Wet and Aggressive Corella challenges Magpie

Wet and Aggressive Corella challenges Magpie

Thursday, 15 September 2011


September 15 is RUOK Day.   RUOK day aims to help reduce the numbers of people who take their own lives.

A little while ago Gemma invited me and other bloggers to join her in posting on this important day.  And it is a topic that is very close to my heart.

There have been times (and will be again) when I have been decidedly not OK either mentally or emotionally.  Once during a very bad patch, knowing I had the house to myself for a week or so, I spent days sitting on the floor ripping paper into ever smaller pieces, neither eating nor sleeping while the piles of confetti built up around me.  I was lost, could not see any future, and certainly thought it would be much easier for me (and for others) if I was dead.  I had a plan and the means to kill myself.  In the end apathy saved me.  I didn't want to live, but dying required action which took more energy than I had at that time.  So I lived. Mostly I am glad, but still sometimes in the throes of what I call the 3am horrors I wonder.

It always appalls me how easy (and fast) the descent into the depths of despair is, and how agonisingly slow and hard it is to climb back to something approaching sanity.  When I have hit the bottom I have always felt both that I was alone, and that it was up to me to get myself out again.   A feeling which was and is almost certainly wrong. True, no-one had asked me if I was OK but it was equally true that I had not said that I was having trouble coping.  Not sensible of me, but I have learnt (the hard way) that I am not sensible at these times and that I am prepared to go to some pains to conceal just how bad I am feeling.  It appears that this subterfuge is a skill of mine, so the people around me cannot be blamed for not noticing that I need help.

It is much, much easier (and still not easy) for me to admit that I am having physical problems than it is to make the same admission about my mental or emotional health.  On those issues, if (and it is a big if), I admit that I am struggling I really mean I am teetering very close to the edge.  I have known for some time that this is dishonest and hypocritical and preparing this post has led me to make a promise to myself that I will ask for help when I need it next.  A promise I hope I can keep. 

My second reason for participating in RU OK? Day is less directly personal but no less heartfelt.  I have been a telephone counsellor with Lifeline for nearly fourteen years.  And I have learnt some horrifying things.

Suicide numbers in Australia are currently falling slightly.  However, according to the latest Australian Bureau of Statistic Causes of Death report, 2130 Australians took their own lives in 2009, and:
suicide is the leading cause of death for women aged 15-34;
suicide is the leading cause of death for males aged 15-44;
and more Australians die from suicide than on the roads.

Frightening isn't it?  And I assume that suicide is under rather than over reported.  These are Australian statistics only, but I would be surprised if the percentages were very different in any of the westernised countries.  Every suicide impacts on so many people - family members, friends, peers, co-workers and the community at large. 

There are circumstances (particularly given our euthanasia laws) where I can both understand and accept people choosing to end their lives.  However, even when a person has a terminal or an incurable illness which is degrading their quality of life, I hope that palliative care options are looked at before suicide is identified as the only option.

Other reasons for suicide, including struggling with mental illness, lack of acceptance of a person's sexuality, relationship break downs, loneliness, financial issues and the like worry me more.  A lot more.  And I firmly believe that there are alternatives to suicide available for most people.

In Australia there is on average a suicide attempt every fifteen minutes and a death from suicide every four hours.  In my time at Lifeline I have talked with many, many people who have attempted to kill themselves, and about the same number who were actively considering it.  More rarely I have talked with people who were in the process of committing suicide.  I have also talked to people who have lost friends and family through suicide.  I have wept with and for these callers.  Heartbreaking calls, some of which will haunt me forever.

A common thread has run through my conversations about suicide with callers.  Almost without exception the callers did not want to die, but could see no other way to make their pain stop, regardless of whether that pain was physical, mental, emotional or a mixture of some or all of those things.  Pain, teemed with desperation and a loss of hope is truly dangerous.  And, rightly or wrongly, the callers often consider themselves to be alone.  Which is why it is so important to reach out to people we think may be struggling.

Of course we will never be able to eliminate suicide.  Nonetheless, talking, and much more importantly listening to people who are in pain is hugely important. So, a simple question to someone you are worried about could be the start of a lifesaving journey.

