By Peter Ryan on 9 May 2017
It’s been nearly twelve months now since I spent a week in the Mental Health Unit of a Brisbane Hospital. Nearly twelve months since I had plans to exit this world permanently by committing suicide.
Those sentences were hard to write, and harder still to read, without getting worked up remembering where I was at that point in my life.
I have no story to tell you of incredible adversity, debilitating tragedy, or relationship turmoil. I am a privileged, white, middle-class man, married to a beautiful and supportive wife, with two teenage boys who are growing up to be thoughtful young men. I am gainfully employed, have enough money, have a wide variety of friends, and have moderate talents that allow me to experience a very decent life.
However, I was so crippled with depression and anxiety for a period last year, that I saw my only option as ending it all…
"If only I had recognised the signs earlier, but I was at least two months down the path and it really felt like a one-way street by then."
How could this be?
Well, I still don’t have the full answers to that question.
It is so very hard to put into words what that mental state is like. To use glib words like upset, sad, or worried would be like saying getting kicked fair in the balls was a bit of a bother.
My experience of depression was what I imagine a host tree feels like once a strangler fig has a hold over it. It grew by stealth, permeating my every thought, every hour of the day. It robbed me of joy, as if holding me at a distance from it, but threw me unrelentingly into despair and panic without notice.
It had grown like a parasite in my mind, dictating my mood and directing my thoughts.
Now, usually, I consider myself to be a generally positive person who approaches life’s challenges with good humour and logical thought. This condition was changing me, eroding my will, destroying my spirit.
In my professional life, I had attended workshops on mental health, knew the benefits of early intervention and opening up to friends, family or co-workers. I had seen the great work that the Mates in Construction organisation do in the building industry. The problem was I did exactly the opposite of what I should have done.
"absolutely the worst for a depressed mind – alcohol. It’s like trying to put out a fire with lighter fluid."
I tried to deal with it by myself, tried to “tough it out”, tried to “man up”, I thought I could eventually shake it off. That’s what Aussie blokes do isn’t it?
By the time I realised the abyss that I was slipping into I was beyond just needing to do some minor renovations to this virtual house. The foundations were shaking and I needed a bloody professional! If only I had recognised the signs earlier. I was at least two months down the path and it really felt like a one-way street by then.
I wasn’t sleeping when I needed to. I was wanting to shut myself away and sleep when I shouldn’t have needed to. I didn’t have the energy to do anything. I had less than zero motivation to engage with the world. I wanted to give work away completely and I wanted to drink myself into a stupor every night.
Now there is something that is absolutely the worst for a depressed mind – alcohol. It’s like trying to put out a fire with lighter fluid.
It all came to a head one night, lying in the bed awake, as I would do most nights, over-analysing things in the past and freaking the hell out about things in the future. It was different that night though, the ideas around my suicide were crystallising into an actual plan. Well, I actually had a plan A and a plan B should that not work out for me.
In my tumultuous mind, the plans seemed sound, workable and I intended to carry one of them out the next day – “what’s the use of waiting, nothing will change” I thought.
At 2am, while I was trying to get to sleep, for what I thought would be the last time, I was overcome with a tsunami of grief. I was literally flooded with emotion and burst into tears uncontrollably.
Thinking back now, I can only imagine that this was some part of my mind trying to slap some sort of sense into me.
I was then struck by a feeling of intense panic, driven, no doubt, by the thoughts of my impending end.
So, in tears, shaking and speaking through sobs, I woke up my wife.
To say that she was a little freaked out is probably an understatement.
I simply said to her; “I need to go to the Hospital”.
Still groggy she asked why. All I could think of saying was; “Because I want to kill myself”
My fingers are shaking now as I type this. To remember that night is hard.
My dutiful wife took me to Hospital and, through a relatively lengthy process, I self-admitted to the secure Mental Health Unit. This is where I stayed for a full week under pretty damn strict supervision.
Fast forward to today, and I cannot believe the person I was then. The helplessness that I felt then, the over-powering despair, the inability to see anything positive in the future.
I am now on steady medication, have a hellishly more positive outlook on life and am making plans for my 50th birthday party in a few years (it’s going to be great). I am continuing to practice mindfulness, just trying to get better at being in the present moment to be aware and in control. I try not to sweat the small things, and I try to be much more “present” with family and friends.
I happily talk about my experiences, with friends, family and co-workers, not because I need the therapy, but because I think we need to bring these things into the open. We all need to be comfortable to open a discourse about these issues, not through an artificial “are you OK?” once a year, but a real discussion about feelings.
Yes, I said it, blokes should talk more about feelings and each other’s well-being and less about football, cricket and cars.
It isn’t easy to rally against our general conditioning in this regard, but it is very important that we do. There is nothing healthier than blokes talking to other blokes about their inner bloke!