Written by See Change Ambassador Hazel Larkin, for World Mental Health Day 2016:
‘As one warrior to another, I salute you,’ he said. More than anything else Dermot* had uttered during the call – which had lasted one hour and eight minutes – that statement arrested me. I knew enough about Dermot to know that he is an extraordinary human being. So, for him to have numbered me among his own, to have counted me among his tribe, felt a tremendous honour.
We had spoken like old friends and confidantes that afternoon; which is a clear indication of how good Dermot is at his job. He’s a counsellor with a service provided to students and staff, by my university. The previous day, I’d admitted to being suicidal, and mentally kicked myself for doing so – as an advocate for mental health, and someone who has a personal and academic interest in the area, I knew the chain of events I had just triggered, and wished I hadn’t.
I wasn’t crying for help, and I didn’t want attention. I just wanted to disappear. My kryptonite, however, is the direct question: I can fudge, and deflect, and obfuscate, and evade with the best of them. Ask me a direct question, however, and I am unable to answer it dishonestly. So when the Disability Officer asked me if I was suicidal, I told her I was. And bit my tongue. Too late.
Between her and the phone counselling services, the space was held for me. After about two hours, I left campus, on the promise that I would make my way to my friend (and fellow See Change Ambassador). I gave my word that I wouldn’t harm myself and left Belfast.
Over the next 24 hours, I chatted with my friend, took calls from the University’s psych service, and re-connected with an old, dear friend – by fluke – when she found me online.
Suddenly, in the middle of all these discussions, I had a light-bulb moment. I certainly wanted to die. There was no question about that. I certainly wanted to kill myself. There was no question about that, either. But I realised that what needed to die, what needed killing off, was the part of me that was clinging to an old belief system that never served me, and that is detrimental to my health.
As Confucious said ‘He who conquers himself if the mightiest warrior.’
Hazel’s wellness tools
Over the years, I have learned a number of things that have been a great benefit to my mental health. I know what triggers episodes of mental ill health, and ensure I have support set up for when they will arise. For example, I will ask a friend to come with me – or meet me after – an event I anticipate will be difficult. I realise that asking for help is not a sign of weakness. Even if I don’t know what help I need, saying that I need it starts a conversation to answer that question.
For years, I have had a list of people that I can count on in a crisis: There’s a message in my phone that I send to them when I feel my mental health taking a tumble. That way, whoever feels they have the capacity to help gets in touch with me. That way, I don’t feel I’m imposing on someone who may not have the physical or emotional space to help.
I used to beat myself up when I come out the other side of a set-back. But that’s not helpful, so I have learnt to be kinder to myself. Telling myself that I need to treat myself like a good friend helps me be more careful with the language I use to myself.