R U OK? Day, 2016
Today is R U OK? Day in Australia. A day where mental health and wellness is brought into the spotlight, and rightly so. So many people in Australia (and around the world) are affected by mental illness, whether they experience it themselves or they care for or love someone who does. Mental health is a BIG issue and it needs a BIG response.
I have often heard people criticise the idea of R U OK? Day as a “once off” or “once a year” day that people ask other people the simple question “Are you OK?”. People criticise it because they think asking someone how they are, one day a year is not enough. And they are right; it’s not. But people who are in a habit of asking the people around them if they are OK, or checking in with friends and family regularly, don’t react like that, they celebrate this day. I celebrate this day.
It’s a reminder for me, someone who is often asking others if they are OK, to broaden my net…. to check in with MORE people than I normally would… and I think that’s a really good thing. No reminder to ask about someone’s state of mind is a bad reminder.
Depression, generalised anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) are all quite common in people with hypermobility disorders. There are a range of reasons why, with some of them believed to be genetic/biological and others which are circumstantial or as a consequence of a life lived with hypermobility.
I lost a friend to suicide a few years ago, and that prompted me to be far more aware of the warning signs and to check in more regularly with the people I care about. That’s what spurred me to have this conversation with a friend of mine. I asked her “R U OK?” and her response initially was that she was fine… but I was still concerned, so I waited for the right time, and I asked again. She finally admitted to me that she wasn’t OK; that things weren’t as they seemed to the outside world.
Further down the track I asked her about her experience, and she allowed me to share these details with you:
“I have lived with a mental illness for many years, and I was so high functioning that people in my life, my in-real-life friends, family and colleagues were shocked when they found out. At the time I was so ashamed of my illness, that I didn’t tell many people. Over time, though, I have been able to tell more and more people, and to feel less ashamed. Therapy is helping me immensely, to accept, to acknowledge and to integrate the genetics, the events and the circumstances which lead to what I now call my “knock-down-rebuild” moment.
I stopped working almost two years ago…. quite abruptly, or so it seemed to my colleagues and family at the time. I had become so unwell that I was unable to continue working…and that rocked my world, and the world of people around me. I went from high-functioning, running my own business and helping others, to being unable to look after my own needs.
Walking away from my business was the hardest, yet the best thing, I ever did for myself.
It was only with the support of friends & family that I was able to get the help I needed, and I will be forever indebted to them for their willingness to journey with me during my darkest hours. I am so grateful that they asked the question “Are you OK?”…. or one step further “I can see that you’re not OK, let me help you”.
The suicide of our friend triggered my inability to hide my mental illness anymore. Her death, as devastating as it was & forever will be for her family & all of her friends, in a strange way, gave me a chance of life because it prompted me to get the help I needed… Obviously & overwhelmingly, on the deepest level possible, I wish more than anything that she was still here with us, that she wasn’t the wake-up call I needed and that we could have supported each other in our illnesses, and found a way to live despite our respective illnesses… but reality is, that wasn’t what happened. And losing her is one of the reasons I am happy for you to share my story”.
I share this conversation with you today because I want you to know two very important things:
- Smiles can hide really big things… My friend learned to smile like a trooper to the outside world over 15 years ago. That smile covered up a lot of her suffering, allowed her to fly under the radar and not have attention brought to her mental health. Always remember, smiles can be faked and a few genuine words “R U OK?” can break through the smile and reveal what’s hidden behind. All you have to do is REALLY ask… and if it doesn’t come out the first time, be persistent. Keep asking… Don’t walk away from someone you think is in need of help.
- It’s OK to not be OK. My friend admitted that she wasn’t OK, and some days I know she is still not OK. If she can admit it, then so can you. Quietly, or by shouting it from the rooftops – admit it to someone today, even if no-one asks you. And remember it’s OKAY to not be OK.
Remember, a conversation could change a life.
If you are struggling (or if you see the signs in someone you care for), reach out to one of the many services available in Australia (or your own country). Get the help you need, because despite what the little voice in your head tells you, YOU ARE WORTH IT… and YOU MATTER. Go and see your GP and be honest with them about how you are feeling and ASK FOR HELP…. and then let someone help you. You don’t have to do this alone.
The Black Dog Institute: Info for getting help.