When The Black Dog Wins

We have a natural disaster happening right in front of us people and we need to stop the tsunami of suicide and the stigma of mental health.

I have cried most of the last few hours, and I am one of the lucky ones. Some tears are for myself. Most are for those who are left with so many unanswered questions that can no more be asked. The guilt they feel. The ‘what-ifs’ and ‘if-onlys’.

There are too many families among us that have to work out how to adapt and start life anew in the absence of a dearly loved family member. As our lives go on as ‘normal’ around them.

To those who say that suicide is a coward’s way out of things, you have not spent a moment battling mental illness and all the struggles it brings with it into your life. The cowards are those that bully and belittle, badger and berate, until all self-esteem is drained and the battle is lost.

I said I am one of the lucky ones. How so?

Before I reached the depths of despair, I spoke. First to family. Then to friends. I am fortunate to be often asked RU OK? Sometimes I am. At other times I am far from it. I am grateful to have those people around me. People who care what my answer is and are prepared to help, to provide guidance, even to make it a little light hearted. Sometimes I am a little annoyed that I am asked so often, but better to be asked too much than not at all.

When I shared my story with my umpiring peers on the eve of ‘Beyond Blue’ round in our local footy comp, most thought ‘here we go, Clarkey on his high horse banging on again’.

I stunned the room with the revelation that I had been battling the black dog for 4 or 5 years. It shocked a lot of people in the room that someone so outwardly gregarious and (seemingly) happy could be suffering from depression. From a mental illness. No one had an inkling of how I had been feeling. Not one.

That night alone, I had no less than 6 people approach me to say that they too had been experiencing challenging times with depression and anxiety. Many more thanked me for opening up. I should have thanked them for providing an audience I felt comfortable in talking to.

Backing up a step… Not one person had any idea. Look what happened that night, the response. I look at what has happened since. I started a conversation. A conversation that may have saved my life. That is real. I opened up and a pressure valve was released. I still struggle, but I am so much more self-aware and have some solid coping mechanisms and great people around me.

There are many great programs around but they are clearly not reaching the target as we continue to see families devastated by suicide and ripped apart by the effects of mental health such as depression and anxiety. Who knows where I would be if I did not express myself a few years ago?

If you notice someone your care for – family, friend, colleague – if you really care for them, ask them if they are OK. You need to be prepared to support them and do what you can to help them. Don’t settle for the ‘yeah, I’m fine’ line if you don’t believe them. It can be hard and they may get a bit testy, but it is worth it. And you may not be able to do it on your own. Seek help from others. Never underestimate that one person – you – can make a difference. Never.

I could not give a stuff if someone rang me in the middle of the night and said, ‘hey, I’m struggling a bit hear, can we talk?’ In fact, I would feel honoured to have been asked. A lot better than receiving a very different call from someone else the next morning. I am not a trained social worker, nor do I have any socio-whatever degree, but I have been around the block a few times and I have more that hat many have – I truly and honestly care about people. I care for people deeply, sometimes too much so.

I honestly don’t know what the answer is and I really wish I could do something to make a difference, but I just don’t know what it is.

If you are struggling, please talk to someone. Anyone. Call Lifeline on 13 11 14, Kids Helpline on 1800 155 1800, MensLine Australia on 1300 789 978 or check out beyondblue.org.au for more resources. In emergencies, please call 000.

Now, I had better go and check out the jobs market and see who the lucky organisation is that gets to employ me!