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

Perspective

[Written in 2014, finally finished today!]

One of the techniques that I’ve been working on is looking at life differently.

My psychologist first got me onto this with a technique called cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) which tries to redirect thought processes.

For example, people with anxiety and depression often catastropise. I would have a thought like, I’m not working at the moment, which would then lead to, I’m not contributing to our finances, my husband is looking after everything and I’m doing nothing, and, what if I never work again and become a vegetable, and I’m totally useless and live forever with other people having to take care of me, and hating me!!

Obviously, to an outsider this is a drastic way of thinking and a rapidly snowballing thought process! Which is not even factual, as I’ve never had it suggested to me even once that I will be doing anything but returning to my previous active, contributing life. Neither is it at all likely! But depression just has to nut out the worst case scenarios and get you to think, ‘what if’?! And the thing is, at the time, you can’t see it for what it is. It feels totally real, and scary, and awful even though other people may dismiss it as illogical.

Depression, does not have logic.

But depressive thoughts can be changed. It isn’t easy, but if you work at it in the right way, you can slow or stop the snowballing and start to prevent the catastrophising.

Around the same time as I started to see my psychologist, I was already involved in the 100 Happy Days photo challenge that I’ve talked to you about before. Happy. Depression. The two don’t naturally go hand in hand. They’re kind of opposites. Making this a real challenge! This involved, every day, taking a photo of something that made you happy. I knew I was suffering generalised anxiety when I took it on, and during the course of the challenge got diagnosed with depression and bipolar.

Finding something in the day that makes you truly happy takes a real change in thinking. It takes noticing the detail in the day, the little things that are often overlooked, appreciating what is often taken for granted.

These were not the happiest days of my life! Needless to say. In fact, some of the worst days that I have ever experienced were smack bang in the middle of the challenge. But did you know that it never once crossed my mind to not go on with the challenge? I never once considered not doing the challenge, even when I was sitting in the emergency department beside myself with suicidal thoughts and in so much mental pain that I didn’t know how I would live. My happy day photo that day? I was wearing my favourite dress with the huge rosettes around the hem and I was eating my favourite Snickers bar!

There’s always something. That’s what the challenge taught me before I was even conscious of it.

Depression is called depression because it’s depressing.

It lowers you down, it lowers your mood, it lowers your mind. It’s the mind version of walking along in life looking at the gutter. All you can see is the dirty, the trashy, the boring, the bleak, the wasteful, the dead, the mundane.

I’ve always been a stare at the ground in front of me and watch for snakes kind of girl. You know, just in case. But now, instead of physically looking down and stomping along to the train to go to work, I started looking up, casting my eyes around me and began to see all kinds of things in that 10 minute walk alone. The wood ducks nibbling on grass beside the path; never even knew they were there! How beautiful the pond looked shimmering in the morning like. How green was the grass, how blue was the sky. How beautifully kept that lady’s roses are so close to busy Box Hill Central!

And it got me mentally looking up. Instead of snoozing my alarm until the last possible minute, and dragging myself begrudgingly out of bed, I started to wake up wondering what I would see today that would make me happy. There is no mistaking that my mental health was in a dire situation, but at least for a few moments of the day there would be something that I found that would give me a glimmer of a smile, a bit of satisfaction because I found it! That thing that could make me happy. And the memory of it could be taken with me throughout the day. It truly proved to me that if you put yourself to the effort of looking up, mentally or physically, you will surely be rewarded.

So in an effort to lift one’s mind’s eye to a more beautiful view we try this technique of purposefully, intentionally looking up. Some call it mindfulness, some call it practising gratitude, some people call it thankfulness; doesn’t matter what it’s called, it’s a thing. A method to get out of the grunge and into the pretty meadows, or paddocks since this is Australia.

Probably this is the most powerful method of changing perspective, although I’ve way under used it! I came to it as a compulsory part of my insurance, and having someone tell you that you have to do something that you think is stupid is never a good starting place!! But I had to change my thinking. I had an amazing logical sensible teacher who was on my wavelength, and the lessons I learned were incredible!

Mindfulness teaches you to slow down, to take more time to take in the things that we usually just rush by. By doing this, you get greater fulfillment out of life.

I’ve also always been a person to try to scrape the most out of every second, minute, hour, moment. I always got up at the last possible moment, showered for as long as possible til I absolutely had to get out, dressed as fast as possible and left the house only when leaving a minute later would make me nine minutes late instead of eight! Because I was always rushing I’d often leave my lunch, my wallet, my phone, my brain at home! I always squeezed the most time possible into my breaks, felt jibbed every time I had to go back, put off going back to bed so I could fit more into the day. Etc, etc!

But anxiety made me realise that this is not a feasible way for me to live anymore. The extreme anxiety I feel when I’m rushing, late, overcommitted is so awful with the nausea, the sweating, the palpitations. And mindfulness reinforced this again. What if you could walk slowly and calmly without a care in the walk on your way to work? How would that be? Wouldn’t that be nice? Mindfulness is kind of addictive in it’s own way, because it’s highly rewarding to your brain. Of course then there’s the real world, but for a little while, you are in total control and that is amazing!

Mindfulness also teaches you how not to judge yourself and others!! Could there be a more powerful tool than this? In mindfulness, you sit with yourself, which sounds funny to start with, but you just sit with your thoughts and all you have to do is acknowledge each thought as it comes, without it being “good” or “bad”. Do you know how often we are bagging ourselves out in our head and we don’t even consciously know it? It’s terrifying! That’s the worst 3 second wrap ever, but I do highly recommend it, and not only for people with mental health disorders; it can help with a lot in life.

Changing perspective.

Looking for the happy, the good, the joyful things in life.

Some people call it being positive, but I’m not a fan of that description. I feel like being positive is ignoring the reality and the badness, and trying to paste over it with being chipper and perky and upbeat!! Maybe that’s unfair but I feel my arm hairs raise and my spine tighten when positive comes up!!

I prefer to fully acknowledge exactly what is present, what the problems are, and try to work with that to change it for the long term good, not for the short term glossing over it. I’m sorry if that’s offensive; but I feel that if the problems aren’t realised, the treatments won’t be effective so it’s important to be honest.

Changing perspective is hard. It’s hard. It takes effort. It takes perseverance. It takes time. It takes motivation. It takes emotional energy, sometimes physical energy.

Most of these are the things that depression takes away from you. Before you even have a chance to notice, depression whisks away your energy, motivation, ability to exert effort. And leaving you a blob sitting in a chair, staring at a wall wondering what to do next, and how on earth you’re going to do it?

Looking up. Changing perspective. Mindfulness. Gratitude.

The outcomes are so worthwhile if you can put yourself to the trouble.

I highly recommend engaging a psychologist, a mindfulness coach, a doctor trained in CBT because it’s much easier to be guided than to have to do it all yourself. If the session is pre-booked and all you have to do is turn up and be coached, you are already on an easier path, from someone who knows.

Of course you have to participate, and at some point in time you will have to do it on your own, but let’s focus on getting started and you will absolutely benefit from whichever path you go down.

100 happy days is different. You can do this on your own, and unlike me doing it all through Facebook, you can do it by yourself in a notebook and nobody has to know. I can’t recommend blurting everything about your journey onto Facebook like I did; it worked for me, but not so sure about all the poor readers, and it might just not be something you are comfortable with. It’s your call, and there are lots of other options out there.

I wish you well on your perspective changing journey!