PAUL Roadley is haunted by images of the dead and the horrifically mutilated.
Every day and every night.
‘‘I have nightmares about mutilated bodies, suicides, people involved in car accidents, severely burnt bodies, drowned bodies — children and adults,’’ he said.
It almost became too much to bear; and bad enough for the former emergency services worker to consider suicide to get away from it all.
That was almost a year ago.
Now he and his family are on a mission, travelling the country to raise money and awareness of mental illness and suicide prevention and increase support for sufferers.
‘‘It’s okay not to feel okay and to talk to people about it,’’ Paul said.
Arriving in Echuca-Moama this week, the Western Australian family, including wife Kirstine and their three children, are almost five weeks into their 12-month expedition.
The Driving Oz with the Black Dog initiative aims to raise $100,000 for Lifeline Australia and the same amount for mindDog Australia.
Paul spent 27 years in emergency services, many as a frontline responder to road accidents, fires, drownings and countless other human tragedies.
His work helping communities in emergencies saw him nominated for Australian of the Year in 2004.
However, being exposed to so many tragedies took its toll and he left his job in July last year and thought about ending it all.
‘‘It was a living hell,’’ he said.
‘‘I remember driving to work one day and I found myself in tears. I stopped the car and couldn’t find the energy to do anything,’’ he said.
‘‘I thought about not coming home at all. At home, I was in tears all the time and couldn’t go outside.’’
Paul was eventually diagnosed with severe depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and suicidal ideation.
However, his saving grace has been his mental health assistance dog — a German Shepherd called Luna, who helps him get back out into the community and supports him when he is struggling.
‘‘She basically monitors my anxiety during the day and if it’s high, she will put her head on my knee or jump up on me until I give her attention and stay with me until I feel better. It’s called grounding,’’ he said.
‘‘She also keeps an eye on me at night. I have night terrors and nightmares every night, which are horrendous, and she sleeps with me.’’
The family will spend the next couple of days in Echuca before making their way to Albury, talking to locals about Paul’s plight.
‘‘We’ve had discussions with people in the most strangest of places, such as service stations, because people see the stickers on the car,’’ he said.
‘‘The aim is to raise awareness of suicide prevention and that it’s okay to talk about it if you’re not feeling great.
‘‘And if you can’t talk to family or friends or a neighbour, Lifeline crisis support is good and they won’t judge.’’
The family is self-funding the expedition, with numerous businesses providing sponsorship of their four-wheel drive, fuel and other items.
On the road until May next year, the children are all doing school through distance education.
To donate to the Roadley’s Driving Oz with the Black Dog campaign, visit https://drivingozblackdog.com
■If you or someone you know needs support, call Lifeline on 131114, chat online at www.lifeline.org.au, or contact the Suicide Call Back Service on 1300659467. Young people can call Kids Helpline on 1800551800.