Self-help books are a great way to seek information and strategies to find appropriate resolutions…
This story deals with suicide and mental health. If you need to talk to someone, call Lifeline on 13 11 14
August 26 2014, 5:31 pm
“Hey Bea! I just finished editing the gag reel and am exporting it, so it’ll be good to tonight, when can I give you a copy?”
“Wonderful! Thank you! How does tomorrow at midday sound?”
“Sounds good to me, I’ll see you then!”
These are not the text messages of someone who will, within hours, take their own life. Or that’s what I thought.
Actually, the thought hadn’t even crossed my mind. Because as I hurried towards ANU campus, balancing Thai takeaway in one hand and texting my friend Matt with the other, Matt’s mental state wasn’t even on my radar.
Today is R U OK Day—the national day of checking in on those around you, to see if they need a bit of extra support.
It’s the national day of lending an ear, of leaning on a friend, of making sure that you keep your friends’ struggles and mental wellbeing in mind.
But for those who have lost someone to suicide, it’s also a painful reminder of all the times you could have checked in. Of all the times you didn’t keep their struggles or wellbeing in mind.
So I wanted to tell you about my friend Matt.
In my first year of university, I discovered the thrill of being Very Busy and Important.
I realised that I didn’t have to be ‘just another Arts student’. I could hold an elected office. A peer-to-peer leadership position. I could attend meetings and organise campaigns and generally be incredibly full of myself.
“Busy!” I would say with a dramatic sigh when asked how I was.
I met my mate Matt through a mutual friend in second year. An intelligent class clown with a super dry sense of humour and a penchant for 90s rap, Matt and I hit it off immediately.
Iconoclastic, creative and the life of the party are some words to describe Matt. Depressed, prone to substance abuse and struggling to cope are others.
I would never have guessed this, however, until Matt posted a Facebook status that was a clear cry for help.
Unable to cope in silence, Matt publicly shared his struggles, and friends and family rushed to offer assistance, including myself. I immediately arranged a hangout with just the two of us at my sharehouse.
We watched Total Recall and ate popcorn and awkwardly skirted around some of the feelings he had shared online. As a 21-year-old I found I didn’t really know what to say. How do you ask someone about the depths of their depression? But I knew that I wanted to be there for him and told him so.
Matt thanked me but brushed off my concerns. He was okay, he said. He would seek some help.
Two years later, Matt and I were working together at Woroni, ANU’s student media organisation, and still good mates. A lot had happened since then–Matt was now doing his Masters at the ANU School of Art in video production and I had just got back from six months of university exchange.
I remember making a mental note to check in on Matt. How was he doing? A close mutual friend told me his drinking hadn’t slowed and he still partied hard.
But, one look at Matt’s familiar grin and his warm hug and my worries were gone. Besides, I had three part-time jobs, a role editing at the student paper and the student elections were coming up, for crying out loud! What else mattered?
Through the long days and nights of working together at the newspaper offices, Matt’s mask of the intelligent larrikin never slipped. He partied, he worked tirelessly, he pitched ideas. He was always on-hand to help out.
I assumed the worst had passed. I didn’t make the extra effort to check-in and I found myself too Busy and Important to make time to catch up one on one outside of work.
I remember being worried that people, even Matt himself, might misconstrue attempts to catch up one-on-one as that of romantic interest. So I let it slide.
The day after Matt died was a blur. We were hosting an event with a big deal magazine editor from interstate and were prepping when a fellow editor came in to the office in tears.
Matt’s family had been in touch. He had taken his own life the night before. I checked my phone. My last message from Matt was from the previous evening.
“Sounds good to me, I’ll see you then!”
I had been too busy to realise Matt hadn’t shown up for our meeting.
But…that’s not right, I remember thinking. Suicidal people don’t make plans.
That’s what we’re told. But it’s now been six years since Matt died.
It took me years to process his death, to come to terms with the fact that he had been hiding so much struggle under such a sunny smile.
I’ve learned not to blame myself, though I feel a keen sense of guilt when I think about those final messages. What if I had invited him to share the takeaway?
I now know I was just a single piece of a much larger puzzle. But I was still a piece. And so are you for all the people in your life.
As humans, we’re conditioned to think that friendship management skills come naturally, but even the most extroverted among us still have to focus their efforts.
There are no social productivity tools I’ve come across to make sure you’re diligently tending to your garden of friendships.
No one says, “Oh, there’s a great app for that” when you’re juggling the ups and downs of your friends’ lives as well as your own.
It’s up to you to stop and think: Which friends haven’t I seen recently? Who might need a little extra support this week? When is the anniversary of that awful thing that happened to them? How can I be there for them?
I’ve started taking notes in my phone about my friends’ lives because I’m sick of forgetting to ask about how that interview went, or that exam or that important discussion with their significant other.
It may sound cynical to think of friends as checkboxes or spreadsheets. But if your friendships are so important, why wouldn’t you apply yourself to the task of supporting them as you would a task at work? After all, there’s far more at stake.
It’s up to you to prioritise your life—to make room for those friends or loved ones who need your help. It’s up to you to reach out. Even if it’s just an offer to share some takeaway.
R U OK starts with you making space in your life to prioritise things that are important to you—no matter what day it is.
Because I promise you, once it’s too late, there is no reset button.
IF YOU FEEL THE NEED TO REACH OUT OR SEEK SUPPORT
Lifeline: 13 11 14
Reach Out—alcohol and substance abuse support
DVCS ACT 24/7 Crisis Line: 02 6280 0900
1800RESPECT: 1800 737 732
Photo: Bronwen Maher. Edited by Janis Lejins