All that I am, all that I ever was…

I am more than my mental health. I am more than my homelessness. I am more than any one aspect of me. I am Addy. And this is…


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World Mental Health Day: Raising awareness is only half the battle

THIS POST CONTAINS DISCUSSION OF SELF-HARM AND SUICIDE. PLEASE EXERCISE CAUTION IF YOU FIND THIS CONTENT UPSETTING OR TRIGGERING.

On October 11 2007 I attempted suicide.

After leaving a suicide note, I walked 50kms in a haphazard route from the Melbourne CBD to the Dandenong rainforest for the sole purpose of ending my life. Why I walked this distance instead of simply attempting closer to home, I do not know.

Whilst I was walking to my fate the police had discovered my suicide note and launched a missing person investigation. Ex-girlfriends, ex-employers and distant friends were contacted over my whereabouts to no avail – for I had not seen anyone since becoming socially isolated following an abusive relationship earlier that year; abuse that had had a serious effect on my mental health; abuse that no-one considered important, abuse that I was told I deserved.

In the early evening I arrived in the forest, found a quiet location and did the deed. (Un)fortunately (depending on your point of view) the attempt failed and I was left sitting on the floor of the forest crying my eyes out; exhausted, emotionally numb and physically sore.

Three hours later I was sitting in the back of a police divvy van on the way to the hospital. Sitting on the moulded plastic chair I was staring straight ahead of me saying nothing. My throat was dry from dehydration and tears, my legs were stiff and locking up from the events of the day and a bruise was forming on my neck from the attempt.

After being escorted into the emergency department I sat on a bed for twenty minutes, drifting in and out of sleep, whilst being spoken to by one of the hospital’s psychiatric staff. He gave me three antidepressant tablets (of 20mg strength) and told me to go home because “I was fine”.

For a few moments I was unable to move. Unable to comprehend what he was saying. Unable to process anything that was going on.

Eventually I was escorted out of the ER and deposited outside the hospital. The early morning (around 2-3am) air was frightfully cold and even standing was physically painful, let alone the walk I had to make ‘home’ (a short-term travelers flat whose lease was expiring.)

A walk that would normally have taken 25 minutes, became a gruelling two-hour endurance test. Every few metres I had to stop, if I didn’t, I would collapse onto the pavement as the muscles in my legs were seizing up. My hands were shaking, my neck was killing me and the only thought in my mind was “this is fine?

Eventually (I don’t know how) I made it ‘home’ and collapsed on the floor of the hallway. I woke up one hour later disoriented, confused, terrified and immediately burst into tears. A state that lasted at least two hours until I had reduced myself to coughing up mucus. The only thoughts on my mind were:

1. How much I hated life; how I was tired of the pain, of the fight, of the un-ending agony of my pitiful existence.
2. How much I loved life; how I was desperate to feel love, to experience all I craved, to be the man I once knew I had been.
3. How much I wanted a hug; but I was alone, I had been ostracised, become socially isolated after the abuse I had received.

Using the wall as a ‘crutch’ (as my legs were in agony) I staggered to the bathroom and found my knife and immediately began self-harming; the only distraction I had, the only ‘hug’ I had at my disposal. Leaving blood spots between the bathroom and couch I collapsed onto the soft cushions and stared at the ceiling wondering why I was so useless I couldn’t even succeed at ending my own life.

I remained on that couch for the whole weekend. I didn’t move. I didn’t stray from the ‘safety’ of those soft cushions. All I did was stare at the ceiling, cut my arms, stare at various episodes of Supernatural Season 2, cut my legs, stare at the ceiling. My brain couldn’t process anything, my mind couldn’t focus on anything other than hate life/love life/I need a hug.

But like the hospital had said, I was fine.

Three weeks later I was homeless.

Three months later I attempted suicide again.

But like the hospital had said, I was fine.

 

Today, 10 October 2012, is World Mental Health Day. A day first celebrated in 1992 at the initiative of the World Federation of Mental Health in order to raise public awareness of mental health issues worldwide.

Perhaps I’m being driven by my own negative experiences and lack of support, but following last months World Suicide Prevention Day, R U OKDAY? – and the upcoming Hat Day and Sock it to Suicide Week – am I the only person tiring of the endless parade of ‘awareness’ days?

In Australia, 100 000 people suffering from serious mental illness are missing out of essential services (source: MIFA), from January 2012 the Better Access programme will be cut from just 16 sessions a year to a mere 10 (source: Better Access.net) and eighteen months after the much vaunted $2.2 billion mental health spending package was announced, the net additional spend has been only $583 million; which includes the $580 million ripped from the aforementioned Better Access programme (Source: The Australian).

For the last five years I have actively raised awareness of mental illness and health whenever and wherever I can. In doing so I have written extensively of my life and the issues I have had to face over the last twenty years. It has been difficult, painful and humiliating to do so – but my belief we need to do more to end the stigma of mental illness is what drives me to write so openly of my life.

We do need more awareness of mental health and illness.

We do need more awareness of the problems those suffering from these illnesses face.

We do need more awareness of the carers, friends and family of those suffering from mental illness.

We do need to end the stigma against mental illness.

But we also need to realise that no amount of socks, ribbons, hats or tweets will increase funding for mental health support services.

Only action can do that.