How privileged I am to have found a way out of that box before. Now I know when I'm feeling helpless again – and I am not ashamed to seek help.
You are in a box. Locked. In a human-sized box.
There are holes for your arms and legs and orifices, so you can do the mundane stuff you need to survive.
The holes let you breathe and eat and drink and piss and shit and walk and shake hands politely with all those people whose smiling faces you encounter every single day make you want to ask, "What's your secret?"
But you can't ask that because they might respond, "Well, what's yours?"
So you stay in your box of suicidal thoughts.
Only you, of course, can unlock your box. Or rather you've come to think that only you know the combination: that special mix of things that helped you escape your box in the past but it's increasingly difficult to remember how you did it. Exercise more? Drink less? More time with family, less work, get up early and see the sun rise again?
No such luck.
You see, yours is an invisible box that plays tricks on you and the ones you love.
From outside your box, people see you as a perfectly happy, functioning person, interacting with the world as anyone would. Outsiders see a man with a good career and a happy family, loyal friends, lots to be proud of and plenty of good times ahead. They see plenty of light flooding into your box.
Your view from inside is much darker.
Most days you manage to carry round your box and try to avoid thinking about why it's so dark and why you can't open the bloody thing and just get on with life.
However, from time to time – when you hear of a Dan Vickerman dying at age 37 or another young professional who felt a failure or a teenager who didn't fit in or any person who's succumbed – your box begins to fill with sludge.
It rises past your ears and eyes. Everything you see and hear becomes garbled.
"You lucky bastard, I wish I had your life," your friends say.
All you hear is, "So you've been lucky so far, but what's next? What if you can't keep it up? What if – what if – what if?"
"You're getting morose again," your wife tells you. "Why don't you just …"
And all you hear is, "Blah blah blah."
"Smile, it's a great day," a stranger says.
And all you hear is, "Blah blah blah f-ing blah."
They just don't get it.
But you just can't tell them that you're trapped in this sludge-filled box and you are too ashamed, too proud, too scared to say: Help me!
So you stay in your box, protected as if by armour; impenetrable to all, or at least to all who have never been locked in a box like yours.
Occasionally your survival instinct kicks in. You thrash your arms and legs around trying to escape. You take your frustration out on those you love most – and on yourself.
"You're drinking yourself to death," your wife tells the 42-year-old you. This is a strange accusation. Why would a man who's watched both parents die within 18 months and his daughter barely survive soon after want to drink himself to death?
Because you are in the box.
Next day you stand at the bus stop on Clarence Street. You can hardly breathe. Bereft of answers and without the combination for the box, there seems only one way out. Let the sludge take me.
The following morning you struggle out of bed, shower, dress for work and sit on the couch. You look at your wife and start to cry.
"I just can't do this any more," you tell her.
With her encouragement, you seek help. After some time – and a lot of guilt – the sludge starts to recede.
I am 55 now. Most days I reckon I'm the luckiest man on Earth.
Yet I still wear that box. And the sludge floods back in whenever I hear about tragedies that befall good people like Dan Vickerman, his wife and their two young sons.
Then I stop and think how privileged I am to have found a way out of the box before.
And when I'm feeling helpless again, I am no longer ashamed to seek help.
If you feel locked in a box, or cannot see your way out, call Lifeline on 13 11 14. MensLine Australia is on 1300 78 99 78. If you sense that someone needs help, tell them you'll be there for them. Let them talk. Look for any sign of light getting into their box, and focus on that. Encourage them to seek professional help. And if you'd like to learn more about how to identify the signs that someone needs support and how to help them, consider becoming a Lifeline volunteer or doing a four-hour accidental counsellor course. You can make a real difference.
Such is life …