PAPERBACK BOOKS
A LONG WAY FROM HELL

John McArdle’s story continues from his action-packed days as personal bodyguard to Australia’s twenty-second Prime Minister, Malcolm Fraser (recounted in his first book, Prime Minister’s Bodyguard), to tell of the major nervous breakdown he suffered and finally his long road to recovery. 

Suicidal, depressed, heavily medicated and under constant psychiatric care, John shut himself off from the world and his family and was virtually unable to get out of bed for nine years. He gave up all hope of ever returning to the real world. 

Fate intervened and he was guided to a special person who taught him that he could heal himself through meditation learned from a Buddhist monk. 

From shaky beginnings, the author fought and gradually regained control of his mind and body. Setting himself a major challenge, he decided to face the world; it would be a make or break test of his will and health. He and his wife, Jay, though middle-aged, decided to sell their house and major possessions and backpack around the world. What followed was an incredible, life-changing journey through various countries that eventually led him to discover his soul, find peace and make a full recovery. 

This is a book that will inspire and give hope to the countless people who suffer the terrible hell of depression.

In Store Price: $AU25.95 
Online Price:   $AU24.95

ISBN:  978-1-921240-99-7   
Format: Paperback
Number of pages: 241
Genre: Non Fiction

Cover: Clive Dalkins

By the same author:

Prime Minister’s Bodyguard: Dead Man Talking

 

 

Author: John McArdle
Publisher: Zeus Publications
Date Published: 2008
Language: English

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About the author

The author lives in Brisbane with his wife Jay and two Burmese cats. His interests are writing, travel, freelance journalism, cooking and people. 

This is his second book and he says there are more to come. 

DEPRESSION              Extreme Dejection

 

ANXIETY                      Troubled State Of Mind

 

Depression is not simply sadness, being moody or feeling low. It is a serious illness.

 

Depression is common – one in four females and one in six males will experience it in their lifetime.

 

Anxiety is not just feeling tense or worried; it interferes greatly in a person’s ability to go about normal day-to-day life.

 

Most people with anxiety do not seek treatment.

 

Depression is a major cause of suicide.

 

(from http://www.beyondblue.org.au/)

 

 

Australia          One in five people suffer from one form of depression

                        Sixty percent % do not seek help.

 

America           18.8 million adults suffer with clinical depression.

                        19.1 million suffer from anxiety disorders.

 

I suffered with depression and anxiety for a long time

 

It nearly destroyed me. 

 

THIS IS MY STORY  

Preface

F

or thirteen years I lived an action-packed life of danger, travel and high adventure. Every day was different; no humdrum life at the office or some boring trade, I lived this life absolutely to the full, pushing the edge at a hundred miles an hour.

I had been a member of Australia’s Federal Police for thirteen and a half years. For five of those years, I was the Personal Bodyguard and Security Officer for the then Prime Minister Mr Malcolm Fraser through the most dangerous and violent times in Australia’s political history, owing to the dismissal of the Whitlam Labour Government. (See Prime Minister’s Bodyguard: Dead Man Talking)

In fact, we had survived violent and riotous political rallies, attempts to punch, kick and assault us at every opportunity, political brawls, assassination attempts and terrorist attacks.

I had travelled extensively with the Prime Minister throughout Australia and overseas, to the White House in America, Buckingham Palace in London, the Vatican in Rome, castles in Scotland and Germany and stayed at the world’s finest hotels including the Savoy London, the Waldorf Astoria in New York and many many more.

I had met with and been present at visits to the Queen, various presidents and princes, the pope, leading Australian and international premiers and politicians and people who were at the top of their chosen professions or arts.

I had served in other units of Australia’s Federal Police such as the Criminal Investigation Branch, also the Intelligence Section in the secretive and dangerous world of the Terrorist and Organised Crime Units.

At the end of my career, I had been the officer‑in‑charge of policing and security at the Brisbane Airports (both International and Domestic) with fifty police, detectives and uniform, under my command.

Then, like a fast-moving, black, swirling thunderstorm, I suffered a major nervous breakdown that took me to the depths of hell.

The mind of a human being is light years ahead of the world’s best computer banks and always will be. It is complex and mysterious in the way it computes, stores, digests and programs the entire body. If there is a small malfunction, it can shut down the rational thinking process and the body as a whole.

