Stay…


Last week, Sydney lost a talented chef to suicide.  Bronzed and seemingly healthy, his smile could light up our city. There was much commentary after the news hit social media, but what pierced through the rhetoric was the notion that when alone, he’d fallen into a worm hole, and hadn’t the resources to stave off the impulse his depression looped into. These holes seem to have no end, and can be hard to extricate oneself from.

I know a person who was close to succumbing, in January, 2019. There are as many pathways into anxiety and depression as there are people in the world. Hers wasn’t initially caused by a chemical imbalance, rather circumstances conspiring against her. It were as though her mind were a strudel, with layers of pastry piled on top of one other. The apple promised sweetness, and she held the layers of stress in her hands, waiting to reach the filling. All it took was another day of calamity- not of her making- to break her resolve. Heart beating wildly, hands shaking and a mind unable to see a way out, she reached for the phone. Once a playdate for her child had been arranged, and she was alone, her mind led her onto a dark stage. There was no audience, nor were there lights. There were no solutions here.

She had done all that she could to make life better, more secure, and she couldn’t see her way clear. All of a sudden, a beam of light hit the centre of her brain, insisting that she send a text. She asked what her friend was up to, and if she may join her. “Of course!” came the enthusiastic response. They drove to the beach, singing along to the radio. She made herself focus on all the beauty surrounding her. The Bird Of Paradise, alongside hibiscus, in reds and oranges,  dotting the landscape. She closed her eyes and felt the salt air caressing her skin. Her bottle of chilled water felt good as it hit her neck, the Cheezels they had bought, decorating her fingers like rings. She had gone against her wildest impulse, which was to not experience anything at all. It had frightened her, how her brain insisted that the stressors couldn’t be balanced against beauty.

They were gone for hours, away from home and everyday life. She was dropped back revived, just in time to make calls and forge a path through the thorny brackets of which she had been stuck. The next morning, she woke at dawn, and saw something similar to this.

Morning light and lorikeets greeted the new day, alongside the help needed to extricate herself from overwhelming concerns. Within a month, she had begun a new medication. It was a small dose, but enough to chase away the anxiety she had been battling alone, without armour. She could now see her way clear, and a path opened up in front of her. Happiness returned, and she started to engage with the world again. To her amazement, she had been missed. Depression in an active state is renowned for the crap it feeds us. Looking back, she shudders at what she would have missed, in just a couple of weeks. The mundane joy of a cool change after stifling heat, through to her child’s laughter.

She hadn’t the language in her distressed state to tell her friend what the matter was, nor what she needed, other than to be with someone. Perhaps that is all one needs to do; to reach out and say that you need company, even accompanying them as they go about their errands. Anything to not be in alone, battling a pocket of despair by yourself. A wormhole is a tunnel with two ends. Perhaps reaching out to those on the periphery is a way of ensuring we make it back to life. Look out for those self-isolating or who seem to be going through changes. Our psyche can be as fragile as a butterfly wing, and whilst it is tempting to cease all that has ever given us joy, it is imperative that we don’t. The lies our minds feed us tends to be done in secret and when alone.  You are too precious, and life has too much beauty left to unfurl. Let today mark the beginning of us all leaving our particular pockets of despair. If you survived today because you decided to go grocery shopping with a friend, rather than stay by yourself, then that is a miracle indeed. Whatever it takes to keep you alive, do it.

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The Trouble with R U OK Day


Today is R U OK Day, that 24 hour period where Australian’s ask the question over social media. The usual answer is that we are fine, thanks for asking. A number of young people have told me they are dubious about this collective day of enquiring. They have a sharp point of comparison on social media and in real life. If others seem to be together, with not a care in the world, they daren’t declare that in fact they are not okay and life is not alright. Mum and Dad are okay and seem to be emotionally together, as do their friends and the community at large. They don’t see their softball coach collapse in tears, needing to be comforted in their grief, and they don’t often see mum connecting on a level that is beyond a cocktail night or a movie with the ladies, as seen in their Instagram pics. We aren’t great at naming our emotions and sharing our struggles. Pride may come into it as well as shame and embarrassment amid a desperate, silent struggle to make our centre hold. We need to show kids that we cry and need to reach out to a friend when life is hard. They need to see us as open, if we want them to be the same.

