Anthony's Story

Anthony Hart's slide into depression snuck up on him, taking him and everyone who knew him by surprise.

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30 min read
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Anthony's story

Anthony Hart's slide into depression snuck up on him, taking him and everyone who knew him by surprise. It’s actually a miracle Anthony’s still alive and what he’s achieved since is no less astonishing – a system to help everyone spot their own warning signs and get help.

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Speaker 1 (0:00)

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Speaker 2 (0:18)

This podcast series will share personal moments of connection and deeply felt experiences. If anything you hear has a triggering effect, please reach out to someone who can help you keep safe or remember you can phone Lifeline at any time on 13 11 14.

Anthony (0:38)

My triggers were on the surface. Quite ridiculous. Look, financially. I was set up. I had a gorgeous fiance. I had a loving family. I didn't need - I wasn't rich - but I didn't need to urgently go and get a job. I had money in the bank. You just never know what is going on in someone's head and what the feelings and thoughts are.

Speaker 1 (1:01)

That was Anthony Hart describing his slide into depression and how it snuck up taking him and everyone who knew him by surprise. It's actually a miracle Anthony is still around to tell his story and what he's achieved since is no less astonishing - a system to help everyone spot their own warning signs and get help.

Speaker 2 (1:21)

I've done two years at a university in Atlanta and worked in several jobs, started then to go backpacking through Southeast Asia with my classmates. And it was after about 14 days that all stalls at swimming off of [inaudible]. I met my wife, Sally and her best friend Rose, they were backpacking from the UK. And I tell you what I reckon. I reckon the accent counted for about 40% or in fact back when I first minute, just, just something so intelligent, sexy voice when you're backpacking, that was the start of my new life. Pretty much. Um, we ended up then going back to the UK and landing in Bochner Regis on the, on the South coast of England, there was a job with a car in Florida. He was importing brand-new cars from Europe to the UK. So I started there on about the 20th of February and never looked back. I worked for three and a half years, really loving what I was doing, importing German cars, Volkswagen, Audi, Mercedes, and Porsche, and, uh, had a great time, bought a house in the UK, saved up my money and bought a house back in Adelaide. And I was having a fantastic time.

Speaker 1 (2:50)

This is Rob Vances, Anthony's oldest friend.

Rob (2:53)

We were, we were four and we met at kindy and became sort of like best mates straight away. Um, so virtually through our primary school, um, we just hung out all the time. So playing sport or running around in a box or, um, whatever, getting up to mischief, whatever we were up to with Hardy ,he was into it. So it was a pretty good upbringing. It likes the field. Um, so we've been friends ever since, uh, yeah, about 40 odd years we've been mates. He was the sort of person that drew people in. Like he was always the life of the party. Um, so he is very social. Um, had heaps and heaps of mates, always wherever he went here and he'd always be, we called them a bunny, cause he'd always be full of energy. He was always on the go and, um, doing something. Um, he was always very much to draw people in type like, like wherever he went, he was sociable and, um, yeah, made friends easily and was very confident.

Anthony (3:45)

I received an email from a close friend of mine, Cory White. He had a house in Glendale. He was sitting there with about 10 of our best friends, having a sausage and a beer. And I received a crystal clear email with a picture of that scene and it was February 2003. We've done just over three years in the UK and I sat there at quarter past three in the afternoon. It started to get dark in the UK in winter. Stuff's at three o'clock. I saw that picture and straightaway went home to my wife and said, the fiance at that stage and said, look, this is, this is a life that we want to go and live. Let's resign and let's go back to Adelaide. You never know what you're leaving. The grass is always greener on the other side, we've got a great life in the UK, but we had this yearning, yearning to be in the sun, around our friends and Australia just seemed a really good, really good opportunity.

