Frame your Story..... Our Story
A Few years ago we started working with a wonderful marketing consultant by the name of Tanya Mcfee from Grunt Media (shameless plug) to help clarify the essence of what Art Land does. We came up with the phrase "Frame your Story" as at the end of the day this is what we do for our customers. Whether it be a painting from their holidays or a photo of their favourite sporting team we help our customers preserve a moment in time so they can reflect on it for years to come and remember that place or time.
The Ekka weekend marked an important milestone in the story of our family and I would like to share it with our customers who have been so generous over the years sharing their story with us.
Nicole and I met the first day of University back in 1993 and I knew pretty much from that day that she was the one. Over the next year we became very close friends and eventually started dating soon after that..... though our friends already thought we had been for some time.
Both Nicole and I were enrolled in a Bachelor of Commerce and I found myself signing up for subjects that I wouldn't normally take just to be able to spend more time with her. It was about then that I realised that Nic loved numbers and excelled at anything to do with them... unfortunately I did not!
It was also about then that started to notice that I did not handle stress or exams very well either, often being physically sick at the thought of having to sit through a 3 hour test but I just shook it off as being nerves because Management Accounting was not one of my strengths (no matter how many times I did it).
Eventually I finished my degree (I think the Uni took pity on me) and I started my career in sales and was transferred to Melbourne in 1999 to become a National Account Manager for a large international company selling batteries and stationery.
Nicole moved down with me and we were married in Sept 2000 and although everything seemed great on the surface the truth was I was not coping well with the pressure and stress of my job. I often found myself having, what I now know as panic attacks, almost daily and some days I would just turn my phone off and pretend the world did not exist. At night I would stay up watching TV in a futile attempt to delay the next day and I found myself hardly eating as I would only be sick from it shortly after.
Eventually I went to see a doctor who suggested I might be suffering from Depression. At the time I thought only crazy people are mentally ill and I'm not crazy ... my mother had me tested! But the more he went through the symptoms the more it seemed to make sense. He prescribed me some medication and suggested I talk to work about taking some time off or perhaps cutting back on my work for a bit until the medication had a chance to take effect.
My boss and the HR Manager were very helpful in providing me with all the time I needed to get better by making me redundant! And just like that my career in Melbourne was over and we were moving back to Brisbane.
Following a chance meeting with an old employer, Nicole was given the opportunity to start a Financial Planning business helping rural farmers manage their off farm investments and I also came on board to look after the daily operations of the business. Throughout this time, I managed to keep my illness under control and to myself as I was still a bit fragile from what had happened to me in Melbourne. It was great working with Nicole as if I was having a bad day I could make an excuse and leave early or spend the day working from home,so I did not need to come into the office. The strange thing was I found it easier to talk to complete strangers rather than people I worked with because they probably just thought I was a grumpy bugger instead of thinking that something was wrong.
Family gatherings were the hardest, especially Christmas as it was exhausting keeping up the illusion that everything was fine when I all I really wanted to do was be on my own as I worried that my manner might ruin the day for everyone else.
As Nicole and I worked long hours to establish the business my health suffered and I found myself becoming increasingly agitated, anxious and paranoid around the other staff and our business partner. Eventually it got to the point that I couldn't eat and I was again having panic attacks almost daily. As I became more and more anxious my relationship with Nicole also suffered and we argued constantly. I went back to our local doctor who suggested that I should increase the dose of Zoloft I was taking and that I needed to take some time off. I explained to the doctor that I couldn't take anytime off as if I didn't do the work no one else was going to. This pattern of behaviour went on for about another 6 weeks and eventually it got to the point where I simply couldn't take it anymore.... the stress and anxiety was too much. I would spend all day at work paranoid that people were talking about me and snapping at others when they didn't do things right.....I think poor Nicole bore the worst of it.
One afternoon things got so bad that I left without telling anyone and drove to the Carseldine level crossing and sat there for about an hour watching the trains go through the crossing.... to what end I'm not sure but I knew that something had to change as I couldn't keep going on like this as I would lose Nicole and everything dear to me. I went home that night and told Nicole where I had been and how scared I was about what I was thinking of doing and the next day we both walked away from the business we had worked so hard to create.
People often ask me why we bought Art Land and I joke that it was because it was as far away from Financial Planning as I could find but it's the truth. After taking a month off Nicole saw an advert in the paper advertising Art Land Indooroopilly for sale and we purchased the business about a month after that. It was a huge leap of faith to jump head first into a business that we knew nothing about, especially one as large as Art Land, but the thought of working with my hands and creating things excited me... something I hadn't felt in a long time. Nicole went to work for the State Government while I ran the shop and things were going smoothly and we had our first boy, Zach..... life was pretty good.
Until the GFC, and almost overnight things went from good too bad. We struggled through and although my depression and anxiety were getting worse I managed to keep things under control during the day but at night I was not able to keep up the illusion and would become distant and withdrawn, even from Zach.
Over the next few years this became the rollercoaster ride for Nicole and I, but somehow we got through it and with Nicole's undying love and support we kept Art Land going despite the challenges with my mental health. Until the 27th of December 2012 when things got really bad. After a very stressful period of working 7 days a week for almost a month I had my first real breakdown and I ended up in PEC (The admissions section of the mental health unit of the RBH) It was the first time in my life that I thought Nicole and our two boys (Zach and Lach) would be better off without me. Kids shouldn't have to see their dad like this... boys were meant to look up to their dad as someone who is strong and invincible and here their dad was a complete mess.
