There are always two choices in the face of adversity: let the situation get the best of you, or stand up and fight.
Jane Leigh, clinical psychotherapist and Beyond Blue ambassador, understands her clients on a very personal level- she too has overcome trauma, abuse and depression.
In her new memoir, My Nine Lives, Leigh speaks openly of her journey through counselling, therapy, self-discovery and eventual healing, encouraging others to stand up for themselves and seek therapy.
'When you are trapped down in the darkest, blackest pit, you have two choices," Leigh says. 'You can either give up and blame the world for putting you there, or you can pick yourself up slowly and teach yourself how to climb towards the light."
My Nine Lives takes readers on an inspiring journey through Leigh's personal and professional triumphs, from her legal confrontation with one of Australia's largest private pathology companies to how she overcame a series of failed, abusive relationships with men.
Through the book, Leigh has one ultimate goal: that readers will recognise that they always have the choice to stand up and fight, no matter what the situation. Leigh offers comfort for those suffering from mental illness and depression, encouraging them to find the strength to pick up the pieces and move forward.
'I hope my journey will inspire people to persevere and find it within themselves to find true happiness and unconditional love," Leigh says. 'This is my way of contributing to making the world a nicer, more liveable place filled with happier, peaceful people."
Jane Leighis a clinical psychotherapist with a master's degree in counselling from Monash University in Melbourne, Australia. Leigh is an ambassador for Beyond Blue, one of Australia's leading organisations supporting people affected by depression and their families. She currently resides in Melbourne, Australia where she runs her own private counselling practice.
My Nine Lives
Author: Jane Leigh
Question: Why did you decide to write this memoir?
Jane Leigh: Since I was a child, writing has always been my passion and a form of emotional, cathartic release. What initially began as daily journal entries and thought processors eventually (after many decades) culminated into my memoir, "My Nine Lives - A Psychotherapist's Journey From Victim to Survivor." This was thanks to several people who have, in many ways, inspired me to pen my personal journey into a memoir.
During my sessions with clients I sometimes self-disclose certain parts of my life and experiences. This is only when I feel it would be beneficial to my clients and that they could somehow relate to my own experiences and not feel isolated within their own suffering. Many clients have often told me, after listening to a part of my story, that I "should write a book. It would inspire other people". I would then smile and thank them, not giving the comment another thought. That is, until I was approached by Beyond Blue to participate in one of their national campaigns. The Beyond Blue officer at the time who was overseeing my campaign said something along the lines of, "Jane, you have been through in your life what most people go through in 10 lifetimes. Look where you are today. You are indeed an inspiration and to let you go unnoticed would be an absolute waste."
This was my moment of awakening and after many weeks of soul-searching, I decided that I would share my story with the rest of the world with one goal in mind: To give hope and inspiration to the many people out there in the world who have either themselves been victims of sexual and emotional abuse or who know others close to them who have. I want to let them know that they are not alone, that no matter how devastating life seems, there is always a light at the end of the tunnel - they just have to trust themselves to find it.
Question: What originally inspired you to become a clinical psychotherapist?
Jane Leigh: I believe things and events happen in one's life for a reason. Despite the many traumas that I had been through in my life - being sexually abused by my own parents and then in my adolescent years by priests of the Roman Catholic Church which, in turn, set off a domino-effect series of destructive events in my life - I managed to somehow pull myself through with the help of some fantastically unique people, people who till this day I have an immense gratitude and respect for and who will forever hold a special place in my heart.
One of these people is my late uncle David. He was the one pure light in my life during my childhood years when my life was bleak and hopeless. He gave me the chance to enjoy what little innocence of my childhood I had and always made me laugh. To me, he was my real father in every sense of the word. Unfortunately, my uncle David died a very violent and horrific death and I never got the opportunity to thank him for all he did for me. Then, later in my life, there were the therapists and mental health professionals who ever so patiently helped me along my arduous journey of self-discovery and eventual healing. I think of all these people and I knew in my heart that I wanted to be same lifeline for others as they were for me.
