Are you OK?
I used to hate that question.
Despise it. Avoid it at all costs.
Run from any conversation that even looked like it was going in that direction.
I’ve been living with depression for just over two years now. To begin with, undiagnosed ante-natal depression, then PND following Ava’s birth. I’ve been on Zoloft for just over a year, and tried weaning with awful consequences. I’m a better person on the medication. I’m normal and happy, and don’t feel like chicken little. I can talk about things, and I can help others.
But it wasn’t always the case. In the heights of my depths, the thought of being vulnerable was impossible. I was working so hard to maintain the image that all was well, that even that question was enough to send me in a panic.
Don’t make me crush down this perfectly built wall I am keeping myself safe in.
Don’t make me get close.
When I look back at that time now, from a much healthier mental place, I can see that it wasn’t so much the question that I feared, as who it was that asked.
I was always honest with Tim. There was no fear or holding back. With him, I could be.
But that was about it.
I didn’t really feel like there were any others I could be not ok with.
This makes R U OK day, in some ways, a hard thing for me. My thoughts always go back to ‘what if they don’t want to be asked? What if that makes it worse?’
My answer to this, is that whatever is going on in a persons life, they need to know they are not alone, and that they have someone. Mental illness is polarising; the way your mind works is by tricking you into thinking you are the only one who has ever felt like this. Even when you know you’re not.
You feel alone.
With that in mind, here are my tips, for having that possibly dreaded conversation.
>Do you have a relationship?
sometimes we see someone struggling, and we want to help, but we don’t have the relationship with them to do that in an emotional way. Practical is much more helpful. You don’t have to have a conversation every time. Just knowing you are around is helpful.
> Are you too emotional?
Some people we are too close to. And as crazy as that sounds, it can be harder to be vulnerable with them, particularly if we know that our pain will hurt them. When things were bleak, I felt like I could barely look after myself, let alone anyone else. If there was even a small chance that they would react emotionally, I completely withdrew. Crying for me, is not helpful. It just adds to the guilt of not getting something else right.
> Are you in the right place to help?
A blind man can’t lead a blind man, just like someone who is suffering with their own issues, or has their own agenda is rarely helpful.
One thing I have noticed about my battle with depression, is that it is based almost solely on faulty thinking. My thought patterns were wrong; truth was being beat down by emotional reactions. It’s so important that when we see people struggling with mental illness, we can help them combat that negative thought life, with a quiet, gentle truth. Something that is impossible, if you are not in the right place yourself.
>Is it the right time?
I’ll never forget confiding in someone and then having them so worried they kept dropping round everyday to check in on me. For me, that was the worst thing they could have done. I didn’t want to talk everyday, and I had children to look after.
Be mindful of peoples time and responsibilities. Anything that puts extra pressure on an already struggling individual, will do more harm than good.
Having said that, sometimes, people will just vent when they can.
Be there. Be quiet, listen, and only offer helpful, true advice if it’s wanted.
Finally, when thinking about this post, I remembered the words from a song I would play repeatedly.
If I just lay here.
Would you lie with me, and just forget the world?
And sometimes we just need to be.
For information on depression and bipolar: http://www.blackdoginstitute.org.au/
For those struggling with AND or PND: http://www.beyondblue.org.au/index.aspx?
For young people, or parents of them: http://au.reachout.com/