Refugees don’t self-harm because of me, Peter Dutton, they self-harm because of you

Immigration minister Peter Dutton

Peter Dutton, what do you do between the hours of midnight and 5am? Do you sleep? If so, I really must ask – how can you?

Dozens of Australians sit up all night, every single night, comforting asylum seekers on Manus Island and Nauru. You don’t have to, therefore the task falls to the advocates.

Let me tell you what this entails, since your statement blaming advocates for suicide attempts – of actually encouraging self-harm – suggests you are clearly unaware.

It is mind-blowingly hot on Manus and Nauru during the day, so our friends there try to sleep. We, safely onshore, sit tensely in the evenings, watching for the little green light that signals people have come online. When someone doesn’t show up, there is a flurry of frantic calls between advocates; when did you last hear from them? What did they say? Are they in danger of self-harm? Who do you know in the same compound? The result of these calls can be anything from relief upon locating our friend, safe and sound, or that which is becoming more common – they’ve harmed themselves and are in International Health and Medical Services, or have been beaten by guards and thrown into solitary confinement.

We cannot sleep, Mr Dutton. We can close our eyes, but the horrors we are witnessing don’t go away. And on the rare occasions we actually do get to sleep, we know there are no guarantees that our loved ones will be unharmed when we wake.

I will never forget the last night I actually slept for eight hours – it was in September last year, and I woke to discover one of my dearest friends on Manus had stabbed himself in the neck.

He apologised over and over again, he knew he’d broken his promise not to hurt himself, but after three years of incarceration, beatings from the guards and locals, as well as untreated medical conditions, the psychological damage means we cannot expect them to always have control over their behaviours.

He has since tried to drown himself, and I live in constant fear of losing him.

Nauru is a different kind of torment for us. As a mother, I get to watch my daughter play freely, build lego houses, drink babycinos, run excitedly through the shops, all the while knowing my friends on Nauru have children who have never known that freedom.

As a woman, I beg my friends there to eat, to drink water, all the while knowing that the reason they have no appetite is due to the constant sexual harassment from the guards. I cannot imagine living with that kind of constant trauma, let alone retaining the will to live through it all, day after day.

Then there’s the vomiting, Minister. A number of advocates, including me, have become physically ill from what we are witnessing. It is of great concern to me that you do not have a similar reaction, as it seems the only logical response to such horrors. Many of us have been hospitalised for rehydration, and one for a blood transfusion due to internal bleeding. The human mind is not wired to cope with what we are seeing unfold.

How can you stand back, with all of the power you have, and allow these things to occur?

And then, when somebody on Manus or Nauru finally breaks, under the sheer weight of the trauma being inflicted upon them on a daily basis, and commits an act of self-harm, you blame the people who spend each day and night trying to prevent this from happening.

Minister Dutton, if you believe people are being coached to self-harm, or are self-harming in order to come to Australia, then you don’t understand the fundamentals of self-harm. Perhaps you should talk to one of the two psychiatric nurses who have given up their paid work here to support people on Nauru and Manus full-time.

Perhaps you should discuss it with any of the child abuse or domestic violence survivors – there are a great many of us who are supporting survivors of the same who are in offshore detention.

All day, and all night, day after day, our greatest fear is of losing the people we call our brothers, our sisters, our sons, our daughters. We know and love these people as family members, and they have shared in our lives, as we have in theirs, during this terrifying journey we’ve found ourselves on.

I’m no expert on anxiety or depression, so I’m not going to talk about the conditions that have become so prevalent in those who have sought refuge in this country, only to be sent to a place that closely resembles the popular idea of hell. Plenty of experts have already clearly stated the harm that is caused on Manus and Nauru: these statements were dismissed by your department. So it’s up to the advocates to attempt to lift the burden of crippling, untreated mental illnesses from the shoulders of our friends.

We can only do so much over the phone, however. What do you say to a sobbing man at 3am who simply cannot take any more beatings? What do you say to a frantic mother with a sick baby whose condition isn’t being treated adequately? How can we ask them to keep suffering at our hands, knowing our tax dollars are paying for this lengthy and seemingly endless torture? But we do. We beg them to keep going, plead with them not to allow their story to end this way. We cajole, we bargain, we make promises, and somehow, we’ve managed to keep almost everyone alive. It seems miraculous under the circumstances that I haven’t lost anyone I love.

I can’t tell you what it’s like to live with this fear, this devastation, this utter helplessness.

What I can tell you, Minister Dutton, is that asylum seekers are not self-harming because of the advocates.

Asylum seekers are self-harming because of you.


