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"Please tell my mum I'm sorry." The call that reminded me to always ask my friends R U OK?

Content Warning: This post contains references to suicide, and may be triggering to some readers. 

The author of this story is known to Mamamia but has chosen to remain anonymous for privacy reasons. The feature image used is a stock photo.

I was bundling my three kids in the car when my phone rang. I let the call go to voicemail as I buckled my wailing, flailing toddler into her car seat. As I set off for home, I mentally rehearsed what lay ahead: arsenic hour – the worst time of day when you have toddlers. To drown out the sounds of my kids in the back, I played my voicemail.

My friend’s voice was barely audible. Her words were slurred and almost indecipherable. She sounded upset, really upset. It was clear from her incoherent speech that she was intoxicated. I had experienced anguished calls like this previously, but she had never uttered these words before. She said, “Please tell my Mum I’m sorry.” And then the line went dead.

Dinner thoughts were immediately replaced by what to do. Was this a plea for help? Or was she simply drunk? And a more sobering thought, had she intentionally harmed herself? My body went cold.

How to talk to people with anxiety. Post continues after video.

My mind raced through the possible scenarios as I positioned my kids in front of The Wiggles and called my friend back. Less than six minutes had passed since her call. There was no answer. I waited another long minute and called again. Why wasn’t she answering her phone?

Over the next few minutes I vacillated between self-reassurance (she habitually drank too much) to cold fear that she gone a step too far. I lived an hour away from her and I was reluctant to drive there with three kids under the age of five as I had no idea what I would find. But she lived on her own and wasn’t answering her phone. I had to do something.

I called my husband, who fortuitously worked nearby to her house, and begged him to leave work and check on her. By this stage I was genuinely scared for her welfare. I had called her another dozen times and there was no response. My husband left work and called me on the way telling me not to panic. He reassured me she had most likely passed out and would wake up later with a headache.

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While The Wiggles played on loop, I did a mental audit of when I had last seen my friend. Our friendship had spanned over two decades. We met at school, formed a close bond and had been inseparable at times (until motherhood intervened). Drinking and partying had been a part of our friendship almost as long as the friendship itself. We brought out the recklessness in each other. It often led us to mischief but nothing serious. We had fun.

And the fun continued for a while. In our 20’s we spent months backpacking through Europe, surviving on bread and wine. In London, the “two for one” deals at the “Offies” were too good to pass and in Italy we skimped on accommodation to allow for a carafe of wine with lunch and dinner.

Vikki Ryall from Headspace shares her advice on how parents can talk to their kids about mental health and suicide. Post continues after audio.

But beneath the fun and frivolity, alcohol had a dark side. Her own father had been an alcoholic and had left her mum when she was only young. She hadn’t seen him in years. Excessive drinking impaired her judgement and led her to make poor choices. It had a ripple effect in all areas of her life: employment, relationships and the wrong (married) men.

While I nervously waited for my husband’s call, I wondered if I had recently asked if she was OK. I couldn’t even recall the last time I had seen her (three young kids meant I was effectively under house arrest!) Was she OK? She didn’t sound OK. Those 20 minutes before my husband’s call were punishing.

My husband gave me the facts. He had found her unconscious on her kitchen floor, surrounded by empty bottles. He didn’t think he should wait for an ambulance, so he carried her to his car and drove straight to emergency. Her stomach was pumped, and she was seen by various specialists and psychologists. The details emerged that she had consumed a cocktail of prescription drugs and alcohol. Not quite enough to be fatal, but an alarming and damaging level.

The ensuing days, weeks and months were confronting. For both of us. My friend remained in hospital for a week before being admitted to a psychiatric clinic. There, I witnessed the depths of her despair. In those early days I saw hopelessness and pain. She was heavily sedated, and her naked anguish was painfully apparent. I felt very much that I had let her down by not knowing the extent of her depression.

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It is one of the most painful things to see a close friend so tortured and not be able to help. But I learnt a valuable lesson. She didn’t need me to “fix” her. She needed me to sit with her. To show up. To just be there. And that’s what I did.

It was a slow rehabilitation, but with a lot of therapy and mental health support, my friend slowly found her way back. She surrendered herself to both the pain and process of rebuilding her life. With help, she stripped away the veneers of her old self and created a new one. Her once cloudy judgment is now laser focused. Her mind is sharp, and her vision is clear. She stopped the cycle of self-destruction. She hasn’t had a drink in over three years. She went back to university with a renewed energy and is working in a field she loves. She no longer looks at herself with self-loathing but with self-love.

My friend is now far from OK. She is happy. And she is proof that it is possible to turn your life around. And sometimes the only way out is through…

R U OK? Day is on Thursday September 12th. Don’t wait for a desperate call to check in on your loved ones. Ask them if they’re OK.

If this post brings up any issues for you, or if you feel like you need to speak to someone, please contact Lifeline 13 11 14 for support or beyondblue 1300 22 4636.


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