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The power of perspective

I am going to preface this blog article by explaining that it deals with the subject of suicide. If that's something you are not comfortable with reading, or if even in reading this far you feel triggered, then please don't read on - and please do seek support now, from Lifeline (call 13 11 14), Beyondblue (call 1300 22 4636) or by calling 000.

This is a small part of my story.

I recently signed up for the Lifeline Out of the Shadows walk (in Wollongong, September 10th). If you haven't signed up for this already, please do - suicide awareness and prevention are more important today than they have ever been.

Signing up for this event brought me to think about the place where I once found myself. And I thought I would share that place with you, today.

Many years ago I found myself sitting in a pleasant park, on a lovely day, surrounded by family, friends, and many others, all having a great time. The sun was shining, the world had not yet met with Covid and everything seemed well.

Except for me.

For me, I was working out how I could end my life in a certain and sure way, but without those around me knowing it was suicide. For a brief moment, my mind suggested that maybe I could give myself cancer; somehow get a terminal dose into me, something that would kill me quickly and end the pain I was feeling.

At about this point I found myself undertaking what I know now to be a very 'Acceptance and Commitment Therapy' activity, in noticing that my mind was an observer, and the thoughts passing through it were somewhat separate. And my observer-self thought to itself that perhaps, just perhaps, that thought had not been too logical.

And so, I reasoned that I would take a rational approach to this. I would weigh up the logic of the two arguments, and see whether I was being logical in deciding to end my life. I opened my phone and I created two lists; Reasons to go, and Reasons to stay.

Just as I haven't gone into the various reasons and thought processes that brought me to this point I also won't delve into the contents of those lists - but it's important to know that they were not, in any way, balanced. My Reasons to go list played host to all my darkest thoughts about myself, and every negative thought I'd ever told myself was 'true'. When it hit a hundred items, I stopped adding more. My Reasons to stay list was overshadowed by how I thought of myself at that moment. It ran dry at six reasons, and that was hard work.

And there I had it; proof positive. If I could come up with 100+ reasons to end my life in just a few minutes, without even breaking a sweat - and if I couldn't even hit a dozen reasons not to do it - then the path ahead was obvious and clear.

I will be forever thankful that my observer-self saw this entire process as something separate from me, and something I needed to get some help with, rather than action. I will not say that the following days were easy, this was without a doubt the darkest time of my life. I opened and reviewed those lists many, many times, looking to see if I had been right on that sunny day.

But, one day I realised something that literally saved my life. All items on the list were not made equal. I had a change of perspective.

One item on the Reasons to stay list was 'Your family will miss you for the rest of their lives". One reason on the Reasons to go list was "You're an idiot". And the two items were clearly not equal. In fact, once I started to think on it, I realised that my love for my family, and theirs for me, outweighed any number of insults and self-doubt I might list on the other side of the ledger. Like a large nugget of gold placed upon one side of the scales, it would more than compensate for the thousand grains of sand I would use to wear away at my self-esteem, on the other.

You're probably reading this thinking 'Of course! Everyone knows that!' But in that dark place, if I had known it before then I had lost sight of it. Finding it, knowing it, meant my list was pointless, and I made the decision to stay. My perspective had shifted from counting a list of reasons - which were self-insults more than reasons - to seeing the value in what I would be giving up. Yes, my pain at these insults would cease, and there would be no 'me' to hurl them at me. But the price for that peace was the loss of those who I loved the most. It was far too high a loss for me, thanks to my shifted perspective.

And it was that shift in perspective that saved me, back then. I never wanted to lose that awareness, so I had a tattoo that says, in Latin, "Ne reputes rationes ire; memento causas manere". It means, roughly, "Don't count the reasons to go; treasure the reasons to stay". Treasure is the right word, for me; even if there were only one reason on that list, if it's as valuable as the love of my family then it will always outweigh those doubts and insults.

I had another very powerful reminder of this when speaking with someone who had lost a dearly loved family member. When speaking of the loss, they told me that they were thankful for it - not for the loss itself, but for the fact that it had shown her how strong she was. She had managed to shift her perspective to see this immense change in her life as an opportunity to grow and become aware of her own inner strength, both a gain and a loss. Again, it is a shift in perspective, from seeing change purely as a painful experience to seeing it as an opportunity to grow and expand.

Changing our perspective on our pain can be one of the most empowering steps to take.

Suicide is a deeply sad topic and it's something that becomes a unique experience for those who fall within its circle. Some escape that orbit and some do not, and if there was some easy way to save everyone we'd have already found it. There isn't - but there is, as always, hope. There is empathy, love, and compassion for others, and we all have the ability to reach out and help those who fall towards it if that's something they are open to receiving.

This walk will hopefully help, and I am looking forward to meeting others on the 10th. Please join us, I'd love to meet you all there too.

Lastly, as I said at the start, this can be a difficult topic for anyone to read. If this has brought up feelings for you, then please seek support now, from Lifeline (call 13 11 14), Beyondblue (call 1300 22 4636) or by calling 000.

Take care of yourselves, and each other.


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