“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.'” – Mr. Fred Rogers
By Caiti Ward – In recognition of Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, I decided to write about the helpers of my life. The people and moments that I latch onto when things get darkest or most difficult. This is important to me because of my history with depression, anxiety and attempted suicide – so I’d like to utilise it to remind everyone who suffers from a mental illness that there are always, always helpers. In any moment, at any given time, in any capacity – something you do or say could be one of these moments for someone.
The woman at my father’s work who I lent Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets to. She gave it back with a bar of chocolate and a handwritten thank you card; the first I ever got.
My best friend who came to almost every counseling session I had in primary school. Who loved me even when I hurt her feelings out of jealousy or control issues. Who gave me a home when I didn’t have one. Who ultimately taught me that at some point, we all need to take responsibility for our actions.
My year 4 teacher who cried while reading a book to us one day, showing me that emotion wasn’t something to be fearful of, or an erratic reaction, but a real and valid reaction to something that impacts us.
My year 6 teacher who invested time and energy into me, inside and outside of school, so that I could attain a better quality of life for my future.
A mathematics teacher at my high school (whose class I was never in), who became my point of contact and comfort when I stopped going to school, and when I came back after my attempted suicide.
My high school history teacher, who was the first adult I knew to have severe allergies to things, wear glasses and be the most intelligent and most bad arse person I knew.
My high school wood work teacher, who everyone made fun of. He was the most patient man I have ever met (next to my husband), and had this unwavering belief in me, even when I was just the worst student. He showed me that I was someone to believe in despite the poor choices I would make out of habit.
A school friend who lost her battle with the Black Dog; to suicide.
My year 11 adviser who was the confidant of myself and that school friend. Who, with attentiveness, humour, generosity and Grace, change the course of my life by nominating me for the Life Changing Experiences Foundation program.
My aboriginal studies teacher who challenged not only my beliefs, but my tenacity in believing them. He taught me that “From little things, big things grow” but you also have to work hard for them.
My SLR teacher who not only taught me how to swim when caught in a rip current (which very literally saved my life once), but that I also don’t need to sacrifice the opportunity for growth and education just to please others.
A boy I shared English class with, that I didn’t know very well, who wrote in my end-of-year scrap book “I can’t wait to tell my kids one day that I went to school with you. You’re going to change the world.”
When my heart felt like it was being torn out of my chest, and my mum hugged me and cried with me on the couch.
My “Big Sister” from the SISTER2Sister program. There is no limit on the things she taught me, and still teaches me. In a photo compilation video I watched yesterday, the photographer wrote “empowered women empower women” and I think that sums her up precisely.
2008, Caiti and her “Big Sister” Sally
The woman who I’d never met but who took a chance on me. She funded my trip to the U.S. as an Australian Youth Ambassador where I met, for what felt like the first time, people who were my true kin.
A woman I trained when I worked at a bank, who called me after I was let go to tell me all the reasons I was wonderful and made her days better.
The months that my roommates and friends supported me emotionally and financially when things got really rough for me.
The man from the Australian Funeral Directors Association who tried to help me track down where my father’s body is. When I called the funeral home his ceremony was at, they actually yelled “If he’s your father, shouldn’t you already know? What kind of daughter are you?” at me. The elderly man from the AFDA showed me such kindness, and called me every day for a week just to make sure I was okay.
The first friend I made in Austin who spent every day off with me because I was alone and isolated. She held my hand and encouraged me to learn to drive, to leave the house more and explore Austin. She patiently listened to the excuses I made but made me feel supported enough to ignore them and go on and pursue things anyway.
The moment that one of my husband’s closest male friends said “love you” at the end of a phone conversation, and really meant it.
The moment my husband said “Everybody’s normal is different” after I pleaded with the universe to make me normal, average, someone who doesn’t have a mental illness.
One of my best friends in Austin who shares everything with me. Because of her honesty, I’ve learned that I’m not alone in so many things that cause me pain.
When my father-in-law, after a normal dinner, said “I really enjoyed spending time with you today.”
My little brother who surprised me with flowers and a note for my birthday.
My little sister and her partner who surprised me with a gift box of Australian snacks, and a lovely card.
The people I work with who accept me exactly as I am.
My therapist who chose social work as her path in life.
The group of people I play DnD with who have created a fun and safe place for me to make decisions and not be judged.
Depression, as an illness, doesn’t feel like an additional something; it feels like the void of everything. Of concentration, perspective; the ability to see positivity. Of hope, of motivation, of passion and interest; of a future.
There is a saying that goes “how can you expect others to love you when you don’t even love yourself?” which really resonates with me. I always thought that my relationships were selfish because I always felt like at some point I was taking, taking, taking, constantly, so I must be draining and difficult and worthless for those around me. What I later realised is that we can absolutely expect and allow others to love us when we don’t love ourselves, because we’re worthy of that love – especially when we need it most. That is how love works, and there are no contingencies around it.
When people approach me and tell me that they’re not okay and they don’t know what to do – that they’re tired – they’re so tired of fighting the Black Dog and of fighting themselves, I make an effort not to say “I promise it gets easier” because I don’t think that’s very precise. I think that by saying “it gets easier” it kind of takes away from the strength of the person battling the illness. That by saying “it gets easier” you’re insinuating that the disease itself will alleviate and you just have to wait for that to happen.
Instead I tell them that “it gets less hard.” It gets less hard because you get stronger, little by little, day by day. And while sometimes you might take a few steps back into the dog house, you will reemerge with new knowledge and new insight that you can use to rebuild bigger and stronger than before. That cycle will likely repeat – (insert) medicine, therapy, exercise, food, friends, family and support, but it will get less hard.
Some days are awful; horrible nightmarish days. Some are tolerable, where you occasionally have to tilt your head to try and try to make the invasive negative self talk fall out of your ears. Some are good, where you feel like you’re steady and you make a lot of plans to do things that make you happy. Then some days are great, filled with passion and motivation and a serious can-do attitude. For the most part though, each day is a different degree of less hard.
What every day possesses is the potential for one of those moments. For a kind gesture, a friend who tells you that they love you; for someone to believe in you. For someone like me, those moments and those people have been life saving.
So thank you – from the thank you card that opened my eyes to gratitude, to my friends and family who accept me as I am – you and those moments are the helpers I look for when the scary things set in.
**If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs immediate help call the toll-free, 24-hour hotline of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) to be connected to a trained counselor at a suicide crisis center nearest you.**
About the author
Caiti Ward is an Australian writer, actor and plant fanatic. For 10 years, the aspiring Botanist has been an outstanding voice for mental illness awareness, and is an advocate for the environment, as well as for the rights of women and Indigenous peoples globally. Caiti currently lives in Austin, TX and has 3 cats, a dog, and a husband. You can find her on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.