G’day I’m Justin.
I’m a plumber by trade and have been in the construction industry for over 31 years now. I have had my battles over the years as a teenager in and out of hospital many times between the ages of 14 and 17 after nervous breakdowns, suicide attempts, mental illness and substance abuse. That all turned around when I moved to Australia at 17 and found my home in the construction industry, I got married and had two beautiful daughters through IVF, life was good.
2012 came along and things changed. I was working big hours at work, trying to be a good dad and husband as well as running in my local state election and making the semi-finals of Australia’s Got Talent where I was a singing NRL Mascot. I got to the end of the year and realised I was cooked and spent. My boss noticed some changes in me and called me out on those changes asking “RUOK”? I kept saying “nah mate I’m alright” until I couldn’t lie anymore. He listened for a bit as I shared why I was feeling how I was feeling and then said “how bout WE make a call to the Doc and get you some help”. It was that conversation that led me to getting some help in the form of a hospital stay and a diagnosis of bipolar type 2 at the ripe old age of 40.
The next 6 months were tough. I was battling my new-found diagnosis, lost my job of 20 years and probably the final straw was losing my Nan in NZ. This series of events saw me spiral out of control and I attempted to take my life. I ended up back in the same hospital where I received my diagnosis.
This time round, tradie mates visited me asking why I did what I did. Not having the energy to pretend any more, I became transparent with my reasons. Something happened in those moments; I found that being transparent gave my mates permission to do the same, and what I realised was that we were all going through stuff, we just weren’t talking about it. I’ve now made it my mission to have conversations that matter.
I often get asked how I keep myself well and what I do if I am worried about a mate who I believe is struggling. I am not the expert, but as someone with a mental illness and a lived experience with suicide, these are some of the things I have learnt over the last 8 years…
Self-care is important to me. Why? Because when I am well, I have the fuel to get me through the tough stuff, as well as sufficient capacity to help my mates. Keeping my buckets topped up is key for me. The buckets represent different aspects of my life including physical (daily energy), emotional (relationships), mental (focus) and spiritual (purpose). I try and top each of those buckets up daily with selfcare activities. They include things like; gardening or going for a walk, eating well, calling a mate, hanging with family, reading a book, doing a crossword, chilling out to music or helping my neighbour. Those are just a few things that I do, but we are all different so think about what you would do to fill your buckets. Remembering that topping up our buckets is not an event but a daily routine.
Helping a mate who’s doing it tough? I break it down into four simple steps. Notice changes in the things they do and say, especially if they are going through things that cause us all stress, such as job loss, relationship breakdown or other tough situations. Then ask what’s going on mate? Call them out on the things you notice, such as; ‘mate you’re doing stuff and saying stuff that isn’t like you, what’s going on?’ Then listen (you don’t have to be a counsellor or psychologist, you just have to care). Listen to understand not to respond, because often we just want to be heard and understood! Finally, connect them to help if needed, make the call together, I know I was grateful when my boss made that initial call with me when I was doing it tough. You’re never alone when dealing with this stuff, mental health really is everybody’s business.