Mental Health Awareness Week: Are YOU Okay?

Everybody knows Jack.

Jack’s the guy who lives in your street. The bloke a couple of houses down from yours, always working on the house, or taking the kids somewhere.

He’s the guy you see at the pub on a Friday night who has a quiet beer or two and an each way bet on the seventh race at Angle Park before grabbing fish n’chips for the kids dinner on the way home.

He’s the guy you see on the train on your way to work. He’s the guy you bump into when you get your morning coffee before clocking on.

You’ve never spoken to him, but you’ve seen him plenty of times. He nods and winks at you as his way of saying hello when you see each other. You nod back with a cursory “g’day”. He keeps to himself, but he’s friendly enough.

Jack’s just like you and he’s just like me. And that’s why we need to start making sure we ask our friends, family and neighbours; “are you okay?” a bit more than perhaps we should. They’re really simple words, but they mean a lot.

R.U.O.K is the reason Jack is able to tell this story.

This is Jack’s story.

(Language warning)

“This is a difficult story to tell because it’s mine, and it’s about why I am alive today.

R.U.O.K may only be four letters but when they’re asked, they can save a life.

I had always been the strong one; Independent. Cocky. The guy who called things as they were, and if people were offended it never bothered me. Basically, my attitude was; ‘fuck it, I’m right’.

I may have been an arsehole but I was an arsehole that people could trust. I was the bloke people told their problems to, knowing I would listen, give advice and keep it to myself.

At work I was a Leading Hand. Reliable. My workmates made me their OHS rep, Consulting Committee’s rep and the Enterprise Bargaining rep. The company invested heavily in my ability and the potential they saw in me.

They’d send me on various professional development courses and at times I’d be the senior person on the floor with a truckload of responsibilities that people backed me in to manage. And I did what I was asked, as best as I could. 

All that changed when I copped a pretty bad shoulder injury while at work.

It was never recorded as a ‘lost time’ injury because I never missed a complete shift. Going so far as taking a taxi at 5am the next day to be at work on time – at our managers request – was the level of my loyalty to the company (to be fair, they did give me a cab charge for the trip home from the medical clinic, and to work the next morning).

So there I was – arm in a sling, little to no sleep from pain, but back at work the next day so the division could keep their ‘no lost time’ record, which – to those dealing with insurance & Work Cover – is a substantial thing.

After some hard rehab work with my physiotherapist, I eventually reached a point where my shoulder had recovered as best as it ever would. And that’s when the pressure began.

My employer removed my physio benefits and began encouraging the doctor to fast-track listing me as being on ‘permanent restrictions’. On the back of only one scan I was placed on permanent restrictions. I was devastated. I was no longer able to do my job as I wanted to – used to do. I tried to be positive and focus on the advice my employer gave me at the time; “at least you still have a job”.  

It was just on a month later when – surprise, surprise – the ‘caring’ company I’d busted a nut for and a national icon retrenched me.

My reward for years of dedicated service was 13 weeks pay, with an additional four weeks for no notice. There was also the condition of no further payment for the shoulder injury. After taking it up with their rehabilitation department they set an appointment with a specialist who – again, surprise, surprise – classified the injury at just below the minimum required to be eligible for any form of compensation through their Work Cover insurer. Again, these decisions were still being made off only one scan.

So there I was at age 53, and a job with a company that I had enjoyed doing were gone. At that stage though, I was still confident of finding another job, because of the variety of skills I had picked up on my previous job.

That optimism soon changed. At nearly every job interview I had, as soon as I told a prospective employer about my shoulder accident, their attitude would change, even though the jobs I were applying for wouldn’t be affected by my injury. One employer even went so far as to say while he respected my honesty it meant they couldn’t hire me, even though I was the best candidate for the job.

From there, other health issues arose and I started to isolate myself from areas and people that had been a large part of my life. I would still go places and project an image that I was doing ok, but inside, I wasn’t. Inside I was feeling a sense of shame and that I was no longer of value to my family, my friends, or society.

It got to a point where I was hardly even using things like Twitter or Facebook, where at least I had outlets for opinion, discussions, arguments and small convos that were a bit of fun. I’ve always been the bloke who calls a cunt a cunt and very much don’t follow the mob mentality – particularly on social media. To find myself feeling vulnerable and, to a degree, lost, took its toll as I drifted further and further away from interacting and making contact with others eventually finding myself in a self-imposed exile caused mainly by my own mind.

Many people would use the word depression to describe what I was going through, but realistically that’s too simple a term. Having watched celebrities and sports stars use ‘depression’ as a convenient fall-back excuse for all sorts of shit behaviour – be it drug-fuelled hooker binges or betting against your own rides in thoroughbred races – I’d developed a natural disgust at the ease with which people refused to take responsibility for their actions and blamed depression. Accordingly, I didn’t allow myself to recognise that depression was a problem for me.

I was standing on the precipice of a ledge where life had no value to me because I could no longer place any value on myself, but due to a few people reaching out, I was able to step back and view the whole picture – not just the dark shadows in my mind.

Those few people will probably not want me to mention them here, but in truth I have never really thanked them for it. Like most blokes – definitely in my mind anyway –  admitting you need help would have been exposing weakness, but now I know better, so here goes. Let’s hope they don’t mind!

To Kathy Brooks: one of the best mates anyone could ever have and possibly one of the most genuine people it has been my privilege to know. I will be ever grateful that her and her girls are part of my life. I thank you.

Dean Saxon, a horse trainer from Mount Gambier, who, though we haven’t met a great deal, noticed something was different, reached out and texted – just to see how I was going. Even though I lied and said I was ok, it was while doing that, that I started to realise maybe life had some meaning. Thank you.

My sister Roxane Siciliano who, despite running a business, having a myriad of friends who rely on her to fix their problems and often putting others before herself, noticed things weren’t quite right. Although we are not a close family as we’re all somewhat independent people, Roxanne took the time to give me the arse kicking that was sorely needed. Thank you.

A couple of Twitter mates – who definitely will not want to be mentioned – reached out, and through some direct messages, showed support at a time when it was most needed. So although I wont use their twitter handles I will thank them, because as one of them would say “why wouldn’t ya?”  Darren and Dan, I thank you.

Sorry for rambling but that’s just one story, and it just happens to be mine.

It is amazing what a few simple words on social media, a quick phone call, a text message or any kind of contact can mean to someone.

I’m alive and not going anywhere.

Ask: RUOK?

Listen

Reach Out

Small things that may just save a life.”

Follow Jack Hockman on Twitter: @JackHockman

Help is available if you need it.

You can contact BEYOND BLUE 

Or LIFELINE is available on 13 11 14

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