Much ado about a cigarette

It is a gross, but mildly understandable that we spend the vast majority of our time here like zombies, placated by benzos and nicotine replacement therapy.

Indeed, many people in here have angry tendencies and lash out at others.

I, conversely, expressed a desire to harm myself and have been trying to talk to someone about it.

In both cases, the belief is that we are a danger to the outside world.

Understandable.

Inside, the outside world becomes lionised, with the ultimate expression of freedom being a cigarette.*

I have seen women (with whom I have previously had coherent conversations with) turn into “girls gone wild” for a cigarette and lighter from ” the other side.”

“The other side” is not the “outside world,” but a lighter, less restrictive version of the ward. Presumably, the inhabitants are dangerous but not as dangerous as us, because they have 24/7 internet access and occasional leave.

This makes me ponder something about suicide prevention in the public system: is it really about preventing or pacifying?

All I can say is that upon entering it, I keep on asking for and trying to find the tools that will help me get better and to discuss the feelings that I’m having and am met with a stony silence from the staff.

Meanwhile, my surroundings and the unpredictability of my fellow patients somewhat terrify me. (I am the only one here for suicide ideation, or any suicide related illness.)

I’m guessing that’s the intent: to scare straight, but at the same time, I feel like hope is gone as well.

What I want is to have a therapist to talk to, in order to see what to do next. To help me put what I’m seeing into a context that doesn’t sap my will to live.

At the moment, I have a desire to live if only because I can’t picture the rest of my life being here.

For me, the system is strangling.

And perversely, that seems to be the goal.

*Coincidentally, I recently gave up smoking. Seeing what others will do for cigarette in this situation is harrowing.

Don’t Say The “S” word

At the end of every news report about suicide here in Australia, we are given the numbers of places to call if “you or someone you know are having troubling thoughts.”

The troubling thoughts being “suicide.”

At potentially great risk to myself and reputation, I have been having those troubling thoughts for the past 4 years.

For purposes of privacy, I will not discuss my triggers.

And this article is meant to facilitate discussion and awareness of the public system as it relates to those suffering from depression and suicidal thoughts.

Step 1: The helpline and therapy

The staff at the helplines are trained, but not perfect. After explaining my concerns and receiving generic answers, I got ” patched up” to make it through the night so I could make to therapy.

Therein lies the issue with suicide, you’re always getting a boost to last you for a little bit as opposed to finding long lasting help.

Therapy somewhat helps, although the necessities of life (work, mostly) intervene.

Step 2: Police

Welcome to “duty of care” land. The police are the first group that many encounter whilst under “duty of care.” In this instance, it means ” you can’t harm yourself under my watch.”

In my particular case, an officer making small talk to prevent me from “suicidal ideation” actually had the effect of strengthening my internal resolve.

And it’s the internal resolve that is rarely addressed, but is the most dangerous and influential.

A medical professional once said to me during a hospitalisation that “you cannot stop someone who wants to kill themselves, because they would have done it already .”

Step 2: Hospitalisation

Often, the next step is hospitalisation. Again, “duty of care” is the keyword. Actual discussion about the circumstances causing the ideation is rare.

My experience has been to be thrown into a psychological ward, where I found myself more scared and that inner resolve grew in leaps and bounds, and calls to get someone to talk to about it fell on deaf ears as I was expected to “resolve it myself.”

Another person in the ward said “just say that you no longer wish harm to yourself and you are closer to rejoining the outside world. Be positive.”

Step 3: Life outside

Life on the outside after a suicide attempt is different. Food tastes sweeter and things feel fragile.

Therapy is somewhat of a salve, but one thing that isn’t is how we all talk about suicide.

It is consistently framed in two harmful ways: Firstly, as “your” problem that you’d better deal with in these ways we have provided.

Secondly, suicides and memorials tend to be reported in a selfish way, which is to say “I miss [deceased person] because of XYZ they did made me felt good and it’s such a waste.”

It’s such a waste you have to scream out how much pain you’re in when it comes to thoughts of suicide in order to get help.

For some of us, suicidal thoughts do not come in a massive wave, but rather like a cup that is just a little bit overflowing.

