Fair warning: I’m about to get a little bit personal here.
Today is R U OK? day, an initiative aimed at preventing suicide, and generally keeping an eye out for your friends, family, co-workers and acquaintances who might be going through a rough time. On R U OK? day, everyone is encouraged to reach out and ask people a very simple question – are you ok?
I first heard about R U OK? day in 2011, at a very stressful time in my life. I was going through the process of applying for law clerkships, which can be harrowing. In the previous few months, I had experienced bucket-loads of rejection, and was feeling at an all time low in terms of self-worth. I’d taken this out on the people around me, including my family and my best friend, and was in such a dark place that I couldn’t even see that I was the problem. I kept asking myself: Why doesn’t anyone care about me? Why can’t they see how miserable and lonely and scared I am? Why won’t anybody help me?
I was getting ready to attend a clerkship interview one day when I got a call from my oldest friend. He was calling to ask me: are you ok? Just out of the blue. Not because he knew what had been going on with me – no one really knew about that. Least of all the people closest to me, who I had been shutting out. He called to ask if I was ok because of R U OK? day, and because he decided to take the time to pick up the phone.
The impact of that call was massive for so many reasons. It was because he cared enough to ask – and so many times, even people who DO care DON’T think to ask. It was because his question opened the door for me to tell him what had been going on. That it was a dark time. That I was struggling. It was because I realised, when I put all of my thoughts into words, that actually, I was OK. I was getting along. I was moving forward. There was light at the end of the tunnel. All this, from someone taking the time to ask a very simple question that no one else had thought to ask me (quite possibly because they were worried about being screamed at).
Earlier this year I went through another dark time. There was no particular reason. I was just down: flat, unmotivated, feeling guilty about not being motivated, feeling overwhelmed by my life, feeling like I was drowning or being crushed or just simply followed around by a giant black cloud. Everything seemed like too much. This wasn’t the first time I’ve felt like this. It probably won’t be the last. But thanks to an important lesson that I learned the last time, I approached it differently. I talked about it. I told Mario, I told my parents, I told my friends: I am struggling. I am not happy. I am flat-out not coping. Their responses varied, from some who told me that I was quite possibly depressed, and should explore counselling or medication, to others who denied that it could be depression, and focused on trying to identify the (non-mental) cause of my feelings. While some people were helpful and supportive, and others less so, it was the act of telling them, of talking about it, that helped more than anything.
See the thing is, the people who care about you want to help you and support you. We all lead busy lives, and sometimes it is easy to miss – or dismiss – the signs that someone is struggling. In my opinion, that’s what R U OK? day is about – remembering to check on your loved ones. Remembering to make sure THEY KNOW that you care, because of course you do. Remembering to listen to what they’re telling you, and really hear it, because sometimes a cry for help is scarily quiet. And, hopefully, they will learn the lesson that I did, which is that you actually don’t need to wait for someone to ask if you are OK. You can start the conversation, and you can lean on them, and you CAN let down your guard and be vulnerable. There’s no shame and no embarrassment in that. Once you let other people in, all the burdens seem just a little bit lighter.
And you know what else? Everyone has dark periods. Whether you suffer from anxiety like me, or whether you have experienced depression, or mood swings, or flat periods, or grief, or loss, or unfair guilt, or struggled with a physical or mental illness – we are all more alike than we know. So let your guard down. Be vulnerable. Whether you’re on the asking side, feeling a little uncomfortable about posing such a personal question, or whether you’re on the question side, not quite sure how honest to be, OPEN UP. Don’t let sadness or fear or pain hide in the shadows – shine a light on it. No one is as together as they seem. No one is perfect, no one is made of stone. Every single person – without exception – can benefit from knowing that someone cares about them. Don’t make the mistake of thinking you’re not needed, because I promise you that you are.
For those of you reading this, whether you’re one of my loyal readers, or whether you’ve just checked in, I want to ask you a simple question: Are you OK?
And I want you to know that I really, truly want to know. So pick up the phone, or leave a comment, or send me an email, and let me know how you are doing. Because I DO care, whether I know you well or barely at all, and I DO want to help in any way I can, just in the way that so many people have helped me.
R U OK?: https://www.ruok.org.au/
Beyond Blue: http://www.beyondblue.org.au/