I just read back through notes I have written since December, and boy, this eight months has pulverised me, leaving shards of glass scattered around my psyche. My friends only know a little of my depression, and of my anxiety. The experiences which led to this are too much, even for dear friends. I have been loathe to burden anybody with the complete picture. As a result, I reached out to experts. I spent hours explaining things, handing over my notes. They in turn promised that they would organize specialised counselling, at a price I would be able to afford. I waited and waited, and I rang and emailed. Eventually, I had the horrible realization that there was no help forthcoming. It reminded me of the time, twenty years ago when I was promised a dedicated counsellor to help me navigate my past. After a long while, they rang, and apologised. They were unable to offer help for the deep trauma I had suffered. There was no help at all for me. I remember the sinking feeling, as I began to understand that I had too much pain for them to deal with. If I wanted to survive, I had to find a way, without being given any tools. It was like climbing a sheer cliff face without ropes and a harness.

It is lovely to ask people if they are okay, but what if they answer that no, they aren’t? Where are the services? Where is the immediate help? I know so many families who are trying desperately to help their son/daughter or brother/sister hold on, but they are doing it alone. Whatever the mental health budget is at present, it needs to be tripled, at the very least. We are in a state of emergency. I have not been okay, and hand on heart, I hadn’t found the help I have needed, despite searching. I made up my own emotional first aid kit. It contains:

*Contracting in to save energy, necessary for the battle. Huddling up in my home, and retreating from social media.

*Opening my front door and firing up my laptop when I had a clearer head.

*Walking at least thirty minutes, most days.

*Playing soothing music and calming my senses with candles and essential oils.

*When I didn’t have the energy to talk on the phone or meet up in person, I would try and at least converse via text and email.

*Making sure that I eat, and do so regularly.

*Movies and the theatre, always.

*Making a list each day of what I wanted to achieve. I found my brain was so overloaded that I couldn’t remember half of what I needed to do, and so my lists have been a blessing.

*Not comparing my journey to anyone else.

Top of the kit was being kind to myself; knowing that I was doing my utmost to be here in a year’s time. I did so whilst querying all the wild suggestions my addled mind proffered. I would be panic-stricken leaving the house, worrying as to who I might bump into and what I could possibly say. Wondering if people liked me at all, worrying that I was alone. The brain that hasn’t rested at night, and is going full-pelt of a day, is a brain that can trick us into believing any number of scenarios. I wanted to give up searching for tools, I really did. I was tired and it is hard to be vulnerable enough to ask for help in the first place. I did one thing before shutting the door for good; I rang a dear lady who works for a large organization and I told her everything. Within a day, she had emailed me a list of resources and has organized assistance. It is hard-going, locating a service without a huge waiting list (at best), but you are worth it; your life is worth it. Persist, and if you don’t feel you can, ask a trusted friend to persist on your behalf.

On this R U Ok day, I hope that people feel free to answer honestly. Our young are looking at us to not only give guidance as they make their way through life, but to also show them our vulnerabilities and the strength it requires to ask for help. In the past week, I have been honoured to hear several women sharing with me of their grief, that they are suffering domestic violence, and that a child has had a devastating health diagnosis. These women were not okay, and I batted away their apologies and assured them that it was alright to state it. Tea was drunk and tissues were given, as well as the biggest gift of all, which is time.  Imagine somebody came to your door and you asked, R U OK? What if they said they were the opposite of okay? Would you sit with them in their anger, depression and sorrow? Would you be still and silent, leaving room for them to speak? This is what is needed in the midst of our noisy and harried existence. Arms to hold you, hands to dry your tears, cups of water to hydrate and compassion so that you feel heard.

Here a list of excellent Apps which be of assistance if you are in Australia:

Recovery Point

Headspace

Positive Pathways

Daisy

Suicide Call-Back Service

Depression, Grief, Animals and Butterflies


I saw my bus coming, and stepped aside so an elderly woman could climb down. She paused at the door to compliment the driver on his thoughtfulness and driving ability. A conversation began between two older ladies, both of whom reiterated that he was a safe driver, steering the bus smoothly. He said goodbye to his passengers down the road at changeover, giving a cheeky wink to these two, and the ladies gushed some more over his impeccable manners. One of the women was born in Portugal, the other, Italy. Both had lost children in road accidents when the kids were seventeen years old. The people responsible were each handed a suspended sentence. The shared horror saw the women sit in stunned silence at their chance meeting, until the other lady departed the bus at a shopping centre. The Italian lady’s daughter was a girl called Lisa, and she had died alongside a young friend. Lisa’s father, overcome by grief, took his life shortly after her death. Her friend’s mother also took her life a few years later. The Italian lady, Rosa, felt she had to keep going for her other children. She knew she couldn’t do it alone, and found help with the aid of counselling and medication. I was so moved by her openess, her courage and quiet dignity. I squeezed her hand as we said our goodbyes. I thought of her Lisa at the train station, and how astounding it was that Rosa had survived that dreadful volume of tragedy. At that moment, a Monarch butterfly fluttered down to my daughter and I, resting on the bench beside us.

