Two Important Things for World Suicide Prevention Day 2019

G’day crew,

Today is World Suicide Prevention Day. 🙌🙌

This is a day, and a cause, close to my heart because of what I went through growing up.

Getting help for feeling depressed and suicidal is something I have *never* regretted. As a man, it made me feel stronger, not weaker, to tackle my problems head-on by getting support. And it made me want to keep living. 💪💪

I say this in particular because male suicide rates are triple those of female suicide rates. Triple! And even worse for men who are gay, bi, trans or intersex, or who are indigenous, or who live in rural areas, or who are elderly. Instead of seeking support or help when we’re in crisis, us guys often stop talking, shut down and isolate ourselves. I want to help others but particularly boys and men know that talking about how we feel is a source of strength, not a source of weakness. Learning how to be vulnerable and manage our emotions will literally save our own lives. Showing our mates that it’s okay to be like this will help save theirs. 

I wanted to share two things with you all today.

Firstly, I wrote a new article for my publisher Fremantle Press about my own experiences with mental health issues and suicide and how this led to my decision to become an ambassador for suicide prevention organisation Lifeline WA. If you or someone you know is in crisis or thinking about suicide, get help immediately. Call Lifeline on 13 11 14. These guys are absolute legends. 🙌🙌

You can read that article here.

Secondly, on a slightly more personal level, I want to share a song I came across when I was bleakly suicidal at the age of 18/19.

The song is “Joining You” by Alanis Morissette. This song was the one that blew my mind, that helped start to pivot me around to rethinking whether death was the best option, because it didn’t just say “don’t kill yourself, dude” or “life is worth living” or anything generic or meaningless.

It said, “Well, if I saw the world the way you’re seeing the world right now, I’d be joining you. I’d kill myself, too. But, this isn’t what the world is. You’re seeing it wrong. You aren’t your body, your culture, your future, your denials, your emotions, your afflictions, their condemnations. These things are not you and you’re more than any of them, and none of them are worth taking your life over.” The underlying message being, effectively, fuck everything that’s hurt you, and live anyway.

I’ve always found this song helpful – to getting through those moments of suicidal ideation, and also to processing the resultant trauma and shame of having those feelings in the many years since.

Big love to you if you’re struggling atm or if someone you know is struggling. Seriously, reach out, even anonymously. It makes it much easier to breathe once you tell someone else how you feel. You can always call Lifeline on 13 11 14, too.

– Holden

Lyrics to “Joining You” by Alanis Morissette (1998): 

dear dar(lin’) your mom (my friend) left a message on my machine she was frantic saying you were talking crazy that

you wanted to do away with yourself I guess she thought i’d be a perfect resort because we’ve had this inexplicable connection since our youth

and yes they’re in shock they are panicked you and your chronic them and their drama you this embarrassment us in the middle of this delusion

if we were our bodies
if we were our futures
if we were our defenses i’d be joining you
if we were our culture
if we were our leaders
if we were our denials i’d be joining you

I remember vividly a day years ago we were camping you knew more than you thought you should know you said “I don’t want ever to be brainwashed”

and you were mindboggling you were intense you were uncomfortable in your own skin you were thirsty but mostly you were beautiful

if we were our nametags
if we were our rejections
if we were our outcomes i’d be joining you
if we were our indignities
if we were our successes
if we were our emotions i’d be joining you

you and I we’re like 4 year olds we want to know why and how come about everything we want to reveal ourselves at will and speak our minds

and never talk small and be intuitive and question mightily and find god my tortured beacon we need to find like-minded companions

if we were their condemnations
if we were their projections
if we were our paranoias i’d be joining you
if we were our incomes
if we were our obsession
if we were our afflictions i’d be joining you

we need reflection we need a really good memory feel free to call me a little more often

How Alanis Morissette Saved My Life

One day in 1995, I rocked up to primary school to see a whole bunch of classmates gathered around an enclave behind the Year 2 classroom. Someone had scrawled an angry message in black Artline texta on the otherwise non-threatening beige bricks. The message read:

“Are you thinking of me when you fuck her?” – Alanis Morissette

Keep in mind we were all seven years old, so we were mystified by this strange message which actually contained One Of The Really Bad Swear Words. Now, one of the other kids alerted us that the teacher was coming, so we raced back to line up for class, and I suspect for everyone else that was the end of the mystery.

But my curious little sponge-brain kept churning. Who was this mysterious Alanis Morissette? Was he the dodgy guy who roamed around in the bushland next to our school? Was he a killer? Was he threatening to fuck someone, whatever ‘fuck’ actually meant? I was quite convinced I’d found a clue to some kind of local murder case. Of course, being seven, I eventually forgot about the brewing criminal investigation, failed to inform the Geraldton Police, and went back to learning my times tables.

I was too young to place the name – but looking back, I can clearly recall that was my first exposure to the woman who would, some years later, become my favourite musical artist of all time.

Over the next decade my awareness grew a tiny bit. I had a vague knowledge of Alanis Morissette as some angry chick with a harmonica on the radio. I heard her thank India on the radio when I was ten years old but never knew it was her song.

It was in 2004 that something significant happened. I was draped over the couch one Sunday and my dad was reading the entertainment magazine that came inside the weekend newspaper.

“Hey, you know that Alanis Morissette?” he asked me. (Everyone’s name has a “that” before it when my dad uses it.)