This process started for me, I guess, through the stresses that I had been under at the time. I started believing that I had an incurable disease, notably cancer of the throat, and began visiting many doctors only to be told that there was no sign of any cancer.

I refused to believe those doctors and so I would seek out new ones. This led to the inevitable anxiety of believing that I would be diagnosed with the cancer that I knew they were hiding from me – inevitably, however, to be told that I was cancer free. After one such experience, I referred myself to a leading throat specialist where I blurted out my concerns to him. After examining me, the usual negative prognosis was conferred. However the specialist picked up on my sweating and trembling and suggested that I needed to see a psychiatrist.

It was with total disbelief and amazement that I received this information from the specialist. Of course he had to be wrong; he didn’t know what he was talking about. I mean after all, hadn’t I been the Australian Prime Minister’s bodyguard and security officer making split-second life-saving decisions? I was a police investigator, had been an intelligence officer and had topped the Australia-wide intelligence analysts’ course.

No, the specialist must have had a trying day and yes, of course it was he who was stressed and quite possibly needing some treatment.

What I didn’t realise was that I had been bitten by the Black Dog of anxiety depression and that the venom was now running through my veins and nervous system, multiplying daily and trying to shut me down.

And so began the sleepless nights, the sweating and palpitations of the heart, the having absolutely no energy and no interest in life. There were tearful periods when I was convinced that I was finally dying of cancer of the throat. The mental anguish and pain that was relentlessly tormenting me was so bad that I contemplated taking one of the forty Smith and Wesson handguns and shooting myself. This would not have been difficult as I was in charge of the firearms cabinet and had the keys.

I told Jay (my wife) about the guns and she took me to a specialist physician who immediately referred me to a leading psychiatrist. He diagnosed chronic anxiety coupled with major depression; I had suffered a severe mental breakdown.

I was very ill and in due course had to leave the Australian Federal Police, the thing that I loved and that had been my life for all those years. The exams and hard study, the blood and sweat to progress, were now all to no avail. I was a mental invalid, and this pushed me even further down into the black dog’s grizzly jaws to be chewed and ground down even more.

Then began eight years in the twilight world of a mental wilderness where I was always heavily sedated. It was a world of extreme depression and anxiety where, totally exhausted, I would stay in the safety of my bed twenty-four hours a day and sleep sixteen of those. I lost contact with the world, people, friends and everyday life. I would often pray, “God, please tell me what has happened to me, why, why?”

My wife Jay, who had a very good job in the city, took a job that was a huge step down for her career in order to be closer to our unit and near me to virtually nurse me. How she coped with someone who had been her husband, so vitally in touch with life, and who was now a shell of his former self, a mental wreck and invalid, is an unbelievable testament to the love and caring she felt for me. She never ever wavered from this support for me even though she was living a life of hardship and emotional misery herself. But she never gave up on me. She said that she would not; she would keep on trying and trying.

As Jay had taken that job virtually only a few metres from our back door, she would visit me at morning tea, lunchtime and afternoon tea fully expecting me to have committed suicide. She was suffering from anxiety as well and rang my mother to tell her how ill I was. My mother informed her to “tell the bastard to get off those tablets” and that she should leave me. Jay never told me of this, as it would have been devastating to me.

When I ventured to the toilet I would look at my image in the bathroom mirror. I had aged, was very thin and gaunt and had large black circles under my eyes. My hand – that used to hold a .38 calibre handgun and could shoot as a marksman in the protection of the prime minister – now shook as I pushed nerve and tranquilliser tablets into my mouth. What had happened to the man of steel? He was gone and now the mirror showed a broken shell of what I had been.

The only time I left the unit was on the visits to my psychiatrist and I truly hated leaving the safety of the womb-like unit. .As I would approach the door marked Dr Klug Psychiatrist I would have feelings of fear, worthlessness and complete and abject failure. If I could have just melted into the floor, I would have.

Then the consultation would begin: the questioning, the rambling and disjointed answers from me along with sweating, tears and tremors. A script would then be written for the never-ending medication. As soon as the consultation ended, I would hastily return to the unit without any deviation and go straight back to bed and to an exhausted troubled sleep.