We were on our way to a special event, the vision of which was spurred by a young war widow whose husband had sadly taken his life. We were going to sing; to gather for these families, and all service men and women, past and present. I posted photos that evening, and a particular friend liked them on social media. I smiled, knowing that we would be seeing each other soon at a mutual friend’s get-together.

The next morning, I was alarmed to find what read as a farewell on her Facebook. A group of loved ones were beside themselves as her phone rang out. We were all eager to hold her, to talk her through the crisis. To simply be there… Tragically, we received word that she had taken her life. The events, people and conversations of those couple of days seemed intertwined. Grief and depression, butterflies, PTSD, remembrance…

Depression is a filthy liar. It wants us to believe that we are alone, isolated. It tells us that nobody can help us, that nobody cares. It assures us that strength is only found in standing alone, keeping our pain to ourselves, and sharing with nobody. It says that we are a burden, an unsightly stain on otherwise blissful lives. It is a liar.

Rosa and the lady from Portugal gave me a gift when they talked of their lives and their grief. I now know these women at a profound level, and look forward to many more conversations, deepening the friendships on our bus journeys. I know about the children they lost, and shall keep them in remembrance. The young war widow who inspired a new way of honouring our soldiers has spurred needed conversations about PTSD and the care of our men and women. A woman in her seventies talked to me-a stranger-about her husband’s suicide and her subsequent deep depression. We need to keep talking, reaching out and sharing. Whenever I see butterflies, my thoughts shall turn to those whom we have lost to the insideous scourge of depression and PTSD. Keep the conversation going; visit those whom are struggling. Make contact with those who seem to have retreated. We are not islands, nor were we ever designed to be. My suicide attempts were serious indeed, and quite frankly, it is a mystery as to why I am still here. All I know is I’m thankful beyond measure that I am.

I sat by the river near my home yesterday, filled with sorrow. Tears pooled in my eyes, and slipped down my face. Within moments, a duck had waddled up, sitting at my feet, quacking away as though it were telling me the secrets of the universe in duck language.

It was soon joined by a dragonfly, a willy wagtail  and then this guy.

Wiping tears from my eyes, I smiled at the motley crew assembled. It had been the first time I had left my house in several days. I had finally remembered my own advice to others, that whatever depression and grief urges you do, you must do the opposite. I no sooner desired to go for a walk than I craved root canal surgery, but I knew that was what I had to do. I would never have met my erstwhile friends had I not. Keep reaching out, keep talking, and know that life simply wouldnt be as grand without you. You are wanted, you are loved and you are needed.

Reaching Out


I have spent a great deal of my life alone, dealing with stuff. I have been alone in court rooms, making police statements; before surgery and after. I have been alone in hospitals and clinics and in my room at home. Of course, being a writer is a solitary profession, and as a homeschooling mother, I have to organize social occasions and outings. There is something comforting about relying on yourself to give what both you and your child need, and yet it is frightening too! Big decisions are made by me. No back-up, just me. No pressure!

There is a low-grade depression which can bring forth ferocious social anxiety at times, making me wary of reaching out. I hadn’t seen a friend for many months, and had missed her greatly. I rebelled against my fear of being dismissed and walked into her work the other day. I was greeted with a big hug, not only from her, but also others I knew. It felt like a home-coming, and I realized how silly my fears were. I had felt as though I was stuck between worlds. One as a mum who travels widely in order for her daughter to see friends and attend classes, and then as a woman who feared she had lost connection to the community in her dear little town.

I see now that I can be both… I can hold onto both. I was afraid that I would be forgotten, left behind. Feeling brave, I texted other friends, and organized catch-ups. I have a list of treasured people I want to catch up with! The brain can tell us porkies as a way of protecting us, but one of the biggest fibs is that to retreat shall protect us. It won’t, we will just feel alone. I have been alone too much in my life, and it is time to reach out. Time to yourself can be reflective, a way of filling your cup. Socializing can too. It is about getting the balance right. Who do you need to make contact with?