The Happy Walk - Sydney Coast Happy Walk Pt5

Saturday, Apr 14, 2012 at 20:38


Day 4 Wednesday 7th March Bondi to The Rocks

An early start in Bondi seems to be popular. Before the sun had risen there were at least 100 people running on the beach, stretching and boxing on the grass, power walking, dog walking, cycling and boarding the promenade, surfing, swimming in the ocean baths, it was a very busy place to be at 6.30am. There was a real sense of a fit, healthy, happy community.

The first part of the day didn't have any real track or path, I just made it up as I went with a street map, finding lookouts at dead ends, precariously walking down a cliff stair case that bowed and creaked alarmingly under my weight, zigzagging to join up parks and recreation reserves until I reached the top of The Gap Reserve at Watsons Bay.

The Gap....A place tourists visit by the bus load because it is so beautiful. As you walk into the reserve you see the rugged rock face towering above the rock platforms below and massive chunks of sandstone the size of houses smashed into the sea below. You hear the pounding of the swell as it surges in from the open ocean and breaks across the cliff, birds foraging and chatting, the ferry blowing it's horn as it reverses out of the terminal and the constant buzz of the city. In the air you can smell the ocean mingled with the sweet nectar of gnarly twisted bottle brush and native grass blossoms that overhang and line the path.

But this is also a place many of us know about because we've heard it mentioned in the news or read stories in the paper. Some of you reading this may experience pain, anguish, anger or numbness when you think of The Gap. It is a place where many go to end their lives.

Mental illness, bullying, discrimination, shame, trauma and loneliness are just some of things that lead someone to think suicide is all that is left. But some of the main reasons why people get to this point in their life are not knowing who to turn to for help, being too ashamed to seek help, not knowing help is available, pretending everything is okay so nobody worries about them, assuming they can deal with it on their own and stigma.

We can all do something to prevent this. There is someone in each of our lives who needs a little encouragement, who we can connect with, to let them know we care and want to help. With statistics like 1 in 4 people in Australia will have a mental illness in their lifetime and 1 in 10 will think about suicide, you probably know more than a few people who would appreciate your help.

I know from firsthand experience what it is like to feel something is wrong but not know where to go or who to see about it. I didn't know anything about mental illness, I was physically healthy but I didn't know I had been living most of my life with depression and post traumatic stress. I needed someone to ask if I was okay and help me find help before I killed myself. I was in a relationship that intensified the pain and loneliness and pushed me over the edge. To escape my hell all I knew to do was to die. It was frightening and dark. But nobody, no friends or family knew what I was going through until I said goodbye.

It wasn't because nobody cared, quite the opposite, I have a loving extended family and my friends and I want only the best for each other. It was simply because not many people recognise the signs of someone struggling to hold onto hope and even fewer people know how to help.

Here is a list of basic things that can help us help ourselves and others to prevent suicide:
* Spend quality time with friends and family
* Talk about your feelings
* Listen carefully without judging
* Maintain or start good lifestyle habits
* Try to get daily exercise, sunlight and fresh food
* Get help or help others with the small things like laundry, cleaning, cooking and child care
* Avoid alcohol and all illicit/recreational drugs
* See a doctor, counsellor, therapist or offer to accompany someone you're helping
* Save some helpful support numbers in your phone like Lifeline, Suicide Call Back Service, SANE, Black Dog Institute,ReachOut and Headspace.

If you check the links on the above support services you can read a lot more and, you never know, you might be the one to shine some hope into someone's life.

Needless to say, the 3 hours I stopped at The Gap were hard as I remembered the times I tried to suicide, my friends who have also tried and those who have completed suicide, the thousands of Australians each year who complete suicide and the family and friends grieving their loss.

Looking around I saw all the suicide prevention cameras, signposts and emergency phones and thought of the many many people who have found help and the strength to recover and live full and inspirational lives.

One of my favourite sayings, I don't know who it's from but they say it so well, is "Never chose a permanent solution to a temporary emotion".

Last week, during the Happiness conference, I watched the Tibetan Gyuto Monks create a coloured sand mandala. One of the fundamental concepts of Buddhism is the impermanence of everything, everything around us is constantly changing, nothing stays the same. When they finished their masterpiece they blessed it and then destroyed it, handing little bottles of the coloured sands to everyone who appreciated the beauty of their art. As I accepted a bottle of sand I decided how I would use it and 5 days later I found a quiet place at The Gap where I said a silent prayer for the people who lost hope, scattered the coloured sands into the wind and ocean and wished their spirits peace and light.

The rest of that day was exhausting, I was emotionally drained and struggled to fully appreciate the walk out to Hornby Lighthouse, around Watsons Bay and Nielson Park. When the path around the waterfront ran out and I found myself zigzagging through the elite suburbs I quit for the day and caught the ferry from Rose Bay back to Circular Quay and climbed up to Sydney Harbour YHA.

Sydney Harbour YHA is located at The Rocks near the Harbour Bridge stairs, it is built on top of an archaeological site called The Diggings, which is incorporated into the building's design and it is the newest YHA in Sydney. It still smells new even though it's been operating for a few years. It is a little bit more expensive than the others, about $45 for a share dorm but its design is relaxing and rooms are clean and spacious with ensuites. It has a very different atmosphere to all the other YHAs and great views over the harbour.

I scored a bottom bunk and settled in early but the room filled up, the others went out, got drunk, came back early and maintained just enough noise to keep me awake well into the early hours of the morning. I didn't understand why people thought they could be so rude and these were women closer to my age too. Before they went out and started drinking we were all chatting about our visits to Sydney and I explained what I was doing and that I had a 5am start but later they had the hide to mock me while they were drunk and thought I was sleeping. It was disappointing but that is what alcohol does to some people.
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