Rob (4:43)

We had very different, I think, situations in life, like as you guys were at primary school, it's all the same. It's just about lollies and sport. As you get a bit older and stuff, your priorities change. And he was a massive support to me when my mum died when I was 18. So he was, um, a huge support at that time. And, and when something like that happened to me, it definitely changed my life, my priorities and he was very much, always very career driven, very quite monetary base driven at that point. Um, and I could see that happening even then that he was more interested in those things whereas I already worked out that I just wanted to, to be a good man and, and raise a family and be a good dad and stuff. So while we were still good mates, but we were very different people at that stage.

Anthony (5:20)

We've managed to buy a house in the UK, but also managed to buy a house in a nice suburb in Adelaide and we'd signed up plenty of money. So financially we were, we were really ahead of the game.

Rob (5:35)

I think that was one of the things that I did notice a little bit before he went away, but definitely more when he came back, um, having a really successful career in England, making a lot of money, he came back and put a lot of pressure on himself, even though he was in a very good financial position. Um, it was always about that what other people were doing and how much they were making.

Speaker 4: (5:56)

We still have that desire to get commercially, get a decent job to a level we thought we could get. And that was really the, that was the blocker. We arrived back in March, 2003 and it was, I think it was two or three months into that return back that we really realized that we weren't, I think emotionally ready to take a big call, a backward step, like coming from England and from London, my partner was working for Richard Branson, one of his businesses, Virgin cosmetics, Virgin VI. I was doing a unique job that couldn't really be put into a box by the recruiters. And whilst I was running a really successful car import business, um, as I came back to Adelaide, it got recruiters found that hard to put it into a position and a category. And so over those six months without knowing it, I, I describe it like a fuel tank dropping full, a full tank of fuel three quarters, half, and then empty over that six months, the chemicals that make us feel happy was slowly depleting. And I didn't know, it was the first time as an individual, I'd gone through that. My triggers were on the surface about ridiculous, look financially I was set up, I had a gorgeous fiance, I had a loving family. I didn't need, I wasn't rich, but I didn't need to urgently go and get a job. I had money in the bank and my trigger was it's embarrassing to say, triggers were getting a job that had the job title and prestige to the level of my skill level that I thought I'd achieved in my life and the job title piece. And secondly, it was the income that was attached to that first job. You just never know what is going on in someone's head and what the feelings and thoughts are. It was my, it was my inability to share that with anybody. So it wasn't, it wasn't just my partner. It was everybody. I wore this mask of happiness.

Speaker 1 (8:16)

Anthony's depression affected him in a number of ways. I really remember one day going to my parents for dinner, a couple of suburbs across. And as I walked into the house, I saw my mum and dad at the front door, I was with Zoe, my fiance and putting that , uh, that stiff upper lip, making sure that I looked ok, I put a fake smile on now. That was like how I got past my dad and Zoe, I think even my mum could see deep down that things went right or recall walking down through the house and then being taught into the study by my mum, she mentioned I needed to do something or sign something. And then she paused and just looked at me, face to face and said ''Now tell me honestly, how are you feeling?'' I just started crying and shared some of the why's I was feeling. And you know, it was her advice ''Go and tell your GP exactly what you told me. It's a health issue that you just need to get fixed up.''And that's what I tried to do the next day. I went to the GP, but once again, men are worse in this than females are. I had my list of symptoms and signs, and I only gave the ones that were deep enough or bad enough to get a response. I wanted the medication, I got one and I still have to pin up and write out a script for an antidepressant. And that was my, that was my silver bullet. That was the solution for me. And, um, and as we know, it's far more complicated than just taking medication. There are several things that we need to do to actually attack it. Any health issue and getting good professional help from people who are trained in that area through psychiatry and psychology, uh , just, uh , you know, quite clearly that the best way to go to get a good outcome. The first thing that really hit me was the inability to sleep. I would either get off to sleep quite late and then wake up, um, or just simply lie in bed till very light before I go off to sleep. And once the sleep starts to go, I started to become a very tired, grumpy, emotional person. So you'd start to flare up aggressively over very small things, small, small things would trigger aggression and compared to how you normally wear that. They're just completely different side of the person. So I started to withdraw socially when you're not feeling that great, you don't want to be around anyone. So I would always be the life and soul of the party, but now all of a sudden I would just avoid going out. If I did go out, I'll drink excessively at the start just to get yourself calm and we use alcohol to really mask that. So that was a good way to cover up. And the real clear telltale sign for me was that everything is very reactive, very unplanned. And I was so, so terribly disorganized, and this probably doesn't seem like a huge thing, but I ran out of the petrel twice in the, in the four weeks up to my attempt on my life. And Adelaide's got a hundred Petro stations within about 15 or 20 minutes. So, shouldn't be running out of a pitcher. And if you are low on petrol, to plan to take your wallet with you in the car, and as you drive to where you're going, you know that you need to fill up your petrol tank. Now, when you were the plated in slate, not happy, not planning things, that was a classic sign for me. Now, that's really hard for someone from the outside of the pic, things like that, but being very flighty, very reactive and just not thinking through things in a methodical plant, man, that was a real telltale sign for me, that things weren't going great.

