Because of my unwavering dedication to Aaron Paul I watched one of his new movies last night.( ‘A Long Way Down’ – trailer below). This tells the tale of four suicidal folk who want to end it all on new years eve by jumping from the same rooftop. They run into each other and make a pact to stay alive until Valentines Day. Then the story of hope and new friendships unfold. Firstly, I usually avoid watching anything mental health related and secondly, I was concerned that the movie would not be an apt description of mental illness or how people contemplate ending their lives and how they recover. Spoiler Alert Warning! In the end it turns out that the connections the four made on the roof that night see them through to surviving to the following new years.
This feel good ending is not typical from my experience of working with people who either attempt or succeed at taking their own lives. Therefore I was originally quite skeptical of the simplicity of the plot. It did not tell the story to me of those who are plagued by poverty, discrimination, racism, isolation or battling addiction and decide one day they have simply had enough. They are tired. Those who want the pain to stop for a minute. Those who want their heads to shut up and be quiet for a bit. They just want a moment of silence. A rest from it all. Some acts are impulsive. And others are deliberate and planned to bring and end to a long road of pain.
Then as I watched on, I became more and more teary. Struggling is relative. People with very little appear to be happy. And people with what we perceive to have ‘everything’ can suffer hideously. In silence. You never know what battles people are fighting until you take a walk in their shoes.
When we got to the part of the movie that told the story of Maureen, who Toni Colette played, I could not control my tears. Maureen cares for her disabled son full time. She wants her own life yet she feels that her arm is broken when she is away from her son. She struggles thinking that her son could have better care elsewhere.
The memories of my time in Social Work flooded back, and I thought of all the sadness I saw.
Every. Single. Day.
I bawled and bawled and bawled, because I had blocked it out for so long.
I remembered the woman who cared for her disabled daughter for 40 years without any help. She wanted to go back to her country before she died, but at the same time didn’t want to leave her daughter in the care of anyone else. They were joined at the hip.
Then there was the guy who was on a mission to drink himself to death. And I didn’t blame him with all the shit he had been through in his short life. He wasn’t ‘unwell’ enough to be in hospital according to the UK Mental Health Act so the best I could do was visit every day to make sure he was alive, and to try to convince him to drink a bit less tomorrow. Even is his darkest days, we would laugh about what I was wearing. Or talk about what music we liked. He was the same age as me and I could not believe that he had already been through so much pain. I still remember hugging him on my last day as his case manager and thought he was the strongest person that I knew. I remember going into his house with the pin code on the door and being grateful that I found him alive.
I hope he is alive now.
I think often about the lady I made the appointment to see and as soon as she hung up the phone from me she took her own life. I wonder if I could have said something different. I wonder why she couldn’t hang on for one just one more day. I wonder what our conversation would have been like. I wish I could have DONE SOMETHING.
Social work is tough. Eventually I needed some space from it because I had enough dark days. After a panic attack at work and an auto immune problem from stress, I decided I needed to take time out. To help others I had to help myself.
While I was a case manager I reminded myself that at the end of each day I came home to a partner, a life outside of work, my health, my shelter, my family, my sport and fresh food to eat.
I did it nine to five and had holidays throughout the year.
The darkness was not my life for twenty-four hours a day.
The people like Maureen in the movie are the unsung heroes, and there are many of them living behind closed doors. You might pass them in the street. You might never know their hardship or what is happening for them unless you take the time to listen. And sometimes listening can be the best help of all.
The people who keep on going and wading through the mud, no matter how thick it is. They have it tough. They are MY heroes. I remember crying during a carers group I ran fresh out of uni because I could not believe how bloody strong these women were.
Maybe I was always too much of a softy to survive in the land of social work.
On Friday, I stopped and chatted to a guy in Martin Place in the city. He was waving a banner around and asking for money. I gave him $10. I thought he might have been homeless. I asked him how he was and if he had somewhere to go. I asked him to tell me his story. It turned out he was on a pension and spending all his money on rent in the private market and had no money to feed his kids. He hugged me for taking the time to stop and chat, to ask him how he was. He said most people walk past him and look at him like he is pond scum.
So, as Hollywood and happy ending as ‘A Long Way Down Is’ it reminds us all that we never truly know what battles people are fighting until we can stand fully in their shoes. It is an attempt to shine a light on the most confusing question – why some people take their own lives and what helps some of us to survive.
It is well worth a watch if you ask me.