There have been many times in my life when I have not been okay.
Depressed, anxious, lost, confused ... There have been times when I didn't know who I was anymore, and didn't know who to trust. When my faith in human nature, the Universe, God and life was lost. Where I felt hopeless and unable to continue one more minute, let alone one more day.
There were so many dark periods in my life that I was too embarrassed or ashamed to ask for help. When I didn't know how to ask. Or who to ask.
There were people in my life who would have cared if they had known, but I didn't want to worry them. I didn't want them to have to take on my problems as well as their own. So I struggled along in silence, bravely putting on a happy face and pretending I was okay when I really felt lost and alone.
Yes, I have been suicidal. Yes I have wanted to crawl into the foetal position and stay in my bed and never come out again.
But you know what? I'm so glad I did not. Because as much as life can suck sometimes, it's not all shit. And with help, you can get through it. And when you get through it, you open up your life to good experiences, not just the bad ones. And with time, the good experiences help get you through the crappy times.
That's what RUOK? Day is all about. The idea is that sometimes life is so overwhelming for people already struggling to cope with their lot, that little things seem insurmountable. So insurmountable that it appears there is no way out.
But that's not true. Trust me.
Often, it just takes a kindly friend, stranger, health professional, colleague, ANYONE, willing to stop for a minute and ask: 'Are You Okay?' And then listen, really listen, and try to help. (There are all sorts of ideas on how to do that, here. Plus Hugh Jackman is there. Hugh Jackman. Sigh.)
Let me share just one occasion where the RUOK question stopped me from falling into the abyss.
My first-born was about four months old, and I'd taken him along to the GP. Poor C. was a sickly kid from a young age, and had bronchiolitis.
We talked about his treatment, and then the GP - who knew me pretty well by now, because I'd been seeing her for some time - stopped for a minute, put her hand on my arm, and looked me right in the eyes.
"And what about you?" she asked. "Are YOU okay?"
It was the first time anyone had asked me that in, well, a long time. Suddenly, my lips trembled, and then the tears fell, uncontrollably. For I was not okay. But until my GP took the time to ask me, I wasn't even aware of it.
I was depressed and was later diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as well. I got help with a psychiatrist, medication and counselling. And I got better.
Of course, being better doesn't always last forever. Sometimes shit happens and you're knocked back down into a well of darkness again. Or sometimes you just fall and you have no idea why.
I've done loads of counselling, Mindfulness training and all sorts of therapy which means I now recognise when I'm not okay, and I know how to go about getting help.
But not everyone has that opportunity. Not everyone has the life experience. (I'm thinking in particular, of kids, teens and young adults, who like me when I was their age, think that not being okay is embarrassing or a 'failure'. (It is not: But it is the way you feel at the time.)
Just asking: Are You Okay? can make a world of difference. Because it gives someone who is struggling the chance to answer with something like: 'Well, no, I'm actually not okay.'
And on Thursday, September 15, Brisbane and South East Queensland RUOK supporters will gather at Gloria Jeans at Indooroopilly Junction to make the occasion.
Gloria Jeans are putting on coffee, tea and snacks - because often the perfect time to ask 'RUOK' is over a coffee or tea. Kids are welcome, and there will be babycinos all round.
There are door prizes as well:
A signed copy of my book Happily Ever Parted (Surviving Separation and Divorce)
A copy each of The Bark Cutters and The Changing Land by Queensland author Nicole Alexander
One of two family (admit 4) passes to The Smurfs Movie courtesy of Sony Pictures Australia
and last, but definitely not least,
A basket of goodies from Lindt Australia valued at $50!!
Here is where it's at:
Gloria Jeans, Shop 8, Indooroopilly Junction. 100 Coonan Street, Indooroopilly.
It's free, but please do RSVP below for catering purposes.
And let's all work towards feeling okay!