Content warning: This article discusses suicide
On the 23rd February 2015, Penelope Holbrook tried to take her own life. She was found unresponsive by her partner, and police at the scene marked her as ‘deceased’.
However, by some miracle, she woke up in hospital after spending a week in a coma.
And while the mum-of-three, from the Northern Beaches of Sydney, admits that at first she was angry, and still plagued by the negative emotions of failure, it didn’t take her long to realise how incredibly lucky and blessed she was to still be alive.
“In 2015 there were 3027 people that completed their suicide, and I was lucky not to be number 3028,” Penny tells Yahoo Lifestyle.
“Do I regret it? I certainly do – the lives that I impacted, that are still impacted today and that still struggle with the decision I made that day, it’s very hurtful. So if I could take it back, yes I would.”
What led to that day
Penny’s mother had succeeded in taking her own life in 1990, a devastating event the 51-year-old says she never truly dealt with.
In the years that followed, she would come to face her own mental health challenges, a diagnosis of bi-polar disorder, PTSD, as well as struggles with an eating disorder.
“I got down to 39kg where I thought even drinking a glass of water was something to ‘reward’ me, when I thought I wasn’t even worth that,” Penny explains.
But it was after her divorce that things really started spiralling, with Penny revealing she felt like she had failed as a mother, failed as a wife, and failed as a future partner.
And even though she had met someone new and they had just bought a beautiful house together, Penny made the decision to end her own life.
“I had taken a week off work to move house but that Friday when I left I had made up my mind and decided to pack up my personal things from my desk,” she recalls.
“I really crumbled over that weekend. I was laying in the bath and it’s hard to describe the actual moment when you just click off from the world. It’s almost a removal of any feeling, you are devoid of feeling and I had made up my mind that on the Monday, that would be the day – so I only had to get through two more sleeps.”
The day Penny would die
On the 23rd February in 2015, Penny drove her partner at the time, who was a police officer, to the hospital for surgery, saying what she knew would be her last goodbye.
They had been living in their new home for three days. But now she packed a bag, grabbed a change of clothes (“to be buried in”) and headed out.
“I left the house and had no idea where I was going. I found a motel and thought that would do it. I turned my phone off. I wrote some notes, to my children, my partner and my ex-husband,” Penny tells us.
It took 11 hours before Penny was found lifeless on the floor of the bathroom in the motel room. Her partner performed CPR until an ambulance arrived, and she was taken to hospital and placed on life support.
But the police who processed the scene labelled her belongings as ‘deceased’ and told her partner ‘we’re sorry for your loss’.
“When they found me I was blue. I was dead. I have paperwork – from the police, they bagged up my notes and car key forensically, I’d been put into the ambulance with no pulse so they labelled it all ‘deceased’,” she explains.
For a week, Penny lay in a coma showing no signs of recovering, until completely out of the blue, nurses noticed her toes move, and she woke up.
“The doctors have no idea how I woke up,” she tells us, admitting when she first realised she was alive she was actually angry.
She saw her three adult children and her partner and asked crying, “who resuscitated me?”, but her anger very quickly turned to regret and unbelievable gratitude for still being alive.
“I realised how blessed I was that I was here. That I was alive. My kids were there, I was a grandmother, and I became so grateful for life,” she says. “There have been battles since then. I’m not going to say that my life became this one rosy story, but I’ve got a purpose.
“Today I am in control of the love I am able to give and receive, and know that I am worthy of being exactly who I am today... happy.”
Sharing her story
Now Penny is looking forward to turning 52 - or as she calls it “five years passed my deceased date” - and has since welcomed a second grandchild, with a third on the way.
She hopes by sharing her incredible journey she can help others struggling with similar feelings of failure or worthlessness to realise that suicide is not the answer.
“That’s the thing with mental health – your brain makes you think ‘I’m a failure, I’m no good, I’m worthless, I don’t deserve to be here, I’m nothing to anyone’,” Penny says.
“Yet it’s a false belief. I had a partner that loved me. I had a new house. I had a very supportive ex-husband. Beautiful children who loved me and had become a grandmother yet I couldn’t see that.
“And around me people thought I was a beautiful loving healthy happy lady but in my head it was telling me something different. People would tell me I’m so lucky, but the fog is so great you don’t see it. But I’m fortunate that I woke up.
“If we could just get past that fog to see life is worth living and we can change it, if we could just see that, at that exact point in time, the statistics would be so much less.”
For confidential support about eating disorders and body image issues you can free call the Butterfly Foundation National Hotline on 1800 33 4673.