Listen to their pain.  Allow them to express their fears.  The first step, of acknowledging just how bad things have got, is the hardest.  And takes a lot of courage (which should be acknowledged and affirmed).  And it is only when their pain has been heard, and perhaps shared that the first small glimmers of hope can creep in.

Hard as it can be, don't try and solve their problems for them.  Accept that they are doing the best they can, in very difficult and frightening circumstances. 

You could summarise what you have heard, and ask them what they plan to do. It may be that they are not ready to do anything just yet.  Nonetheless, being able to express their pain and their fears without being judged can be a very powerful healer.   If they don't know where to start getting help for themselves but feel ready to take action you could suggest a few places which might provide a resource for them.

The appropriate resources are obviously going to be as individual as the person but some which may be of assistance include family, friends, school and other counsellors, doctors, religious groups, mental health crisis services, hospitals, relevant support groups, and/or

Encourage them to take one step at a time.  And follow up.  Let them know that you will contact them, later today, tomorrow, or next week to see how they are going.  Nothing can change till someone acts - and you could be the catalyst for lifesaving action.

Who are you going to ask RU OK today?  And not just today, but each and every day.


  1. This is a needed post. The suicide issue needs to be addressed. I hope no one will feel that they cannot live any longer (in a perfect world)....I do not know the answers either.

  2. Beautifully written, Sue. I hope someone will gather strength and guidance from your words.
    My Beth's third anniversary of her suicide is next week. The pain is still as fresh as if it happened yesterday, but as exhausting as if it occurred twenty years ago. I sometimes feel that it will never go away. What a thing to have to carry around with you, huh? Sadly there are so many of us survivors that do. Hey, thank you again for asking me, RU OK? Your friendship is getting me over a really big hump right now.

  3. Those are frightening statistics and the thought that suicide is the leading cause of death in some age groups is horrifying.

    The advice you offer is invaluable. Sometimes it's so hard to know what to say or how to approach situations when people are feeling so low and some guidance is very much needed.

    Thank you for your lovely comment on my post it really was appreciated.

  4. Kim @ Stuff: Wouldn't it be lovely if this was an issue which didn't need addressing?

    Lou: Thanks, I knew this was really close to the bone for you and I hope I didn't re-open the wound too far.

    Sarah Mac: Welcome and thank you. And yes, I found those statistics horrifying.

  5. Bless you for this important message!
    You may have saved lives today.

    Aloha from Waikiki;

    Comfort Spiral

    > < } } ( ° >


  6. They are terrible statistics, but hopefully awareness campaigns like RUOK will improve things.

  7. Thank you for your comment on my post today and thank you for this honest post you wrote. The information you have provided is greatly appreciated and invaluable.

  8. This is one of the most beautifully written pieces about one of the most misunderstood and tragic of topics.

    Your heartfelt sharing and thoughtful raising of the issue is fabulous and I thank you with great sincerity for your honesty and wisdom.

    I admire greatly anyone who can provide counseling to those in need and to have been a Lifeline counsellor for such a long time is a truly remarkable achievement - thank you for all that you gave.

    I hope that you are OK and you are able to keep that promise to yourself.

  9. Cloudia: Thankyou.

    Marylin @ Live First Write Later: Welcome, and yes, hopefully these terrible numbers will decrease.

    field of dreams: Thank you.

    Felicity: I get a lot more out of Lifeline than I give. Over the years I have been awed and humbled by so many of the people I have talked with.

  10. Nice piece!
    Come check me out =) alphabetalife.blogspot.com

  11. I feel very grateful to have had the privilege of learning your very unique perspective. Thank you for sharing and for opening my heart.

  12. Jessica Thompson: Welcome and thanks

    Lina@MothersLoveLetters: Thank you too.

  13. Thank you for sharing your story and experiences as a counsellor. It is heartbreaking all the lives lost so tragically.

  14. Those numbers are most definitely frightening. I really had no idea of the depth and breadth of depression's reach until I put my hand up for RUOK?Day. It's astonishing.

    I love your post. So full of wisdom. Thank you for this, and also for the gorgeous comment you left on my post earlier.

  15. A much needed post Sue, thank you for sharing your story with us out here. I am going back to read it again.

  16. Thank you for this wonderful, moving post. Although I have had these tragedies close to me, only once did I feel I might have made a difference, and I agonized over my loss for a decade. It also made me much more sensitive after realizing that I could have helped. Thank you for this, and the blog list you have on here is really impressive! Blessings to all...

