Finding the light

Hello friends,

I’m back. Sorry about missing the blog last week! I tried. I came up with one draft, then discovered it was totally over-dramatic and not what I wanted to say. I did another one, but when I read it back over it just didn’t really seem like much of anything! So, here I am with two discarded drafts, no post for last week, overdue for this week and next week is coming around fast! A bit frustrated!

Why am I so stuck? Why am I spinning my wheels? I want to write about suicide, but this time it’s real, somebody that I used to know. And despite however much distance you’d think “used to know” would put between me and this event, it has gotten under my skin.

For people who suffer with mental illness, hearing about another person’s experiences can be a trigger for a worsening of your own condition. We’re so susceptible to worsening when we’re unwell. It’s different when we’re doing well; we’re resilient and strong. This is especially true abut suicide. Talking about suicide, hearing about suicide, reading about suicide can be a trigger for someone who is unwell to start thinking in circles, over and over about suicide. That’s not to say that someone can cause another person’s suicide. But to a person on the edge metaphorically, it only takes a tiny bump to over-balance.

I’m not suicidal. I’ll clear that up now, and relieve any worried minds. I’m actually doing quite well, but this event has given me pause to think about not being well. It’s quite a long time since I have been suicidal. I have been very fortunate that suicidal thoughts have only been a small part of what I’ve experienced over the last 3 years. I tend towards grey days, nothing dramatic. But still, hearing about someone I’ve known, someone who was one of my first childhood friends, someone who I grew up with ending their life creates a moment of questioning of the situation and myself.

Of course there’re so many questions that come with any death by suicide. Thankfully in this case some of those were answered before the last day. The family were well aware of the mental illness and very supportive of their son, including providing a flexible workplace. Relationships were good, things had seemed to be going well. But there was no questioning why he died because the answer was clear: mental illness. Of course there was the question of could we have done more? But the answer is no: medications, counselling, support all given in full. Just an overwhelming sense of wishing it hadn’t ended this way this soon, but feeling that maybe it couldn’t have gone any other way.

Could something have stopped it happening that day? Yes. Would that have stopped it ever happening? No. Could we the long lost friends have done more, kept in touch? Yes. Would it have changed anything? No. Because it’s not about us, the friends and family. It’s about the mental illness battle ground in a person’s head. However much we love someone and want to help them, we can’t climb inside their head and fight the fight for them. We can only do what we can do from the outside.

Someone with mental illness has different questions that are all for themselves. This person had depression, I have depression; he ended his life, so where does that leave me? If it took xyz for my friend to take his life, what would it take for me to get to that point? They took their life this way, could I do that; if not, what would I do? It’s like being inactively suicidal and contemplating ideas and theoretical points of view, but you have no plan to carry them out; no active suicidality (the medical term for being suicidal). It’s like ruminating on whether I’ll get to go on holidays this year, and if I do where will I go, and what luggage will I need to pack? When patients are actively suicidal they will often have their will written, letters completed to their family, plans for handing over the business and literally will have signed themselves out of their life having hoarded enough poison, collected enough rope, built up the nerve to jump in front of the train etc. Then again sometimes it’s pure impulse on a background of ongoing suicidal thoughts that are just eating away at your will to live. A tipping point is reached, and that’s that.

So I’ve had a period of questioning myself: how am I? Am I doing okay? Are things still under control like they were before I heard the news? I run through my “on the edge” symptom check but there are no tell tales signs; maybe I’m a bit more shaky in my left hand, maybe I’m a touch more anxious, a bit more fixated on anything changing. But after giving myself a few days to take the impact of the news, attend the funeral and debrief, things are okay. I’ve gotten through a potential trigger okay.

Which is bully for me! For the family, the friends grieving now and for a good while to come, where is the light? Where are they to look to find something good out of this? One place that I’ve found comfort is to see the men and boys in my old friends life passing the okay sign around on Facebook in a campaign to vow to listen to each other, to talk about mental illness and suicide, and to try to prevent this from happening again. This has to be one of the best ways to commemorate a death by suicide; a pledge to fight it’s influence and talk about it openly.

I know that its difficult for people to talk about this awful thing that’s happening in their heads. And it’s hard for others to hear what they have to say about it! But we have to be brave; be strong and talk about it. Bringing it out into the daylight is the only way to make it less scary, and to take away its power over us. Talk, talk, talk, talk, talk. And remember the souls who couldn’t fight it’s power anymore. It wasn’t their fault, they didn’t mean it or even want it, but they were overpowered. Remember that. They were fighting the battle and lost, through no fault of their own. Remember them. Talk about them. Share their story. There is someone out there that you can help if you talk about suicide.

