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There's one stage of my life that I've always remembered as feeling the worst I've ever felt. For lack of a better word, I've always referred to it as the one time in my life I felt suicidal.

For a long time while I was in school, I took a lot of shit from a lot of people for reasons I could never quite understand. First, it made me leave Mackay altogether to go to school in Brisbane for grade 8. That was the first time I was able to change my life. It wasn't perfect though, there were still a few dickheads in the bunch that would always make it their life's goal to give me shit and drag me down, and while I still held it together, they did so reasonably successfully.

A couple of years later, grade 11 started, and while the dickheads and a few of the better people left, a new dickhead arrived into our group and managed to make my life so miserable that I was at the point that it was becoming difficult to function socially at all. I even consciously experimented with this - all I had to do was say anything, and I'd be ridiculed over it. Communication became impossible unless people were in a particularly good mood.

I actually got so good at predicting when this would happen just by observing the circumstances of what else was happening, it became as natural to me as being able to determine what colour the sky was.

Then, half way through grade 12, we went on a camp to Magnetic Island for three days.

Day 1 came and went and there wasn't much to it. We played a couple of games of poker, we went to the beach. The first activity we did was something to do with your relationship with yourself. How you see yourself. It was standard enough that it didn't hang around with me. It was later that night that I thought I'd had enough of everything. I didn't want to be here, I didn't want to go home. It kept on torturing me in my head as I fell asleep.

Day 2 was something quite different.

The next activity we had to do was about your relationship with others. I still didn't care for doing anything with anyone, and I was as sceptical as anyone in school who didn't want to be there of what we would possibly get out of whatever they were trying to teach us here.

Here's what happened.

We got given a bit of paper, saying "Sometimes I don't feel so good. This is because.......................". Fill in the blank. Don't put your name on it, just put it in the box in the centre of the room. We didn't know why we were doing this, and didn't give it a lot of thought.

Mine said something like "....because everyone's against me." I was sure that this would seem pretty bad to whichever one of the teachers were going to read it, but it was anonymous and I was angry as hell with the world, so whatever. I didn't care that it would seem extreme compared to what anyone else would put down. I was hoping to get the message across that someone was feeling like absolute shit.

A few minutes later, they explained what they were going to do: they were going to read out what all of them said, to everyone. At first I panicked when I heard that, but whatever - it was anonymous. I went back to wanting this to run its course and be over.

And then what happened next was not what anyone expected.

Every single note was equally as troubling. Every single person in that room was feeling shitty, at least at some point, to the same extent as mine.

Can you imagine that, they said, that everyone you know in this room, everyone you've been going to school with for however many years, people you thought you knew reasonably well, probably felt the same way as you do.

And was it just everyone in the room? Of course not. It couldn't be. It would be everyone in other grades as well. Everyone you go past on the street. In shopping centres. In the world.

You couldn't help but think of the implications this little revelation had if you hadn't thought of it before. After all, nobody could possibly feel the deepest pain you've felt.

Right? Wrong.

A couple of people probably didn't get it, or chose to ignore it, but it was suddenly pretty clear that regardless of any groups our grade had been in at lunchtime or who we were friends with, this had changed us. In one way or another, in our heads, we felt united.

The teachers running the activity then reminded us that we were in grade 12, the school leaders. They asked us how this would affect us when we were leading other people. This was a footnote, but the message was still clear - there was a certain obliged responsibility here to use this very valuable lesson with other people.

No longer could we use the excuse that we felt alone. We were just given virtually undeniable proof that we weren't.

For the rest of the day, the rest of the activity was to set up an envelope with our name on it. Hang it up, and write affirmations - not anonymously - to people who you wanted to recognise something good about.

The entire event got people talking, a few of us, myself included, were actually complaining that we'd be able to get our notes back the same day, because we wanted to write one for just about everyone, and wouldn't get time.

The rest of that day, and from then onwards, made that camp turned out to be a pretty damn good time with everyone enjoying themselves.

I still have that affirmation envelope with every note that was in there, 10 years on. Nothing since then was ever able to change my life quite as strongly as it did that day.

Everytime I look around at other people when I go about my life, that thought is programmed in me. In terms of how we feel, there is no such thing as being alone. The pain you feel, at its worst, gets no worse than it does for anyone else - whether you know them or not.
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October 2014

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