“What did I have to lose by try­ing?”

For­mer Tas­ma­nian se­na­tor Jacqui Lam­bie’s life had taken a very dark turn be­fore pol­i­tics came into the pic­ture. Now, in her own words, she opens up about her years bat­tling al­co­hol, pain and de­pres­sion

Sunday Herald Sun - Stellar - - Contents - This is an edited ex­tract from Rebel With A Cause by Jacqui Lam­bie (Allen & Un­win, $29.99), out Wed­nes­day, Fe­bru­ary 21.

For­mer Tas­ma­nian se­na­tor Jacqui Lam­bie re­veals how one of her life’s low­est points took her on an un­ex­pected path that led to Can­berra and a dream ca­reer in Fed­eral Par­lia­ment.

Some peo­ple might be ex­cused f for ask­ing ki how the hell did Jacqui Lam­bie be­come a politi­cian, or even why she wanted to be­come one. For the po­lit­i­cal diehards out there, here is the an­swer: the idea first came to me while watch­ing Par­lia­men­tary Ques­tion Time on the ABC, which I would come across ev­ery now and again while chan­nel-surf­ing.

At that time, in 2006, I was off my head on med­i­ca­tion a lot of the time (or even all the time, ev­ery day). I got lost be­tween fan­tasy and re­al­ity. In be­tween get­ting mar­ried to some­one rich, lov­ing and fa­mous (or even with­out the fa­mous bit), I started think­ing in a real way about pol­i­tics to do some­thing about the treat­ment of in­jured veter­ans.

There I was, a sin­gle mum in Devon­port with a bug­gered back and the Depart­ment of Veter­ans’ Af­fairs (DVA) on my tail, watch­ing Ques­tion Time and pray­ing to God that one day I’d get elected. Good grief! It was one way to get through the day. My imag­i­na­tion could run wild and free, and I let it do just that.

What did I have to lose by try­ing? I dared to dream I could get into Fed­eral Par­lia­ment and change laws re­gard­ing mil­i­tary com­pen­sa­tion and re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion. I had no idea about pol­i­tics, but sud­denly I was gun­ning for it.

While the DVA was look­ing for an ad­min job for me, I picked up the courage to go around of­fices in the town on my own. I ap­proached all kinds of busi­nesses; I couldn’t just set my eye on po­lit­i­cal of­fices, as there weren’t many of those in Devon­port.

Well, no-one was in­ter­ested in an ex-army bird who had been on compo for years. My life was in a haze. In 2007, I was caught driv­ing while over the limit, and had my li­cence sus­pended for 13 months.

I blew 0.16. I guess I was do­ing that on a foun­da­tion of painkillers and other drugs, and must have thought I was in­vin­ci­ble. It was an­other em­bar­rass­ing de­tour in my life.

Then I plucked up the courage to go and see [then] Tas­ma­nian La­bor Se­na­tor Nick Sherry about mak­ing an ap­pli­ca­tion to ac­cess my su­per­an­nu­a­tion. He lis­tened to my story and my dream, and was able to get me the help I needed. I was also able to strike up a friend­ship with Mike, his of­fice man­ager. One day, Mike said to me, “You know what? I’ve had fam­ily in the mil­i­tary. I want you to get a job, so I’m go­ing to fly down the chief of staff. I’d love you to do your re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion and re­turn-to-work here.”

Fol­low­ing an in­ter­view, Nick Sherry’s of­fice gave me work ex­pe­ri­ence, which pro­vided the op­por­tu­nity of gain­ful em­ploy­ment in the fu­ture. So, you know who’s to blame! I checked emails, or­gan­ised the mail, an­swered the phone, read the pa­pers and cut out any­thing re­lat­ing to Nick to send to Can­berra that day. It kept me busy and I saw how a po­lit­i­cal of­fice worked and ticked.

My work ex­pe­ri­ence, and my bud­ding ca­reer as an of­fice girl, came to an end when my re­turn-to-work pro­gram fin­ished. I felt sad and I felt like sh*t. My back was not han­dling it. The pain was nine out of 10 most days and seven out of 10 af­ter re­lief. The re­al­ity hit me that per­haps this was as good as it was go­ing to get. I was be­gin­ning to see my fu­ture as not amount­ing to much at all, if any­thing.

I could not find a job. I asked the DVA if I could do more study af­ter Nick’s of­fice. DVA said “No”. Ev­ery way I turned, the out­come was the same: neg­a­tive and re­jected. Empti­ness and numb­ness con­sumed me once again. The 12 months lead­ing up to the fate­ful night in Au­gust 2009 [when I at­tempted sui­cide] was the ab­so­lute worst. Life re­volved around watch­ing TV – I went from bed to couch to bot­tle, to bed to couch to bot­tle, to bed, and so it re­peated. Red wine was my favourite mate. My true mate. Yeah, some mate it is. It never ar­gued (it never agreed, ei­ther), but at least for a short pe­riod of time it made me feel half hu­man.

I would start with a glass of wine at 5 or 5.30pm, while I made din­ner for the kids. At least I was still fo­cused on healthy meals from one day to the next. My God, did I be­come cre­ative in the kitchen! I’d make a good ap­pe­tiser to brighten up the crap life I was lead­ing.

I’d been deal­ing with se­ri­ous de­pres­sion and ran­dom panic at­tacks for the last two years. Most of the time, I was in­side the house and did not suf­fer. But go­ing to any place where there were lots of peo­ple, like a su­per­mar­ket, it took off.

Med­i­cally I was stand­ing still like some fig­ure in Madame Tus­sauds wax mu­seum. The only way I was show­ing I was alive was by pop­ping pills that saw me stuck in time. I had no pain man­age­ment spe­cial­ist. I was drown­ing in my own self-pity and a com­plete fail­ure. No mat­ter how hard I tried or screamed or cried, it just wasn’t enough. I needed more or I needed out.

Fast-for­ward a few years to elec­tion day: Septem­ber 7, 2013. I’d never had a plan to be a politi­cian – no plan at all, to be hon­est – but here I was, my pain and my mind un­der con­trol, a can­di­date for the Tas­ma­nian Se­nate, vot­ing at Coun­cil Cham­bers at 10am.

Not many peo­ple thought I could do it. The en­cour­age­ment was al­ways there, though Mum and Dad were es­pe­cially con­cerned for my wel­fare if I didn’t get in. I was wor­ried too – what job would I go for if I didn’t get elected? I had no qual­i­fi­ca­tions – ironic given how I had re­ha­bil­i­tated my­self with a po­lit­i­cal cam­paign. My gut feel­ing was the DVA would give me hell if I went back to them. They had al­ready made it clear they didn’t think I was smart enough to go back to study, so I was stuck ei­ther way.

Then the Palmer United Party came out of the count with 5.6 per cent of the na­tional vote. This gave the party – my party – one seat in the House of Reps, Clive Palmer’s seat in Fair­fax, and three sen­a­tors – in­clud­ing me. I was go­ing to Can­berra.

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