Monday, 24 November 2014

Silence on the topic is suicide itself

Easter started out well for me, here at Kirra YHA.
Following the release of my most recent story, The Easy Way Out,........(?!), there have been a few
comments about it, and so I guessed it was time for another blog post.
The story itself is, I guess, black humour, it certainly does not set out to trivialise suicide.
Anyway, since I wrote it there have been a few comments.
I was going to write 'some positive, some negative', however, that doesn't really reflect the true nature of the comments.
However, even I, aspiring wordsmith though I am can't find a 'correct' way to describe the comments.
Part of that is separating criticism of the actual writing, from the topic itself.
Should I have even written a story about this blackest of topics?
If I did, should I have put humour in the same story?
Well you can make up your own mind about that.
I will stick to my original contention that the more is said about the topic, the better.
I talked with a work colleague and he said he had an in-law who had killed themself. Schizophrenia was the root cause.
My cousin killed himself, likewise schizophrenic.
So schizophrenia is a big part of the problem.
Pindari Homeless Men's hostel, Fortitude Valley Brisbane. I ended up here a few scant hours later.
This can only be adequately treated with the care of a psychiatrist, as drugs is currently our major treatment for schizophrenia.
Just as an aside, and definitely not wanting to trivialise this dread complaint, schizophrenia means literally, 'broken head'. 'Schizo-' comes from the same word root that gives us schism, and 'phrenia' comes from the source that gives us Phrenology, the Victorian-age bunkum of examining the shape of people's heads, to give us some insight into their psychology.
One of the issues with schizophrenia is that it is usually the people around the sufferer who have to encourage the sufferer to get treatment.
This is hopelessly problematic as one very common and apparent symptom of schizophrenia is paranoia, and often the people around the sufferer are the first people not to be trusted.
I had this demonstrtated most admirably one bad Sunday evening in my homeless days.
What happened was this.
I was staying at the time at a backpackers at Kirra Beach, on the Gold Coast in the run up to Easter in, I think 2002 or 3.
Anyway, due to my perennially, at the time, drunk and stoned state I misunderstood what they told me at Centrelink when I put in my form that week.
With the four day holiday coming up, if your form was due on on of the public holiday days, mine was, Good Friday, you could put your form in the day before, which I did, on the Thursday.
However the way Centrelink traditionally works is that you put your form in and you get your payment the next day.
Now what I misunderstood was that I thought by putting my form in on the Thursday before Easter, I would therefore get paid the next day as usual, in this case Good Friday.
Wrong, wrong, wrong, Lachlan.
While my form went in early, I wouldn't get my payment till the next working day after Easter, in this case, the Tuesday, four days hence.
Now the backpackers I was staying at was a nice place, but they had trouble with local itinerants wanting to stay there, and so were totally hard core on payment.
No credit, no, 'can I pay tomorrow?', none of that.
So when I went to the bank machine of Good Friday to get some money out, I saw with a breath of fear that my balance hadn't changed, and my payment hadn't come in.
I had $18 to my name, largely due to spending most of what I had left on beer the night before.
I went back to the backpackers and tried to get some credit, I had been staying there three weeks, but no, there was no credit to be had.
Either pay or get out.
So get out I did.
I went through a lot of thought, tried some friends for loans, and while they were receptive, there was no one who could get money through to me straightaway on the Gold Coast.
So I called a few crisis numbers, and eventually got a minor lead of a homeless men's shelter in the heart of Brisbane, Pindari.
They said they had room, but I had to show up sober and be there by four pm, else, I wouldn't be allowed in.
I was technically sober, and with no money would stay so, but I had some fears that I would still stink of last night's booze by the time I arrived.
