Despite having a loving mother and maternal family, Ian experienced serious domestic violence and was sexually abused by a family friend at a young age.
As a teenager, he was convinced his future would be a repetition of his difficult childhood and adolescence, so this was a fate he was determined to avoid. Later in life, Ian encountered more challenges and felt he had no control left except for one thing - his own life.
This young boy, who was convinced his life had no positive purpose, has since grown to become more than he ever imagined he could be. He served in the military for 25 years, completed three degrees across two disciplines and has three children of his own.
He is joining us today to talk about the ups and downs of his life and why he is now such a strong advocate for suicide prevention and awareness.
Darcy Milne (0:00)
We acknowledge the lives lost to suicide and recognise those who have survived suicide attempts and those who struggle today or in the past with thoughts of suicide, mental health issues and crisis situations. We acknowledge all those who have felt the deep impact of suicide, including those who love, care and support people experiencing suicidality and( those experiencing the pain and bereavement through suicide. We respect collaboration with people who have a lived or living experience of suicide and mental health issues and value their contribution to the work we do.
If I can't control this, and I can't control that, what is there left for me to control and the only thing that was left for me to control, at least as it felt at that time, was my own life.
Darcy Milne (0:44)
Welcome to Holding on to Hope, a series that shares the stories of everyday Australians that have experienced moments in crisis and found a path to support whilst all of the stories shared of hope and inspiration. At times, you may hear something you find triggering, if you or someone you know needs crisis support, please phone Lifeline on 13 11 14 Text 0477 13 11 14 or visit lifeline.org.au/gethelp for Lifeline chat service, which is 24/7.
Hello, and thank you for joining me. I'm Ruben and I'm a volunteer telephone crisis supporter at Lifeline. I'm one of the voices you may hear if you call for support. At the age of 15, I lost my dear father to suicide. Ever since that fateful day, I always wished my father had the opportunity to talk to someone like me when he needed it the most. 13 years later, and four years into my journey with Lifeline, I'm now part of that opportunity and this is why I'm so passionate about hosting this series. If you're not quite ready to talk, perhaps you will find comfort by listening to the stories of people who have experienced the value of reaching out for help. On today's episode of Holding on to Hope I'll be speaking with Ian Carter, despite having a loving mother and maternal family and early years saw him experience serious domestic and family abuse. As a young teenager, Ian says he was convinced his future contained a repetition of his difficult childhood and adolescence. That was the fate he was determined to avoid later in life and face more challenges and he felt that he had no control left except for one thing - his own life. The young boy who is convinced his life had no positive purpose has since grown to become more than he ever imagined he could be. From 25 years of service, three degrees across two disciplines, three children of his own, and much more. He is joining us today to talk about the ups and downs of his life, as well as why he's now such a strong advocate for suicide prevention and awareness. Ian thank you so much for joining me today for another episode of Holding on to Hope. I just like to invite you to share a bit about your upbringing and your story growing up.
Yeah, sure. Now, firstly, thank you for having me and inviting me along. It's a very humbling experience to come and talk like this. My story starts, you know, when I was a very young lad, to give you the bullet points of it. My father was domestically violent towards my mother, I was one of the few people that ever saw it. I was sexually abused by a family friend when I was a young lad. One of the big things even back then was like father like son, what you've experienced is what you can become. As a young lad, I was encouraged to think basically that my life was going to be a repeat of what I've experienced, I was going to become an alcoholic, domestically violent pedophile. That's a lot to lay on a 12-13 year old shoulders when you consider it and there was a lot of shame about a lot of stuff back then even more so than we have now. I thought the only way I could prevent someone from going through what I was going through was to make an attempt on my own life. That happened. And I was discovered by my grandfather after the attempt and for a quirk of fate, I'm here now. I didn't lose my life that day, some close to 30 years later, here I am.
What was going on in that stage for you mentally, you know, what was going through your mind? What was the pathway into being in that place where you felt like you potentially had no support or no hope? Or it was really becoming all on you?