We need to be aware that not everyone experiences it the same way.

We also need to really re-evaluate how our public health system treats people with suicidal ideation, because there are people falling through the cracks who might have been able to be saved.

Another (not-so) Modest Proposal

Believe it or not, you have to pay for an ambulance here in Victoria.

That’s right, call 000 (equivalent of 911 or 999) for an ambulance and a week later you get socked with a bill usually ranging in the mid three figures if you’re not a member of Ambulance Victoria.

If you’re a member or in a private health fund, the cost is less or zero.

This morning, I read an article from the Telegraph (UK) that wealthy Muscovites are using deluxe ambulances to get around Moscow’s atrocious traffic.

Perhaps the Victorian government could employ the same idea here?

If you’ve got a stubbed toe and some ducats, why not get the deluxe ambulance service to take you to The Alfred?

Wouldn’t going for that colostomy be a bit easier to hack if you knew you had an ergonomic leather seat with pumped in Vivaldi?

And given the tendency of money launderers to be very conspicuous consumers, it certainly would be helpful to law authorities.

Becoming One of Those People

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These days it seems that we are always organised into tribes called “us” and “them.”

Not like that is anything new, it’s been going on since the dawn of human existence, I reckon.

Perhaps in this modern age it seems that the lines are becoming more sharper.

There was a time that I used to deride people whose lives were governed by their fitness regime.

Not so anymore.

Slowly, but surely, I’ve become one of “those” people.

Most mornings I jog, and now–despite losing a tooth in the surf–I’m quite happy to add on swimming.

The question I ask myself though is “have I lost what made me me?”

Or is this just merely evolving?

Perhaps the more important question one should ask is: Do I enjoy it?

That answer is yes.

This is World AIDS Day

Today is World AIDS Day. My country’s consulate here in Melbourne has been showing their support for the AIDS-free by 2015 campaign, and to be honest, seeing support from the US like that makes me very proud to be an American.

World AIDS Day often goes unnoticed at our household, which to some extent is partly a good thing as I’m in a serodiscordant (aka “magnetic” relationship). What that means is that I’m HIV- and my partner is positive. He was diagnosed with HIV over 25 years ago and essentially abandoned by the medical establishment at the time and essentially expected to die within weeks.

Today he is a vibrant and healthy man, who I do love very much. When you look at him, you do not see HIV, but his humour and zest for life. Yet, HIV/AIDS is without a doubt a frequent presence in our lives. Some examples:

– When either of us is cut or has an open wound, we take it calmly but seriously. HIV may die when it hits open air, but there’s nothing to say that I could also pass something on which could worsen it.
– When he is off his medicine, he can become extremely lethargic and almost depressed, because the virus saps you of your strength.
– Separate toothbrushes, razors, and deodourant.

Being in a serodiscordant relationship is not what either us expected, but it is our life.

To be frank, whenever he reads about HIV infections going up (as they are here in Australia), he gets pissed off.

“How can anyone be dumb enough to catch it with all the information that is available now?”

As much as I have theorised on that subject on this blog, the fact is there are no clear cut answers.

We can talk about a heavily sexualised Gay & Straight media culture which rarely presents safe sex in a practical light as opposed to just going straight to the tantalising.

We can talk about the fact that we live in a society where we opt not to get uncomfortable for a few minutes, without realising that a little discomfort might be the difference between a positive and negative HIV result.

We can talk about how while PWA are definitely treated better in general, the fact that they are living longer and better lives still doesn’t negate the fact that life without the virus is better than without.

We can continue to talk and talk and go to fundraisers and wear ribbons, but if you don’t take the time to listen and educate yourself and others on the reality of the virus and the lifestyle changes it can impact upon you and your loved ones. Well, then it will hit you.

I love my partner with or without HIV (and yes, his HIV status is one of the reasons we moved to Australia), but I hope I live to see an AIDS-free 2015.

Just so I can end this on a lighter note, today also marks the 18th birthday of JOY 94.9,where I’ve been fortunate enough to be a part of World Wide Waves since October. If you can, please support JOY with a membership. It’s a critical part of our community and it helps give voice to many who would be drowned out in our current media landscape.