Speaker 1 (12:45)

Ironically, eight days after seeing his GP, Anthony received a job offer with a bank and was sent to Sydney for training, it should have been just the boost he needed, but depression doesn't release its grip that easily.

Anthony (12:59)

Beautiful surroundings. I catch the theory, the ups, North Sydney, and through the course each day, and then simply either walk back over the bridge or catch the ferry back. So from the outside on the block with great life and from the inside, someone who was struggling with very poor anxiety and depression, the levels were probably at my lowest in hindsight, I was critically not, well. I just started to take her medication. I wasn't sleeping. Um, I just couldn't pay attention. Couldn't remember things. And I simply struggled , um, day in and day out to be able to take in information. I wasn't a flying flight work on a mine site, but I was a fly in , fly out worker way from my social networks and being very isolated and alone. Um , didn't have the networks around me. So I really, really struggled over those nine or 10 days.

Speaker 1: 13:41

Of course, Anthony's depression became so bad that on the way from his hotel to the training, he even tried to buy a flight to Fiji, to escape whether from himself his life or the course , he couldn't say

Speaker 4: 13:55

On the Friday. And we started at nine o'clock. I got started just after lunch. And what I'd say there was probably three nights where I sleep three nights prior. So I was falling asleep in their class and wasn't paying any attention or interest. And it was then at about two o'clock on one of the breaks that one of the supervisors came over. I think politely said, look, go home, get some sleep and make yourself a better state of mind, about to go out tonight for dinner. So we had a dinner at the rocks and Sydney that night. So I got the, got the Syria back from North Sydney, got the ferry back in the circle and came back to my accommodation and was retiring to get some sleep and get myself ready for dinner that night at the , uh , the bank. And , uh, it was, it was after about three hours, I think, where I was lying there where I literally couldn't, I couldn't get to sleep .

Speaker 2: 14:52

Finally. I then pick up the phone to ring up my GP back in South Australia. And I think he , even the reception said to me is everything okay? And even then they said that things are, things are fine and simply hung up. It was then that I decided I put my shorts on. I decided to actually go for a swim. It's been so familiar with just to go out and exercise myself. So I was so tired that I would bet a full of slate . And I put my tee shirt on, got, got the elevator up to the top of the building 21 story building. And there was a big swimming pool right in front of me. As I opened the door to the pool area on the right, there was the upper house on the left. There was the Sydney Harbor bridge and it was a year day . I could smell the salt in the air and the sun. I do remember for those days leading up the mental pain of going through severe anxiety and depression, it was just so chronic. I shut my eyes. I just wanted to eat

Speaker 1: 16:04

Through connecting with others. We can hold onto hope to speak to a crisis supporter. Please call 13, 11, 14, 24 hours, seven days a week. Anthony was saved by a couple of lucky coincidences, including the fact that there was a paramedic nearby when he came around, he was in Sidney's st . Vincent's hospital

