Turning to the written word

Shane Kelton had always wanted to write a book but had been held back by fear until tragedy made the need clear. Picture: DEAN PUBLISHING.

Shane Kelton speaks to Mikayla Van Loon about his journey with mental health and his foray into a new book that deals with the challenges. Please note this story contains references to suicide.

From high school until now Shane Kelton, 35, has battled, often in silence, serious mental health challenges.

Telling his story for the first time through the written word, Shane will be launching his book ‘I didn’t want to die, I just wanted the pain to end’ in Geelong on Sunday 5 November.

Growing up, Shane’s first experiences of suicide was hearing about the deaths of students at his high school in the older year levels when rumours would spread about the cause.

“[It was a] negative flow on effect of that because I started really suppressing the way I was feeling and the way I was thinking and I thought I was alone in those thoughts and alone in those feelings and experiences that I was having through those years,” he said.

Hiding his feelings led to a build up of anger in his late teens, grabbing the attention of his family that something was wrong but Shane said there was never any mention of mental health as a condition.

“Still through that period of time, there was no mention of mental health issues or the reality that other people were experiencing them or could experience them,” he said.

By 21 years old, he had attempted to take his own life and it was survival that set him on a path to recovery.

“What I learned after my suicide attempt was there was a lot of people experiencing the same or very similar things,” he said.

“So it opened my eyes up to the fact that maybe I needed to speak about it and that would find me on a path where I could get the help I needed.”

A diagnosis of mental illness, Shane said, “felt really relieving but at the same time, I then started to believe that I was depression or I was anxiety”.

“Even to this day, I’m 14 years on since my suicide attempt, I still experience some of those same thoughts or same feelings, because you’re human.”

But having conversations everyday with friends and family, even people he doesn’t know, has become a life mission.

“There’s a long way to go. I don’t think we can eradicate suicides in my lifetime but I know for me, it’s about allowing people just to feel a little bit more comfortable and having those conversations,” Kelton said.

“I know for a fact, having these conversations has saved people within my life. I’ve had them reach out to me and the next day, they said, ‘Thank you, you’ve probably just saved my life’.”

From speaking with people and hearing their stories, Shane said he always had a desire to write a book about his own experiences with suicidal thoughts but “fear got in the way”.

But it wasn’t until 12 months ago Shane experienced suicide from the outside, with a close friend from his 20s, as well as a young person from Mooroolbark Cricket Club, both taking their own lives.

“It was a kid that I loved and so many people loved. He was cheeky, he had a beautiful smile, he was larrikin, and just someone that would be deeply missed.

“I remember it happening and I came home to my wife and I basically said, ‘I need to write this book, now I have to do it, I can’t let fear stop me’.”

Though nervous about sharing his vulnerabilities, another defining moment solidified Shane’s need to

“If I can share and give people a lot more understanding of what it’s like before suicide attempts or on the other side of it, then I can help a lot of people.

“There was definitely doubt through the last 12 months writing the book and one of them was through March, April. I was sitting with a friend and we were both talking about our previous suicide attempts and we’re both sitting there crying, two males in the mid 30s just sharing and hugging each other.

“Only three months later he ended up taking his own life and I from that moment on was like this book will go out to the public because there’s still so many people struggling in silence.”

While reliving moments of hardship and reflecting on times of hurt, Shane said “it’s not about me, it’s about other people”, that writing a book was always about keeping his friends’ memories alive and keeping the conversation going for them.

“I was very open and honest that it was a tough process, reliving and talking about things in the book that I’ve never spoken about before, the depth of it.

“There’s going to be stories in there that no one would know, not even my closest friends, not even therapists. So it’s been a challenging experience but the support from everyone has been second to none.”

Hosting the Geelong launch at Highton Cricket Club, Shane said it felt like the perfect fit.

“I won’t ever shy away from the fact that sporting clubs play this incredible role as being like a second family for you. They’re there when the chips are down, and they’re there to pick you up. They’re also there to keep you accountable to keep moving forward,” he said.

If one thing comes from the launch event or from his book, Shane said it would be a simple message of not trying to fix someone.

“You don’t need to fix the individual, you just need to sit with them. You just need to listen and you just need to be a friend or a family member. You don’t need to fix them.

“If that message could continue to be portrayed across the world, we might not be as fearful as we are about having those conversations, which we can tend to be when the word suicide comes up.

“It’s uncomfortable and people unfortunately aren’t well equipped to talk about it at the moment, but are definitely becoming more well equipped and just having those conversations is going to mean a lot of changes will happen quickly.”

To learn more about Shane Kelton, visit his website powerstrengthvulnerability.com.au. The launch event will be held at Highton Cricket Club on Reynolds Road, starting at 4pm.

Find the event on Facebook ‘Geelong Book Launch – I didn’t want to die, I just wanted the pain to end – finding a better way’.

If this story has been triggering for you, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.