Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Price of Altruism

Although I didn't expect to be writing about this so soon, sometimes the timing of certain events isn't quite so...eloquent. Tonight, I helped a suicidal person gain clarity on some of the issues plaguing him, and (hopefully) set them on the path back to truly living life. Sometimes, the greatest deeds are those that go unnoticed.

A forewarning - this blog post will be full-on and uncensored. Some people may see this as intense, depressing, and/or a myriad of other nice and not-so-nice things. I'm writing this so that people can understand why I have made some of the choices I have made, and that so people can hopefully discover a greater appreciation for those who live to help others.

This is about the night I saved a life.

It was two years ago. I was in my third year of university and I was teaching out of town. I ended up staying with a friend of mine (who shall remain nameless). We fell out of touch up until a few days before I started, and I only found out shortly before I started that it was because his parents had recently separated. While I was uncomfortable with the idea of jumping in on his life with something like that just happening, by the same token I would have been left with a lot of difficulty getting to/from where I was teaching. So, I went and stayed with him.

The first week and a half or so was pretty good. I serttled into the school I was at pretty comfortably (although I didn't do a lot of teaching because of assessments and events), things were clicking well where I was staying, and I was looking forward to really making the most of the five weeks I had. It wasn't until the end of the second week that things started to go downhill.

The first blow came from my mate's father. I don't know all the details, but things between them had deteriorated to the point where we were both kicked out of his house (it was in his father's name, so yeah). We were given two afternoons to move everything out of his house. We ended up having to live out of his mother's loungeroom (and to this day I wish I actually told her how much I appreciated her taking me in when she barely knew me and had no obligation to do so), and managed to get everything out of the house. This was difficult for my mate - I don't know what was going through his head at the time, but I know he needed a hug on at least one occasion.

The second blow was was from my supervisor. I was part of a research project at the university - part of which involved a evaluation of a live lesson (for my uni mates, this was Julie Lancaster's project - I was doing a differentiated lesson). The lesson itself was complex in the method of delivery. At the end of the lesson, the researcher appladued me for taking on what was ultimately a difficult lesson, and feedback on the whole was positive. My supervisor however had different ideas. This was the first full lesson she had observed - prior to that point I had either casual teachers supervising me or I had the class to myself. Ultimately, she put me as 'At Risk', and pushed me off on another supervisor who proceeded to treat me as the special case. It was crushing - I was more or less going completely back to basics and wasting my time on things that weren't doing anything except damaging my self-efficacy. It was difficult for me to work with a new class, but nonetheless I managed to balance it.

The third happened on a weekend. I had done the weekend back home for an event that I didn't end up attending for personal reasons. It was a Saturday night I headed back to where I was staying, and I discovered that it was a night of partying because close friends of my mate were down from Queensland, and it was the first time he'd seen them in ages.

The night went well until words were exchanged and egos were set alight. Then it all went downhill.

I wasn't in the room at the time when it all went down, but I was there for the fallout.  It started with my mate and another person there, but it eventually grew to involve my mate's ex-gf. When you have three people with volatile tempers going off at the same time, it's bound to end badly.

This went on for well over an hour. Eventually, my mate's ex-gf ended up storming outside angry at my mate, my mate was getting aggressive with everyone, and the third person was ready to get violent with anyone (including me when I tried to step in and get everyone to back off).

The next events I remember vividly, as would anyone who has done what I did that night.

At one point, my mate's ex-gf was out the front by herself, quite depressed and upset. She asked me to go back inside and get her keys. Not finding them, I returned outside to find out she had disappeared. Telling my mate, we agreed to split up and search surrounding streets for her. I returned home after combing the streets and not finding her. He didn't.

I don't know what happened between them, but I'm reasonably certain he had either found her or contacted her. After being unable to get into contact with him via phone, a family friend who had stuck around after the blowup got in the car with me and we drove around searching for him. Unable to find him, we had just returned home when the family friend got a message on her phone from my mate. To paraphrase, it said "Please tell my daughter I love her and I'm sorry."

After calling the police and getting them around, my mate called me. He was on the train tracks, and was going to jump in front of the next train heading past. I spent the next few hours in a desperate attempt to try and get him to come around, while also trying to keep the police updated with information and everyone that was awake calm. We had the highway blocked off, and all trains cancelled. It was like a balancing act - the police were trying to get me to push him for information about where he was, but I also knew that it wasn't safe to do so because of how he was mentally. There were also several times he hung up on me, where I was left without any idea of whether I had any effect on him and where I simply had to hope.