During this period, unbeknown to me, Jay was in constant contact with Dr Klug who explained that I should really be admitted to a mental hospital for extended psychiatric treatment. To this, Jay would not agree as she feared that once admitted I would never return.

Dr Klug was as concerned for Jay’s state of mind and health as he was for mine. During all the time I was under his care, he could not have been more compassionate, caring and understanding as he was to the both of us.

Because of the severity of my anxiety attacks, Jay at times had to drive me to Brisbane to see Dr Klug and I had to be injected with heavy tranquillisers and sedatives for my anxiety attacks.

Weeks led into months and years and it was like being in suspended animation. Life as I remembered it had ceased, to be replaced by this psychosis of dreamy, drugged non-reality, coupled with complete indecision, pain and worthlessness. As I write this I can feel the old scars and a churning in the stomach as the Black Dog stirs.

I would never open the front door even if someone was outside knocking. I never went to the letterbox to collect the mail, nor would I visit the shops or walk up the street. I had contemplated committing suicide on a number of occasions, such was the hopelessness inside my brain. The only thing that stopped me was the love Jay had for me.

This was my life and the years slipped by. Eventually I started to watch some daytime TV because it did not entail leaving the womb that the unit had become.

In the meantime, Jay had taken up meditation and yoga to help her cope with my illness. One day she said to me that she had read about a meditation class run by a man who had cured himself of a bone disease. It was held on a Monday at the local entertainment centre and she suggested I go and see what it was all about. Of course I objected that he would not be able to help a hopeless case like me and it would mean I would have to leave the sanctuary of the tomb.

Jay kept on gently prodding me saying that it was the only thing she had asked me to do and would I do just this one thing for her. She knew that I, being a former intelligence officer, didn’t believe in such mumbo jumbo but she thought that because a man was teaching the class it might just sway me to attend and see what it was all about. So in a mammoth decision I decided that I would go just to keep her happy, but deep down I knew it would be bullshit.

So after one weekend of worrying and sweating about the coming Monday I took a deep breath and went to the class. I remember it was a brilliantly sunny morning as I approached the entertainment centre and found a room with a small sign outside that said, Meditation with Brian Hargoil. Sweating profusely, I went inside. And so I found a light on the hill of hope.

Brian Hargoil was not what I had expected – about sixty years of age, grey haired, barrel chested and about six feet tall. He just said, “Welcome” and I took a seat. The room soon filled with people of all ages and I was to learn later that all of these people were sick with disease and ailments varying from cancer through to mental illness.

Brian started the session by explaining his story. He had been diagnosed with a diseased hip which had actually crumbled where the upper leg joins with the socket. He had visited a doctor and had X-rays that revealed the damage. He would have to go on a waiting list before a bed could be found for him and this could take months. Meanwhile how could he cope with the terrible pain of a crumbling hip? Of course, the strongest painkillers were prescribed but they did not stop the incredible agony.

Brian was from Caloundra and had been a knockabout type man, in fact like me he had been a boxer in his youth. He had a friend who knew of the great pain he was in and the circumstances surrounding the complaint. He told Brian about an Australian man, a Buddhist monk who had just returned from Thailand and was advocating that through meditation most disease could be conquered. He had a large following and held meditation and healing classes.

Brian like me was sceptical but the pain in his diseased hip was almost unbearable so he decided to go along. The Buddhist monk explained that the mind controlled everything, especially the immune system. Its healing powers and the meditation sessions showed you how to calm the mind and bring it into a complete state of peace and harmony. Picturing a healing light or antibodies attacking whatever malaise you suffered from – for Brian, it would be healing particles replacing the disintegrating bone of his hip – would heal the ailment.

Not really believing, Brian started meditating three and four times a day and attending the monk’s classes, but after three weeks, the pain was not going away. In the meantime, he received notice from the doctors that he was scheduled for a hip replacement operation and was to contact them for further X-rays.

The monk encouraged Brian to keep up with his meditation and not to lose faith, so another two weeks passed when he had no sleep because of the constant pain. He was about to give up when in the meditation session on that last night he visualised that the hip bone had replaced itself with shining new cartilage tissue and bone and when he came out of the deep level of his meditation incredibly there was no pain.

