independent

Saturday 16 December 2017

Evelyn steps into the spotlight from a very dark place

Singing on stage is a dream come true for a 55-year-old who had hit rock bottom just a few months ago, writes David Tucker

Evelyn Smith with Talk To Tom's Ray Cullen who she calls an 'angel'
Evelyn Smith with Talk To Tom's Ray Cullen who she calls an 'angel'
Evelyn is to appear at Christchurch, in Gorey, with the Wexford and the Trelawnyd Welsh Male Voice Choirs this Friday (May 19)

A 55-year-old woman, who a few short months ago stood on Wexford Quays ready to take her own life, is about to realise a dream of singing on stage for the first time.

Evelyn Smyth says her concert appearance, following years in dark places haunted by a troubled past, will be a message of hope for other people who have given up on life.

A voice that was silent for most of her life will be heard as part of a personal journey for Evelyn and equally importantly for her to help others take a first step on the path away from suicide.

Evelyn is to appear at Christchurch, in Gorey, with the Wexford- and the Trelawnyd Welsh Male Voice Choirs this Friday (May 19).

Later in the year, she hopes to achieve another dream, singing alongside Susan Boyle performing 'How Great Thou Art'.

'I feel such a desperate need to get my message out to people. If you have the slightest suspicions (about contemplating taking your life) go and talk to someone.

'For years, I didn't use my voice. Now I'm 55 years of age and my life has turned around. It's a miracle, I can even allow myself to smile now,' she said.

Evelyn Smyth now is a very different woman to the deeply troubled Liz Smyth who stood on Wexford Quays a few months ago, planning to end her a life in which she saw no future for herself.

For Evelyn, her light on the road to Damascus was an encounter with Ray Cullen, from the community-based suicide prevention and mental health support group 'Talk to Tom,' a man she calls an 'angel'.

Ray was able to help her climb out of the depths of despair and depression and replace the dark, suicidal thoughts with hope.

'I was abused from about the age of two, both sexually and physically. My mother had died and I was taken off my father and made a ward of court, as were my brothers and sisters.

'I was put in the care of a person who abused me from then into my 20s, who tied me into a chair, beat me and made me use the name Liz instead of my real name, Evelyn.'

'I believed you got the key to the door when you were 21 and when I asked for it, he beat me black and blue. I went upstairs got my bags and walked out,' she said, of the person, long dead, who tormented her during those formative years.

She lived rough, sleeping in doorways and back gardens, but at least she had escaped the abuse.

'I struggled for years and years. It was a case of depression beyond depression and after numerous failed suicide attempts, I decided the next one is not going to fail.

'I went down to the Quays in Wexford, but something stopped me. It was the middle of the day and I thought someone would save me and I didn't want that, so I didn't do it,' said Evelyn.

She said the next day, she walked into the shop (Talk to Tom) and talked to its chief executive Ray and that's when everything began to turn around for her. While walking around the shop Ray picked up on my body language and started a conversation with me and I found myself telling him everything.

Ray said Evelyn literally had 'nothing left' at that time.

She said the meeting and the life-changing talk she had with him 'is the reason I am here today'.

'It was like a light switch being turned on,' she said.

'One of the things we do is QPR (Question, Persuade, Refer) training, which gives people the skills to identify the signs to look for when people are in crisis. I picked up on signs that Evelyn wasn't in a good place,' said Ray, adding that part of the skill-set was putting a plan in place for her.

'One thing identified was around the issue of finances on top of everything else. She just couldn't see a way out of the situation,' he said.

Ray called in another agency and they were able to help her financially almost immediately, At the basic level, this meant heating a cold house in the depths of winter. But more importantly it meant an almost miraculous change in her mental health as for the first time Evelyn had hope.

'It was like a great weight lifting from my mind,' said Evelyn.

'I felt that there was hope after that first meeting. The day before it was the last time I felt like killing myself. Ray said identifying the issues was key to resolving the kinds of problems, of which they are many, that drive people to suicide.

'A few months later during a Steps To Excellence training program I said to her if I had a magic wand and could give you one wish, what would it be.

'She replied that her mother, who died when she was two years of ago, had the sweetest voice and she would wish to be able to perform,' said Ray.

Evelyn went on to give him a CD she had recorded some time ago, 'and it would be an injustice to say she had anything but a fantastic voice'.

Ray waved his magic wand and on Friday her concert date with the choirs will see it granted.

Profits from sales of concert tickets are going to Talk to Tom, which has established two centres in Gorey, a fundraising shop, and has run training courses in communities across the country.

Among the training that Talk to Tom provides is the QPR programme, which helped Evelyn turn her life around, and which it runs for Wexford Marine Watch volunteers, members of the Coastguard, local businesses, individuals and various sports clubs and organisations.

Gorey Guardian

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