Nobody knows love like a mother for her child.
And for Melinda Carbis-Reilly, a triple tragedy saw her plunge into the the deepest depths of despair as she tried to grapple with loss of those she loved most.
Mrs Carbis-Reilly was travelling the world as a young 22-year-old when she fell pregnant with her first son.
An unplanned but “beautiful” surprise, she packed her bags and flew back to Australia from Canada and had that first remarkable feeling of “instant love” when she held little Braith for the first time.
But within hours of him being born in 2002, she was delivered the devastating blow that he was ill.
After fighting for his life for seven-and-a-half months, Mrs Carbis-Reilly awoke at 7am on April 27, 2003, to sounds of silence.
“He never let me sleep through but I had gone through the night,” she told Yahoo News Australia as part of its What’s Up? mental health series.
When she went to check on little Braith, she discovered he had succumbed to pneumonia during the night.
While it was one of the hardest days she’s ever experienced, she didn’t realise this would be the first of three nightmares to come true.
On the outside, Mrs Carbis-Reilly appeared to be coping as she went through life at “100km/h”. Her first husband struggled to deal with Braith’s death, but the mum kept going the only way she knew how.
But when she hit 35, she became overwhelmed with the deep-seated grief of losing her son and exhaustion of opening the Redhead Wellness Sanctuary, just south of Newcastle on the NSW coast.
By this stage she had two more children, had suffered a marriage breakdown with her first husband, and was engaged to her current husband who had three children of his own.
“We were Brady Bunching it while I was trying to navigate the opening of the sanctuary, studying and planning the wedding,” she told Yahoo News Australia.
“It was typical for me – and women in particular – to try to do everything.”
As we enter 2021, after struggling through a devastating 2020, Yahoo News Australia has teamed up with Lifeline to tell the truth about mental health with real stories from real people.
Have a story to share? Email firstname.lastname@example.org
Mrs Carbis-Reilly was battling adrenal fatigue, sleeping just two or three hours a night. What started as one or two glasses of wine a night to cope also eventually crept up to a bottle.
“I went from an amazing state of health – I have worked in health since I was 20 – to absolutely crashing, clutching at straws trying to keep myself going,” she said.
Mum’s epiphany amid depression battle
Mrs Carbis-Reilly was in the thick of a dark battle with depression.
“I had too many plates spinning and trying to do a good job – my mind just went,” she said.
“I got to the point of waking up in the morning and not wanting to get our of bed, I didn’t want to face another day.
“It was a shock to me. I hadn’t faced depression and even after losing my son I would cry a lot but I could still get out of bed, so this scared me.”
As a health professional, Mrs Carbis-Reilly was embarrassed by her secret and kept it to herself as she hid her panic attacks and bouts of crying in the bathroom.
Her thoughts grew darker and darker to the point where she contemplated taking her own life.
She said thoughts of her family however were her greatest lifeline.
After battling her depression for about a year in 2016, she had an amazing epiphany that helped her emerge from the darkness and inspired her to write her book, Diggin’ Your Dark Side.
Mrs Carbis-Reilly recalled one day when she was sitting on the lounge just sobbing – her husband reluctant to leave her alone.
As she tried to settle the “crazy thoughts” in her head, the name of spiritual teacher Gabby Bernstein dropped into her mind.
She then listened to a podcast that said darkness could only control her life if she gave it power, and Mrs Carbis-Reilly said that sentence made her realise her fear and embarrassment about her mental health issue was feeding the beast.
She then began exercising more, meditating and eating better while also pulling back on her responsibilities at work.
Mum hit by second tragedy
While Melinda Carbis-Reilly spent four years managing her mental health, she suffered a second bout of depression in 2019.
But while she was going through her own mental health struggle a second time, her stepson Flynn succumbed to his own battle and took his own life at the start of last year.
“It should have been Braith’s 18th birthday last year and that was a very sad time but now I have a stepson who was not far off 18. Two of the oldest children and we haven’t had an 18th to celebrate yet,” she said.
Mrs Carbis-Reilly said her second bout of depression and her stepson’s hit around the same.
“It was an enormous amount of pressure on the family with two depressed people in the home,” she said.
“Flynn was 16 and only a few months off 17 when he took his life, and he suffered for over a year before it happened.”
Having dealt with depression herself, Mrs Carbis-Reilly said she could only imagine how daunting the feeling would be for a teenager.
After there were two scares Flynn was going to take his own life, he died in February 2020 right after the family returned from a holiday to Fiji.
“I went into mother mode and protect your husband mode and then I crashed and burned. It was very confronting and I felt like I couldn’t cry in my home, being the strong one – I felt I needed to continue to be that and leaned on my girlfriends,” she said.
“It was very confronting as someone considering taking your own life witness what happens after somebody does that.”
Third trauma hits mum just weeks later
As the family dealt with the grief of losing Flynn, Mrs Carbis-Reilly did not realise the huge effect it had on her biological son.
“Flynn lost that battle at a very young age and not long after my son – he had a lot of guilt as Flynn confided in him – the guilt got the better of him and he tried to take his life within a month,” she said.
“He realised it wasn’t what he wanted and called Lifeline and they were able to track his phone and send the police.
“I was 40 metres away and had no idea this was happening.”
A year on, her son is thankfully long down his road to recovery and Mrs Carbis-Reilly is using her personal experiences with depression to help others value the importance of mind health.
“The most important things for me are movement and meditation,” she said.
“Support is number one, once you’ve got that support network help them understand what you need back.”
Lifeline head of crisis services, Rachel Bowes, told Yahoo News Australia people struggling with depression should keep a log of how they feel each morning.
“It’s really helpful to do at whatever stage of depression,” she said.
“Note down how you feel when you wake up in the morning, how well you’ve kept your routine and rate your mood on a scale of one to 10.
“Keep a log of some symptoms and after a couple of weeks you can take it to your GP to show what has been happening.”
Ms Bowes said routine was also vital for people who are suffering from depression and anxiety.
“People tend to lose their motivation quite quickly and before they know it they are staying up late, sleeping until noon, skipping meals, not getting out of their pyjamas or starting to drink a little bit earlier,” she said.
“It’s really hard to shift that once those changes become really engrained so try hard to stick to routine, go to bed at the same time, set you alarm for the same time and have regular meals.”
Ms Bowes said people should also be mindful of their alcohol and other drug intake as it can creep up on people who use it to self-medicate.
Do you have a story tip? Email: email@example.com.