I originally posted this in August 2014 on another blog, about my experience of R U OK Day in September of 2013. For a while I avoided looking back at this time, but it taught me a great deal. 2020 has brought up some similar emotions and I’m grateful that I have had some experience in working through them…
“For some reason it always happens on a Thursday, which is a little odd. You would expect that Monday would be the hardest day to deal with, but for me my worst days occur on Thursday. It hasn’t been that often, especially in 2014, but there have been a couple of pretty scary Thursdays’ over the past year and a half.
The most memorable one was almost a year ago. I look back at that time and I’m not sure what was happening in my life that caused it. It was the week following the Federal Election (many people may have experienced a similar time depending on who they voted for) but that meant very little to me, perhaps it was the fact my two children had been staying with me for a few days in a row and their mum had recently picked them up. Maybe it was loneliness as I woke up without them for the first time in a week. Maybe I was missing family living interstate. Maybe I was tired from a long work year. Maybe it was all of the above. Whatever it was, I awoke on this Thursday at the normal time to get ready for a 10am speaking engagement but I was flat. I felt sad and lonely and in need of a boost. ‘Nothing a coffee and a muffin couldn’t fix’ I told myself. I guess I put too much faith in the ability of caffeine and chocolate to fix my life that day because I still felt the same after I had consumed them. So I decided to reach out – I called Dad. No answer. I called my brother. No answer. I called my mentor, twice. No answer. I called my boss. No answer. As each call went through to message bank I grew more and more exasperated. I was driving on my way to work (using handsfree) and each recorded message made me feel more disconnected and alone. The emotions overtook as I navigated the roads whilst attempting to make sure none of the other drivers could see the tears streaming down my cheeks. I didn’t know where else to turn. So many people had said to me ‘if you ever need anyone to talk to, just give me a call anytime’, but in this moment I couldn’t think of any of them. My brain wouldn’t work and there seemed no way to break out of my isolation to reach another person. The only thing I could think was ‘How can I face today like this?’ which led to ‘What if it is the same tomorrow? And the next day?’. I have since learned that these emotions pass and tomorrow is normally always better, but in the heat of the moment that perspective is elusive and hidden. I reached the end of myself. I was scared.
The importance of this story is more than just ‘a bad day I once had’, you see this day coincided with ‘R U OK?’ day. You can see the irony. I had spent the entire morning reading about it online and witnessed dozen’s of my friends posts about it on social media, some asking the question, others highlighting the importance of asking the question to your friends and loved ones. It was great that so much fuss was being made about this day and the issues around depression and isolation, but there was a small problem. Amongst the generic ‘R U OK?’ posts and the encouragement to ask those around us, no one actually stopped and asked me. Because I wasn’t ok. I wanted to tell people that, but there was no way I was going to put that as a comment underneath someone’s status or initiate a conversation around that. The shame and embarrassment I felt was overwhelming. So I sat in my car doing my best to hide the tears.
My point is this. I love ‘R U OK?’ day and the whole concept. Most of my healing and restoration has happened because I have learned how to connect with people and build quality relationships. But the question, ‘R U OK?’ is so much more than a throw away status or tweet. You can’t just generically suggest to the your faceless friends on the internet that if they are struggling they should talk to someone and think that you have fixed the world. The question needs to be asked to individuals, face to face, and then the question needs to be followed with silence and patience. The hardest words that I have ever had to say have been ‘no, I am not’. They took years to figure out, months to form and weeks to eventually verbalise. But it’s not a conversation to be afraid of – you don’t even need to do anything, just sit there and listen. The ‘R U OK’ website has some great suggestions around this too.
My Dad ended up calling me back before I got to work. He rescued me that day. I cried with him on the phone, he felt helpless being so far away, we talked, we laughed and I felt so much better just because I connected with someone, who cared enough to ask and then to listen. It was through that conversation that I knew that tomorrow would be better.
I now also have a list of people saved in my phone who I know that I can call if I ever found myself in a similar situation – I asked some people and they were honoured to be put on it. Most I have never used and probably never will, but at least I won’t feel so isolated when I know that I need to speak to someone in that very moment.
I have never suffered from depression. The best way to describe my experience with it is that I have skirted around the edges of grief-related depression. I traveled through it with people, and my doctor but my story is an uneventful one. Some of my closest friends have and do suffer from depression and they are some of the bravest people I have met.”
R U OK day is the 10th of September by the way, but you don’t have to wait until then… www.ruok.org.au