After being released that day after again having my medication adjusted I went home and we pretended everything was back to normal and we got back on the rollercoaster again for the next couple of years.
Nicole said it was like walking on eggshells for her and the boys around me, and I'm sure it was the same for our staff sometimes as well.
The dose of Zoloft I was now on reduced the depressive episodes but it also subdued the happiness as well.... for the most part I just felt numb. My boys would come up and give me a hug when I came home from the shop and I would hardly respond...at night I would just sit and watch TV and would hardly interact with them at all.
This was no way to live and I stopped taking Zoloft all together in Jan of 2015 and for a time things got better and my relationship with Nicole and the boys improved. Until May of last year when our bank suggested that we sell our house to reduce some of our debt...I remember the Credit Manager's exact words were "we don't care how we get our money as long as we do".
Around the same time my Grandmother had been given only a few months to live and the stress became too much for me to handle. We were back on the ride again, except this time it was more like the Tower of Terror! I would only just be able to make it through the day at the shop without breaking down (but not always) and at night I would sit on our front steps at home listening to the laughter of Nicole and the boys not wanting to go inside in case I broke down and upset them.
The constant struggle to try and keep it together was exhausting and it was becoming more than I could handle. I would stay up all-night just wishing it would just stop... I couldn't understand why I was like this. I had no reason to feel the way I did and I hated constantly upsetting Nicole and the boys. You know you are in trouble when you are being comforted by your eight year old son at the breakfast table while your 4 year old asks Mummy why Daddy cries all the time.
Nicole took me to see a psychiatrist who prescribed a new drug called Effexor to help with the depression and Valium to help me sleep.... by now I would regularly wake at night in a cold sweat after having a panic attack. The early mornings were the worst... I would wake around 4am in a fit of panic with my breathing so rapid and my heart racing that it felt like my chest was going to explode.
The doctor sent us home with the new medication and we were hopeful things would improve soon. What he forgot to tell us is that the anxiety would get worse before it got better.... much, much worse.
On the Saturday morning of the Ekka weekend I woke up in a fit of panic after the worst night I had ever had and told Nicole that something was really wrong and I needed to hospital.... by now I was inconsolable and verging on suicidal.
After a 12-hour admission process, most of which was spent in a small room, I was finally admitted to the Mental Health Unit of the RBH where I spent the next 3 days before being transferred to the Toowong Private Hospital. I'm not sure what prison is like but I think the RBH unit is the closest I will ever come to knowing.... I think it is the only time I have truly feared for my life. I remember sitting out on the balcony looking through the bars at the Ferris Wheel at the Ekka and wondering what did I do to deserve this.... I missed Nicole and the boys and would have given anything to be home with them but I didn’t want to hurt them anymore. Nicole told me later that agreeing to have me admitted was the hardest thing she ever did but she had to because she couldn't deal with the mood swings anymore. She just wanted her husband back.
By the Tuesday a bed had become available at the Toowong Private Hospital and I was discharged from the RBH. I spent another few days at Toowong Private where a Psychiatrist suggested that she thought the Anxiety was the main issue and this caused my Depression so she advised increasing my dose of Effexor. The afternoon I was discharged and I allowed to go home, I was so excited to see the boys but also worried about how they would react to me coming home. The last time they saw me at home I was a complete mess and not in a very good way… would they be happy to see me too?
As soon as I walked in I was met with two of the best hugs I have ever had and the events of the last few months seemed a world away. For the next week or so I was still very fragile and needed Valium to sleep but things seem to be getting a bit easier every day. One morning, about a week later, I woke and it was like someone had flicked on a switch, the fuzziness that had been with me for so long was gone and I could think clearly for the first time in years. Instead of the drowning feeling, I felt like I had finally pushed off the bottom and was heading back to the surface again.
Since then the last 12 months have seen my health improve, both mentally and physically, and more importantly my relationship with Nicole, our two amazing boys and our family and friends.
And though not everything has gone according to plan, I am better equipped to deal with issues or challenges as they occur and I have a close network of friends and family (I include our amazing staff in this category) who I can ask for help and advice when I need it and not be fearful of being judged or thought less of.
I have learnt it's ok to ask for help and its ok to admit you are struggling or not coping with a situation…. you don’t need to try and be Superman. The thing I have realized (the hard way) is you can't bottle it up and try and pretend it doesn’t exist, because it doesn’t go away, it just simmers under the surface.
I have also learnt to recognize what is really important, and for me that is my family. That is probably why there are so many photos of our boys at the shop and why there is a picture of them in the office that simply says “Never Give Up!” to remind me that it is up to me to keep fighting for them because there is no “Plan B" and that this is not a battle I can afford to lose.
And that is also why I love our shop so much, because through everything that has happened our wonderful staff and customers have been there to support our family (though you probably didn't realize it) as Nicole and I have battled to give her back the man she married and the father our boys deserve.
Last weekend Nicole and I took our boys to the Ekka and for the first time, there were no tears or tantrums (from me or the boys) and when we were on top of the Ferris Wheel, Zach leaned over gave, me a hug and said that this was "the best day ever" and it made me realize that it may have taken 10 years for me to finally find out what was wrong and how to treat it but I'm so grateful that we didn't give up.