Written by Steph Coombes, Central Station editor
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably seen the video that was posted on the Central Station Facebook page in April. Set to the Sunny Cowgirls song “I’ve got your back”, it featured people from across Australia holding signs of support for anyone going through a hard time. At the time of writing this article in September, it’s had 126,000 views – it’s clearly resonated with people. So, why did I make it?
The opening message, recorded by the Sunny Cowgirls, as well as a number of the signs throughout the video directly reference Dolly Everett – a young girl from the NT who took her own life earlier this year as a result of relentless bullying. A few days after the news of Dolly’s passing, I was driving with my music on shuffle when the song came on. Some of the lyrics are as follows:
Hold your breath, close your eyes
You’re surrounded by the darkness, and the worry in your mind
And you’re afraid, that you will fall
Just the thought of stopping, the thought of letting go
I’ve got your back babe, I’ll take the wheel
Let me drive a little while into the clear
I’ve got your back, be silent in-between
You are not alone, you’re a part of me
Even though the album was released in 2016, that day in January 2018 I felt as if I was listening to the song for the first time. You know when you’ve heard something a hundred times but then one day you actually hear the lyrics and the song takes on a new meaning? It was like that. Except usually when this happens it’s some sort of R’n’B/hip-hop song and I realise I’ve been singing along to crude lyrics for months without even noticing…
That day the idea for the video came into my mind before the song had even finished. I thought the lyrics were so beautiful and relevant, and I wanted to find a way to get the message they held out to as many people as possible. I had also seen a lot of people posting online with the hashtag #DoItForDolly, and I thought that our community could all pull together to make something with a really strong message to show exactly what we were “doing for Dolly”. However, while it was Dolly’s story that sparked the idea, I also knew that the video needed to reach beyond Dolly and the issue of bullying.
As I continue to grow older the significance of mental health continues to grow in my life. The truth of the matter is that more than half the people I know are dealing with their own struggles – and those are just the ones I know about. Burnout, overwhelm, stress; feelings of not being worthy, not being enough. Post-traumatic stress disorder, survivors guilt. Anxiety, depression, suicide. These are just some examples of battles that people face every day.
Translated, it says “Be patient and strong, someday this pain will be useful to you.” I got this tattoo at the age of 19 after being bullied in Primary School, High School, and at University. Those experiences still impact my life today.
Mental health does not discriminate. It doesn’t matter if you’re male or female, old or young. It doesn’t matter what race you are, where you live, what you do for a living, or how much money you have in the bank. It sure as hell doesn’t matter if there’s a “reason” or not for you to be feeling the way you do.
Sometimes the reason you feel the way you do is easier to understand than other times. Maybe you’ve experienced a depression after a relationship breakdown, job loss, or the death of a loved one. Sometimes it’s easier to connect the dots. But what about the times when everything appears to be going right in life, and you still feel like you’re falling down a black hole? What if it’s not a constant thing, but something that rears its ugly head from time to time? What if you can’t predict when you’ll next feel this way? Or if you don’t fall into a diagnostic box firmly? Not everyone in that “box” will present with the exact same symptoms, stressors/triggers/manifestations as you. So how do you navigate the path to taking back control of your life?
A couple of years ago, a friend of mine wrote this story for Central Station, opening up about their experience with depression.
“Depression can be like a fast-paced feedback mechanism; one negative thought, feeds another negative thought, which feeds another, which feeds on the first, and the cycle continues. It becomes difficult to see anything other than this… even when you ‘know’ there is no reason for it; “You have a roof over your head, incoming wages, friends, family and good health, yet you still can’t be happy?? What’s wrong with you? You are so pathetic”, or at least that’s how the cycle was going in my headspace.” (Read the whole story here).
Another one of our contributors also shared their experience with depression:
“I was diagnosed with emotional burnout and reactive depression due to the seasons and what was happening in my personal world. I did not want to acknowledge I had depression. Depression, I felt was for those not as strong and as capable as me. Emotional burnout I could accept, but depression? And talk to a counsellor and go on antidepressants? HELL NO!” (Read the whole story here).
And of course, the gorgeous founder of this website, Jane Sale, shared her story of struggling with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder just last year:
“I had tried to be strong for so long so that my staff, business, and family were confident in me as a strong leader. I was heavily involved in the day to day of business, the establishment of this website, and my family in a physical sense but I was emotionally void and isolated … if you looked at my Facebook page you would have seen a happy smiling face. I made sure I looked perfectly happy on the outside. It was a very private and emotional struggle. The reason I have never spoken extensively about the years that followed before was because these feelings of failure in the aftermath were so great. So much worse it seemed than the physical injuries.” (Read the whole story here).
