I want to preface this by saying I wasn’t expecting to write it, and I’ve been working for the last few days on an entirely different and unrelated post about how I’m preparing for Mars One selection later this year. I’ll still publish that post in the next few days, but I’m not sure if I’ll publish this outside of Patreon. Maybe next year. Truth be told I may not publish this at all – all I know is I just realised what the date is, it stopped me in my tracks, and I need to write this right down while I’m feeling what I’m feeling.
: Please be aware that I describe planning a suicide attempt in this post
Occasionally in an interview it will come up that I worked in the mining industry for about a year, followed quickly by a remark from me that I hated every minute of it. The reality is I worked for a drill and blast company for exactly 1 year, and I didn’t just hate it – I will never work in the mining industry again because it pushed me right to the edge of suicide.
I was (am) very good at handling, designing and using explosives; I soak up details on explosives ordnance like a sponge; and I work very well at problem solving in high risk environments. With all of that in mind, in 2006 during the last year of my physics degree I had my heart set on becoming a rather bland-sounding “Ammunition Technical Officer“. They’re also knows as “EOD Tech’s” but you probably know them as Military Bomb Technicians.
I’d worked so hard for years to be an exceptional soldier, to always try to give more to the Army, and always sought ways to be better. But my unit wasn’t interested in developing what I had to offer. I’d applied multiple times to become a full-time officer, only to have my unit bin the paperwork as being “too hard to deal with”.
Getting to the final months of my degree I was running out of options, and with some gentle nudging from my Dad I thought maybe I could apply my explosives experience to the oil and gas industry as a “Perforation specialist” – lowering frameworks of tiny shaped-charges down an oil well and firing them to punch holes through the steel well casing to let the oil & gas flow into the well. After going through the interview and being offered a job with Schlumberger as an Oilfield Specialist, I was there 3 days before I was told “There’s no way you’ll be working in perforation for atleast 5 to 8 years, if ever”.
A week later I’d quit and – because it was the height of the mining boom – immediately stepped into a job as a blaster in the mines. From there it was a downward slide.
I’ll avoid details of what working in blasting was like, not because it “hurts” or anything like that, but because most of it is just . Wake at 5am. Shower & dress. Have breakfast. Pre-start meeting at 5:45am. Put explosives down holes in the ground for the next 12 hours. Head back to your room, shower, go to the gym, dinner at 8pm, read/listen to music/watch a movie, sleep. Repeat for two weeks.
Fly back to Perth, spend a week trying to see friends & fix things. Fly back to site. Repeat for another two weeks.
I’m fine doing boring work, and will inevitably make some sort of game out of it. But I also need to see the overall sense in why it’s being done – it needs to have purpose. *I* need to have a purpose. When I first started in the mines that “purpose” was gaining hands-on experience so I could further develop a piece of software I’d written in the final year of my physics degree that predicted the areas in a mine site most at risk of being hit by flying rock from a blast.
That sense of purpose initially got me through the relentless bullying that happened on-site, got me through the pervasive boredom with my job, and helped me overlook the overwhelming incompetence I saw in people supposedly responsible for securing and handling explosives. “It’s fine – I’m doing my job properly, and that’s what’s important” I’d lie to myself.
That sense of purpose slowly wore away in the first 6 months though. It became increasingly clear that the company wasn’t going to ever develop the software I’d brought them, and were simply using me as a blaster. Just like the folks I was barely tolerating at work. That might be OK for some, but I wasn’t happy pursuing a career spending 12 hours a day working with people I didn’t respect to blow chunks out of a planet I care deeply about.
But what the hell else was I was supposed to do? I was 22 and knew I didn’t fit in academia, had been ignored when trying to do something meaningful with the Army, told I’d probably never work with the specialised explosives in the oil and gas industry, and the only thing the mining industry thought I was useful for was blowing things up so others could rip precious metals from the ground. And if you know my Dad, you’ll also recognise I’ve also just listed failing to find purpose in the 3 areas he’s worked in: the military, mining, and oil & gas.
There was still SCUBA diving though, that other past-time I shared with Dad. In Februrary 2008 a family friend – who’d trained Dad to dive 20 years before – said if I sorted out my instructor certification I could work in his Melbourne diveshop at the end of 2008. I’d go to Melbourne, learn everything I needed to from him, and would have enough saved up from working in the mines to buy a diveshop in New Zealand – I just had to stick with blasting for another 6 months.
In early April 2008 I headed back for what would be my final 2 week swing on a mine site. The first week was tedious but tolerable. All through the 2nd week though I had stomach issues – something I’ve now learnt to recognise as a clear sign I’m emotionally distressed, and the worse the symptoms the worse the internal distress.
On the Thursday I’d had to head back to camp mid-afternoon because the cramps were getting too much. The on-site medic couldn’t give me anything more than panadol, and I collapsed for the rest of the afternoon. The next morning I woke as usual feeling fine, but from the pre-start meeting onward I started feeling sicker and sicker, and by mid-morning I was being taken back to the medic’s room to get more panadol and try to sleep it off.
I woke in the evening still feeling weak when the medic knocked on my door, checking on me and bringing me some dinner but I couldn’t eat it. I slept restless through the night, woke again at 5am on the Saturday when when one of the other blasters knocked on my door to see if I was coming to work and I said I was still too sick in the guts. I wasn’t “sick” though – I just felt completely empty inside. Hollowed out, like there wasn’t anything left to feel.
The medic visited again that afternoon to check on me, but otherwise I was just left alone in my little room with nothing but my thoughts. Plenty of time to sit with that empty feeling. To ruminate on my shitty home-life. Ruminate on my complete lack of purpose. To listen to music and try to feel something.