Eventually, he called me and told me where he was. I went and picked him up, and after a short detour we ended up at the police station. There, I was given custody of him. I could not let him out of my sight, and was responsible for his wellbeing. At the time, I was only 20. To have that kind of responsibility for anyone can be challenging. I can only imagine what another person my age then would've done when given that choice. For me, that choice was always about what was in my mate's best interests. I had not slept, and it was the morning after before we left the police station. I had no sleep, but I was still repairing the damage from the night before the next day.

Looking back on that night, I can still feel what I was going through - the ever-present fear that I couldn't save a suicidal friend, the empathetic pain that numerous people were feeling behind the fight, the anxiety that every time he hung up was the last I would hear from him. These were all things I had to process after the event, and while trying to handle everything else going on at the time too. That's when things started to go downhill.

First it was his random leavings in the night (for reasons I won't go into here). These were kicks in the gut for me, especially when I woke up the next morning to find him gone and couldn't get into contact with him. Then it was the whole saga with his less-than-stable ex wanting back in on him and their child's life. I was trapped in a fishbowl - I had everything going on around me and had nobody to lean back on. I couldn't lean back on my mate even if he was better because I didn't know how much of his behaviour was him genuinely more positive and how much was a mask.

Breaking point came midway through the fourth week. The night before some sort of blow-up between my mate and his father resulted in me spending half the night disassembling things and shipping them back to his old house. This came at a cost of me preparing what I needed to prepare to teach the following morning. I walked into work that day with a feeling of dread, as I felt really bad for not being prepared even with extenuating circumstances having occured. Informing my supervisor of what happened, I was given a lecture on how everyone goes through hard phases and a spiel on another teacher who had to battle cancer.

That was where I broke. I was completely emotionally drained, I had little sleep and I was feeling worthless. I ended up walking out of where I was teaching that day. A week later, I left where I was staying, and a month later my mate and his ex-gf got back together and moved up to Queensland.

I was left to pick up the pieces and to try to reassemble myself. My mate cut off all contact with me shortly after moving, and didn't reestablish contact with me until a few weeks ago. My studies suffered, and ultimately I left the degree I was in. To this day I still don't know what I mean to my mate, whether I was simply someone in the right place at the right time, or if he really did care about me (although his mother said I was an angel sent by God). I was left completely emotionally trained, and I had to try and pick up the pieces myself. I was left to fight what I was feeling alone, and what stung the most was that I felt like the person whose life I saved didn't really give a damn about me. And yet, I had to live with that. This is the true price of altruism.

Given the same scenario, I would make the same decision in a heartbeat. Not because I know the outcome or because it's what people see as the right thing to do, but because I want to give someone a chance at life. What defines me as a person is nothing more than a deep-seated drive to help people - nothing more, nothing less. However, this comes at a cost. When you are giving so much to the people around you, often you aren't getting back what you're putting in. You become emotionally drained, and over time you can feel more and more stressed out and wound up trying to handle everything going on around you.

I won't lie - the events that happened in those weeks have left wounds that I'm still trying to heal from today. What people need to understand about anyone who gives a lot to other people is that they themselves can be fighting a lot of battles - just because they're helping you oesn't mean that you shouldn't make it known to them that you're there for them too. I wish it was a lesson I learned earlier. I am a tormented soul - there are demons so dark that it pains me to just think about them. There have been countless times where I've needed a hug and never gotten one, and there have been countless times where I've reached out to help someone only to be left baring wounds. These are things other people don't see, but they're the battles that take the greatest toll on me. Despite this, if anyone is in need I will always throw everything aside and do what I can to help them, even if it comes at a price.

Tonight, I gave someone guidance to stop considering taking their life and instead learn to live life again. Sometimes I wonder if other people put more or less thought into helping others, whether they put themselves before others and whether they need ulterior motives to act in such a way. The world we live in is becoming increasingly grey, and what people see as the right thing to do is become increasingly subjective. There are people out there who have been brought up in broken families and broken homes, people who have everything material but nothing emotional.

For some people, the gift of life is the greatest thing you can give them.

1 comment:

  1. Wow hun is all I can say, i wish I could have been a better friend in that time and others when u needed a hug or a hand up because u definantly deserve a break with all u put into others...I shed more than one tear for u reading this and only hope u realize how much of the angel his mother spoke of u really are.