It took me a long time to learn that it is okay to not be okay. I wish I had known it sooner. And that’s why days like RUOK? Day are so important because it’s a reminder to actually ask the people in your life - work colleagues, friends, family, even strangers - are you okay?
Sometimes we hold the bad stuff in, push the negative feelings down and try to get the hell on with it. We showcase the best version of ourselves not only on the internet but in any social engagement. We don’t answer honestly when we’re asked how we are because ‘good thanks’ is the standard and more appealing response rather than ‘well, actually, I’m feeling pretty darn crappy right now, HBU?’.
My demeanour is always relatively bubbly; I say hello to people down the street, laugh at jokes and put smiley faces on the end of text messages. I find it really hard to express myself when I feel sad; I don’t want anyone to worry or think I’m depressed. My knee jerk reaction to any negative emotion is to ignore it and hopefully it’ll get bored and go away.
It doesn’t really go away though. It manifests in other areas of your life – shouting at contestants on MasterChef, throwing yourself into work, feeling jealous of your friends or insulting your cat for no damn reason.
I learnt this about myself 5 years ago. I was sad. I didn’t feel like I could tell anyone how bad I felt because I felt like I had created all the problems in my life myself. I figured I had made my bed and now I had to lay in it. I was in an emotionally volatile relationship, I had zero self-esteem and I didn’t tell anyone how bad it was because I was sure the answer would be ‘well, just leave him’ or ‘move away’ or ‘book a holiday to the Bahamas’. If only I had of thought of that, god damn it!
So I still went about my life smiling, still throwing my head back in laughter, still updating my Facebook status with things like ‘eat glitter for breakfast and shine all day’. No one would have known. The scariest thought for me in that time was to admit ‘I am not okay’ out loud because then it gets real.
But I did. Eventually. And it wasn’t to a friend or a family member. It was to a therapist.
I had always thought therapists and psychologists were reserved for people who had ‘real’ problems and at that point I didn’t think my problems were ‘real’ enough. Because, for the most part, I did have so many blessings in my life. And I felt like if I were to go to a therapist then I was selfishly wasting the therapists time when he/she could be helping someone in serious need. Also, I was living in a small town and was petrified of people finding out that I wasn’t as happy-go-lucky as what was perceived.
My experience with the therapist is a blur. An emotional blur. I cried a lot. I told her I was afraid of change and had succumb to a life slightly miserable just to avoid it. I told her about my relationship and how I was scared to be alone and worried that this was as good as it gets. She nodded, she understood, she listened – all judgement free.
I walked out, not feeling completely healed, but verbalising my feelings was a step in the right direction. And speaking about it out loud to her was the starting point I needed to talk about my true feelings to my mum and my sister. And eventually, to my boyfriend (…now ex-boyfriend)
Today is RUOK? Day. RUOK? Day’s mission is ‘to inspire and empower everyone to meaningfully connect with people around them and support anyone struggling with life’. But don’t wait until Thursday – ask someone if they are ok today. Now, if you can. And if you have been grappling with your problems or harboring a secret pain – let someone in and let someone listen, even if it is a professional. There are 7.2 billion people in the world, we have a responsibility as humans to look after the people around us so let’s make sure everyone is okay today.