Check out Conversations Matter for videos, fact sheets and resources for talking about suicide.

Use one of the umpteen helpline services that are available in this country. You don’t have to have a mental illness to call. You can call to talk about a friend, someone you knew who died, or just to learn more about mental health. So many people are reluctant to call, so go ahead and buck the trend! Call! Ask questions, learn things, talk to someone on the end of the line anonymously before you talk to a friend. Whatever you do, do something to improve awareness of suicide and prevent it occurring again.

beyondblue 1300 22 4636

SANE 1800 18 7263

Lifeline 13 11 14 (crisis support and suicide prevention service)

Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467 (free service for people who are suicidal, caring for someone who is suicidal, bereaved by suicide)

Kids Help Line 1800 55 1800 (5 to 25 years old)

Victorian State Suicide Help Line 1300 651 251

Mensline 1300 78 9978

Veterans and veterans families counselling service 1800 011 046

Qlife 1800 184 527 (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex communities)

Carers Australia 1800 242 636

Many more helpful phone numbers and web sites can be found at Mental Health Commission’s Get help page

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Serendipity

I had been looking forward to this past Saturday all week!

It was going to be my very first bird watching outing with BirdLife Australia, a group that I have recently joined as they seem to perfectly fit my need for like-minded people who are just as excited by finding birds as I am! They are a bird watching, photographing and conserving group and there are a bunch of great benefits to being a member! Exciting times!

So far all of my bird watching has been fairly ad hoc, on the run and just as I happen upon it. I’ve been fortunate to have wandered into many excellent birding locations by chance and happenstance, and a few excellent recommendations from friends have definitely given me a helping hand in the right direction. We are very blessed in Australia with birdlife, and Victoria is no exception. Luckily many varieties of birds still happily inhabit our backyards and local parks so that often we don’t need to make an effort at all to see many birds of all colours and sizes and sounds.

I joined this group a little while back and mostly for their regular birding outings as I still have a fair amount of caution about diving into thickly wooded areas alone! I’ve been testing out my nerves lately about going out alone into nature, and I’ve found out about myself that I’m okay walking around grassy open parks, okay with going into thicker wooded areas if it’s just a short section of the park, happy in any parks near a busy road and occasionally with full mobile reception and fully charged battery I’ll brave further off road. And so far I’ve been perfectly fine, so I’m gradually getting less jumpy and wide-eyed 🙂

My generalised anxiety has mostly abated with the treatment that I’m on for bipolar and depression but being a female alone in a area where no-one can see me, probably no-one can hear me scream and where I could potentially although quite unlikely but still scarily be attacked is one residual fear that I can’t quite shake off. I’m getting a lot better but I guess it probably is a safe and self-preserving habit to have. Especially since I’m taking most of my excursions during the middle of the day, which isn’t a peak time for other people to be walking through parks and gardens. Anywho, point being, I’d rather go with a bunch of strangers that I’ve never met than by myself 🙂 Especially when every one of the strangers is as interested or more in birding as me, and probably not so much in the other people around them.

Having said that, if I can coerce my husband or one of my friends to go with me, and they’re available during the same non-working hours as me, I’d definitely take that over the stranger business!

Moving on. My other motivation for joining a bird watching group was their expertise in identifying and locating birds and their intimate knowledge of birds and where to go and what to find when.

The particular sub group who had organised this bird watching trip are especially interested in photography which is perfect for me!

I’ve taken the opportunity while I am off work and free during the day to take an eight week course in photography. I saw a flyer for the course when I was out on a bird watching walk at Blackburn Lakes and it looked like exactly what I’d been needing.

The poster asked if I had a digital SLR camera but was still using it on auto? Why yes I was. It asked if I was frustrated with my photos and wanted to learn how to master my camera? Absolutely! So I signed up and started the classes. And I have learned a LOT! Still more to go but I’ve done five classes and I have already been able to apply a lot of what I’ve learned to my photography but I need to practice, practice, practice. I’m also learning the imperfections of my camera as I go along, and my list of what I need is growing…I can see that an upgrade will be in the cards some day but in the meantime I’m just enjoying being able to take better photos than what I could before 🙂

So, bird watching group found and joined; photography course turned up at the right time with the needed skill set; and now I’m all set for a day out enjoying the best of both! Yay for me!