Speaker 2: 16:31

Launch . Isn't the same is it . You were in , I was in the hospitals for five or six months. I dying to quite a major acquired brain injury and had to save it of internal damage because I literally, I couldn't get out. I broke breaking quite a fair bit of my body. Um, but I was in denial. I couldn't believe what people were saying. I'd done. I did didn't believe it. Didn't believe it and couldn't believe it. And then when I found out , um, I was probably one of the first emotions I felt and I've spoke to Anthony about this was always angry at him , um , for doing that. Uh, and partly because of, he'd seen my struggles with losing my mom and how precious life is, and for him to add the time off or make a choice to do that as opposed to are now, the more I understand it, the better , um, I more speak to Anthony in the more I'm involved in other forms. Like I'm a member of the , um, our local district, suicide prevention network and stuff . The more I speak to people, the better understanding I have about it though . It didn't have that at the time. At the time, my first reaction was a bit of anger. Um, and then that quickly came to, right , what can I, is there anything I can do to help every fourth or fifth friend that would come in and see me? They're all completely blown away that none of them sure it , they observed some differences in me before, but never thought that I was in that state of mind. His mask was so strong that no one picked up on it. He was so ashamed of how he was feeling. So I think he suffered in silence a lot , um, and , and covered up things a lot. And he did it very well. Um, to the point where I , I wish I just wish he'd made a phone call to me , cause I would have been in Sydney the next day. And they would have had 10 mice . It would have done the same. And he would add family members that would have done the same. There was so many people that would have helped him if he'd just called one of us not available . Another of that group had ever gone through any mental health issues . So there was, there's no experience of anyone, you know, at a university going through this. So I was kind of one of the first one who was completely going through it. Um, I was blown away, but every, every full frame almost seemed like a reasonable freedom would , would share with me a story of how they were going through very similar things at a way lower level. The more he did of like opening up and talking to people. And fact , I think he saw maybe I can do something to help others here, which is a very much a flip from where Anthony's priorities were early, which was a family or money and stuff like that. It became to how can I help others?

Speaker 1: 19:11

Anthony spent three months in hospital in Sydney before being transferred to a rehab facility in Adelaide. It wasn't long before he got bored. He'd always had a talent for graphs and spreadsheets. So he started plotting out what was happening with him and his mates. He ended up designing a little tracker and produced booklets, encouraging people to collect data on four things.

Speaker 2: 19:33

I got a pet , a Piper from the nurses and I just started drawing some milk crafts. And I used to talk about four things, exercise, alcohol, sleep, and talking. Now I was forced that I couldn't drink alcohol because I was on medication. But also I had major bleed to the back of my head with an a , with a brain injury. So our car was parked for five Brian , the brain surgeon site don't drink any alcohol for five or six years. The great news with that is if we just rest alcohol or stop it completely the chances of you feeling getting better and happier go up. Um, and so I , I all like got people to do was track every day, their number of drinks they drank. Uh , and I advocated decide that there's a huge benefit of not drinking any alcohol. Number two, I got let out after my wounds healed, I could go swimming each day . And so I swim at , uh , at the Hampstead indoor pool. And as soon as you jumped in the water and at the endorphin start being generated by your body and you swim faster and faster and faster, and I started to become a happier. And so I would just tell people or share with people, exercise is not just what you can for at least 30 to 40 minutes and make it cardio. So exercise sleep. Now, that was the main focus of the psychiatrist for me post my accident was to get me whilst I'm dealing with all these significant life challenges, get me to at least seven or eight ass slate and get that consistent. And so that was the , for any issues that dealt with and even right up to this day, sleep, sleep, and medication , um , getting the medication right, to get you to sleep calmly and have consistent sleep. Uh, and so I get people to just send me just track how many hours I sleep for each night, and then the full thing under the talking piece , um , that there's that questionnaire that you ask yourself. And the second part is , is, is, is to go straight to a JP , be open and honest with the GPS , to how you're thinking, feeling behaving, and, and then connecting with a close generally longterm friend and sharing exactly how you're feeling with a friend. So, so talk, exercise, alcohol, and sleep. And I put it into a booklet. I called it life back tracker and I called it four steps to better mind health. And I just started giving it out to people. It wasn't the most polished piece of document, but yeah, started giving it out in 2005 and six,

