Lived experience stories

“There are no spare parts Mum”

“The world is like a machine Mum.  If you look around you, the world is like a really big machine and we’re all parts of it and everybody needs everyone else for the machine to work properly.  Sometimes if someone is annoyed or grumpy, it means they are a bit rusty.  It just means that they need some oil and in a couple days they’ll be okay again.  They’ll be working well in the machine again.  I know you don’t want me to think about this Mum, but if somebody is thinking about suicide what they need to think about is that they’re actually part of a big machine and they are really needed because, well because, there are no spare parts mum.

The machine gets new parts – that’s when babies are born, and when really old people die that makes way for the new parts . . . but there are no spare parts.  So if someone decides to take their life they really need to stop and think about how much they are actually really needed by lots of other parts around them.  No one else can be that part.”

As I rode my bike beside my ten year old son, listening to this incredible analogy, I was bursting with joy on the inside that his thought processing around this complex issue had taken a positive turn so beautifully.  I asked him if he had heard it from someone, but he answered no, that he’d just thought about it.  I recalled that he had watched (again) the movie Hugo just the previous evening in which a young boy finds a magnificent hand made mechanical robot, designed and built by his late father.  The concept must have got my own son’s cogs turning and been the foundation upon which such a mature insight was built.

I said to him,”That is so true because all of us are needed by other people and when someone is ‘rusty’ as you say, then the people around them can help them to get shiny and work again.  And if somebody leaves the machine too soon then the other parts don’t work as well any more.”

As we continued our bike ride together we kept chatting about various things before we suddenly found ourselves thrown off our bikes and sprawled across the bike path.  A trip to hospital, 3 needles and 5 stitches in my son’s chin later, we arrived home and snuggled on the couch together.  It wasn’t a nice end to what had been a beautiful morning spent together riding, but alas it will be a day we always remember!   The next day as I drove him to school I said, “You know mate, you’re a little bit rusty at the moment but I’m going to help you get all nice and shiny so you’re working again soon!”

He looked at me and smiled.

It’s moments like these that I look at my kids, and wish with all of my heart that their lives had not been touched by suicide, and at the same time, am so thankful and grateful, that we are gradually building their understanding and resilience to keep them safe after experiencing all they have in such short lives.

Bronwen (alias, Mum)

The Power of a Shared Experience

As we conclude another Suicide Prevention Lived Experience Speakers Bureau program, I find myself reflecting on what it means to have a shared experience? Why do we feel so much more comfortable and safe among others who have lived through a similar experience?

Whilst time on our own is healthy and enjoyable, it can at times be indescribably difficult. Nevertheless there is a place and time for personal reflection and beng comfortable with your own company during the grief process.   Just as important though, and significantly easier in many instances, is to spend time with others who have a shared experience.  Organisational psychologists refer to this as social capital.

Social capital is fundamentally the benefit that a person gets from engagement in a particular social environment.  Generally the membership of that group has a common interest, a purpose and a bond or solidarity around elective belief, ideology or dogma.

Robert Putman talks of two ways of looking at social capital.  The first of these is what is known as bonding.   Putman says, “the shared social norms and cooperative spirit from bonding provide social safety nets to individual and groups to protect themselves from external invasion.”  This is particularly relevant when we look at a lived experience of suicide.  Most people who experience suicide in their lives also experience the “invasion” of beliefs, judgements, behaviours caused by a lack of understanding and knowledge about the experience.

Social capital essentially poses the question, “What do I get out of being involved in this group that I can’t find anywhere else?” When people with a lived experience of suicide come together there is a special connection.  A connection that occurs with the deep understanding and empathy, compassion and honesty, and sense of belonging that comes with a group that they don’t have to justify themselves to or be anything different. No airs and graces have to be put on.  No masks have to be worn.

Through the Suicide Prevention Lived Experience Speakers Bureau, we have the privilege of sitting with, and walking alongside people with a lived experience of suicide as we explore and learn how to share our story.  I say privilege because to be invited into another person’s world, their most personal space, into their memories, some fond and some painful, is indeed a privilege.  When people experience significant trauma in their lives something else happens. A new perspective of what is really, truly important is uncovered. Their is an authenticity that burns brightly and strong bonds are forged quickly.