Today is R U OK? day.

SL13042Actually – I am not OK. I haven’t been OK for a while in my internal world.  Right now, I’m having a pretty confronting time of life and struggling a bit to hold it all together. So, this morning, if you ventured to ask me R U OK? I would probably answer truthfully “actually, no” to friends or people who I know well enough. To strangers – it just wouldn’t come up. Or would it?

See, for someone like me, who just published a very raw and revealing book detailing the internal workings of…everything; this territory is a bit challenging. Up until now (10 months after publication of Accidental Aid Worker) – I have somehow avoided speaking publicly about: my mental health and living/coping/functioning with prolonged grief, extreme anxiety and chronic depression.

I refer to in my book blurb and media releases, but up until now (apart from divulging it in my book for those who choose to read it), it hasn’t specifically been a point of interest in interviews… until now.  In a recent ABC Radio interview, I danced around the topic. I didn’t think it was what people wanted to hear. To be honest, I was surprised I actually had a conversation ‘live to air’ that had anything to do with my struggles.  I’ve stayed away from this in my author talks – because there are so many other things to talk about, and I actually don’t know how to talk mental health and give it the space it deserves, in that context.

Some say my story is raw, real, brutally honest and full of unspoken words. It’s a mirror or an echo of their own struggles. Feedback I receive from readers (friends and strangers) is that many can relate to my life experiences in dealing (or not dealing) with loss and grief and where holding onto stories, pain and emotions can often manifest: breakdown, mental illness, addictions, depression, suicidal thoughts, crippling anxiety and insecurity.  It’s a level of un-wellness that knocked this high-functioning coper into more than two years of mental breakdown – often disguised as manic creativity, over-enthusiasm, hyper-achievement, busyness, over-giving, volunteering and hyper-activity.

Just this week – I received this feedback from a reader, a new connection. In the spirit of trying to move the conversation about mental health into non-stigmatised dialogue, Annette has allowed me to share her comments publicly.

The conversation we need to have – about mental health

It’s truly an amazing journey in terms of geography and the projects you threw yourself into but, for me, the journey that really resonated was your mental health story.  As someone who has had my own battles with anxiety, I am always so grateful when someone bravely shares their experience and how they have found a way of perhaps not curing themselves, but managing their condition.  I think you are so brave to have detailed that part of your life, and I hope that your story helps to destroy the stigma around mental health issues, and that someday soon it won’t be such a brave act to reveal that part of ourselves; that it will be with the same ease that people talk about other health issues like food allergies or diabetes.

The more I talk to people about mental health, the more I realise we all have some sort of struggle going on.  I often think of Ferris Bueller’s immortal words: “Sooner or later, everyone goes to the zoo!”.  I think we all need to keep talking.Thanks Sue for sharing your story. – Annette

I am choosing today – to start to talk about my mental health.

This topic, is important to me. I reflect Annette’s words into the world today – because…yesterday, was a particularly challenging and tough day for me. I will spare you all the valid and invalid reasons why I ended up on the couch, curled up in a quivering ball of anxious overwhelm, self recrimination, crippling fear and doubt. I tried to nap it off, caffeinate it away, self-talk, rationalise and grind those feelings to submission, so I could feel back in some kind of control until I put myself to sleep last night.

Strangely – it woke me up to the volume of challenges and not- so-straight forward things I’m dealing with in my life, and the timing of it all: September and October. These are my ‘mourning months’ for mum and dad.  I’m here again, preparing for these anniversaries, that are significant markers on my mental/emotional landscape that will not be ignored – despite the buzz of my day-to-day.

I will do my best to buckle in and ride that rollercoaster, as I do every year. The added twist is the not-so-easy public sharing of my deeply, personal story and that of many around me.  The  upside of this – is the knowledge, that by sharing it, and being open about my struggles, I may be helping others navigate through the complex tracks laid down in their own lives.

We live with such dis-ease in our minds and our souls. Some times, we as human beings just cannot deal with the immensity and volume of it all. Today, may be a day – when you can consciously take a step toward seeing your own human struggles – the struggle we all have and share.

We are human – and it’s no sin or crime admit a truth and see our mental realities, or support someone else struggling with theirs. 

Asking R U OK? is actually quite complicated

I know that the intent of this campaign is to actively work toward raising awareness and encouraging a more outward-thinking community of human beings, who are authentically concerned for one another and their mental – emotional wellbeing.

From both sides (askers and those being asked), we (society) are still learning how to respond to this very loaded and difficult question.  In all reality – the answers, are not simple, quick or straight forward to resolve.  As Annette says – it’s the start of a conversation, and often not a light one.

If you are asked R U OK? and you are not comfortable with it – it’s absolutely fine to say: “Thank you for asking and showing concern.” Sometimes, it’s just that someone has asked and has shown that level of awareness and attention that makes all the difference.

If you find, that this question leads you to need more support and longer or deeper conversation, I think it’s helpful to:

  • keep calm, and purposely seek out someone in your ‘space’ who you know has compassion, empathy and time to give you. Sometimes, asking someone who is themselves not in the best space, the right personality or able to assist you, can be quite devastating.
  • talk to your partner or someone who can support you to find a good GP who can assist you with a referral to a trained and qualified mental health professional.
  • in an emergency – call Lifeline 131114

I am OK

Just letting you know. No need to call, thank you. For me, today, I have taken a positive step forward, by writing this post.  This action has given me focus, clarity and purpose to my day and it’s the sort of thing I do to help me to move on and help get myself back to ‘ok’ or better.

Friends are telling me to go easy on myself, rest up and just ride on through the coming months. I think, that’s good advice and essential for me to stay on track.

Sue Liu x 

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