I think for me, one of the scary parts when I look back on those days, is how logical it seemed. It was such a logical sequence of events it was if I'm going to cause somebody harm, if I'm going to be the reason someone has distress in their lives, I don't want to do that. I don't want to be in a position where I'm going to be the cause of the same pain that I felt. So it was a logical step that, you know if I can't control this, and I can't control that, what is there left for me to control and the only thing that was left for me to control, at least as it felt at that time, was my own life. I looked for ways out, particularly as when I was older, and I experienced suicide ideation, I looked for those moments where I could find an out and yet thankfully I did on those other occasions, I found that that logical step away from the dark path, but as a young lad with no one around you, this is pre social media, this is pre internet, the idea of, of how advanced society was then was - if you look at the CGI at the beginning of the film labyrinth that was, you know, the level of technology we had at that time. So I didn't have a mean, one support groups to reach out to. And I was very isolated, I was very isolated at the time, I was getting up in dark to go to school, I was getting on a bus and by the time I got home from school, it was dark outside against. I was living in this state of perpetual darkness, both inside my soul and in life itself. The only logical step for me at that time. And this is really scary to say is that if I take my own life now, everything stopped all the problems of the world disappear. And not just my problems, but future problems for people. I've never even met people who haven't even been born yet. If I take my life today, I save them the pain and hurt that I could possibly cause them. So when he sort of asked, you know, what's it like to think the scary thing is it was logical? It really was. There was no, I know, I'm sick. There's no, I know, this is the wrong move. It was just a purely logical step to make at that time.
During that time, do you wish that you had more support or that more support was out there for you whether it was directly or indirectly that you knew that there was someone that you could reach out to? Or did you feel that you are scared to reach out?
I wish there had been people that would have noticed what was going on. I was going to school every single day, and I would sit in the school library before school started for over an hour. So the librarian was there, she saw me yeah. There were days where I would just get into the school and I would cry. You know, there were support workers and all the rest of it that you have at schools in the mid-90s in the UK, that never saw it. Fast forward to a little few years later, when I was in work, and I was referred to a psychologist, I was so scared that if I opened up about what I was really thinking inside, I was gonna lose my job, I had a target on my back, and some very bad eggs with poking me in the chest and blatantly saying ‘we're gonna get you discharged, we're gonna get you discharged, you're not going to have a job anymore. Your life is over.’ And so I had a family to support at that point. So there was whilst there was people there that could support me, I didn't feel comfortable going to them for support, because I was so scared that even the sheer mention of the word suicide, that was it, my career was over. I've had 25 years in my chosen profession to this point. And I've done some amazing things. But yeah, it was very scary, you know, reaching out and saying, you know, look, this is where I am, this is what I'm going through, and being scared to get the support that to get support, I needed to throw away an entire life. So in a way, if I was going to commit suicide, with why if I was going to take my own life, to ask for help was to commit suicide for my professional life. And he caught between a rock and a hard place, reaching out for help, at times didn't feel like an option. 30 years ago, no, there was no support. Even the teachers didn't recognise it. And there were signs. I look back on it now and I'm like, ‘How the hell did I not end up in a school psychologists office and how did I not end up being referred to a psychiatrist?’ It just was one of those things that was pushed to one side and I didn't mention, you know, being a victim of sexual assault, because we've all seen what's happened to those most poor souls going through the Royal Commission for abuse in the Catholic Church. It's, it's just one of those things. There was just more pressure that I couldn't possibly fight.
You made an attempt on your life. Your grandfather found you. How old were you?
I was 13 at the time.
Okay. And then from 13 to before you started in the military?
I joined the military when I was 16. I joined British Army was as an apprentice soldier. So I was a young lad and through 2009 and then again into 2011 was a real really tough year that was for me when it comes to the dark path and the dark, dark space. And then over the last few years is the last sort of 10 years or so has been a journey well and truly back out into the light. And it's safe to say I've not thought about taking my own life now for several years, we're getting close, to a decade now. And just as every alcoholic says every day is, you know, without a drink is doesn't mean that I'm not an alcoholic. I'm just a recovering alcoholic, I'm still fighting, you know, the urge to not go down that dark path. But at the same time, it's been over 30 years of a journey.
You can go from a few years of time to when you obviously came out of the military. What went on for you during that time, and where were the struggles for you? Where was the support?
