What is R U OK? Day?
On that day we want everyone across the country, from all backgrounds and walks of life, to ask family, friends and colleagues: "Are you OK?".
Staying connected with others is crucial to our general health and wellbeing. Feeling isolated or hopeless can contribute to depression and other mental illnesses, which can ultimately result in suicide. Regular, meaningful conversations can protect those we know and love.
It's so simple. In the time it takes to have a coffee, you can start a conversation that could change a life.
Sometimes I'm ok and sometimes I'm not quite that. At the moment I'm fine but, the truth is, I don't want to be asked. I do think it's important to ask. And I'm happy to ask other people, and am genuinely interested in what they will have to say in response. But I'd rather not be asked personally, thanks very much. I control things very much internally, and bringing them all out can be the difference between being 'ok right now' and 'not so much'.
Regardless, I think it's important to realise that admitting to struggles with mental health doesn't mean you need to be carted away by men in white coats (so to speak). If we can help normalise depression and other types of mental illness, including the thought processes that might contribute to them, perhaps it will help more people to speak up when they need to?
When I was 14, depression hit big time and I really didn't know what to do with myself. Everything seemed meaningless, and it wasn't just about self-esteem either (which was a big issue from time to time) - everything just seemed kind of stupid. And I didn't feel liked I belonged, not in my home, not in my skin, not in my head, not in my world, but not anywhere else either. I wrote poems, all the time. I played the cello rather loudly, channelling whatever I could get out. I painted sometimes. Took photos sometimes.
Anyway, at some point my mum pretty much asked me "are you ok?" in a "clearly you're not so what are we going to do about it" kind of way. So, at 15 I changed schools, and in the environment of much fewer people, more challenging school work (moving to year 11) and a nurturing, peaceful garden in the school grounds, I came to a better place. I still found life challenging a lot of the time, internally at least, but I wrote A LOT to explore that process and generally found life interesting again.
Since then it has come and gone... and come... and gone... as depression tends to do. I have a few distinct memories of times when it was bad for me - one of the times at 18 / 19, another at 22, a few other times. I've had a few times when I felt quite manic, like I was walking around with ants under my skin and my brain whirring at a million miles an hour, for weeks. I've had a panic attack or two, but anxiety hasn't taken a firm hold at any time, thankfully. I had a year where I felt like I was constantly visualising trauma that was about to happen, except that it wasn't actually about to happen at all, it was just me imagining the worst in constant graphic detail. That still happens but it was only really extreme for a short time.
This poem is from 2002
I am adrift
within my consciousness
lost in thought,
seeming only temporary
I want to tear out
my thoughts from
wear the blood of
as a badge,
identifying the pain
of the lost,
of who I am
these lives so secret
inside of me
As far as mental illness goes, I get it. I've had a couple of friends over the years say to me that they don't like to say out loud what they think in their head, things like "I could walk in front of that bus", but they do say that to me and I'm like "I know what you mean". It's important to be able to talk to people, to express your feelings, and not have them over-react with drama and freaking out, disappointment or platitudes. Remember, there is a strong sense of not wanting to worry people, as well as not wanting to be judged or for some people there is a feeling of shame. I think it depends on your background a lot. In any case, a calm, genuine listening ear (and sometimes a gentle but firm push towards other types of help available) is far more helpful and reassuring than an "oh my god!" response*.
It's important to be able to say that stuff out loud, to be able to get a hold of your perspective, to tell someone that those thoughts are a symptom of how you're feeling inside, desperate and uncertain, disconnected or overwhelmed, or whatever it is - those thoughts are a symptom of how intense your feelings are. They are not an answer, that is vital to understand, but telling someone how you feel is part of the journey. It is also important to know this about yourself. And then things get better. They will, because they do. It might take some time, it will very likely require some help. And the darkness might come back again, but then it will go away again too.
So it will be a day to ask someone 'R U Ok?' on September 15th. Or maybe, for you, it will be a day to answer honestly when someone asks you.
*It's important not to be offended, as well, when a loved one doesn't want to talk about their struggle with you. If you know they will talk to someone, and will be getting help if they need it (that is important), keep in mind that perhaps what they need from you is time off from their feelings of depression and anxiety. Light relief, or just quiet companionship, or general support, or maybe a babysitter while they go and see a professional if that is what they need to do. All of that is incredibly valuable too. But if you are seriously worried, listen to your instincts too. R U OK website has some great advice here.
There have been some honest, insightful and inspiring blog posts in relation to R U Ok? Day - here are a few I've been reading:
The following are some recommended help and information contacts:
* beyondblue info line (National) - 1300 22 4636
* Lifeline (National) - 13 11 14
* Just Ask Rural Mental Health Information & Referral Line (National) - 1300 13 11 14
* SANE Australia Helpline (National) - 1800 187 263
* Suicide Helpline - 1300 651 251
* Mensline (National) - 1300 789 978
* Australian Psychological Society Referral Line (National) 1800 333 497
* Mental Health Information Service (NSW) - 1300 794 991
* Kids Helpline (National) - 1800 551 800