The Trouble with R U OK Day

Today is R U OK Day, that 24 hour period where Australian’s ask the question over social media. The usual answer is that we are fine, thanks for asking. A number of young people have told me they are dubious about this collective day of enquiring. They have a sharp point of comparison on social media and in real life. If others seem to be together, with not a care in the world, they daren’t declare that in fact they are not okay and life is not alright. Mum and Dad are okay and seem to be emotionally together, as do their friends and the community at large. They don’t see their softball coach collapse in tears, needing to be comforted in their grief, and they don’t often see mum connecting on a level that is beyond a cocktail night or a movie with the ladies, as seen in their Instagram pics. We aren’t great at naming our emotions and sharing our struggles. Pride may come into it as well as shame and embarrassment amid a desperate, silent struggle to make our centre hold. We need to show kids that we cry and need to reach out to a friend when life is hard. They need to see us as open, if we want them to be the same.

I just read back through notes I have written since December, and boy, this eight months has pulverised me, leaving shards of glass scattered around my psyche. My friends only know a little of my depression, and of my anxiety. The experiences which led to this are too much, even for dear friends. I have been loathe to burden anybody with the complete picture. As a result, I reached out to experts. I spent hours explaining things, handing over my notes. They in turn promised that they would organize specialised counselling, at a price I would be able to afford. I waited and waited, and I rang and emailed. Eventually, I had the horrible realization that there was no help forthcoming. It reminded me of the time, twenty years ago when I was promised a dedicated counsellor to help me navigate my past. After a long while, they rang, and apologised. They were unable to offer help for the deep trauma I had suffered. There was no help at all for me. I remember the sinking feeling, as I began to understand that I had too much pain for them to deal with. If I wanted to survive, I had to find a way, without being given any tools. It was like climbing a sheer cliff face without ropes and a harness.

It is lovely to ask people if they are okay, but what if they answer that no, they aren’t? Where are the services? Where is the immediate help? I know so many families who are trying desperately to help their son/daughter or brother/sister hold on, but they are doing it alone. Whatever the mental health budget is at present, it needs to be tripled, at the very least. We are in a state of emergency. I have not been okay, and hand on heart, I hadn’t found the help I have needed, despite searching. I made up my own emotional first aid kit. It contains:

*Contracting in to save energy, necessary for the battle. Huddling up in my home, and retreating from social media.

*Opening my front door and firing up my laptop when I had a clearer head.

*Walking at least thirty minutes, most days.

*Playing soothing music and calming my senses with candles and essential oils.

*When I didn’t have the energy to talk on the phone or meet up in person, I would try and at least converse via text and email.

*Making sure that I eat, and do so regularly.

*Movies and the theatre, always.

*Making a list each day of what I wanted to achieve. I found my brain was so overloaded that I couldn’t remember half of what I needed to do, and so my lists have been a blessing.

*Not comparing my journey to anyone else.

Top of the kit was being kind to myself; knowing that I was doing my utmost to be here in a year’s time. I did so whilst querying all the wild suggestions my addled mind proffered. I would be panic-stricken leaving the house, worrying as to who I might bump into and what I could possibly say. Wondering if people liked me at all, worrying that I was alone. The brain that hasn’t rested at night, and is going full-pelt of a day, is a brain that can trick us into believing any number of scenarios. I wanted to give up searching for tools, I really did. I was tired and it is hard to be vulnerable enough to ask for help in the first place. I did one thing before shutting the door for good; I rang a dear lady who works for a large organization and I told her everything. Within a day, she had emailed me a list of resources and has organized assistance. It is hard-going, locating a service without a huge waiting list (at best), but you are worth it; your life is worth it. Persist, and if you don’t feel you can, ask a trusted friend to persist on your behalf.