My time in the British Army was wonderful for me. You know, whilst there were good days and there were bad days, I grew up around grandparents, who had fought in World War Two. The grandfather who found me had been a prisoner of war, for most of the war, because he was wounded in the evacuation to Dunkirk. And he was a wonderful gentleman. He'd seen the horrors of living as a prisoner of war for most of the war. My other grandfather had been there when they liberated the concentration camps. So he had seen the Holocaust, firsthand. And he only ever talked about on a couple of occasions, and I was, I was very honoured to be one of the ones he spoke to about it. So I had these two gentlemen in my life who I revered, like nobody's business, they were absolutely wonderful. And when I joined the army, I was following the footsteps of two of the greatest men in my life, being my granddads. I was very, very proud to put on the uniform, I was very proud to be a soldier. And I was very proud to go in at such a young age, I done everything that my grandparents had done, my grandfather had gotten served in the military, I served in the military. And I took that as a sign of strength. And I moved through life, and I had kids. And unfortunately, my first marriage broke down. And the custody battle that ensued after that, and the way I was made to feel was far from wonderful. And so I went back to feeling like I was useless. Again, I went back to being feeling like I did when I was 12 13 years old, being told that you're never going to be in this is what your future is, you're going to be see your kids on a Saturday and Sunday, every other week. And if you're lucky, you've got 24 hours with them of quality time in a fortnight. And I just think at that point, I realised that it was really tough. And so that period between 13 and coming out of that dark space, with the help of my granddad, to 2008 2009, going back into that dark space, there was a lot of positives there, there was a lot of opportunities to move forward, and to do something with my life. And if I'd have never put a uniform on after I'd left the British Army, I would be equally as proud as I am to this day. And so what I learned in the British Army was that my mates were always going to be there. For me, that was something that gave me a great amount of strength from that point.
Darcy Milne (13:13)
We hope you're enjoying this episode. If you're not ready to speak to someone, but we'd like more information, curated resources and personal stories to support your journey, please visit toolkit.lifeline.org.au. Now, back to the episode.
Can you tell us a bit about your experience in the military?
I've been fortunate in having two experiences in the military one with the British Army, one with the ATF, and I'm still a current serving member with the ATF. And, you know, whilst I'm definitely not a spokesman for them, I can talk towards my experience in that regard. With the British Army, there is a lot of old school behaviours that I grew up around, I was trained by guys who had gone off to the Falklands in the early 80s. And who were part of the first Desert Storm. So I had this sort of this old school, instructional, given to me, you know, when I went through training, and they really instilled the importance of that mateship, those bonds that were built were built without the need or without the ability to utilise modern technology. And I still have that with them today. What I'm seeing in my relationships with those, I suppose served with British military is that we have just picked up on the opportunity to be the other side of the world and carry on those conversations as if it was only yesterday that I saw them.
Did you hold off reaching out for support for a long time? Can you tell us about what was preventing you from seeking help?
Do I put my career at risk? Or do I put my life at risk and as a soldier, you're trained to put your life at risk. It's the weirdness of military service and suicidality is that on one hand, you can read through multiple Victoria Cross citations and you will see the phrase ‘Advance to the enemy without regard for their own life’. That is the level of training that we receive, even to the lowest of the low to the highest of the high, you are trained that at some point through your career, you may be acquired on to put yourself in harm's way and even sacrifice your own life. So there is this ingrained ability within you to put your own needs aside and to sacrifice yourself for the greater good. We none of us want to do that out of choice, it is something that we are prepared to do. And every service man and woman is exactly the same. That is part of their training as part of their ethos is that ability to have the courage to sacrifice yourself for the greater good. So having that sort of in your head is one of those things that when it comes to looking at suicidality and suicide, thoughts within the military, it is there. Fighting against that, it is hard, but then you have your friends around you that if they pick up what's going on, they will not let you fight alone.
Do you believe you know that mindset that you are given during your time in the military? That's what prevented you in seeking help?
Yes, yes. Because with that mindset, a part of that self-sacrifice is you don't want to put anybody else at risk, not being willing to actually open up about that sort of stuff is, it's very hard to explain. Because you have that mindset, if I always felt that if I put my hand up in the past, my career was over, I was going to end up being discharged and I would walk away from the military with absolutely nothing. And I wouldn't be able to support my family and the like. So, it was a mixture of pride in the fact that I didn't want to admit that this was the dark place I was in. But it was also an element of shame, that I couldn't pull myself out of this dark funk as well. And so, having that understanding of, of self-sacrifice, well, this makes perfect sense to me, this is a logical step to take.