At first, Brian thought it was some sort of trick that his pain sensors were playing on him. As he very gently stretched his leg awaiting the searing shot of pain in the hip joint, nothing happened. He tried again…and nothing; he was completely pain free. This continued through the night and for the next week.

Overjoyed, Brian went back to the doctor and cancelled the operation, much to the doctor’s disbelief. He gave him dire warnings of relapses and having to wait six months for another hospital bed but Brian was adamant that he had beaten the disease and he had further X‑rays done. The doctor insisted that there was no way the disease could have been cured.

The X-rays were taken and Brian returned to the doctor’s, still pain free. When the doctor placed the X‑ray film to the light, he was aghast; where the crumbling hip joint had been was fresh new bone with no sign of any abnormality.

From there Brian consulted the monk and decided to take this miracle to others who held out no hope for the pain and diseases they were suffering because there was nothing more that conventional medicine could do for them.

And so it was that I took my seat with all the others. The meditation started, with Brian talking us through the relaxation and trying to still the mind. This I had great difficulty with as even though I could not concentrate on anything for more than a couple of minutes, my mind was full of chattering monkeys who would not be still or quiet. I struggled against the monkeys and tried to concentrate, without success, but at the end of the session I believed it might be the way to calm and heal those inner demons.

As the weeks wore on I practised the meditation and the healing by first imagining that I was in a perfect setting, either wooded mountain country or a secluded sea setting. Then it would be night and a solitary star would come out and become brighter and brighter. A thin beam of brilliant light would enter my head and then move along the nerves and into the brain where it would cauterise and heal the tortured mental cells. I would see this happening as clearly as if I was watching some medical procedure. Coming back to reality was a slow process. I would return from deep in the subconscious through the layers of consciousness until I saw a faint glow like a candle held close to the surface of the sea. I would then gently emerge from and re‑enter the world to find that an hour or more had gone and my mind was still.

Brian never asked his students what they were suffering from but as you started to progress it was something wondrous to feel you were getting better and you could not wait to share this with him. I still remember when we were all deep in our meditation, the mind having reached that absolute stillness of peace and calm. Brian would say, “Always be aware of the beauty that surrounds you. These few words are so very important in our day-to-day lives as we run helter-skelter from one thing or place to another and never have the time to take a few minutes to appreciate the trees, birds, flowers and our environment.”

Time passed and with the meditation, Dr Klug, my wife Jay and medication I started to slowly heal. It was with caution and some surprise that I started to venture to the shops and collect the mail but I had a long way to go. It was immensely frustrating to arrive at a shop or store to find that you had forgotten what you went there for. I solved this problem by writing down every small thing I had to purchase and would arrive home triumphant.

More time passed and I was slowly getting a grip on my mind. I felt really excited that I might get better but I didn’t want to look that far ahead. There was a small yellow flame of hope deep within my heart only just flickering, but it had not been there before.

Eight years had gone since the breakdown and I felt that I wanted to try and regain a toehold on humanity. Even though not fully recovered I felt I had the Black Dog on a leash, although he could spin around and give me a bite from time to time.

Anxiety depression is, as they say, the black dog. It is an insidious disease that sneaks up on you and when it bites, it leaves you with imaginary illnesses, feelings of complete worthlessness, utter mental confusion, no sex drive, complete exhaustion, sleeplessness, no drive, confidence or personality, the inability to make a decision and fear of leaving your safety net.

It can lead and often does to suicide, breakdown of family and marriages and long periods in mental hospitals. The patient, friends and families all pay a penalty.

Unless you have been afflicted by this disease, it’s hard to realise what it does to the sufferer. It guts you of your soul and your spirit and leaves you a husk of your former self.

What really upset me is that people who do not know the seriousness of anxiety depression will say things like:

“Just pull yourself together and get over it.”

“What’s wrong with him? He looks all right.”

“Never mind, it will pass in time.”

“He’s a hypochondriac.”

“Throw those nut tablets away.”

People don’t realise that if you could pull yourself out of it, you would, the same as someone suffering from cancer or some other serious disease would grab the chance to cure himself if he could and participate again in a healthy, happy existence to experience all the wonderful things that abound in this world.