“Yeah.” The local bushland killer guy. No. Wait. Famous singer-songwriter bird. “What about her?”

“She says in this interview that she wanted to kill herself back when she was younger. Can you imagine? All that fame and money and she still wanted to top herself.”

“Huh.”

And that little factoid got stored in my brain. I didn’t dwell on it that day – I went back to whatever I spent my weekends doing at sixteen, which was probably either working on my awesome Pokemon fanfiction (it was super cool, thanks) or planning how to sneak away for my next wank.

A few weeks later, maybe, I heard Alanis’ single “Out is Through” on the radio and watched the video on Rage with my little sister. I liked it enough to wait for it to come on the radio and tape it on a cassette to listen to later, and it ended up as a mediocre track on one of my many top 40 mixes.

In 2006, a German girl I met while backpacking through Europe burned me a mix CD for my discman (I’d got with the times). Track 4 of that album was Alanis’ song “Everything”. It was a nice enough song.

The reason I list all these little touchpoints is because even though I knew who and what Alanis was by this point in my life, she was always just another singer-songwriter. Pleasing to the ear; lyrically skilful; beautiful voice. But nothing groundbreaking. I was quite heavily into Killing Heidi and The Offspring and The Darkness and solo artists didn’t really enter that equation.

It was in 2007 that everything changed. I was on a trip to Melbourne with my family to see Collingwood play at the MCG, and at some point later that week we wound up in a record shop. I had grown my hair long and my face was covered in typical eighteen-year-old bumfluff and I was in a moody depressive haze, and suddenly while flicking through CDs I came across a purple disc with a hand on the cover.

Alanis Morissette: The Collection.

And immediately, I heard my Dad’s voice from three years before. She wanted to kill herself.

It meant nothing to me in 2004, but everything to me in 2007, because by then, in that very moment, I was a rage-filled, repressed, suicidal timebomb and I was ready to explode.

Compelled, I bought the album and went straight to the hotel, put my earphones in and listened to it.

It was a song called Eight Easy Steps that changed my life. These lyrics, in particular, struck a chord inside me so deep that my soul reverberated until my teeth shook:

How to lie to yourself and thereby to everyone else
How to keep smiling when you’re thinking of killing yourself
How to numb à la ‘holic to avoid going within
How to stay stuck in blue by blaming them for everything

I’ll teach you all this in eight easy steps
The course of a lifetime, you’ll never forget
I’ll show you how to in eight easy steps
I’ll show you how leadership looks when taught by the best

I was stunned. She knew. She knew what this shit felt like. Real shit. And she knew exactly how I was feeling. She had written it down and articulated it in a way I didn’t have the skills, or emotional capacity or distance, to do. I’d never heard someone sing about wanting to kill themselves in such a way.

And all I could think was, “well, she’s still alive, so maybe she knows something I don’t”.

And so, I let Alanis Morissette show me how leadership looks. I followed her songs, one by one through YouTube searches, and became more and more amazed at her lyrical and musical artistry. I found the 1998 hard rocker “Joining You” on a YouTube video about gay suicide and must have played it a hundred times before finally going to a local record shop to buy the album it came from, Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie.

Junkie was the first studio record of Alanis’ I heard, and it remains my favourite album of all time to this day. It is a sprawling mess of dirty riffs, drum loops, Eastern-influenced strings and dark, experimental lyrics, and each song was – and still is – like therapy. Before long, I’d worked my way through Alanis Morissette’s entire discography.

People who know me personally already know that I am a huge fan, but they may not know the extent to which Alanis’ music quite literally saved my life.

When I describe myself as a timebomb in that era, I mean I was a mess of sparking, short-circuiting emotions and I had no way of processing or understanding them. That changed when I found this artist. Her music and lyrics helped me to get through each black day. They made me unravel and try to understand myself. They eventually made me want to keep living.

“Joining You” and “Eight Easy Steps” and “Can’t Not” and so many other songs helped me tackle the dark shit in my head.

“Right Through You” and “Sympathetic Character” and “Not The Doctor” helped me to channel my rage.

“I Was Hoping” and “Hands Clean” helped me rethink and reprocess my teenage dalliances with much older men.

And beyond helping me endure the hardest times and make sense of the mess that was my own brain, Alanis’ approach to art informed my own. I became utterly convinced that good art is honest art. Art that is unflinching and unfettered; art that speaks to what hurts more than anything else; art that yields to no sacred cows, but speaks the truth regardless of fallout.

It is a philosophy that now, in 2018, is at the very core of who I am as a writer and an artist. It’s what made me throw caution to the wind and write my novel INVISIBLE BOYS, which is, upon reflection, incredibly unabashed and honest.

This same drive is now burning anew in my chest since last night’s concert, when I saw Alanis perform at the ICC Theatre in Sydney. The way the songs connected directly to my inner self, like a lariat of healing wrapped around my heart, brought tears to my eyes again. Her voice during Mary Jane reminded me of the power of putting all your emotion into something. Her delivery of You Oughta Know recalled the power of channelling truth into art.

And so I’m revitalised for 2018 – not just to write another novel, but to write a novel that brims with honest emotion. Honest and unfettered expression is my ultimate paragon in this quest, and I can’t wait to see that spill across the page.

It’s hard being an artist and it’s hard being a sensitive person. But it’s a little easier when someone leads the way and somehow manages to understand and express your inexpressible feelings for you.

Holden