On this R U Ok day, I hope that people feel free to answer honestly. Our young are looking at us to not only give guidance as they make their way through life, but to also show them our vulnerabilities and the strength it requires to ask for help. In the past week, I have been honoured to hear several women sharing with me of their grief, that they are suffering domestic violence, and that a child has had a devastating health diagnosis. These women were not okay, and I batted away their apologies and assured them that it was alright to state it. Tea was drunk and tissues were given, as well as the biggest gift of all, which is time.  Imagine somebody came to your door and you asked, R U OK? What if they said they were the opposite of okay? Would you sit with them in their anger, depression and sorrow? Would you be still and silent, leaving room for them to speak? This is what is needed in the midst of our noisy and harried existence. Arms to hold you, hands to dry your tears, cups of water to hydrate and compassion so that you feel heard.

Here a list of excellent Apps which be of assistance if you are in Australia:

Recovery Point


Positive Pathways


Suicide Call-Back Service


Reactive Depression

A few years ago, I called in on a mental health nurse that I knew. I had long admired his work, and his holistic approach to his clients. He even had a gymnasium installed in the rooms, and kept a watchful eye on people’s diets. “Right, that does it. I am not able to cope without medication. My depression is getting worse, despite my best efforts!” I proclaimed. “Can you please prescribe me something?” He did something unexpected in turn. He laughed. “Are you kidding me?! You have had X, Y and Z happen in the past few months, and these events have pummelled you. I would be concerned if you were behaving as though everything was as it should be. You don’t need medicating; it wont help you. You have reactive depression, caused by the events unfolding about you. The feelings you are experiencing are normal and a sign that things need to change. Your depression is normal, as are you. You are coping tremendously well.” It was on this day that I discovered the difference between reactive depression and endogenous depression (no obvious cause). I have had both alternately throughout my life, and there is a marked difference between what responds to medication and what doesn’t (when someone points it out to you)!

I was hoping a pill would make the discomfort disappear. Instead, I was urged to sit with it, journal it, and hear what it had to say. It has been dark, windy and rainy the past week; a perfect time for reflection. Here is a screen shot I took of my constantly humming phone this morning.


40 text messages and 1,056 emails. Sometimes, there are many more of both, not to mention  Facebook messages. Last year, I endeavoured to answer them all. My schedule was to get up at dawn, answer messages, and write content, for myself and others. By 8am I would organize my daughter for the day and ferry her to workshops. If we were at home, I would work with my daughter for six hours, then get her to classes in the afternoon. In the meantime, there would be more work for me. On top of this, there were social activities. There was the forever buzzing phone too. At Christmas, I stopped going onto Facebook. I found I just couldn’t cope. I felt like Mickey in Fantasia, when he conjures up the buckets, only to have them flood the room. That is very much how I have felt with all the messages. During December, I heard the most horrific stories of abuse and of deep sadness. I carried it on my shoulders, and the weight slipped down and smashed the already broken column of my spine. There was little lightness, and much darkness. My child needed me, and so I had to stop. I am forever grateful to this little girl for what she teaches me. My energy has been replenished by our walks and games. You can be in the same room to those who mean the world to you, and yet still be a world apart when distracted.

As with a few years ago, I don’t need medication for this particular brand of disquiet. I just need to organize a more manageable way of being. To put my contact list into categories, and un-subscribe from everything that chews up precious time. There have been days when I haven’t had time to eat, nor do what is necessary to maintain my health. Trying to be everything for everyone and feeling like I am failing. Putting myself last on the list of priorities. I have had time this week to put together a plan of action for this spine. I am going to undertake the discogram and chemonucleosis that was offered me years ago. I had it once before, and it provided relief for quite some time. If successful, it will do the same and bide me time. This decision feels right, and so now I start saving for it!

I know many of you can identify with the overwhelm. If I hear my phone ringing, I have an anxiety attack. I am slowly making my way out of my cocoon, but never want to go back to the unsustainable, 24/7 demands I made of myself. How terrifying and liberating it is, to finally have time. Returning to the world whole, rather than chipped and hollow, is what I desire.