Anyway, I got a bus ticket via eftpos and took the bus, stomach rumbling all the way to Brisbane and got out at Roma Street bus terminus.
I walked around to Pindari and was accepted.
I went up in the lift and got out on one of the upper floors and found a bunk.
Thankfully my room was empty, and so I threw down my backpack, in a gesture that was oh-so-familiar to me in this period of my life and then, sat on the bunk staring at the wall.
Dinner was at six pm, it was now about two o'clock, and I had no money to do anything.
I still smoked back then and couldn't afford cigarettes and so that was another strain on my system.
Most of the other men in there were geuninly homeless, or were recently out of prison with nowehere else to go.
So smokeless, drinkless, and with the constant taint of prison violence humming through the air of the place, I did my best to get through the hours.
Dinner came and went, and afterward I sat on my bunk staring at the wall (Once six o'clock came around you weren't allowed out).
Then I realised I had run out of my anti-depressant medication.
Now I'm not schizophrenic, and my medication as very low-level compared with that which my cousin had to take for instance, but one thing it does say on the packet in big red letters is, 'Do Not Stop Taking This Medication Suddenly'.
So I went down to the desk and told the night supervisor of my problem.
He gave me special dispensation to go down to Brisbane Base Hospital to get some more meds.
I went down there to A&E and checked with the triage Nurse, who sent me round to the psych wing.
I told the desk nurse there about my medication and she said that should be no problem, but I would ahve to wait iuntil the duty psychiatrist could give me a script.
So I went out into a little courtyard area to wait.
While I was sitting there, I idly contemplated asking if I could stay here for the rest of Easter, as it was a damn sight nicer than Pindari.
However, I knew the hospital system was groaning at the hinges, and further as events were about to show, a psych wing is no place for anyone to spend a long period of time.
Anyway after I began to take stock of my surroundings, I noticed sitting a little way down the bench from me a young man, about 18, flanked by two psych nurses, one male and one female.
This threesome were chatting amiably of this and that, when the doors to the little courtyard opened part way, and a psychiatrist and two middle aged people looked through the doorway.
Well the young man, saw them and went from sitting chatting amaibly to on his feet screaming abuse with expletives at the three people in the doorway.
"Why did you fucking let them in here, you fucking bastards", and "I told you these people were fucking trying to kill me, and you fucking let them in here you fucking bastards."
Man, talk about shock.
Turns out that the people in the doorway were the young man's parents, and that he had schizophrenia.
His parents were the people he most saw as 'out to get him', and so the shrink kept their looking through the doorway to a minimum amount of time.
Obviously his parents werre heavily concerned and wanted to help, but the young man's disease was forming a barrier to any contact.
Anyway, the shrink and the parents withdrew and the door shut, and the young man once again switched things off and went back to chatting amiably with the psych nurses.
I was still shaking some minutes later. It was as good a representation of why schizophrenia is such a terrible disease for the sufferer and those around them.
Seeing this episode this dark, dank night in Brisbane, showed me even more clearly than my cousin's suicide why schizophrenia is so hard to treat.
Soon after my name was called and I went into meet with the shrink, get my prescription, then back to Pindari for another night's sleep with one eye open.
Eventually Monday came and I did what I should have done in the first palce and called my brother in Sydney and he put some money in my account and I was able to leave pindari and head back down to the surf coast.
As I've often mentioned one of the problems with being a writer is that the worst experiences make the best stories, and never was that more apposite than those few dark days in Pindari.
I learned a lot about myself and obliquely, about schizophrenia.