Speaker 1: 22:20

Anthony used his life backtracking himself to explain to a psychiatrist how he'd been feeling. As word got around. A few workplaces, asked him to give talks on the program and to share his story,

Speaker 2: 22:32

Whatever we write down and we measure it , we can track, we can improve it. And I would say the psychiatrist sometimes every week or two weeks. And he asked me to write stuff down in my diary. And, and the great thing about that was that every two weeks I would see him. Um, if I hadn't kept a record, I would present on the day that I saw him. And depending on how it was emotional that day, that would affect how he deals with me and medicates me . And so the great thing that I showed to him was when I turn up to the meeting, I'd show him a little booklet and they could look at it for a minute and just say the last three weeks and see the ups and downs. And didn't even leave a spot to write down what was significant that really affected how you thought that day. Um, just makes it real. My mental health has always been very strong. Like I , um , to this point, I've even through trauma and stuff that I've experienced have been able to talk to people and , and do with it. So for me, for me to do it, it's quite interesting because you do even little dips and stuff. Like I don't drink any alcohol, so that's easy. I always exercise. That's easy. But in terms of how you're feeling like you do have your bad days, your absolutely dad's a bit of work and stuff. It it's just plotting. It is interesting just to see

Speaker 3: 23:46

In someone who's feels like they've got pretty strong mental health at this stage that it's still, there are , you definitely have like your laws and, and when you actually filling it in you , there's no point in, in being dishonest about it . You might as well fill it in properly. So you have, you'd have had a bad day or you're , you're frustrated with your family or something. You put it in there and you do notice that the, the a little bit, even if not massive. So I think it's a really good idea.

Speaker 4: 24:08

That was great , fantastic family business with my brother and my dad. Um , pet stock was out , we were franchisees in South Australia, so we had a group of stools . And , um, that was, that played a huge role in my recovery. Uh , from 2005 with , with an acquired brain injury, it was my way back into the workforce. And , uh, and then on the side, I got asked to go and do some of these talks and , um , just started doing talk after, talk after talk. And I think it was probably November, 2016, that state government it's a state government heard of this , uh , FLYSPEC check of four steps to better mind health tracker. And it was only an , a booklet of that strikes. They asked me to go for the, it was called the S the officer premier and cabinet digital startup of the year. And , um, we got asked to present on North terrace to all of the dignitaries and , and leaders of Adelaide . Each of the finalists had three minutes on the open mic just to get their message across and their idea. And , um, so I shared the story shit that the four steps to better mind health checker and received an overwhelming amount of the votes and that one , the start up year for 2016, by the university of South Australia, sponsored by Microsoft and Hewlett Packard . So that was, that was that kind of social confirmation. I think that this was a big issue. And here, here, actually, wasn't , it's not a solution. It's a early tool. All this is, is an early tool that people can use. The second that they're stressed,

Speaker 3: 26:01

The obviously Anthony's dream is , um , to get the life back track of sinked up. So say, for example, if he and I are given parts of the world or different way , when he's putting in his data, he also goes to a trusted friend who may be me. And then if I see there's two days where he's had a lot of alcohol, or there's two days where he's not sleeping very well, or he's not feeling great, then I just give him a call straight away. So I think once he can get that element, which I know is very costly, and he's looking into getting that done, I think the app will then go from certain . That's pretty good for yourself to something that's . Wow, that's amazing. If you've got a few friends that you can sync up with , um, and they see your results, then you're going to get that automatic and you don't have to call someone to say, I'm not feeling great. They will see it themselves. And I think when the app will go,

Speaker 2: 26:44

I think it has potential to be really huge and really beneficial

Speaker 5: 26:48

Today. Anthony is so passionate about his life back tracker . He's quit the family business and works full time, developing his free app publishing booklets and giving talks to some of the biggest businesses in Australia.