The first time you open up as an adult was to a large group of people, can you tell us about what happened and what motivated you to share your story?
About seven or eight years ago, I lost a couple of, I'd say acquaintances and friends to suicide. One of them went over to America and decided to go for a walk and never came back. The other one, who I knew a lot closer, was going through a really tough time and didn't come back from Christmas leave one year. And I think over the time that I've spoken to friends from the UK and who ‘Oh, did you hear about it?’ so and so and all this, it just got to a point where I was sat in the forest preservation training that we do in the military every single year. And we had the suicide awareness brief and the suicide prevention brief. And we got to the end of it, and the presenter stood there in front of the unit that I just posted into. So I knew no one in this room, there must have been about four or 500 people in there. It was just this moment, it was like somebody kicked me up the backside and gone, you don't speak up now you're never going to speak up at all. And before I knew it, I was walking from the back of the room through the crowd. And I'm like, yeah, if you if you don't mind, I've got something I'd like to say. My name is Captain Ian Karla. And I'm a suicide survivor. If you think that this presentation me is just something that we go through every single year, the thing is my current role, I work with a lot of units. So I have to then go and sit through another units force preservation, and I have to sit to another suicide brief. And then I have to sit through another slide. Oh, and it's brutal. That year, I sat through three of them in total. After I did it the first time, the CEO of the regiment came up to me. And he's like ‘Well, that's one way to get on my radar in a very good way. Thank you so much for doing that. By the way, I'd like you to meet so and so.’ He's just been diagnosed with depression. He's gonna get up after this because of what you've done. He's now going to talk about this. I was just like, wow. And it was just amazing watching this ripple effect. If it helps one person, one person in this room, fantastic. It just went. It's a wonderfully scary experience, but one that I would repeat every single day for the rest of my life.
I think the story that you've told, you know, raises a few interesting points. I like the way you've articulated your experience, I feel really signifies the opportunity and it doesn't have to be just for the military but in general for and it is probably the hardest thing for someone that has gone through a lived experience to open up about it and to realise the real effect that that has for people that are listening now. You know, you should really recognise not to say that tomorrow, you know, the next time you're in front of a crowd of people that you need to suddenly open up about your experience but it is amazing if you are in the situation where you are comfortable enough and there is an opportunity that you recognise that can make a difference. I say, and I encourage that people should do it. Fortunately for me, I haven't had the direct experience of having to have an attempt to my own life, or anything of that nature but I had a close family member that has gone through that. And even just opening up about that casually to someone being at a pub or at work, it's amazing the person that you can reach out to and connect, and you can see it in their face, you can hear it in their voice, it's almost like, ‘Oh, I've got my opportunity to turn myself off mute.’
It’s a moment of congruence. IT gives people the opportunity to make a real connection. And that something we don't do very often nowadays, we hide behind social media, we behind the image and the utopian image of what I want you to view my life as. But you know, when all sudden you say, ‘Hey, look, let me tell you about the time it was really bad for me.’ The experiences that I've had a lot of people don't realise that there is so much strength in vulnerability, it's not a bad thing to be vulnerable, because people suddenly open up and with that strength and with that congruence and with that vulnerability, comes growth
Over your journey, what have you learnt as a coping mechanism, or particular coping mechanisms that help you with your everyday challenges and everyday life?