Away from schizophrenia, though, even relatively well-adjusted people contemplate suicide, usually to do with life situations.
Farmers in drought is a common one, adolescants being cyber-bullied is another, your partner having an affair is another, the list is pretty eternal really.
So some sobering stats from Lifeline here:

It's all too horrible to contemplate really, stats like these.
So what's to be done?
Well I'm no expert, but as ever when doing a post on this topic I strongly draw everyone's attention to the Lifeline phone number at the bottom of the screen grab.
If you are worried by suicidal thoughts yourself, or worried for someone you know, call Lifeline as an excellent first port of call.
My friend Sandy who works at Lifeline was telling me one that ninety per cent of calls to Lifeline are not 'life-threatening' calls, not suicide related, but if more people called Lifeline on a regular basis, then perhaps the ten percent that are suicide-related would drop in number.
Anyway, I hope that no one reading this is ever troubled by suicidal thoughts, but if you are call Lifeline first.

And so to finish on a lighter note, many I know who read this rubbish I output don't like cricket, they think it's too boring, and all the rest of it, 'what sort of a game goes for five days and then still ends in a draw?', is a common bleat from my American readers.
Well I would like to point out that cricket has finally been of some use in my workplace, the garden.
One of the banes of my life is Date Palms. These plants are attractive (from a distance) and up here in the sub-tropics, some nameless arsehole in the past went round and planted a lot of the things.
Meaning that in the present day that I have to prune them.
And the reason I say 'arsehole' is that the spines on these things are weaponised limb-numbing beasts with spines on a mature plant fully 30cm (1 foot long).
When I first naively began to prune my first Date Palm I went at it bare-handed, and got stung by the spines countless times, there is a minor plant toxin in the spines, and for the week afterward my hands were near paralysed, and I could hardly even life a beer, (I was still drinking then).
Anyway I realised I needed better protection for my hands, and so not long after was watching a cricket match and saw the batter wearing the special protective batting gloves.
So I sent away online to the cricket warehouse and bought a pair.
Then with my new hand protection I went out and retackled the Date palms.
It still does to take great care, but now I can work with Date Palms and come away with my hands intact.
By the way the reason these things need to be pruned is that the fronds hang downward and soon you can't even walk under a Date Palm without getting one of these spines in the head.
As you can see from the picture, these things can cause a nasty injury, and could even kill someone if the fell or in some way got their full weight onto a spine.
So in the end I have done two things for the world. One I am making the gardens of my clients safer, but mostly, I have finally found a use for cricket.


Sunday, 2 November 2014

What the hell is a 'proper' job anyway?

I've picked up another job recently, sweeping the outdoor areas of a hotel just up the beach front from my place near the centre of town.
I quite enjoy it, it's very meditative to be out and about when all the partying world is still asleep.
Indeed the only people I see as I cycle the one k up the hill is a load of other people in active wear, out for their early morning exercise, jogging, power walking, cycling, and setting up for a surf.
However, as I swept the other morning I was once again thinking that this is hardly what my oh-so-image-conscious parents would have wanted for me, however, as I say I enjoy it.
While my job category at Centrelink lists me as a gardener, that overlaps in my holiday town with property maitenance, and then inevitably, cleaning.
So I'm a cleaner.
I have no problem with that, though if my parents were alive, they would no doubt tell everyone that I am the maintenance/cleaning supervisor for a five-star holiday accommodation enterprise in exclusive Byron Bay.