Speaker 2: 27:01

It's just a health issue and , and it's , and it's to do with the mind. And , and, and that's more real passion is you should really focus on just providing early tools . So we've got a raft of tips that people can use that really are all early intervention, either trackers. Uh, we do a really good , um, mind health action plan, which , um , gets you to identify each of those four parts of, of those components and actually write out a plan. Now, I, I took this from say the theory of say a bushfire exit plan. So if you're in a Bush fire prone area, before the Bush fire comes, they get you to write down your plan. This is what we do in our , in our, in our workshops and through our programs is that we get people to actually work out now who their friend connect people are, what exercise they'll choose. What's the reason this is a really good one with alcohol. What's their kind of preplanned reasoning for not drinking, you know, work out a reason why you're not drinking and do it, have it planned before you go out. And so there are plenty of reasons why you're not drinking that aren't because of your mental health. For me, I've got a lower limb injury or my ankle. And so every kilo I carry on my body puts more weight through my joint and that increase pain. So, I mean, I'm on a rule crusade now, winter, just to lose five or six kilos, just be proud to say why you're not drinking. I'm the sleep bit workout, workout. Now this is easy, but workout go and get help to work out how to get yourself sleeping better. And so we call that a mind health action plan. And so people can fill this out in about eight minutes and it's, you know, you can fold it up, put it in your pocket. And when you're first going to find it by stress in a couple of months, time, or a few years time, you can pull it out and you've already thought through what you're going to do. So they're the types of things that I'm really cool , really keen to , to promote, to get people, to start doing things early. Well, it sounds funny cause he's only 11 days younger than me, but I'm very proud of him. I'm very proud of the man he is now. And the decisions that he makes now, I think he's a, he's a very good dad. And I think growing up like he wasn't ever interested in having kids necessarily or hung out with kids, but he's a, he's a really good dad to his, to his kids. Um, but I think what he does is he makes, he makes a difference in people's lives. And I think he's, he can see that element as opposed to a financial benefit from doing things. He can see that emotional, that what

Speaker 3: 29:42

It means to help other people , um, any and Bob doing what he's doing. Like at the end of the day, if the ops two or three or five or 10 people, and that's affecting hundreds and thousands, because every time that someone takes their life, it has effect on so many other people. So it's multiplicative what he's doing in terms of helping people, but he just goes above and beyond. So say even the talk that we had down airway, he'll take the names, the number of some people that come up to him afterwards and stuff , and then he will contact them. Um , this friend that I had that , um, their son who was only 16 at the time who was struggling with mental health, he spoke to the parents. The number of times he spoke to the boy, number times he followed up, he caught up with him when he was down in the Southeast, like, so he'd goes above and beyond, which is what I absolutely love. And I just think he's, he's become an amazing, amazing man , um, in terms of what he can actually do to help, to help people. And it's just great to see him in do that. And , um, yeah, and I'm very pleased with how he's gone and our friendship is stronger now than it ever has been. You get such a buzz. When you get a phone call from someone who heard you talk three weeks ago, and they've told you they've been to the GP and they're actually having a crack at getting it fixed up .

Speaker 1: 31:00

Thank you for listening to holding onto hope. Lifeline Australia is grateful to all our interviewees who share their stories in the hope of inspiring others. We also acknowledge all of you who provides support to people in crisis and those on their journey to recovery. If you found this podcast helpful or inspiring, please share it, rate it, write a review or subscribe wherever you download your favorite podcasts. If this story has affected you and you require crisis support, please contact lifeline on 13, 11, 14. You can do to access web chat every night from 7:00 PM to midnight. If it's inspired you to be a lifelong volunteer or to donate, please visit with thanks to Y who creative for interviews, editing, and production, and the voice of lived experience, which is essential in the development of our work feedback for this series helps ensure we are making the best contribution possible. It would be greatly appreciated. If you could take a moment to complete our feedback survey. After listening to an episode, please visit Thank you.

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