I began going down to the beach most days, where I would find a secluded spot. Watching and listening to the waves and the sea birds, with the sun shining down on me, had a calming, soothing effect on my tortured soul.

Even though I was now venturing out, it was a singularly lonely existence with Jay away at work. I was still heavily medicated and sometimes as I drifted into sleep, snippets of songs would run through my mind. I would dream of having fallen into Hell where mental demons ran amok and the flames and heat singed and burned my mind. Then to suddenly awake sweating with anxiety only to hear the sea gently caressing the sands, which would immediately calm me.

One day down at the beach I found a week-old newspaper and on looking through it, strange as it may seem, I noticed an advertisement for volunteer telephone counsellors with Lifeline. I wondered if maybe I could become a counsellor in the hope that by helping other unfortunates it might help me.

I thought of Brian Hargoil and what he did out of the goodness of his heart to help people. He had told me that spiritually he received much more from his giving than he could ever gain by just receiving. I pondered this for a long time and it came back to me that many people whom I had met in the past when I lived in the ‘real’ world had said that they would rather give than receive. As an ex‑police investigator and intelligence officer, I had believed that it was crap.

After much deliberation and chewing it over, I thought, what the hell, they won’t want a failure like me. However, with nervous expectation I forwarded the application form, fully not expecting to hear from Lifeline and thereby giving me an easy way out.

A week later I received a reply to go for an interview, so on a Monday I anxiously arrived at the Lifeline building at Bowen Hills. It was explained that to really be able to help people you had to have empathy for their problems and it would be of benefit if you had experienced some trouble and difficulty in your life. I immediately thought, after what I have been through, I am definitely your man.

After extensive interviews, I was accepted for the trainee telephone counsellor’s course and I was both surprised and delighted. The course would run over a six-month period and I would attend one full day a week.

It was explained that people rang Lifeline with all sorts of personal problems and you had to be able to understand and feel the pain, hurt and confusion they were going through so that you might help them. I had had more than my share of pain, hurt and anguish to last me one lifetime and was extremely pleased and delighted at the prospect of trying to help my fellow sufferers.

And so three weeks later I joined my new course with the other trainees and what a revelation it turned out to be. I had never been with more caring, compassionate people and they were not the bleeding heart ‘I’ll save the world’ types. These people genuinely wanted to help their fellow brothers and sisters who needed assistance and counselling to get on with life when all else had failed them.

As a police officer who had dealt with crooks, scam artists, conmen and all the other forms of lowlife, and an intelligence officer  who would never trust anything or anybody and who was always looking for the angle, it truly was like being born again into the womb of this organisation. Its people gave up their time, energies and emotions to help their fellow human beings just because they were human beings with all their frailties, disappointments and pain that life had indiscriminately thrown their way. I truly believe if Jesus Christ walked this earth then he did so with a Lifeline love of his people.

The course took us through getting in touch with our real emotions and being able to discuss them with our group. There were tears and some pain in relating our paths in life, which was another way to feel empathy towards the members of our group. I found it didn’t matter about the grief and pain that befell you on the way; there was always someone worse off. These people would hurt, grieve and go on with their lives and what was wonderful about these saints was that because of their life experiences they were prepared to help others who were stumbling through problems and difficulties in their lives. If this did not mirror what God was all about then I certainly didn’t know what did.

All of it was certainly therapeutic to my damaged soul. I could see that although I had hit some challenging mental hurdles and had gone down, others had hit those same hurdles even harder, had fallen, regained their momentum, dusted themselves off, got up and gone on. Incredibly, they were helping others who had fallen hard and knew not how to get up.

The course finished and I parted from my little band of trainees who I had learned, shared and experienced so much with. I was now ready to man the phones for those out there in trouble.

We were rostered to come in for four hours once a fortnight so that we did not become overburdened with the callers’ problems. We had our own little soundproof room with a phone, referral books and a large clock, and it was always busy.

The calls we received could sometimes almost overwhelm with their tragedies and suffering. Some callers might be suicidal and many had relationship difficulties. We dealt with all types and social classes of people who all needed help.

The thing for me was feeling really great after helping someone and it was true about the backwash effect – that you were really helping yourself.

