09 Sep 2021
Back in June, I delivered one of my lived experience presentations to a group of around 30 people in Launceston. The talk was the last of three in different areas of the state. It was a cold and rainy Thursday night. I had been on the road for three nights, my morale was low and all I wanted to do was be at home with my family.
Working in mental health is one of the most rewarding spaces to work in. But there are also many days where talking constantly about the topic can make you feel a bit isolated and lonely. Especially whilst travelling alone.
Little did I know that there was a man named Bill that was about to be in my audience, and while he was going to cost me catching the first half of the footy and miss out on the 8pm room service cut off time I was planning on that evening, he was also going to share with me a story that I will never forget. I finished my talk and I’m packing up (much quicker than usual).
If I was spent before this presentation, by this stage I was emotionally drained. I just had nothing more to give – alone time was very much on my mind. Suddenly there was Bill. Standing in front of me with his hand outstretched for me to shake it as he introduced himself.
I think Bill sensed I had other plans and was keen to get home. Nevertheless, he was going to share his story with me. Into it he launched.
I have a building business, and back in the early 90’s I had a couple of apprentices, all great young fellas who eventually spread their wings once they had their ticket (became qualified).
Around 2010 I got a call from one of them, Alex. He had left in about 95 and I hadn’t heard from him since as I think he moved interstate. So it had been about 15 years, give or take. Alex rang and said he had suddenly moved back to Tasmania and needed a job, and was asking if could I take him on.
Now I had one or two staff around that time, and work was quiet. I was already worried about how to keep these two blokes on, let alone adding another one into the mix. But he was good to me back in the day, so I said righto, start this Monday.
Alex joined me again for about 2 years, and every one of those days I stressed a little more because the reality is I didn’t really have much for him to do. But life is all about feeling wanted, so I made him feel wanted and important each day and gave him jobs to do. And paid him accordingly. He didn’t ever want to chat much. Very quiet, did his work, showed gratitude each day for the opportunity and at knock off, away he went.
At the end of about two years, he came to me and said thanks for having me, but I have another opportunity, and if it’s ok I’m off again. We shook hands, wished each other well and he left. We had no contact for about another 8 years.
In 2018 my phone rang, and it was Alex, asking of all things for me to go to his wedding in 3 months’ time. Stunned at the question I said “of course I will be there”.
So, 3 months later I’m attending this wedding with a girl I’d met recently. We didn’t know anyone aside from Alex. Had never seen his bride before. I drank a few beers and enjoyed the evening.
At the end of the night the guests all lined up so that Alex and his new wife could hug and kiss everyone as they departed. When Alex and his wife got to us, I shook Alex’s hand, and he introduced me to his new wife. She looked at me and immediately got emotional and asked if she could speak with me to the side of the room.
“Thank you for being here and thank you for being such an amazing man”, she said to me.
“You probably have no idea what you did for Alex all those years ago. But he tells me and people around him that he owes you so much because your generosity kept him alive.
When he phoned you for work he was in a really bad way. His long-time partner had left him, his mum had suicided, and his sister passed away to illness all in the space of 3 months. He quite often says that if you had said no to him that day about work, he strongly believes he wouldn’t have had the courage to go on because he was so lost and broken.
I thank you so much for keeping the man of my dreams alive so that I could eventually meet him.”
Bill finished his story by reiterating the importance of kindness, and never knowing when someone is having a tough time with the “Black dog”.
I will always help people where I can, because I know one day, I’ll need someone to help me.
Be like Bill. It can change someone’s life.
Note: For the purpose of confidentiality Bill is a pseudonym.
Written by Mitch McPherson – Since the loss of his younger brother Ty in 2013, Mitch has dedicated his life to helping, educating and encouraging others to speak up about mental health and prevent suicide. He founded Tasmanian based organisation SPEAK UP! Stay ChatTY in 2013, was Tasmanian of the Year in 2017 and is a proud R U OK? Ambassador. He is a devoted father and husband, a lover of sport, a passionate Carlton supporter and an avid coffee drinker. Once a tradie, and now a ‘go to’ in Tasmania for mental health discussions – Mitch has undoubtedly changed the lives of many Australians and helped others to do the same.