Let’s try that again…

Let's try that again...

Let’s try that again…

I have written a number of blog posts over the last couple of weeks – and then sent them to the trash folder.

This probably seems like strange behaviour, but life has been such a whirlwind of late, and I have experienced and learnt so many different things, and found my life moving in a whole new direction, that what I was writing seemed not only irrelevant, but also inappropriate.  A number of factors have led to my decision to censor my recent writing, as well as consider the future of Writing From The Ashes.

In some respects, it is almost like I have come full circle, ending up four years in the past, to a time when I had to watch every word I wrote about my personal journey.  There are some major differences between then and now – particularly my reasons for censorship – but the end result is much the same.  At this point I am not sure how this dilemma will be resolved, but I will continue to explore my options.

For now, the focus of Writing From The Ashes will be creative writing – this again indicates a full circle back to the blog’s original purpose, as an outlet for fictional bits and pieces.

So, back to work…

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Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Actions speak louder than words

Actions speak louder than words

Actions really do speak louder than words.

Most of us probably know someone who always says the ‘right’ things, but unfortunately what they do never seems to match what they say.

Unfortunately, some of us also feel this way about organisations and ‘professionals’ that are supposedly trying to help us.

Personally, I visited many counsellors over a twenty-year period who, although they said they were there to help, their actions indicated that they were only prepared to help me if I lived my life in the way they wanted.  It was not until I was 38 that I found a counsellor whose actions and words reflected the same intention of genuine assistance.

Ironically, it was not until I started working with that counsellor that I understood the disparity between my own words and actions – I was saying I wanted to heal and move on, and yet I was allowing other people (counsellors) to tell me what I should and shouldn’t do with my life instead of being responsible for it myself.  For years I wished someone would see me, the real me, and know how much pain I was in, how difficult I found living,  and somehow make it all better – make me normal.  What I came to realise is, not only was it impossible for anyone else to know what was happening inside me, the only person who could make things better was me.

No one was going to stand up for me.  No one had a magic wand that would make me stop thinking so little of myself.  No one was going to ‘make’ me happy.  No one could really help me – except me.

So, while I was saying I wanted to be happy, that I didn’t want to keep living the way I was, that I wanted to be normal, that I wanted the pain to go away etc, all of my actions were compounding the issues that I was trying to recover from.  The more I wanted someone else to fix me, the more frustrated I became when they couldn’t see I needed to be fixed, so the more angry and badly behaved I got, and the more pain I felt… and on it went, in a never-ending cycle.

The journey has been long and rough since I made the commitment to myself to help myself get better.  Every new step seemed like it was the hardest thing I had ever done – being open, being vulnerable, asking directly for what I wanted or needed, speaking out, confronting people when they hurt or offend me, taking time for myself and not feeling guilty about it – all of these things seemed impossible at first.  All of them terrified me and made me think the world would end if I dared stand up, or speak out, or ask someone for emotional support.  I felt like I had to fight for every breath and every step along the way.

The crazy thing is, the more my actions said, “I matter,  my feelings are important, my needs are important,  I deserve to be happy” etc the more other people seemed to recognise I was hurting.

The more I allowed my mind to acknowledge the truth, the more truthful my actions became.


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Lesson from a sand dune

Each day the marks from yesterday disappear.

Each day, the marks from yesterday disappear.

Seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks…. time just flies on by, doesn’t it?

After a relatively relaxed eight months since moving interstate, life seems to be well and truly ‘on the move’ once more, the only difference is that I am now much more aware of my limitations and am trying very hard not to take on any more than I can comfortably cope with.

The last couple of months have been filled with paid work, unpaid work, freelance writing, family ‘stuff’, travel, and all the day-to-day bits and pieces we all deal with.  There have been some highs and lows, but, surprisingly, I have been reasonably stable in terms of my mental health.  There has been an ever-so-slight decrease in nightmares, suicidal thinking (Yay!), and the ever-intrusive memories.

