Today is World Suicide Prevention Day. I only found out about this when I logged onto Twitter and saw that the hashtag #WorldSuicidePreventionDay was trending. I kept a keen eye on the tweets and also the stories and blogs that were being written about suicide. Having been diagnosed with all sorts of so called mental illnesses in the past and having experienced the grief of family members taking their own lives, this topic is something that is very close to my heart. During the day I also noted that various tweets from Apple announcing the new iPhone 6 and the new watch were also trending. As I read stories about the new phone and all of it's capabilities and also how are lives will be improved by the new watch my mind wandered back to the other topic that was trending and that was suicide prevention. You see, and it has taken me a long time to learn this, for me the happiness that I will gain from buying the latest phone or the latest gadget will only last for a finite period of time. I know, it's been said many times before and it is such a simple statement but true happiness comes from within and the key for me is to truly be happy even if I never manage to buy that new phone of gadget.
Having worked and volunteered at San Patrignano, the drug rehabilitation community in Italy for close to six years now I have learnt, through my own personal experiences that depression is not a disease that is only curable by medication which is such a common belief. This was my excuse for many years of failings and hopelessness, a resigned boy and man that had no control over his emotions and was at the mercy of depression and addiction. I would hear myself say the same old thing whenever I would go off the rails or be confined to my bedroom for days "there's nothing I can do, I have a chemical in balance, it's a disease...." I don't think that anymore and I can honestly say that I am happy.
There are many steps that I took to get to this place and the most profound one was to walk though the gates of San Patrignano in Italy many years ago. One of the first lessons that the resident there learns when they enter the community is that they are not sick and that they have the skills and power to become strong enough to resist drugs when they leave the community. There are many residents who I have befriended over the years and through their courage and conviction I have learnt to be strong and find my own path to happiness.
It's not only the work that I do at San Patrignano that has helped me immensely there have been other significant episodes that has helped create this paradigm shift in the way that I think about emotions. I was given the opportunity to say goodbye to my Dad on the last day that he was with us and seeing him that day is an image that will stay with me forever. He was at peace and what has stayed with me every day is the fact that at any moment I may be gone as well. It is a trigger for me to remind myself that I am in control of my emotions and that I can choose happiness. I also had the good fortune of meeting Andy Puddicombe who taught me some simple skills to be mindful. Andy teaches simple techniques that allow you to "stand outside of yourself" and simply observe your thoughts.
I guess in many ways I am still the very same person that I was all those years ago when I seemed to be "stuck" - the difference now is that I make a choice to do something different when I am faced with life's challenges instead of falling into a so called "depression". Now I make a conscious decision not to sit and dwell for too long on anything, particularly anything that is worrisome. Exercise, breathing, cooking, laughing (particularly at yourself) seeing friends, writing and of course practicing Mindfulness helps me every day. I sometimes think that I am alone in believing that depression is not an illness especially after a day like today when I have read so many stories stating that it is.
The image included in this blog were taken at the Big Feastival that I recently worked at. In amongst the fields were two big haystacks piled up high. On the last day of the event so many children were playing on the haystacks, jumping around, falling down and throwing hay at each other. I loved seeing the children playing without a care in the world, no phones, no games, no gadgets, just having fun. It reminded me of my time as a child back in Australia when life seemed far more simple. That haystack and the joy that it provided has been on my mind ever since the event...