So Saturday morning, Serendip Sanctuary, somewhere short of the You Yangs. I woke up to a good going fog and it was consistent all the way along highway and kept up to some degree most of the day. It was interesting to see how the fog showed up in photos taken at long zoom.

The Serendip Sanctuary wetlands, gum tree, green grass, water

The Serendip Sanctuary wetlands

A good drive with no traffic later, I pull into the car park. High excitement! Followed by a few moments of oh my goodness I am way out of my league! when I saw all the tripods, enormous camera lenses, binoculars, camouflage, neutral toned clothing and vibe of general expertise! Oh no I’m the amateur surrounded by experts! But everyone was very reassuring and helpful and in fact very keen to teach and show me the ropes.

Our group of bird watching and photography enthusiasts, all much more well equipped than me! lens, camera, camouflage, tripod

Our group of bird watching and photography enthusiasts, all much more well equipped than me!

Before I even got into the park I had seen several emus grazing in the paddock next to the sanctuary! Awesome! I’ve hardly ever seen emus in the wild; how exhilarating!

Emus in the wild! Not a great photo at full zoom and the fog really shows up at that distance!, grassland, bushland

Emus in the wild! Not a great photo at full zoom and the fog really shows up at that distance!

It turned out to be the most amazing day out! I think one day back a few months ago around Kialla Lakes I counted 25 species of birds in one day. Someone else is the group was counting on Saturday and I heard that they got over 50! Of course some we can’t take much credit for; some sections of the park were enclosures of captive birds, so that was easy game but that didn’t take any of the enjoyment out of seeing birds that I haven’t seen before.

Fun fun fun! I highly recommend this beautiful sanctuary; I find it absolutely astonishing that so many beautiful birds and animals can be accessed for nothing at all! Zero charge; amazing! There are enclosures, open park land, paddocks, waterways and wetlands, hides walking tracks; everything you need for bird watching.

One of the hides looking out over the wetlands, gum trees, swamp

One of the hides looking out over the wetlands

So of course I have to add some photos, but I promise only to post birds I have seen/posted ever before. I’m a bit disappointed with my photos, a lot had annoying camera shake which has me warming to the idea of a tripod but still not sure how it’ll work for me. I’ll have to keep thinking about it…

Ok not new but I am very proud of how this photo of a pair of Chestnut Teal ducks turned out!, wooden post, trees

Ok not new but I am very proud of how this photo of a pair of Chestnut Teal ducks turned out!

Overall I think my shutter speed was too slow for a lot of photos so I ended up with a lot of blurry shaky photos; but at least I know how to improve my shots next time.

Another shot that I am very happy with, I think the bird is a White-Browed Scrubwren but happt to take other opinions, gum tree, branch

Another shot that I am very happy with, I think the bird is a White-Browed Scrubwren but happy to take other opinions

Male Red-Rumped Parrot showing all of his fabulous colours; of course it is easier to get great shots in a small enclosure, bird wire, bird feeder

Male Red-Rumped Parrot showing all of his fabulous colours; of course it is easier to get great shots in a small enclosure

Female Red-Rumped Parrot, very difficult to find through the viewfinder!, green grass, dew

Female Red-Rumped Parrot, very difficult to find through the viewfinder!

Definitely not new, but I love this picture of a Willy Wagtail at rest for a brief second, wooden post

Definitely not new, but I love this picture of a Willy Wagtail at rest for a brief second

Okay I officially take back my statement that I will only post new birds; I just can’t stick to it!

Cute little bunny rabbits hopping around the enclosures, green grass, paddock

Cute little bunny rabbits hopping around the enclosures

I find male Superb Blue Wrens are always delightful to photograph no matter how many times I get the chance, green grass

I find male Superb Blue Wrens are always delightful to photograph no matter how many times I get the chance

I got such a great series of this New Holland Honeyeater but this is one of my favourites, gum tree, blossoms

I got such a great series of this New Holland Honeyeater but this is one of my favourites

Beautiful Cape Barren female goose with gosling in the nest

Beautiful Cape Barren female goose with gosling in the nest

Now this really is a first, an apparently an uncommon sight: the White-Winged Chough!, gum trees

Now this really is a first, an apparently an uncommon sight: the White-Winged Chough!

