The day after RUOK day, I started writing. I'd struggled somewhat to come up with anything of value for the day itself. I'm in such a terrible place at the moment and felt like a hypocrite blogging too much about it. It's hard to blog from a positive place about helping people who are struggling when I can't make it out my front door. When I'd written so much already about my headspace and how much I needed help, how could I write anything of worth?
But I felt that with all of the build up and publicity to the day (which is a good thing), the actual question was almost starting to feel contrived. I wrote this post and am proud to say it has been published in the Digital Parents Blogazine. You can find the article here, and I'm going to republish it on my own blog today.
RUOK Day has been and gone – Now what?
September 15 saw mental health and the concept of reaching out to others on the forefront of the minds of many Australians. The 2011 RUOK movement was perhaps one of the most successful campaigns of its type, thanks to some high profile contributors, and the wonder of Social Media. That now familiar logo and tag line – “A conversation could change a life” has been etched into our social consciousness for weeks and weeks now. And hopefully, there it will remain for a long time to come.
Barely anyone on Facebook, Twitter or in the Australian Blogosphere was unaware of the campaign, where we were encouraged to take a friend, a colleague, a fellow student or a family member aside and ask – “Are you Ok?”
Such a simple act, yet one we so rarely take the time out of our frantic days to do, or at least, to do properly. To ask the question prepared to listen and care about the answer. Or to be prepared to answer the question, honestly for perhaps the first time ever.
I am in the position of having been on both sides. Just over a decade ago my mother suffered from a major depressive illness and anxiety disorder and was hospitalised for months. Her illness came on very suddenly, and none of us were prepared for its ferocity. She was ill for over a year. Two years ago I was diagnosed with Bipolar 2 Disorder, and have long struggled with severe depression and anxiety disorders. My struggle with my mental health is entering, at the very least, its 8th year.
So I know. I know what it is to watch someone spiral, and be unsure how to help them. I remember the helplessness as you watch someone you love battle a disorder you cannot truly understand until you experience it yourself. And now, I know what it is to be in a hole so deep you cannot imagine that there is ever going to be a way out. I know what it is to think that there is only one way to make it stop. Not to want to die, not to want to leave my family behind, but to honestly believe it is the only option left.
Most of us are aware by now that 1 in 5 Australians will suffer with a mental illness at some time in their lives. That more than 2000 Australians will commit suicide each year. More people will die at their own hand than in a motor vehicle accident. Yet, we still find it so difficult to talk about. There is still such a stigma attached (one I have seen within my own circle of family and friends) that sufferers are reluctant to talk.
So it may be that you got your cup of coffee; you took a deep breath, and asked someone “Are you ok?” Only to have them seem irritated at the question; or chuckle and say “What are you talking about? I’m fine”. As they quickly break eye contact and change the subject.
Don’t be discouraged. It’s not your fault. It’s not that you didn’t ask it right. What you have to understand is that this is what we do. This is the nature of the beast. We don’t let you see us on our blackest days. We do everything humanly possible to keep up the façade of “ok”. There is nothing we won’t do to hide from you just how far from “ok” we really are.
My solitary concern with RUOK day is this. There is so much focus on that one day it can almost start to feel contrived. To be honest this isn’t something that can be dealt with in just one conversation, on one day.
If you take anything from RUOK Day, take this. The important thing is not that one question. It is the willingness to look around you; to make connections with people. Be observant. Take note of any changes in behaviour. Chat to people when you get a chance, try to learn something about their lives. It opens up a far easier line of communication if you’ve spoken before, and have taken the time to share something of yourself too. It is such a debilitating thing, this black dog, and no one feels more vulnerable than those battling it.
So if we don’t open up to you the first time, don’t give up on us. We may have looked you in the eye and said “I’m fine”. But inside, we are screaming “No! I’m not! Ask me again!”
You may need to catch us on just the right day before we summon up the courage to whisper our secret truth “I don’t even remember what fine looks like anymore”.