The Blur of Bipolar Disorder

I’ve always been the type of person who has trouble staying still. Constantly moving from one thing to the next, or at least wanting to. It’s hard for me to make a decision because I can’t choose just one thing or focus on one thing. And the worse things get, the faster I want to move. The less I want to slow down or stop or be quiet. I move as quickly as possible to the next job, the next bottle of wine, the next person, party, hobby. I can’t even focus on a 20-minute television show for more than five minutes. I can’t do what I love — reading or writing or digesting a film or a record because that would involve me being still and I can’t be still because that means addressing what is happening. Admitting there is a problem. Realizing I’m once again broken. So I speed. I zig and I zag and I am too much. I drink too much. I cry too much. I buy too much. I go as fast as I can for as long as I can until I can’t do it anymore. Until I physically can’t take another step. Until I can’t feel too much anymore.

Until I’m done.

Until I am broken and all I can manage now is to turn off all the lights and sleep and try and remember how I got to this point.

Because by this point all I can remember are blurs.

A blur of me sitting in my car in the rain and crying on the phone while my boyfriend tries to understand why I’m crying.

A blur of me huddled under the covers while my dog remains loyally cemented to the foot of my bed keeping watch.

A blur of me dashing out the door with nowhere to really go because I want to avoid talking about anything that matters with my roommate.

A blur of seeing my mom’s name show up on the phone screen and turning it over so I can pretend I never saw the call.

I remember something about laughing but it’s faint and I can’t remember what was so funny. Something about music but none of the songs make me feel anything. Something about reading but nothing on the pages grabs my attention. Something about nature but
I don’t want to leave my bed. I drive over a bridge and for a moment imagine what it would be like to go over the side. Would it hurt? Would I feel something, anything?

And then I’m in a long abandoned antique mall’s parking lot screaming and choking because I wished it would actually happen. That it would all be over. That I would maybe feel something when I hit the water. But I also don’t want to feel anything or think about anything ever again.

I want everyone to leave me alone but I sob when I think my wish might actually come true. I dream about being surrounded by people and all of them hate me. I dream about everyone I love leaving me and screwing me over. I wake up screaming and scared and shaking. Most of all I wake up angry. I carry this anger around. I wrap myself in it. My journal becomes a scribble of messy, heavy bits of prose and lyrics. I’m angry with myself for letting this happen again and I want everyone to be angry with me, too. I want to feel
something, anything. I stand outside in just a t-shirt. I can see my breath but I’m not cold. I still don’t feel anything. And then all of a sudden I realize I’m sitting on my bed while my roommate sits on one of the numerous mounds of clothes that covers my floor.

“This is the lowest I’ve seen you.”

I get lunch with my mom.

“You just don’t seem like your usual sweet self.”

I’m listening again.

Everything is coming back into focus.

I talk on the phone with my boyfriend and don’t spend the entire time in tears.

“I love you.”

And I believe him.

I return texts and phone calls. I sing in the car. I read. I sit on a bench for an hour enjoying how the sun feels hot on my face. I walk outside and shiver because of the cold.

I get up at 7 a.m. and eat a bagel. I spend time deliberately, delicately picking out what to wear. I’m being put back together. But I’m still not there.

The pieces are settling back together. I am settling. I feel quiet inside and I don’t mind.

I stop trying to pack my days full of things one right after the other. I am caught off guard by the scars, but I have a hard time recalling exactly how they got there and am grateful that was a blur. I am grateful because the monsters that terrified me in my dreams were just that — fantastical monsters. I am grateful that though they don’t understand why I can’t pick myself up or crawl out of bed they want to and they try. I am grateful because while he doesn’t understand why, he holds me while my mind moves too fast and everything is just too loud. I am grateful because while she doesn’t understand why, she shares a pint of ice cream and her couch with me while I talk until I have nothing left to say and then it’s OK if I don’t say anything at all. I am grateful because they do understand, at least a little.

I am grateful because they know how it’s going to end and still they stand by patiently, so very close, waiting to push me back up again and again.

A Tattoo Artist Has Been Offering Free Tattoo To Cover People’s Self-Harm Scars-Best Life Insurance Program

An Australian tattoo artist has been flooded with emails and requests after she posted an offer to give free tattoos to those who wanted to cover up self-harm scars.

Inspired by a friend, who had initially started self-harming to cope with an eating disorder, Whitney Develle posted her message on Facebook and Instagram, offering her services for free. Once her post went viral, she was overwhelmed with requests for cover ups; she’ll be giving only 50 free sittings and has pledged to offer discounted tattoos to those left.



Speaking to 9News, Whitney explained that the surge in requests was “humbling but also heartbreaking”.


“I have been up late most nights [since] with a close friend replying to each and every person,”


Keen to raise awareness and reduce the stigma associated with self-harming, Develle has called out to other tattooists to come and help her provide all of those who’ve requested a tattoo and keep up with demand.


“The hardest part was that statistically probably 98 percent of [those who had written in] were people had self-harmed. Majority of them were too scared to speak with a tattooist out of fear of being judged”


Develle hopes that her efforts, and the courage of her friend and others to come forward will spark a dialogue about the importance of speaking to someone and getting help if you’re self-harming.

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