Being Me: Jack

At 18, Jack Brown made a decision that would put him in a wheelchair for life. Facing his new reality, he had two options: look backward or move forward. Four years on he’s still learning, but there’s hope.

Farming in a wheelchair has its challenges, but for Jack Brown, not being able to walk isn’t the biggest barrier he’s had to overcome. Rather, it’s the mental recovery that took him on the longest road to finding himself.  

“I didn’t choose to be in a wheelchair,” says the 21-year-old. “But now that I’ve been given a second opportunity... it just means that I have to be in a wheelchair, it’s something that I just have to accept.”

Jack tells an emotional, self-reflective story of the journey that led to life in a wheelchair. Now three years on from an attempt at ending his own life, he knows he could have so easily been a statistic, all too familiar among New Zealand youth.

Jack in his wheelchair inside a shed.

Jack’s younger years were spent growing up in army housing, and at age 10 his parents separated. The ensuing years had their ups and downs for Jack, but instead of talking about how he was feeling and addressing the issues, he chose to bottle things up.

“I saw mental health as a weakness and if I was to talk to someone about it, it wasn’t manly and if I was to accept it, it was a problem.”

He describes his younger self as a rebellious young man; leaving school at 16, he felt it wasn’t the right fit for him. Getting into farm work and pursuing study in this field gave Jack a purpose and drive that he hadn’t experienced previously, but the move north to Taranaki proved tough at such a young age. Making new friends and connecting with other teenagers was difficult to fit in around full-time work.

Jack in his shed tending to a quadbike.

“I got to the point where I was hurting so much,” he continues, “the only way I could find myself, to be happy, was to remove myself from the situation.”

“I went into it with a thousand problems and then to come out of it with 10 thousand problems, it was definitely the hardest time in my life and it pretty much crushed me completely.”

Jack’s attempt severed his spinal cord, and he is now a T11/T12 paraplegic. After spending 12 weeks in hospital and rehabilitation, Jack felt he owed it to his family and friends to keep himself safe. Upon returning to Taranaki, he checked himself into the mental health ward.

Once back on the farm, Jack learned that keeping active and working outside was the best therapy, and helped to keep him from dwelling on things.
Jack on a quadbike closing a paddock gate dressed in wet-weather gear.

Aside from the effect his decisions have had on his own life, he acknowledges what his family has had to go through as well, “it’s hard to know I’ve hurt them like that, they all mean so much to me and it sucks that I put them in that position.”

Ian (affectionately referred to as Jack’s foster dad) recognises Jack had to rebuild his life; “There’s the mental recovery from having a major disability, as well as the mental recovery from suicide and he had them both at once.”

He also reflects on his role in the situation; “when you go through something like this you always ask yourself questions like what should I have done. But it’s also part of the process to get to a point where you say the only person who made the decision was Jack.”

Jack has decided to move on and no longer blame himself, or worry about what people think of him and his wheelchair.

Jack receiving a tattoo on his left arm from a guy at a tattoo parlour.

“Now if people want to stare they can and I don’t take that on anymore and I don’t let anyone judge me in a way that will affect me. I understand that I’m different but I don’t think disabled is the right word for it, things just take a bit longer and are a bit harder but if you surround yourself with the right people nothing is a problem.”

Jack’s views about men’s mental health have changed, “now I’ll look at somebody and I think they’re stronger if they are able to accept something or able to ask for help, it’s not a weakness at all.”

Now he can talk more openly about his feelings without feeling weak for doing it and his relationship with his dad also improved. His father Paul supports him every step of the way; “If we can share the story and can make one person stop and think and phone your dad and say dad I need help.”

Jack hopes to pass on what he has learned from his experiences.

“The biggest thing is it’s okay not to be okay and if you ask for help it will be there, it’s not gonna change overnight but if you work towards it you will get there,” and this is what he plans to keep doing, making the most of every opportunity.

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