By helping people who had no one to turn to except you was amazingly satisfying to me and it reinforced that I was not alone in the struggle through life; I was healing.

I spent eighteen months with Lifeline and it turned my life around so much that I felt I could recreate myself, sort of be mentally born again. I needed to test the water of life and see if I would sink or swim. I wanted to see if I could make my mind face a challenge and make decisions; I needed to go out into the world, test myself and try to find self-worth again. But what to do and what challenges could I find? I had been so sick and although I was not yet cured, I wanted to be reborn.

Long ago I remembered reading a book by the great American author John Steinbeck titled Travels with Charlie. Steinbeck in the 1930s had purchased an old utility truck and along with his dog Charlie decided just to leave everything, throw caution to the wind and make his way around America driving and living with the dog in the utility.

He had no real plan or time schedule but would stop where he liked and take life and people just as he found them. What he found continually with the people he encountered was that they wished that they had the courage to do exactly as he was doing – to be able to drop their predictable, safe, humdrum lives and take the road to total freedom and adventure, break free of the shackles binding them to the ordinary.

His philosophy really appealed to me. It had a reckless abandonment of the safe and conventional and it embraced the challenge of the unknown. I started to feel excitement at the concept of just leaving the comfortable known and testing the unknown. Maybe this was what I was looking for – to leave those terrible years behind me and be reborn back into the real world.

The more I thought about it the more it fitted. I would have to get out into the world, make decisions and charter a course through the unknown. I would meet other people and talk with them about their lives, cultures, experiences, wants and expectations of life and their countries. Testing myself against a different life and world to what I had known would have the terrific benefit of making my mind replace the old scars with the brand-new tissue of new experiences and challenges. Yes, this would be the answer.

I would approach Jay with the frightening idea of selling our home, placing our furniture and our old life in storage and backpacking the world. It was a radical and slightly mad idea, but wasn’t it just the same as Steinbeck’s?

Of course the ‘what if’ syndrome came up and that started a negative thinking process – there would be no house to come back to, the money would be wasted, what if we had an accident, where would we travel to, what about accommodation, was it dangerous, how could we navigate these unknown places. Leaving our comfortable, safe home and environment – we were middle aged, Jay in her forties and me in my fifties – what would happen if we got sick, were in an accident? What about foreign languages, what if, what if…yes, it was crazy, irresponsible, it was madness.

But then again, hadn’t I been afflicted with a madness that had almost killed me? Hadn’t I given up on life and been in a mental void for many years? Hadn’t I lost interest in our marriage and home, lost my career that I had strived thirteen hard years for, been an invalid too frightened to collect the mail or venture to the shops? To all of this and more was a resounding and deafening ‘Yes!’ Jay and I had lost so much, it was time to go and regather our lives.

I spoke to Jay and it was a very scary proposition for her. She would have to give up the security of owning our home for a pack on her back with no permanent home or address. She would have to give up her job, pack up all our worldly possessions and place them in storage. The money from the sale of our home would be spent on an idea and all for an uncertain and unknown future. It was a big decision for any woman. Thrown in was the thought that Jay would not see her daughters (my stepdaughters) for perhaps a year.

We talked it over and although it had certain merits, we could not leave our cats Maggie and Nippy, our surrogate children whom we loved dearly. In fact, we had only just recently spent over a thousand dollars on cancer treatment for Maggie. We had even purchased a new single bed so Jay could sleep with Maggie whilst she was recovering.

Then things happened which changed whatever doubts we had. First, our doctor died suddenly. He was in his early fifties, didn’t drink or smoke and was the most kindly, loving person. Then a former work colleague died at an early age, followed by a friend. And in a final omen Maggie succumbed to cancer followed by Nippy. We were both completely devastated and it all reinforced just how short life can be. Jay said, “We will sell our unit and go as soon as we can while we can.”

The next decision to be made was where our journey would take us and for how long. We had taken a couple of package tours to nowhere exciting over the years and I had travelled extensively to Europe and America as a federal police officer and as personal security officer and bodyguard to Australian Prime Minister Mr Malcolm Fraser. But these were never holiday excursions as it was always hotel rooms and office meetings with fast plane and vehicle rides between engagements.

 

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