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MANABOUTADL gets up close and personal with Osher Günsberg

Content Warning: Suicidal Themes.

Image Source: Total Capture Photography

Back, after the Break is Osher Günsberg’s new book detailing his experiences living with mental health, addiction and suicidal ideations. Osher writes with emotion, raw honesty and doesn’t hold back on descriptions of how dark things got. He explains how his world collapsed around him and how he gradually rebuilt his life, which is still challenge and a major focus for him each and every day. MANABOUTADL sat down with Osher for a chat.

In a society that ebbs and flows between acceptance and fear of mental health, was Osher ever worried about the stigma of mental health being associated to him? “No, I don’t give a shit. The stakes are too high, way too high. By the time we go to sleep tonight we have already lost eight more people to suicide, alright. If we transferred that to air traffic and we lost 56 people in the last week we would be stopping EVERY plane, it would be like, ‘that’s it nobodies flying’ … I don’t give a shit.”

Image Source: Total Capture Photography

What is critical with mental health is how it’s approached by the individual. Osher was well supported by his workplace at the time and he was open about his treatment plans. Osher said, “I let them know what was going on, I was taking my treatment seriously, the management of my condition seriously, and they were fine. I think that’s super, super important to take responsibility of what’s going on.”

Osher’s delusions during anxiety were grand scale, the world was to him, literally ending. Sea levels rose up draining the palms on Venice beach. Water was consuming everything and global warming was wiping out humanity, he felt no one cared but him. The difficulty with anxiety, particularly when you experience delusions, is trying to make sense of what is your perception and what is reality? How did Osher make sense of that? “I was very, very lucky that when I first got diagnosed with PTSD in 2001, I decided to learn cognitive behavioural therapy. I learned to question my own thoughts and identify the distortions in my reality.” To break the constant cycle of anxiety he knew he needed to reach out. He called friends, doctors, family; anyone he could as a way of checking-in with reality. It kept him safe, grounded, allowed him to learn about what was reality and what he perceived to be real at any time.

Image Source: Total Capture Photography

Suicidal ideations can present in two ways, passive and active. Passive suicidality is when an individual wants to die; in their sleep, in an accident or by some means that they don’t control. Active suicidal ideations mean the person has a plan, they know how it can happen and they are able to access means. From a clinical perspective both are extremely dangerous. Osher had both. “Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. It will show up as a great idea, but it isn’t. For me, it showed up as the nicest, kindest, most beautiful thing that I could have possibly done for myself and those around me. Like a warm hug.”

In his book, Osher describes his suicidal ideations like warm water in the shower covering your cold body after a surf during the winter. This is not glorifying suicide, it is giving a candid and honest opinion of how he felt during moments of mental health crisis. It is a lived example of how people experiencing suicidal ideations think about their compulsion to give in to suicide. It is important that we acknowledge such feelings in order to help those caught in the dark psychology of suicide.

After years of self-medicating his anxiety with alcohol in order to cope, Osher hit rock bottom, or so he thought. He hit rock bottom again and again. Years of alcohol abuse drinking every day and binge-drinking at every event he attended came to a head in 2010 whilst in New York. He was hurting those he loved, sabotaging his career and testing the limits of his personal relationships. Then he had an epiphany, and it came via a quote by Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu: ‘If you don’t change direction you may end up where you’re heading.’ Even in that moment of realisation he wanted to drink, but he says “0.1% of me didn’t want to drink more.” And that was enough.

“The thing with humans is we don’t want to change, ever”, Osher says recalling the days after he was at his lowest in the midst of alcohol addiction. “It’s the fear of change, it’s so great. But, the pain of staying the same becomes greater than the fear of change, and that’s the point where I knew I had to try something new because I can’t do another day like this.” It was from this point on that things started to shift. It was time to take what was happening in his brain seriously, taking medication as instructed, and getting it all together. The train was gaining speed, time was running out, and there was a mountain at the end of the line.

To a young person, or anyone going through a suicidal crisis, Osher has some advice: “Get to a GP, get an emergency plan going, get people around you that know. Get 5 people that you can call. Start taking control back, it doesn’t matter how small. Control the exercise you do in a day, control what you eat today, how much sleep you get, the tiny things like that. Prove to yourself that you control outcomes. Get a mental health plan. Do ANYTHING but that (suicide). No mental state is a permanent state, not happiness and not sadness.”

At the time the book was printed and published, Osher no longer takes medication for his mental health. But, ten months on he still manages his mental health on his own with close supervision from his doctors, wife and friends. He says, “I’m under no illusions as to how these things (mental health and alcoholism) work. In the same way I have been sober for eight and a half years, and I want to stay that way, statistically it’s 50/50. I’m not on meds today, but if I had to, I’d do it tomorrow… like if you broke your arm, you’d say fuck it put a cast on and let the bone heal.” Osher acknowledges that life is too short and precious to deny help, “Do it for the people around you, do it for the people you love.”

Social connection features heavily in Osher’s life. From mentors, bosses, friends, and the poker group he attends on Wednesday nights, it’s all about talking. “Men don’t talk face to face, they talk shoulder-to-shoulder. Women, let him play golf, go fishing, play cards. He needs it. I needed it.”

Image Source: Total Capture Photography

Osher Günsberg’s book, “Back, after the break” is available now. MANABOUTADL highly recommends it to anyone who has experienced mental health, anyone who is supporting someone through mental health, and every other human being.

If you, or a person you know, is in need of crisis or suicide prevention support, call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or call 000 in an emergency.


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