Whatever, that then led to thoughts that have beset me throughout my life, of what is a 'proper' job.
I can't really count how many times this has come up, but I have no doubt that many of you reading this have contemplated the same thought, 'what is a proper job?' Mostly of course it is tied up with money and status, but whether a job with money or status is the proper job for you, well that's always debatable.
Anyway, I'm a cleaner/gardener/handyman and journalist, and I'm quite happy doing all that. Of course if I meet someone new I usually say 'journalist' first, as that seems to be a higher status job, which just shows that I'm still affected by the trappings of image laid down upon me by my parents.
So how did this happen? How did a guy with a degree in Science end up sweeping paths for a living? Well let's go back in time a bit to the HSC at Kelso High in 1982. When I began to think about this it occurred to me that in some ways I was the success story of the day.
Why do I say that?
Well, as far as I recall, I was the only one who went to Sydney Uni. Now I'm certainly not out to make out that I'm am better than anyone else I was at high school with, or a higher achiever, simply that on the scale of things at the time, Sydney Uni was the pinnacle of success.
And, as I say, I was the first graduate of Kelso High to go there (I think), I'm not sure about the year before me, but of my year, I'm sure that's true.
Anyway, what's the big deal? (If any).
So let's start overseas.
In Britain the pinnacle of university success is Oxford and Cambridge, Oxbridge is the short hand.
Oxford is the oldest uni in the world, its foundation date is uncertain, but there is evidence of teaching as far back as 1096.
Cambridge is the second oldest, founded in 1209. These venerable institutions led the way for education for nearly a thousand years. Oxbridge was seen as the home of elitism, the upper class went there or nowhere.
In the States it is the Ivy League that is the New World home of elitism. The Ivy League is comprised of: Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Brown, Cornell, Dartmouth, Columbia and the University of Pennsylvania.
For the record, Oxbridge/the Ivy League in Australia is represented by the "Group of Eight", comprising, ANU, UNSW, Sydney, Monash, Melbourne, Queensland, Adelaide and Western Australia.
So I went to Oxbridge/the Ivy League in Australia.
(PS: I've just recalled a classmate, Gavin, went to ANU, so I wasn't the only Kelso person who went into the Go8 university system.)
I know this made my father very proud, he was a graduate of Sydney Uni himself, but if he could have seen the way I carried on once I got there, he would have been less happy I'll tell you that for nothing.
For, let off the leash of my parents control, I began to party 'like 'twas 1799', as they said on The Simpsons on one episode about the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
Drinking, smoking pot, playing soccer, trying to have sex with any female that passed before me, I was the definition of a man born to fail his exams.
However, I obviously did some work, as I did pass, though barely. (My average mark for the three years of my undergraduate degree was 57%). Looking back on it, if I'd gone to counselling then, I could be the head of CSIRO by now, just a little less drinking could have seen me achieve so much more.
However that was then, and as I've often written we'd all do things differently if time machines existed. I would go back in time and just punch myself in the head and say 'wake up to yourself'.
Actually, I've just remembered that Joe Hockey was the president of the Student Union when I was at Uni, and if I did have a time machine, I would first go back in time and punch that fat fuck in the head first, before I dealt with myself. Smacking Joe Hockey into unconsciousness would do more for current day Australia, than anything I could do other than that.
One thing not having a proper job allows
is plenty of time to check the surf and ride my bike.