I've tried many over the years, and some of them were definitely not healthy. Self-medication is never the answer. But I have learned lots of other things. I'm a great fan and believer in binaural beats. So the old music that you listen to that's slightly different frequencies and bounce through between your head, you know, to help with concentration when I'm doing academic work in particular, but also just helped me unwind and sort of slow myself down. So I use them quite a bit. Audiobooks are another fantastic escape for me. So I really love learning about individuals that have gone through life and been able to make a career through lowest common denominator, entertainment. So you know, the likes of Elvira mistress of darkness, and wrestlers and the likes that, you know, they've somehow managed to make a career out that sort of stuff. So, I take inspiration from that. But then again, I then listen to books about Cross Valour recipients, and Victoria Cross recipients as well. So the juxtaposition of that is there. Mindfulness techniques and using sort of the shield, the Resilience Project, stuff that is in books is also a good one for finding that balance in life. But some of the most effective ways that I found to really sort of cope with day-to-day stuff is in little distraction techniques, and I do martial arts. So going for my black belt in karate through my dojo. And, you know, that gives me the opportunity to practice both mindfulness and strength so I can learn new techniques, I can allow myself to have controlled aggression and get out of frustration to the day. But at the same time, I can also I also have to demonstrate control. So, to control that aggression is one thing. When I want to force myself to slow down because I have a habit of taking on 1,000,001 things and things like that, I'll break out the fire pit in the garden and I'll have a fire pit barbecue. I love roasting pork loin on a spit over a couple of hours, just sitting there, having a couple of nice drinks, watching the pork slowly turn and crackle tending to the fire for a couple of hours. It really does force me to slow down. And it forces me to be there in the moment and listening to a fire crackle again. It's oddly like it's a binaural beat, you know. But one of my biggest stress reliefs, I'm going to say this, I juggle, I grabbed my clubs, I grabbed my balls, and I will sit there and I will juggle. So, you know, when I'm having a tough day at work, I will sit stand at my desk and I will have the computer open in front of me and I'll be working on a problem. As I'm trying to work through all the complex issues, I will be stood there juggling. And it's quite a funny thing to see, you know, a senior Army officer with his balls in his hands juggling away, and maybe even getting on a balancing board and really sort of picking up those skills that I can do intuitively. And by doing that, it actually allows me to clear my mind and focus on what I'm doing.
It's safe to say because Lifeline is big on self-care but juggling is definitely a new one. I have tried juggling once or twice I think with apples or those little hacky sacks. I still can't get bust to so I don't know how many you can do that.
I'm a three ball kind of guy. But I I do have a juggling starting up a juggling workshop at work. Because it's fantastic because it not only does it help you focus on something very different and very different skill. It actually helps build neural pathways within the brain as well. So if you've experienced really dark times and you want to help connect the old hemispheres together, doing something like juggling, doing something like martial arts is a great way to actually help coordinate your body and your mind together. All the joking aside about you know, playing with your ball It is one of those things that allows your brain to actually change its own chemistry and change its own structure. It's a fantastic thing.
If you were to give one piece of advice to someone who was facing their darkest moment, what would that be?
I absolutely hate cliches. But I'm going to use a cliche here. And that is that permanent solutions to temporary problems help no one. Don't be afraid to ask for help. It takes great strength to be vulnerable. You have the strength to be vulnerable. And if you have the strength to be vulnerable, please be vulnerable, with professionals, with friends with colleagues with Pete, anyone, you'd be surprised, who actually cares, it might not be the person you think. Have the strength to be vulnerable.
Very well said, Very well said, I really do. Thank you for the work that you do. Whether it's you know, you again, speaking to an open audience, in the capacity that you are now, as well as the stuff that you're doing every day. I think where you've been and the journey that you've had, I think is synonymous with potentially some of the listeners that are on here. And I hope that for anyone that's listening today can really connect and hopefully connect with a story. And always remember that you can reach out for hope and particularly with Lifeline but you know, with what's next for you, and it sounds like a lot because I'm always on person as well. So hopefully you can balance it all and give yourself some self-care. I really appreciate it.
And thank you so much. And thank you for all the work you do made it say it's much needed and it's very much appreciated. And I'm sure that you've helped so many people along the way. And I'm sure that this series of podcasts will do that as well. So you know, even helping one person is worth it. And I'm sure this is going to touch not far more than one person.
Darcy Milne (26:42)
Thanks for listening to Holding on to Hope the podcast. Lifeline is grateful to all holding on to hope participants for choosing to share their personal lived experiences openly and courageously. In order to offer hope and inspiration to others. Your act of kindness makes for a better world. And remember, if you or someone you know needs crisis support, please phone Lifeline on 1311 14 Text 0477 13 11 14 or visit lifeline.org.au/gethelp for Lifeline chat service which is 24/7.