I am forever humbled by the courage of people to share their stories. Open conversations with compassion is one of the first steps to breaking down the stigma about mental health. As well all know, rural communities are probably a little bit behind the rest of Australia when it comes to things like this. We’re rough and tough and as stoic as the day is long. But, the changes I’ve seen in the past decade have been incredible. Would any of these people have written those stories 20 years ago? Most likely not.
Maybe you don’t have depression or anxiety. What if you know things aren’t quite right, but they don’t seem as “serious” as depression or anxiety? Maybe it’s low self-esteem, or a feeling of not being enough. A few months ago we shared this story about the effects of social media on mental health, and the pressure people feel to portray their lives as perfect online. If there is anything which is detracting from your quality of life, it is something that needs to be resolved.
Here’s the thing. It’s ok not to be ok. What’s not ok, is to do nothing about it. The most important thing is that you know you’re not alone, that there are people in your life who are here to listen, and that it is safe to ask for help. I’m very lucky I can lean on my friends, and they feel safe enough to lean on me. But we also know there’s only so much we can do for each other, and sometimes we need people with professional training to help us get through the next part of our story. You can’t hold onto your worries forever.
Think about it like this …
A professor walked into a classroom and picked up a glass of water. As they raised the glass, everyone expected they’d be asked the “half empty or half full” question. Instead, with a smile on their face, the professor asked: “How heavy is this glass of water?”
The students called out all different answers.
The professor replied, “The absolute weight doesn’t matter. It depends on how long I hold it. If I hold it for a minute, it’s not a problem. If I hold it for an hour, I’ll have an ache in my arm. If I hold it for a day, my arm will feel numb and paralyzed. In each case, the weight of the glass doesn’t change, but the longer I hold it, the heavier it becomes.” They continued, “The stresses and worries in life are like that glass of water. Think about them for a while and nothing happens. Think about them a bit longer and they begin to hurt. And if you think about them all day long, you will feel paralyzed – incapable of doing anything.”
It’s important to remember to let go of your stresses. Remember to put the glass down!
That is a well known analogy by an unknown author. A man called Mike Margolies had this to add to the story though:
“What happens when we add more water? What if you fill the glass to the top? Things tend to get shaky. You have difficulty focusing and water spills out. Now you worry about the water that has spilled too. If someone is talking to you now you have difficulty paying attention and holding the glass still. You’ve also been taught that spilling is bad and you should be ashamed of yourself for letting those emotions, er I mean, water, spill. So now you can’t focus, you feel shame and to top it off your arm hurts.
You might just consider to put the damn glass down for a while. While it is down and feeling returns to your arm, you can clearly use your skills to deal with the task which caused you to hold the glass of water for so long. Most people choose to continue to hold the glass of water rather than put it down. Sometimes it can even be of help to release (spill) a bit of water. There is no shame in spilling a bit of H2O, after all it’s just water.”
Remember the lyrics from the song? “I’ve got your back babe, I’ll take the wheel, let me drive a little while into the clear.”
It’s about putting the glass of water down, or just passing it to a mate to hold. Letting someone help carry the load. Letting them be there for you. It’s about letting your mates and loved ones know that you are there for them.
Every Monday we will continue to post a picture like those in that video. It’s too important not to. We need to keep the conversation going and remind people that we’re all in this together. That we all go through our own struggles, but they don’t have to rule our lives, we can come out the other side. No matter how big or small those struggles are, they are all equally worthy of resolving.
As a wise friend once told me, “Spare no expense and leave no stone unturned. It’s too important, because you are too important to let anything happen to yourself.” In the words of Dolly Everett, ask for help and “Speak even if your voice shakes”.
If you are experiencing depression or are suicidal, or know someone who is, help is available.
- Suicide Call Back Service: 1300 659 467
- Lifeline: 13 11 14 www.lifeline.com.au
- Beyond Blue: 1300 224 636 www.beyondblue.org.au/
- Mindspot: 1800 61 44 34 http://mindspot.org.au/
- Men’s Shed: www.mensheds.org.au
- Virtual Psychologist is a free service that offers qualified and experienced counselling via phone, chat, email and text. It is available 24/7. Contact this service via PHONE on 1300 665 234 or TEXT on 0488 807 266. http://virtualpsychologist.com.au/home/