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Navigating grief.

R U Ok Day has been at the forefront this week, and my newsfeed has been filled with posts from Beyond Blue, so either the timing is coincidental or law of attraction has delivered again. Mental Health and the need to raise more awareness and support is a current critical discussion. To educate our youth, our men, our women and our community about the importance of strong mental health, and what to do when it doesn’t feel so good, is a conversation I’m thankful is happening.

I will be the first to admit that I have felt a little detached from this message over the years. I support and agree with it, but I don’t think I really absorbed the impact of it until this last month. I use the word absorbed because I’m trying to express the feeling of being constantly exposed to a message, versus the difference of living it, knowing it and taking into your skin. Over the last month I’ve become acutely aware that although I heard the message about positive Mental Health, that it took a tragedy for me to fully comprehend the ripple effect of its absence.

That all changed for me on the 21st August, when a friend, who has struggled with Depression for many years, took his own life. I’ve never in my lifetime felt a more sobering experience and I write this maybe to process my own feelings, but so that in the hope that you don’t have to experience this feeling to fully absorb and comprehend the epidemic that is sweeping across our community.

As I write this I can feel the hot tears welling in my eyes and then the overwhelming urge to push them away. This is unlike me, I’m usually a very open book and have no issue in sharing and discussing my feelings, but as I sit in bed this morning writing this, I can feel my jaw is clenched, my throat is raw and the tears are trying to find their way out, but are being blocked by a stoicism I don’t usually show.

I’m angry.

It shows up in many ways for me but the number one sign right now is withdrawal. I’ve gone to bed early many nights this week into the abyss of Netflix and a dark room. I’ve said no to social events and even an upcoming fundraiser which has been created for just this, to raise awareness of mental health. I’m dropping Charlie off at the school gate so I don’t have to go in, don’t have to chat. All this behaviour is so unlike me, but by writing this today I am giving myself permission to start processing my feelings and if you ask RU OK, the answer right now is No, I’m angry!

I’m angry firstly with myself. Could I have done more, have I really been there for him and my friend? I’m a fixer and a problem solver, I come up with solutions. Could I have used these skills and given more of myself, offered more solutions? I’ve considered the reality that Mark and I did pull away from him a little after the rejection of our friendship, and this was probably the time when we should have pushed harder, forced him to make contact and take him out for a break. I’m angry that life goes on for the world, and that my friend and her child’s life is forever changed. As I watch my beautiful friend deal with her grief, all the arrangements and legal requirements, all I can feel is an overwhelming sense of guilt that maybe I should have done more to help him.

Would I feel this way if he had passed from cancer? Would I question myself this much and ask why I didn’t find a cure? Probably not, I wouldn’t have expected that of myself. And here in lies the problem and for the first time in my life I get it. Depression is a cancer, it doesn’t discriminate. It is no different, there are multiple treatments from medication, therapy, natural medicine, diet and exercise and the more extreme, but each person living with it has their own unique experience and no two people are the same. Do we ask if there is a cure like it’s a “real disease?" I’m not sure, I think we tend to speak more about solutions and strategies rather than cures? Until we as a community view it the same as cancer, the guilt and the shame will remain. People don’t shy away from telling us they have cancer or that they are recovering from cancer. We are comfortable to put that on a job application, (time away from work – recovering from cancer) yet those seeking employment after a period of absence due to depression will cover this on their resume. As far as we are along this journey to educate, there is still so much to be done to change the stigma. I don’t have the answers but I know now I am more engaged in finding the cure.

Although I feel this anger, my ability for self-awareness understands that it’s really masking sadness. A sadness so deep I’m scared to go there. If I start crying, will I ever be able to stop because everything about this situation is just sad. I’ve heard people speak of the ripple effect of suicide but again was oblivious. I get it now. It makes you question everything. It has changed the value I place on things and how much I sweat the small stuff. There is no need to build a life that causes stress, we have this one life to lead and I’m sure the Higher Power or whatever you believe in, didn’t create you, so that you could build a life of financial pressure, work stress, friendship difficulties, gossip, and family stress. I’m watching my husband more closely and talking to him about our life and the decisions we are making. We both work hard to provide a life for our family but right now he wears the brunt of that financially as I work part time, build a business and care for our son, and I want him to understand and know that at any time we can flip that around and I will carry us if he needs the break. At the funeral of our friend I spoke to one of his work colleagues and asked him “Do men today really feel that pressure to provide it all for their families?” He looked me straight in the eye and didn’t hesitate when he said “YES”. This same man told me how he had lost everything, his business, his home and had to start all over again. He told me how he had rebuilt his life in a more simplistic way, and had never been happier. He too felt the guilt that he hadn’t picked up on our friend’s intentions, and how this total experience had changed him forever.

I want the men I know to understand and really hear, that all the women in their life really want, is them. Their presence, their love, their attention and affection. We all get bogged down in the stuff, and what stuff we should and shouldn’t have, where we should live, what our homes should look like, what cars we should drive and what schools to send our kids to. Yet that is the stuff that is fluid and keeps changing. We work so hard for something and then hold on to it so tightly because we are terrified of losing it, yet somewhere along the way we lose ourselves and the real reasons we are here.

At the end of the day, when you take all that away, all we have is each other. Ourselves, our families, our partners, our children, our health and our friends. These relationships and the lessons we learn from one another are the foundations we build our lives on. Not our houses, cars, possessions and stuff.

At this point in time, I’m not sure how I can be of service in the global fight for a cure. It feels a bit overwhelming to me but I do acknowledge that it takes one person to make a difference. So, I will be that person for my friend. She needs to know that I have her back and that I am here for her and her boy, when she needs to scream, cry or shout “What the Fuck!” Anything goes.

This is my reminder to live my life fully and authentically. To focus on what brings joy to my life and the life of my family and seek that. When I get caught up in all the other bullshit, I will bring this experience to the front of my mind and make my choices based on living a joyful, simple, purposeful and grateful life. I’m going to watch the men in my life more closely and speak up even more freely. Look out, I’m pretty good at this already.

And to my friend, that made this choice. A big part of my healing is going to be accepting that this was your choice, your decision. Not being angry with you, or judging you, or asking all the questions that come across my mind a million times a day such as Why?

I never walked in your shoes, I never felt your pain, so what gives me the right to judge your choice.

But I want you to know we will miss you.

Jo x

If you or someone you know is struggling with depression, help is available.

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