  17. Thankyou for sharing. I despair for those that think the only way out is to end it all. I've been at that point but not close enough to get over my fear of the pain I might experience. But I got better and would never contemplate it again as I remember how I felt after a good friend killed himself. I don't want others to feel that way.
    And also many thanks for your kind words on my R U OK post.

  18. Thanks so much for sharing so honestly and for your experienced advice. The part about pain really resonated with me as that's the crux of it - that constant ache.
    Nic x

  19. EC - First of all, I have to say how much I admire you for counseling others through their desperate moments. Many people who have hit the bottom and survived ironically become LESS tolerant when they see the same struggles in other people, as if to say, hey, I got over it, why can't you? I commend you for your strength and generosity.

    Sadly, suicidal thoughts and acts are probably far more prevalent than any of us imagine. Life is not easy, and it's frightening how even someone with a lot going for them can slip into the darkness given just the right combination of rotten events or biochemical shifts. I once used to quip "if you haven't ever considered suicide, you just aren't paying attention."

    But in spite of more openness about this issue, there is still so much shame attached to admitting defeat. I myself have suffered many dark moments, some that lasted years, and even when I was honest with friends and family (and counselors) about the depth and force of my sufferings, somehow I would always end with a reassuring disclaimer of "but I'll be okay," as if that was what needed to be said, what they needed to hear, that no matter how bad it got, I had it in hand, I could speak of it, so I could conquer it.

    I've made plans, I've made resolutions, even set a timetable, and the day never did come that I could say with full confidence "today I am better off dead than alive and tomorrow will be no different." It was always the tomorrow part that stopped me. How could I know that the future didn't hold some new better thing, how could I rob myself of that chance? Glad I didn't.

    Thanks for this post.

  20. Three simply words that can be worth so much to someone in pain. A great post. Thanks.

  21. Trish: Scary and heartbreaking.

    Jayne: Thankyou. Lots.

    Denise: Isn't it sad that it is something we need to bring out into the open. Out from where we have hidden it.

    DJan: I can't take any credit for the size of the blog list - but isn't it amazing. Last time I looked (and it grows all the time), more than 120 bloggers had joined in to support and promote this amazing cause.

    Becci: So glad you are better

    Nicole@MyIdealLife: Ongoing pain (whatever the source) is just so debilitating. Thanks.

    Two Tigers: Thank you. I suspected that you would know where I was coming from. And that urge to reassure is so dangerous. I will be OK coming from someone who isn't. Scary, scary stuff.

    Karen: Thank you.

  22. I didn't know you were a Lifeline counsellor. How wonderful you are. I hope that one day (if I get well again) I will be able to give back in some way like that.

    As for not being sensible in not asking for help, I think that's kind of the point. Noone teetering that close to the edge is thinking reasonably or sensibly. It's noone's fault, it's just how it works. Reason doesn't come into it.

    I so relate on the apathy. A couple of times when I've come to the conclusion that the best thing (for everyone) would be to take myself out of the picture. But I was so at the 'can't be bothered with anything' point that I couldn't even be arsed following through with that.

  23. Melissa: Aren't we lucky that apathy/disinterest goes hand in hand with deep depression. It sounds like it has saved you and it certainly saved me.

    When I had to give up work for health reasons I felt I had to still contribute in some way. So Lifeline it was, and I can't see myself giving it up any time soon.

  24. What incredible work you do and how hard it must be when you know the pain first hand. Such amazing strength you have. Thanks for such an informative and honest post.

  25. neesay: I think it is because I have been there, not despite it, that Lifeline was my first choice when I was looking for somewhere I could make a contribution.

  26. An important issue raised with sensitivity. The awareness day is a good campaign.

  27. Mitzi: Thank you. That means a lot coming from you.

  28. Thank you for this open and honest post. I hope it helps many people find a way out of their despair.

  29. Lovely and very moving post. I wish you all the best and lots of strength to go through with your medical problems. Thanks for visiting my blog as well. I see you are a cat lover too, I have 5 adopted cats. A hug xx

  30. ladyfi: We all hope so - thanks.