So did I learn anything?
Well yes, but again looking back on it, the real benefits of my elite education were the old students net.
Previously referred to as the old boys net, but not by me anymore.
The real benefits turned out to be the friends I made while I was there.
Most notably my long suffering friend Antony, who has loaned/given me, money in four figures to keep the wolf from my coastal door.
Evo, who has/is giving me invaluable financial advice that is seeing me through my short, but heroically, unsuccessful business career.
There are others, whom I'll name if relevant.
However, I seem to saying that I agree with 'it's not what you know, but who you know.'
On this topic, and reinforcing it, is this piece of advice handed out by an older student who had just graduated from Sydney Uni law.
Another player on the soccer team was just on his way down to Phillip Street, where the Law School was housed, to complete his law degree.
When the younger student asked of the older, 'how should I play it down at Phillip Street?'
The older student replied, 'get down there and root anything that moves'. [For my North American readers, 'root' was the slang at the time for having sex, you would say 'screw']
Clearly this indicated that the older student thought that contacts were far more important than an in-depth knowledge of company or real estate law.
So returning to the theme of what is a proper job? There is no real answer to that.
One thing I do remember is that quite a number of the scientists and engineers that I graduated with, didn't go into those fields, but instead were sucked up by the burgeoning IT industry, indeed as I would be a few short years later.
In those faculties, we spent more time on the computer than most, and thus spent more time fixing them than anything else, and so many began lucrative careers working on computers.
My first job out of Uni though was with Greenpeace, I don't know now what my father thought of this, but I think he thought I would be immmediately employed in a lab somewhere, and spend my career in a lab coat poking the buttons on complex lab equipment.
But that was never for me, even as a boy I knew that the world's environment was in trouble, and so began work with Greenpeace to do something about it.
After that I did my teaching diploma, and took some part time work with a soccer newspaper, so began, simultaneously, my teaching and journalism careers.
Couple of things to note there.
I think my father was happy that I was going to be a science teacher, as he saw that as a proper job. But within minutes of starting in the classroom of a NSW high school, I can confirm that teaching is an improper job of the first water.
I know what this looks like, but I
am in fact running to get into position,
while the timer on my phone camera ticked
away, not to molest this woman.
Man, I hated that.
The other thing to note, and particularly if you are going into teacher training is that the first day in the classroom is the first day you will start planning how to never enter another classroom.
So hectic is it that you quickly realize that you will never sustain the energy levels needed to do this for a whole career, and so will do anything else. Get promoted, quit, drink heavily, anything to keep you away from the classroom.
So after some five years teaching, I finally realized that teaching wasn't for me, I'd been sacked by three schools, and had left twenty odd of my own accord.
So I went into journalism full time.
I began working for the Sun-Herald (now defunct) in Sydney.
However this was yet another badly timed decision on my part, like all the rest, for you see, just as I joined the world of newspapers, the price of paper began to skyrocket due to our appalling desecration of the environment.
We were running out of trees, to put it mildly.
It takes 75,000 tress for instance to produce one New York Times Sunday edition.
The ultimate effect of this was that the long ever-quickening spiral of sacking journalists began.
I was one of the first to go, as I was only recently joined, and I might add, I got sacked from the Sun-Herald, not for incompetence, but because I wasn't walking quick enough.
How's that?
Well what happened was that I was on the racing desk of the sports section of the S-H. The editor of the same was an incredibly dysfunctional stress head, and he wanted everything done yesterday.
That day I was responsible for the early editions of the paper, so I was sitting at my desk when a shadow loomed over me, I looked up and saw it was the editor, he said: "Where we at with the early edition?", I replied, "I've got it underway, I'm just going to see about the photos from Tony, in graphics."
He nodded, but stood there.
So I thought I better show willing, and got up and went to see the picture guys.
Sauntering in a casual manner as I went.
About an hour later I got an inmail from the editor, 'could you come and see me please?', it said. I went over to his desk, and presented myself, "Oh, er, yeair," he said, "I've got to retrench three staff, so your one of the ones I'm letting go."
Simple but effective, I walked out of the John Fairfax building that arvo, and never returned.
And I'm certain that if I'd walked a bit faster earlier that afternoon, I may have survived.
However, if the price of paper was becoming the rate determiner of newspapers, I did get a good look at where news was going: the internet.
Already the Herald was cannibalizing it's own readership with its website, and so I went round to the bookshop at Crow's Nest where I lived at the time and got a book on HTML, the coding language of the internet.
Then I began making webpages on my computer, and then I began applying for jobs as an internet sub-editor.
I duly got one, and then spent the next ten years hunched over a computer screen looking for misplaced tags giving odd layouts and spelling errors on websites.
I guess that was a proper job, but what I got from that time in IT was a serious alcohol dependency.
Nothing about working with computers is healthy. It's bad for your back, your posture, your digestion, your eyes, your wrists, and of course your mental state.
I include this simply to show where public transport is these days.
Will country Australia ever have public transport again?
There is also a 'it never ends component about it'. I can't count how many nights I struggled for sleep as I went over in my mind all the code I had seen that day, wondering if I'd left a bug in it that the bad guys, could use as a nice security hole to penetrate the system.
This lack of sleep led me to increase my pot use, and then my alcohol use, just to get to sleep.
Anyway, after the millennium turned I was too burnt out to continue, so I left the IT world, and Sydney, and began drifting around the north coast of NSW, and the south of Queensland, surfing, mostly, but also wondering how it had got this way, how had I gone from Southern Hemisphere Oxbridge to being homeless?
Well, while I would never care to repeat being homeless again, it did give me time to think, and I happened across the old decision to live in Byron Bay, surf and be a gardener.
And so I did it.
In all that time from my first employment aged 15 for a cauliflower farmer, outside of Bathurst, to today, I have had almost three hundred jobs.
When I look at them, I see that the ones that would have been considered, by my parents at least, as 'proper jobs' were the ones that made me the most unhappy, and thus led me to drink heavily.
The ones that would be seen as the lowest status, weeding garden beds, sweeping paths and/or cleaning toilets, have brought me a measure of peace.
Weird how things work, but there you go.
So if you are ever worried about the status of your job, stop now, the only one it matters to is you.

Sweeping at dusk brings the ultimate peace of views like this.