A Black-winged Stilt mirrored in the wetlands, not as good a photo as I would have liked; reeds, water

A Black-winged Stilt mirrored in the wetlands, not as good a photo as I would have liked

My favourite photo of a male Superb Blue Wren, unfortunately affected by reflection from the glass, swamp, window sill

My favourite photo of a male Superb Blue Wren, unfortunately affected by reflection from the glass

I have been trying for a while now to get a good picture of a Welcome Swallow flying and this is the best yet; still have a ways to go, swamp, wetland

I have been trying for a while now to get a good picture of a Welcome Swallow flying and this is the best yet; still have a ways to go

A beautiful example of the many Magpie Geese around the waterways, wetland, swamp

A beautiful example of the many Magpie Geese around the waterways

A very cute Wallaby checking out the surroundings, one of several lounging around, leaves, dirt

A very cute Wallaby checking out the surroundings, one of several lounging around

The easiest shot of Red-Browed Finch ever; of course they were safely in their enclosure from which they could come and go, but we could not!, drinking, dish of water

The easiest shot of Red-Browed Finch ever; of course they were safely in their enclosure from which they could come and go, but we could not!

Another new kind of duck! YAY! This one is the male Freckled Duck, it was quite shy so I was not able to get a good clear shot, grasses, red nose

A new kind of duck! YAY! This one is the male Freckled Duck, it was quite shy so I was not able to get a good clear shot

This Beach Stone-Curlew did NOT want to be photographed! He just kept walking away

This Beach Stone-Curlew did NOT want to be photographed! He just kept walking away

An unexpected delight! Spotted tiger quolls playing together, branches

An unexpected delight! Spotted tiger quolls playing together

What a beautiful multicoloured Buff Banded Rail! A lovely discovery, green grass

What a beautiful multicoloured Buff Banded Rail! A lovely discovery

For a duck afficionado, this Musk Duck is just amazing! What strange characteristics it has!, rocks, green grass

For a duck afficionado, this Musk Duck is just amazing! What strange characteristics it has!

Another delightfully colourful bird, the Blue-Faced Honeyeater - none of my shots were in clear focus but this shows the colours at least

Another delightfully colourful bird, the Blue-Faced Honeyeater – none of my shots were in clear focus but this shows the colours at least

An inscrutable Tawny Frogmouth sitting on a log on the ground, safe and sound in his enclosure, grey, brown

An inscrutable Tawny Frogmouth sitting on a log on the ground, safe and sound in his enclosure

Red-Cheeked Honeyeater, very common but still a fun shot, eucalypt

Red-Cheeked Wattlebird; very common but still a fun shot

I wish I could have got a clear shot but any shot is great for my very first time seeing Brolgas, especially when there is an adorable baby Brolga!, fences, gates, green grass

I wish I could have got a clear shot but any shot is great for my very first time seeing Brolgas, especially when there is an adorable baby Brolga!

Also the first close-ish photo that I have gotten! I was told that it is a Black Shouldered Kite; I have no idea, birds of prey are an area I have no experience in at all!, dead tree

Also the first close-ish photo that I have gotten! I was told that it is a Black Shouldered Kite; I have no idea, birds of prey are an area I have no experience in at all!

I have an amendment to make to a previous post from Lake Drysdale where I wrote that I saw and photographed Masked Lapwing plover chicks. I was mistaken; they are in fact their own species, the Red-Kneed Dotterels.

Entertaining little Red-Kneed Dotterels fishing along the shoreline, bushes, march

Entertaining little Red-Kneed Dotterels fishing along the shoreline

One slight conflict of birding with experienced birders is that I am ecstatic at every bird I see, and they are only really excited if it seems to be an unusual or interesting bird…ah well, I still made use of their expertise and knowledge so no complaining 🙂

I am told this was another Black Shouldered Kite; I will have to check it out for myself. One slight conflict of birding with experienced birders is that I am ecstatic at every bird I see, and they are only really excited if it seems to be an unusual or interesting bird...ah well, gum tree

I am told this was another Black Shouldered Kite; I will have to check it out for myself. 

A gorgeous little Black-Fronted Dotterel fishing along the shoreline, water, reflection,

A gorgeous little Black-Fronted Dotterel fishing along the shoreline

Wow! I do not know what to say about this odd looking male Australian Bustard! Quite unique!, bushes, green grass

Wow! I do not know what to say about this odd looking male Australian Bustard! Quite unique!

And finally, just for fun, a cheeky New Holland Honeyeater posing for us while dancing up and down on the window

And finally, just for fun, a cheeky New Holland Honeyeater posing for us while dancing up and down on the window