    Sami: Welcome and thanks. The cats rule the roost here, and I imagine 5 are a handful.

  31. This is a wonderful post. I think you are a fine person to turn your own problem around into an opportunity to help and understand others. It doesn't turn the curse into a blessing but it takes away some of its power.

  32. What a lovely and heartfelt post. What you said about pain, that is the crux of it. People just want the pain to end. And I know, too, from experience that reaching out when in depression is doubly hard. That apathy can be overwhelming, and then there is the reluctance to burden others. It's been sad, yet heartwarming, to see so many sincere and raw posts for RUOK? day.

  33. This is a superb post Sue.

    RUOK day is a great way for these issues to be highlighted. I just hope that some momentum can build up.

    I wonder how we, as a society have got to this point where everybody is scared to admit their pain to others. Partly there is a fear of being seen as weak and not wishing to burden others, but I think it's more than that. Somehow we've lost the vocabulary, both as sufferers and as potential helpers of others.

    You are doing wonderful work in this area and that's an example to us all.

  34. Jenny Woolf: Thank you. I is true that I think my own pain has helped me connect with callers.

    Wanderlust: Isn't it frightening how much power apathy (a negative) can have. A bit like anger. Thank you.

    Martin - TooDepressed: So many people have reached out to others, due to Gemma's blog hop. I find it really inspiring and it gives me hope. And yes, I too wonder what is so hard about admitting to pain - or any other form of weakness. Thanks.

  35. I was in the midst of moving back to Abu Dhabi as the day approached and on the day, so I didn't really do anything about it. And actually, now that it has passed and I'm catching up on everything, I realise that's part of the problem too...there's always something and there are always people I was meaning to chat with, drop in on, send an email. Having been lucky enough to have people around me when I have needed it, I might go and have a think about what I can do a bit differently. Thank you for what you have shared. xx

  36. Tracy: I think that everyone is finding their lives full and stretched these days. It is scary how little time we have just to sit and be. Or I find it so. Thanks for visiting and your comment.

  37. My son is dead and I am alive so I think I owe it to him to keep going.
    According to the downer, I'm either Pollyana or Scarlet O'Hara, after all tomorrow is another day and it could be good.

  38. Anonymous. How about it bloody better be good?

  39. There have been a lot of suicides lately around here. A young man just killed himself a few blocks from here. Don't know why. A woman killed herself on the edge of town a few weeks back. Today, they found the body of a Corvallis man out in Foster Reservoir. He'd killed himself. The paper didn't say why. Said he left a note in his truck.

    That's a lot of suicides just in a small area. We have a very judgmental yet isolated society with extreme pressure on success and "working hard" as its measures. In fact, the greatest thing here, it seems, someone can say about another is "they were a hard worker".

    Just saw an ABC special on school bullying too and how many kids kill themselves over that.

  40. Strayer: Such a waste. I believe that there are much more important things than measuring up to society's standards of success.

  41. Firstly, please keep your promise to ask for help if you need it next time. Even if it's a complete stranger (like me) - send me a message or something - I want to hold you to that promise!

    Secondly, I am so glad that you are doing the important work of being a Lifeline counsellor. It is brave work that not many would be willing to do - as it comes at sacrifice. Good on your for listening to people and the haunting stories.

    And thank you for this great post.

  42. Deborah: Welcome and thank you. I will certainly try and keep that promise.

  43. A truly moving post, you have written that which I cannot manage because it's too painful to do so. I agree with everything and can empathise far too much. Well done for this, I applaud you. Thank you.

  44. All Consuming. I couldn't tell you how many times I rewrote this post and how hard it was to expose myself. Thank you.

  45. thank you for this informative and well written post.
    such a sad subject, thank you for sharing your experiences.

    lovely to have met you through the blog hop ♥

  46. m.e (Cathie): Welcome and thanks. It was an amazing turn out. Gemma and Madame BiPolar should be very proud.

  47. such a great, heartbreaking, heartfelt and honest post.

  48. Pia K: Thank you - it was, and is, a scary subject.

  49. that is a wonderful post. and seeing the links to all the others from your blogger friends is very heartening. you're doing such good work, EC

  50. NicoS: Thanks - but Gemma and Madam BiPolar can take the credit for the truly impressive numbers of bloggers who joined in.