On the very positive side of things, I have had more than a couple of enquiries regarding my writing, and I received an invitation to attend morning tea at Parliament House in Canberra, for the launch of Blue Knot Day on Monday 27th October.

There have been a few life lessons highlighted in the last few weeks.  In particular has been the need to let things go.  Every moment is separate from the last, and what affected us in one moment does not have to impact the next – unless we let it.  This has been a recurring theme, and I am hoping I am starting to get the message, although it can be a very difficult thing to put this into practice.  I am not sure I really grasped the concept until it was clearly illustrated to me by a sand dune.

Yes, you read that right, a sand dune.

I won’t go into all the details, but basically it was while we were camping near a very large sand dune, and watching how each day the sand dune started smooth and clear, no matter how many tracks or marks were made on it the day before, that I realised how most of us spend endless amounts of energy holding onto things that ‘marked’ us in the past, when really each moment is a clean, new canvas we can paint any way we want.  I’m not sure this is making any sense, but why do we carry whatever hurt us in the past, regardless of whether it was something said, done, or implied, or whether it was a minute ago, an hour ago, or a year ago – why do we carry it into the next moment, and the next, and the next?  Why do we spend time continuing to excavate the marks, ensuring they stay with us, instead of letting them go and focusing on where, what, or who we want to be right now and in whatever time is left ahead of us?  Why not just let the sand smooth over and start each moment fresh?

What is the point of holding onto pain, or anger, or sadness, or any other emotion?  If we are able to let it go, let it pass, doesn’t that give whatever moments are ahead of us an opportunity to reach their full potential?  How many moments have passed you by because you were holding on to something from the past?

If someone had tried to tell me or teach me this five years ago, my argument would have been, “You don’t understand.  It is always there!”  Well, don’t get me wrong, it is still always there, but now I know I can choose to focus on it, or I can just let it be.  Just because ‘it’ passes across my consciousness does not mean I have to focus on it.  It does not mean that I have to carry it as a burden or let it distort and colour every moment ahead of me.  Instead, I can recognise and acknowledge the pain, memory, fear, or whatever, accept that it happened, but understand it is not happening NOW.

Right now, right this very moment, I am not being abused, traumatised, hurt, laughed at, bullied – nothing is happening to me right NOW to hurt me in any way.  I could, like I used to, allow thoughts and memories to linger and become overwhelming, allowing them to make me feel like I am being hurt right now, but it would only be my mind holding on to the past.

Yes, I am a survivor of child sexual abuse, but I no longer have to be defined by that.  I know that the cycle will continue.  I know that there will be times in the future when I will again hold tightly to the past – that’s just how it is for survivors, there are good days and there are bad days – but I am hoping I will have learnt enough about letting go to make the next period of crisis both easier and shorter than the last one.

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Searching My Mind

Searching my mind

Searching my mind

I know you are there

In the back of my mind

But I am not sure

What you’re wanting to find

Are there certain emotions

Or feelings you seek

Are you hoping I’m sorrowful

Or triumphant or meek

Are you seeing my journey

In the time that has flown

And feeling surprised

At how much I have grown

It might have been different

If you had stayed

But would you be happy

Forever feeling betrayed

In searching my mind

I’m sure you can see

My reasons and motives

For being true to me

I could have died

Yes, that’s very true

I could have been dead

But instead it is you

And although you chose

To end it that way

It’s me unforgiven

At the end of the day

So search around

As much as you like

Poke and prod

And dig with a spike

You’ll find lots of memories

Some good and some bad

But there’s also acceptance

That you are my dad

And it’s that paradox

Of love and abuse

That leaves all outsiders

A little obtuse

They can’t understand

The bizarre mental state

Left when a child reconciles feelings

Of love and of hate

So, I know you are there

Searching my mind today

But I am glad you are 

On this, your birthday

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Suicidal thoughts & depression from a personal perspective

How do we educate people about suicide and depression?

