not hear from him. But I used to hear about him from other people. They would tell me that he had a job, or that he was engrossed in some new hobby, or that he was meeting and running 41
around with new people. But things were never permanent.
When he came home to live with me, I tried to pick up the threads of his life and start again. When a new job opportunity came up, I said. „That‟s great, Cameron, so give it a go!‟ If that job finished, I told him how proud I was of him and to hang in there until something else turned up. For me it became so important to listen to him and back him up.
Even with this disorder, Cameron had a great sense of humour; he was highly intelligent, artistic and musical. If only he had followed along one of these paths. But it was not to be.
Cameron‟s last bout of depression was particularly bad – he stole my car and wrecked it after a drunken spree. I was so angry that I went down to the beach to walk off my anger as I had done so in the past.
After that he disappeared and the next thing I knew was that he had ended up in hospital again after making another attempt at suicide.
And that‟s when my daughter phoned me and wanted to know when she would get her brother back.
I had no answer to give her.”
“You „orright, Mate ?”
Today I would like to tell you how much you have helped me to deal with my life since you have passed on. Not only did the counselling course in Ingham help me, but then I decided to apply for a position as a support worker with the Endeavour Foundation Disability Centre. I was just on 70 years of age at this stage so I didn‟t hold out much hope that I would be chosen. Imagine my joy and surprise when I was called in for an interview and as a result I was appointed as a support worker at their residential house at Forrest Beach.
I could walk to work daily, as it was only two streets away from where I lived. I started on shift work – a couple of hours in the morning, plus a couple of hours in the afternoon. I was able to do what I wanted at home for the rest of the day. This arrangement suited me fine.
I enjoyed working among people with disabilities.
There were usually ten people at the residence – five males and five females. Each person had their own distinct personality and although it was hard in the beginning I really feel that I got to know most of them intimately. The counselling course helped me a 43
great deal to understand people better and I really learned to listen to what they had to say.
I had never worked in this field before – I had always worked in office situations – so it was a new learning experience for me. The people in charge were very nice as well as my fellow support workers and I also felt great about having a job at my age.
Of course as with other jobs we did have our little dramas from time to time. We had one client who was a habitual “coke” addict – not the drug but the drink! Nobody could ever break her from this habit.
She just had to have “x” number of cokes a day no matter what. She had been to see doctors, psychiatrists, counsellors, health workers – the lot –
but to no avail. We support workers also tried to think of ways to break this habit. We even went to great lengths to put other drinks into coke bottles but she seemed to be one step ahead of us all the time.
One afternoon I walked down to the local shop and bought her another type of soft drink, but she would have none of that. She got so angry with me that she pinned me against the fridge at the store. I spent a few uncomfortable minutes until somebody came to my aid. But I did learn one important thing – never to try that again. So we walked back together to the residence hand in hand – me with my sore neck and my client clutching her bottle of real coke!
Another thing I learned is that in common with all of us, the clients could resort to bouts of anger if they did not get their own way, or became upset about something, but equally quick to return to normal. In this case as long as my client had her daily “coke”
injection she was happy. You know Cameron, even at my great age; I am still capable of learning something new every day.