I went to dinner that night and saw the other blasters… and was inevitably informed of how “piss-weak” I was for being sick, and how they “hadn’t even noticed” I wasn’t there because I was useless anyway. So I ate a little but had completely lost my appetite over the last few days, and headed back to my room to listen to music and sleep.
In the last years of high school and throughout uni I’d absolutely fallen in love with Everclear, and had treasured every album… but had somehow missed their 2006 album “Welcome to the Drama Club” until just before my last two-week swing. I’d listened to it quite a bit during the two-week swing, but never all the way through in a single sitting. I put on another album, sat in the shower crying til it finished, crawled out to the stereo and started playing “Drama Club” then crawled back under the shower to keep crying.
Everclear’s “Welcome to the Drama Club” is 54 minutes and 44 seconds long. Somewhere in the middle of that I decided there wasn’t any point living anymore: I was useless, wouldn’t ever help anybody or myself, and no one wanted what I used to think I could offer. I’d stopped crying, but instead sat in the shower trying to find answers to two questions:
1) How long would it take for someone to find my body?
2) Is there anything in this room sharp enough to slit my wrists?
The medic had been checking in the afternoons, and while one of the other blasters would probably knock on my door at 5am the next morning they also wouldn’t think twice if my door was locked and I didn’t answer. So chances were the medic would find me the following afternoon after getting the site manager or housekeeping to unlock my room.
There really wasn’t anything sharp in the room though. I remember methodically turning the room upside down trying to find anything – nothing. I slumped back in the shower defeated again as the final track of the album started: “Your Arizona Room”, about someone dealing with a relentless sense of being broken and wondering if the love they feel for someone else is enough to fix it what’s wrong with them.
But I didn’t have that. There was no sense I’d be able to fix whatever was deeply wrong with me at all, and there was no one around to say otherwise.
Most Everclear songs run between 3 to 5 minutes long. “Your Arizona Room” is listed as over 9 minutes, but it fades out around the 5 minute mark, and it was as it was faded I realised I could break the glass in the bathroom mirror and use that to slit my wrists. I’d been sitting under a hot shower for hours and my blood pressure was up – break the glass, do it in the shower with the curtain pulled across and it’ll be easy for whoever finds you to clean up.
The whole room was silent except for the shower, and I remember my legs feeling so weak from sitting in the shower I was weirdly worried I’d slip over and hurt myself. Or worse I’d slip, knock myself out in the fall, and not be able to follow through with what I’d now planned.
I stood leaning on the basin and looked at the mirror without looking at myself. I could break it just with my fist, but maybe use the steel cap in one of my boots instead?
That’s when the stereo in the next room suddenly exploded into life. I spun away from the basin and looked into the other room.
“What the fuck?“
It wasn’t a track I’d heard before, and I was certain it’d been completely silent seconds before? I moved from the basin to the bathroom door looking dumbfounded at the stereo
“Is that a kid wheezing and talk-singing over some weird drum beat and a harmonica? What the fuck is this?
And that’s when I remembered Everclear put a secret track on their earlier album “So Much For The Afterglow” – one you’d only find it if you left the album playing after the final track faded out then waited through a minute of silence. And I realised they’d done the same again on this album.
Sure enough the weird kid/drum beat/harmonica combo faded out after 30 seconds, and the hidden track “Beautiful Dream” started with the lyrics:
I had a dream I was living by the ocean
I had a dream I was living in the sun
I wake up sad because I’m living in darkness
I know I’m not alone
I know I’m not the only one
I had a dream that I had no depression
I had a dream I had a smile on my face
I wake up hungry so I feed my obsession
I know I gotta leave
I know I gotta run away
Where the faces all look happy and I know it’s a dream
A beautiful dream
I want to loose myself in the sunshine where I can be free
Yeah I just wanna be free
Free in a beautiful dream
Yeah but it’s a beautiful dream
I immediately burst into tears again and slumped in the doorframe… but as I did I instantly knew two things: I wasn’t going to break that mirror, and I wasn’t going to stay any longer in a place where I had no purpose doing something I didn’t care about with people I didn’t like.
I picked myself up, turned off the still running shower, grabbed a towel to dry myself, cleaned up the things I’d flipped over earlier looking for something sharp, went to bed, and decided as I lay in bed that I would never compromise what I care about so much to ever be that low again.
That’s how I survived the night of April 19th, 2008.
There have been some shitty times over the last 9 years. Really really turbo shitty times. But no matter what happened – friends dying, me nearly dying multiple times, relationships ending viciously, being literally homeless – I know I have never been and will never again be as low as I was that night. And I know that because I created that situation by doing what OTHERS thought was best for me, instead of figuring out what is important to me.
This isn’t blaming myself – this is me taking responsibility for the fact that I chose to stay in that job, stay in a toxic relationship, and continued to accept the things around me that eventually created a situation where I was suicidal. I still fuck things up, still struggle with overwhelmingly turbulent relationships, still wind up doing things I don’t want to be doing.
But you know what? I’m also not 22 any more, and since April 19th 2008 I’ve been continuously getting better at spotting those shit jobs and avoiding them. I spot the warning signs in potential partners early, so even though I can still wind up in turbulent and toxic relationships I’m not as surprised when the crazy comes out, I get out of them sooner, I have ZERO issues walking away when I do, and I’m getting better at dodging them altogether. And as I do more and more of the things I know are important, I have less time to fuck around doing things I don’t want to do because someone expects me to.
Fuck your expectations – I will do things that I know make other people’s lives better, not what others expect of me. Because I could be dead right now. I don’t have enough fingers to count the number of times I’ve gone close, but there’s only been once when I thought I didn’t make the world better by being in it, and that was because I’d stopped listening to what was important to me – helping improve the lives of people everywhere.
April 19th is my annual reminder that the world is a better place because I’m still part of it.