How do we educate people about suicide and depression?

A few days ago, the world lost an incredibly talented human being, Robin Williams.  His death has been reported as an apparent suicide, and his mental health and addiction history is being written about by all forms of media, and picked over and commented upon by hundreds of thousands of the general public.

Personally, I did not know Mr Williams other than as an actor, seen on screen, with a rare and awe-inspiring talent to shine a light on the human characteristics of the characters he portrayed.  As such, I am not in any position to comment on his life, his death, or his personal challenges.  However, I have been somewhat taken aback by some of the comments I have heard and read in relation to Mr Williams passing, particularly with regards to depression and suicide.

Depending on the State, it was illegal to attempt/commit suicide in Australia until the late 19th and early 20th Century.  Although the laws have changed, it would seem that the stigma surrounding taking your own life, or even attempting to, remains as strong as ever. From the public reactions and comments to the death of Mr Williams, and recently in Australia, Charlotte Dawson, it appears people who take their own lives are to be judged, ridiculed, despised, denigrated, and generally thought less of.  Regardless of well-documented histories of depression and/or other mental health issues, the three main accusations from the general public appear to be “they are so selfish,” “they should have got help,” and “why couldn’t they just ‘get over it’?”

With such high rates of suicide in Australia (see the graphs below), the question needs to be asked – are we doing enough to educate people on depression, suicide, and other mental health concerns?

2012 - Suicide as a percentage of all deaths in Australia

2012 – Suicide as a percentage of all deaths in Australia


2012 - Rate of suicides per 100 000 in Australia

2012 – Rate of suicides per 100 000 in Australia by age

I cannot speak for all people who consider suicide, or all people who die from intentional self-harm.  I can, however, share my experiences, and my thoughts on depression and suicide.

I first wanted to end my own life when I was 12 years old.  I had previously thought about ‘running away,’ ‘disappearing’, and ‘becoming invisible’ – from as early as the age of 7 – but the first time I remember wanting to physically kill myself was when I was 12.  I wanted to die so badly, on one occasion I even begged my brother to kill me.

Since then, suicidal thoughts have crossed my mind EVERY SINGLE DAY.  Many people will read this and think it is an exaggeration, but I assure you it is not.  Some days in my life have been spent thinking about nothing other than suicide, and on other days, including most days when I am mentally ‘well’, the thoughts are fleeting and pass through my mind in the same way others might think momentarily about a long-lost friend, or a brief craving for ice-cream.  Sometimes, thankfully rarely these days, the thinking moves into action, but for the most part it is just thinking – thoughts that will pass in their own way and time if I pay no attention to them.

According to media and other reports, suicide is most commonly associated with depression, however, I am not sure if you need to be depressed to consider taking your own life.  I can only refer to my own experience, and I have certainly not had enough self-awareness throughout all of my life to draw a personal conclusion about the possible links between the two.  I do, however, have witnesses who can attest that there have certainly been occasions when the desire to end my life has hit hard and suddenly during periods of balance and relative happiness.  The overwhelming veracity and impact of these particular incidents have caused far more damage, particularly to those closest to me, than any suicidal intent that occurs during or after a period of darkness and depression.  Most often, though, the severity of my suicidal intent increases as my mental state descends towards and into depression.

“And yet,” you may say, “you are still breathing.”

Yes, I am.  By the Grace of God, and the blessing of a handful of amazing people who love me far more than I deserve, I am still here and still breathing.  Although they may not comprehend or understand what happens to me internally, they accept me as I am, and help keep me safe from myself when needed.

“How can you be so selfish?”

