R U OK? Day ambassador, Justin Geange, made several attempts to end his life before finally reaching out for help. Here, he shares his struggle with mental illness and explains why it's so important for everyone to share their story.
G'day, my name is Justin – humble plumber, undiscovered supermodel and experienced daggy Dad joke specialist!
I was born and raised in New Zealand and spent my formative years in the timber town of Tokoroa in the Waikato. Most of these early days I spent singing in pubs, clubs and performing in country music awards nights around New Zealand. Sounds promising, right? But along the way, as many teenagers do, I had my fair share of life and relationship issues, leading to several suicide attempts during those rocky years.
In and out of hospitals, I spent my late teenage years on a rollercoaster of breakdowns, rehab for alcoholism and more unsuccessful attempts to end my life.
At the age of 17, my path changed inexplicably when my Australian cousin asked me to join his band in Oz. I jumped at the opportunity to start afresh and with my heart in my mouth and my hopes high I sold everything I owned to give gigging a good crack. In time, however, we realised the world was not being set alight by our live shows and the band dissolved, taking my security in a foreign country with it.
There I was in a country I barely knew with no direction and bills to pay. I pulled up my socks, laced up my working boots and tried my hand at a variety of trades before giving plumbing a go. “It may be sewerage to you but its bread and butter to me” was the catch cry I adopted from a good mate and in 1993 I embarked on a TAFE course and simultaneously met the love of my life – at church – the fabulous Marnie.
A dancer with a smile bigger than the Sydney Harbour Bridge and eyes that lit the darkest of rooms, Marnie’s arrival in my life marked an incredible turning point. We married in 1994.
There I was, established in Australia, with a plumbing apprenticeship, a beautiful wife and a positive path ahead.
Our life was wonderful. The years flew by in a happy haze of travel and work, capped off by the arrival of two beautiful girls, Tegan – in 2005, and Chelsea, three years after.
With the wind in my sails and three beautiful ladies in my life, in 2012 I took on my greatest challenge to date, running for state election for Family First Party and grabbing 8 per cent of the vote in my electorate of Woodridge - the highest for any family first member across the state of Queensland. I was employed on contract as a manager; I was writing songs and even made it through to the semi-finals of Australia’s Got Talent.
The whirlwind was wonderful, but I realised I was exhausted, and the dominos began to fall.
There was a change in government, a change in direction at work and for the first time since I was a teenager, anxiety was clawing at me.
My emotional bank account was virtually bankrupt and after my boss and workmates continued to ask “R U OK?” I admitted myself into the psych ward of my local hospital.
It was during this time that I was diagnosed with Bipolar Type Two and medicated accordingly. But the last thing that I wanted, was to lose my creativity through the medication, so I played doctor and took myself off it soon after.
By the following year, things at work hadn’t improved. If anything it was dire, causing me to constantly struggle with my moods.
The dense weight of possibly not being able to provide for my family was bearing down on me. It became all encompassing. It became too much to take.
In my skewed state of logic I came to the conclusion that the only way to provide for my family was to take my life, activating my life insurance for them.
So on August 1, 2013, I attempted suicide. Again.
But apparently, God wasn’t having any of it! He had other plans and what can only be described as a miraculous string of events ensued, and I was found in time.
Although I was safe from myself, the ramifications on those I loved - the very family and friends I was trying to help - was devastating.
Blokes at work who I had shared 20 years of my life with - salt of the earth genuine Aussie mates - were shattered. I didn’t realise a lot of them were going through exactly what I was going through simply because as blokes we just don’t talk about it.
A friend of mine painted a picture for me; he said suicide is like a hand grenade, the people close to the blast get damaged the most, but the shrapnel spreads far and wide injuring more people than we would ever dream of.
I decided right then that this second chance I had been given was not going to go to waste.
I want to start this difficult conversation; I want to make sure that no other family has to go through what I have put my beautiful family through. I want to encourage people that it does get better. Because I know from experience, that it does.
There is a light at the end of even the darkest tunnel. When you can’t see your hand in front of your face, or seem to put one foot in front of the other, you can be guaranteed there is someone willing to walk alongside you in that darkness. You just have to reach out for them. If someone asks ‘R U OK?' the answer does not have to be yes. It has to be honest.
You are valued, my friend! Keep fighting the good fight!