My first suicide attempt was when I was still a teenager. I had been in a serious relationship that had ended badly, included domestic violence and drastically reduced my self-esteem.
When the relationship ended I was jubilant to the point of ecstasy. It wasn’t until months later that a depressive downward spiral began and lasted for months and months. I began smoking marijuana heavily and binge drinking.
My second attempt was in my early 20’s. Again it was the culmination of incredibly dark thoughts that had been swirling in my head for weeks on end. It came after a period of a lot of good things happening to me, all around me, and to the people I loved.
I felt as if I had lost the capacity to feel joy or happiness, for other people and least of all for myself. It was around this time that I started to feel angry. Not just anger. Rage. It coursed through me like white-hot molten lead.
It occurs to me now that every single time these events happened I was out of work and on welfare. I had again begun to drink heavily and use drugs. Marijuana was not enough anymore. I began to use ‘heavier’ drugs.
My third and most recent attempt occurred several years ago, when I was 27. The exact reason still eludes me. But the anger I remember. Impotent rage that I directed inwards.
As with all other attempts, there was not one defining factor that bought me to the point of feelings of utter desolation that precipitated every single instance of me wanting to end my life. Even though by this age I was completely drug free, the heavy binge drinking had again reared its head.
The third attempt was a defining moment. It was after that that I was diagnosed with bipolar, and told that I have more than likely had bipolar since my late teens. It’s been 6 years since my diagnosis and everything I have read, studied and learnt about my condition has helped me make sense of a lot of my actions.
The self-medicating via binge drinking, drug taking, the knocked down hard feelings of not being able to get out of my bed some days, pushing people away and out of my life, drug addiction, crippling self-doubt some days, complete belief in myself on other days, the anger, the tears that sprung from out of nowhere for no reason. The list goes on.
I have since found out that this condition is sometimes hereditary; after learning that a lot of things became clear to me. A moment of clarity being that this condition can be attributed to inter-generational trauma.
Even though scientifically it may be a matter of my brain chemistry constantly changing and re arranging itself, the more I learn about this condition I live with, the more I realise that for me, it must be controlled via medication; believe me when I tell you I have tried other ways. They do not work for me.
The process of finding the right balance of medications that suit my particular mental health issues has not been easy.
In fact it has been difficult, frustrating and during one trial of an anti-depressant I actually wanted to self-harm more so than at any other time. Over the past 6 years I have had to change medications, combine medications and at times change medications completely.
But the fact of the matter is, my condition requires that I do this, because when I stop (and I have stopped taking meds a few times), I feel the creeping sense of the dark place my bipolar will take me, I feel the pull of self-medicating, I feel the crippling self-doubt, I feel the pull of my moods sweeping me away as if on a wave, I feel any and all motivation drain from me as if through a sieve, I feel the utter self-loathing, paranoia and rage crouched in the shaded recesses of my mind ready to pounce.
When I step away from myself and try to see my life from the vantage of someone else looking in, the one thing that keeps tugging at my conscious is: why did it take so long for me to be diagnosed?
After every attempt to take my life I saw mental health professionals. And a few times in between I saw psychiatrists. When I look at my life, some of the behaviour I have displayed, I can’t help but feel that my diagnosis could have come much sooner and stopped if not two, then at least one episode of attempted suicide.
There are multitudes of reasons why people choose to end their lives. I cannot and would never try to definitively state any one reason why anyone has taken their own life. I can only relate my own story and hope someone, somewhere, gains a better understanding of just one of the reasons why this terrible tragedy occurs.
I am an Aboriginal woman, but my story is not completely unique. I believe my mental health issues have been compounded by the effects of racism, stereotyping, prejudices and a mainstream media that perpetuates outdated mindsets and sometimes contributes to my own inward feelings about my race – internalised racism that I can now identify and stamp out through my knowledge and pride in my people.
This is something that I have learnt over a period of time, a method of coping that I use whenever I see, hear or read something that is so racist, so bigoted, so prejudiced that my heart skips.
Knowledge and pride have given me strength. Some would call this a thick skin, but it is not. It is a coping mechanism against things I know that are more often than not said, written or acted out to specifically make me feel less because of the colour of my skin and the genes I carry.
It has only been over the past three to four years that I have tried to reconnect with my culture in my own way. By attempting to learn my peoples’ language, which has almost died, by attempting to learn the stories of my people and by trying to find a way to connect the inner culture I feel with mainstream Australia.
Aboriginal youth suicide is at an epidemic level. With adult Aboriginal rates not far behind, questions must be asked and answers must be sought.
The pain of losing loved ones in this way is unspeakable, and to think that these losses may have been preventable is more than heart breaking, it is absolutely soul crushing.
I am not alone when I call this a crisis of epic proportions. The Culture is Life campaign, currently underway and being run by Aboriginal Elders in their communities is a step towards addressing this crisis.
I urge everyone, everywhere to stand behind these Elders. As I do.
Added to this is also the ‘Looking Forward’ project I wrote about in my previous Croakey piece. These are programs that will no doubt achieve results as they are made by and for Aboriginal people.
And even if just one life is saved, then it is worth it, because our lives are no less valuable because of the colour of our skin, our socioeconomic standing or our rights as the Traditional Owners of this land being eroded day after day after day.
I am lucky. Very lucky. I have a mother, a sister and a step-father who have helped me through my roughest passages, my darkest hours and my bipolar that is always there, never fully gone, but held back through these people who love me no matter what. They have always been a constant in mine and my children’s lives.
And I hope that the programs I have mentioned above will be what my family have always been for me: the rocks in the river I cling to when the currents of fear and rage threaten to drown me in self-loathing and despair.
© Kelly Briggs, 2014. This article is not available for republication without permission
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• If you are in Sydney this Saturday (Oct 4), come and hear Kelly Briggs in a panel discussion at the State Library, Indigenous Voices: Speaking out and changing the conversation. Kelly will participate in a panel discussion with the founder of @IndigenousX, Luke Pearson, and Mick O’Loughlin.
2pm-3pm: Metcalfe Auditorium, Ground Floor, Macquarie Wing.
Cost: FREE, includes afternoon tea
Click here to book
For help or more information
For people who may be experiencing sadness or trauma, please visit these links to services and support
• For young people 5-25 years, call kids help line 1800 55 1800
• For resources on social and emotional wellbeing and mental health services in Aboriginal Australia, see here.