I seriously doubt selfishness comes into play in any suicide.  I am not completely ignorant, arrogant, stupid, or selfish.  I know only too well the pain it causes others to know I think about, desire, and sometimes act to end my own life.  If there was a switch, button, pill, operation, whatever, that would completely eradicate such thoughts from my mind I can assure you I would do it.  As far as I am aware, however, such a CURE does not exist.  Counselling, medication, CBT, drugs and alcohol, and a whole other raft of ‘therapies’ do not prevent the thoughts from occurring – they only provide strategies and techniques for managing them, or in some cases may even add to the problem.

One of the most accurate comments I have seen recently is this tweet by @MisterKJW following the death of Robin Williams:

“Telling a depressed person to “just cheer up” is like telling someone with alzheimer’s to “stop being so forgetful””

Similarly, telling a person who thinks about suicide to not think about it is kind of redundant.  Certainly, telling me to “snap out of it,” “get over it,” or “I’ll never forgive you” does not help – it only adds to the problem and increases feelings of “you’ll be better off without me.”

Self-awareness, for me at least, has been a major factor in living with suicidal thinking and depression.  Knowing no matter how intense or how long the desire to end my life is, it is just a thought, a feeling, and it will eventually pass has been the key to surviving.  It does not matter if it is an hour, a day, a week, or a month, eventually the desire will pass and life will go on.

Over the years I have developed my own Suicide Alternatives Kit – a list of things I can do to distract myself from wanting to kill myself.  Sounds absolutely absurd doesn’t it – to require a plan of defence against your own mind in the same way you might have an emergency evacuation plan, or a plan of what to do if an intruder entered your house, or if a stranger tried to attack you on the street?  But there you go, the greatest danger to myself is my own mind.

Although it is difficult, and often others do not want to talk about it, talking about suicide with those closest to me is important.  They often become aware I am on a ‘downward slide’ or at increased risk before I do.  When I first broached the subject with my partner, however, his reaction was less than supportive.  I am not sure he understands any better now, but he certainly acknowledges and accepts, in his own way, that there are times when I am not safe around myself.  Particularly in the last three years, it has been the observations of my partner and/or my daughter that have enabled an early intervention approach that has prevented a major incident.  There has still been two occasions on which we have been ‘caught out’ and there has been no ‘warning signs’ an incredibly vicious attack was imminent.

On one occasion my partner even took me to the hospital for help, but the fear of the reaction of the people who should have been able to help me prevented me from going inside.  I remember all too clearly a time when my mother was doing her nursing training and she told me about having to ‘deal’ with a person who had attempted to take their own life.  Although this occurred long before I had the self-awareness or understanding of my own desire to kill myself, I will never forget the anger and frustration she expressed, and how that person had “wasted” their time and resources.  Times and society may have changed a lot since then, but these attitudes are still regularly expressed by medical staff, particularly in emergency departments, and encountered by people who, just like me, have a ‘disease of the mind’ that wants to end their life.

Help for me, on that particular occasion, came in the form of Lifeline.  More specifically, help came from an incredible stranger who volunteered her time to answer a phone call from a person who wanted so badly not to be breathing.  When all of my own strategies to keep safe failed, that voice at the end of the phone saved me.  Thank God for Lifeline.

From my own experience, I believe depression and suicidal thinking is not necessarily, if ever, something that is cured – I do however, believe it can be managed, in a similar way that diabetes or other ‘diseases’ can be managed.  I don’t believe having suicidal thoughts or depression makes you any less of a person, and it certainly does not give permission to others to judge, ridicule, denigrate, or personally attack you.  I would hope that people take the time to think about their reactions, their words, and their actions towards those who are brave enough to share their experiences of depression and suicidal thinking and be more compassionate and less dismissive of these experiences.  Take a moment to imagine what it must be like to live in a body with a mind that wants to destroy it!

If you, or someone you know needs help with such issues, the following organisations can provide assistance:

      • Lifeline – 13 11 14
      • MensLine Australia – 1300 789 978
      • Suicide Call Back Service – 1300 659 467
      • Beyond Blue – 1300 224 636
      • Kid’s Helpline – 1800 551 800
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