By age 17, we’d got our motorcycle licenses and begun a reckless hedonistic ride of our lives. Forever one-upping each other, we invested heavily in a motorcycle arms race that had us spending pretty much every cent we earned on bikes and anything that would make them go faster, sound louder and look better… We rode everywhere. We once rode from Sydney to Armidale on a whim. In the middle of a freezing winter Friday night, just to visit a mate at New England Uni. Young , Dumb and full of bravado, we rode through the night but when we got there it turned out our mate had gone to Sydney (!) so we had some brekky and turned around and rode straight home again in the pissing rain with no wet weather gear. Along the way my shit-box Yamaha electrics failed and I swore I was going to throw that evil bastard over the bridge at Scone… That trip is seared into my memory as one of the favourites. We were young reckless and free to do whatever the hell we wanted to; whenever we wanted to and it pretty much always involved motorcycles, good mates and making memories..
In the years that followed, we crashed bikes, rode from one end of the country to the other, rolled a car on a hairpin in Galston Gorge and lived to tell the tale, saw lots of live bands in pubs all over Sydney, chased girls, wound up in hospital more than once.. hell I even ran him over with a mini bus on his Bucks nights.. (long story for another time…) I was his Best Man, he was mine. We started having families at about the same time and as the onset of kids and mortgages tends to do.. life changed and that youthful hedonism became a distant memory.. Bike rebuilds gave way to home reno’s; midnight rides to distant places became weekend picnics in a park; and life became somehow, more tame.
As our needs changed we always had each other’s back; yet on some level I became aware of a growing darker side to him and I took many midnight pissed-to the-eyeballs calls from him lamenting a life he wished he still had…
He’d always been really close to his Dad and in early 1998, his dad passed away quickly and quite unexpectedly. With the benefit of 20:20 hindsight, it’s plain now that that one event was the catalyst for the months of ruin that followed. His 10 year marriage was in strife already and the melancholy that set in from his Dad’s death was unstoppable. Eventually she grew tired of his creeping misery and she kicked him out. (At the time it seemed she was being a bit of a hard-arse but who knows what else goes on inside another’s marriage..? I’m pretty certain he’d have been pretty hard to live with back then..) Suddenly homeless and depressed (though I didn’t recognise THAT at the time), his work suffered and his life unravelled pretty quickly after that. He lost his high paying job and the company car that went with it; the Courts took his kids away and saddled him with unrelenting maintenance payments that crippled him; his work mates abandoned him and he quickly lost interest in life.. Then the drinking and gambling set in… Sean shunned all contacts and help from others; and life spiralled out of control in short order. The last contact I’d had was another pissed-to-the-eyeballs midnight call telling me, my wife, my kids, and pretty much everybody else to go and get royally F$%&ED and leave him the F$%^ alone.. That hurt. A lot. Yet, I had no idea what he was dealing with.
Fast forward to March 1999 and Sean turned up unexpectedly at my office one day. He’d put on weight , knocked off the drink, got a new job and was wearing a smile. He’d even bought himself another motorcycle. (You bet I was jealous of that..) He apologised profusely for his past behaviour and promised to make it up to me. On the surface, all seemed ok, but as he left my office something just didn’t feel right and it was like I’d been talking to a paper cutout version of the bloke I‘d known since we were 10. I never saw him again after that day.
Later that year, I took a call from his brother one Sunday night. The second I picked up the ‘phone I knew the news wouldn’t be good… Mike told me that Sean had taken his own life that afternoon. The method is unimportant now, he was just as dead; and he’d left no note. I hadn’t seen him since that weird day in my office, but Mike told me that when he’d last visited me, Sean had already met and whirlwind married another woman! He’d never told me … To this day I wonder about that…
Predictably, melancholic patterns eventually reappeared and you can kind of guess the rest. At his funeral I had the very weird situation of speaking to a church full of people; having known him for 28 of his 38 years; yet knowing only 3 other people in attendance – his mother and brother and one old school mate. Not even his estranged wife nor his kids were there. As a pall-bearer, carrying my mate to his grave, the other 3 guys carrying him were complete strangers to me.
Its been 16 years since then, and though I didn’t know it back then, Sean had been battling depression for years. I had neither the education to recognise it , nor the tools to help him deal with it. Most likely, he’d always had it, and managed to keep it at bay until his life unravelled in spectacular fashion. In his final moments he was alone and had shunned support from those that loved him; andits me that has regret for this. Looking back on it, I feel as though I failed him. I was supposed to be his best mate. His Best Man for chrissake… I was the one who was supposed to have his back … yet I was hopelessly unprepared and unknowing; as he battled alone, a foe that nobody really understood, nor even talked about. At best, mental health issues were treated as something you could dismiss with a simple “cheer up mate”. At worst it was scorned, as something to be ashamed of…
Thankfully, a lot of that has changed now. We recognise Depression as a clinical condition and there’s a heap of resources available to sufferers and their support teams. This is in no small way, due to the efforts of superb organisations like Beyond Blue and Black Dog. These people have helped to bring Depression out of the back room and make it a topic that people can talk about in plain language… When conversations get started, solutions get found. There’s still much to be done though and they need money.
My contribution?.. well as many of my friends know I’ve been known to ride bicycles for stupid distances on occasions to raise money for a cause. This time, I’m adding a motor, which seems an entirely appropriate way to honour my mate Sean’s memory. In August 2015, a largish group of motorcyclists from all corners of Australia are converging on Uluru to raise awareness for suicide prevention and to raise money for a range of Mental Health organisations. There’s more details at www.blackdogride.com.au but the short story is.. I’m planning to be one of them and I’m seeking your support. Be assured, any and all donations you might feel inclined to make will go straight to supporting the Black Dog beneficiaries.. I’m footing the bill for the ride registration fees, bike costs, fuel, accommodation, meals and so on.
To be clear, this is an adventure so I’m not asking for you to pay my way.. just support the charity element please. I’d love it if you could do just 3 things for me
- Help me to make something good out of Sean’s demise and kick the tin for whatever feels like the right amount for you… Just follow the link above.
- Share this story to your friends and colleague’s Facebook walls using the link above with a request to support this fine cause..
- I reckon I’m not alone… everybody’s got a Sean in their life. My solemn wish for you is that (unlike me), you will recognise your ‘Sean’ when you see him/her, and get the assistance you need to deal with the situation. You might not know what they need and maybe they can’t tell you.. so just start with the old… RUOK?. Go to the Black Dog Institute or Beyond Blue websites for resources if you need ‘them.. but just don’t let your ‘Sean’ suffer in isolation ok?
Thanks so much. You’re awesome.