As I mentioned, I believe things happen for a reason and I chose to see all the trials and traumas I have been through in my own life (and, more so, that I was able to overcome them and eventually find peace) as a reason for me to be able to help other people - to give them hope and reassurance that no matter how negative life seems, there are always positives in the forms of genuine, compassionate people who really do care and will stick by them no matter the circumstances.
Question: Was it difficult to relive certain hard times in your life when you wrote, My Nine Lives?
Jane Leigh: Most definitely! I shed countless tears, punched many pillows and spent infinite sentimental moments cuddling my cats whilst writing my memoir. As traumatising and intensely painful as was the process, I also found it immensely cathartic. I relate this emotional cleansing and subsequent healing process as somewhat similar to treating a physical wound - imagine a deep cut that has not been properly cleaned and disinfected but has, instead, a band-aid carelessly placed over it. In time, that wound will fester and eventually become infected. It is at this point that most people seek treatment and the way I see the counseling process is, metaphorically, removing that pus-infused band-aid, disinfecting and thoroughly cleaning out the wound (the most painful step) and allowing that wound to heal and in time, become a scar that can never again hurt them.
Writing my memoir was, for me, a thoroughly cleansing and long-awaited process. I knew it had to be done but like so many others, I was afraid of facing the pain. Furthermore, by the time I reached the stage I did, I did not know how to begin cleaning out the mess. However, my years of therapy prepared me for this process and I paced myself carefully. Being a mental health professional I was well aware of the challenges I would face writing my story - i.e. re-opening the wounds - so I planned my own therapy. I gave myself permission to cry and feel angry whilst reliving certain difficult and painful times in my life and, yes, I spent many nights crying in bed but ultimately, I also gave myself permission to acknowledge what I had been through and most importantly be kind to myself. As an example, after writing about a traumatic event in my life, I would afterwards treat myself to something nice - going out for a scrumptious meal or just going for a stroll at the beach. Whatever it was, it was my way of reminding myself of how much I had accomplished, how far I have come and most of all, that I should be proud of who I am.
Question: Why was it important that you were completely honest in this book?
Jane Leigh: My memoir is, to put it simply, my journey. It is the story of my life as well as a culmination of my core beliefs and values - i.e. who I am as a person, a woman and a human being. Therefore, it was of the utmost importance to me that my book mirror a representation of myself and what I stand for - honesty, compassion and most of all, staying true to myself.
It is only by being true to myself that I can ultimately hope to achieve my goal - to help others. I want others to know that the only way they can help themselves is by being completely honest and I hope that my honesty in my book will be a guiding path for them.
Question: Can you talk about your role as an ambassador for Beyond Blue?
Jane Leigh: I have always had a deep respect for Beyond Blue and its values and, most importantly, its goal in reaching out to the Australian people in creating awareness, education and treatment for depression. Since I was a child, I fell victim to the tentacles of severe depression and spent a large part of my adult life struggling with my head barely above water from the symptoms of depression and anxiety. This eventually led to my attempts at self-harm and, ultimately, suicide.
As a survivor and mental health professional, I know too well the devastating effects of depression. Therefore, I share similar values to those of Beyond Blue and have always been honoured to work alongside Beyond Blue in helping them promote their cause, create awareness and, where possible, early intervention in the treatment of depression.
Question: Who did you write this book for?
Jane Leigh: I wrote this book for the numerous people in the world who have themselves been victims of sexual and emotional abuse and are suffering from the debilitating effects of mental illness as a result of their trauma. I also want to reach out to people who have close friends or family members who are victims. I want them to know that they are not alone in their pain, that they should not be afraid to speak up and that it is time to say farewell to the fear, shame and guilt that has haunted them for so long.
On a personal level, I wrote this book for my children, who have saved my life in so many ways. I want them to know where they have come from, who their mother really is, and to celebrate life and never take it for granted. Most importantly, I wrote this book so my children, and anyone else who reads my story, will realise that life is, to put it bluntly, unfair at times and we do not have control over our past, our childhood and even the choice of our parents. But the important lesson is that we do always ultimately have full control over what we choose to do with our lives - our future - so live the life you want and live it to the fullest!
Interview by Brooke Hunter