Anyone familiar with me, this blog, or my parents (because there never was a point that they realised I was entitled to keep some of my personal life to myself, or my selected audience), will know I’m no stranger to mental illness. In fact, I’ve come to a point where I’ve embraced my mental instability. Please don’t think I enjoy being depressed, despairing, or suicidal – that would be utterly and certifiably insane. No, what I mean is when I’m “stable”, meaning stable for me, I think my mental hiccups are what make me my creative, quirky, occasionally amusing, unpredictable, delightful, lovable, awesome self. And admitting to that helps one to be more accepting to mental illness.
And so the point of this, is to pen my thoughts about RUOK day. Initially, I thought it was great. You know, getting it out there, making it more socially acceptable to acknowledge that anybody, even the class clown (actually, especially the class clown) can be dogged by hidden demons, and not actually be enjoying life as much as it appears. Or they could completely gone, and thoroughly high on life, but making it a little uncomfortable for those around them. Personally, when I get much older, if I happen to get dementia, I hope I’m one of those kinds. But I digress…
As I was saying, RUOK seems to be a great idea, and I guess for mental health awareness, it is. But I’m going through a bit of a rough patch currently, and from where I’m sitting now, it almost seems to me that it’s an awesome way that people can feel like they’re doing their bit, pat themselves on the back for being such a thoughtful person, then carry on their business, guilt free without actually having done much at all. You see, simply posting on social media “RUOK” looks very accepting, socially aware, and all very kind as a whole. But of anyone of you who have ever really not been OK, would you feel comfortable posting a response to such a very open, and public questioning over your mental state?
I know for myself, the times I’m the lowest, the most down and out, the most utterly despairing, and frequently thinking of jumping off a bridge, the last thing I’m able to do is adequately express that to someone. Why? Many reasons. So many, you may be sorry you asked (oh, hang on… you didn’t, did you?) Well, for those who didn’t ask, but are still curious, here’s just a few:
- A scary one – being accused of being melodramatic. This is my biggest fear. In fact, I’m convinced that if I actually came out and said “I’m suicidal” and somebody said, “Aw c’mon, it can’t be that bad”, I’d actually believe them, but not in a good way. When I’m already down, and feeling so utterly rubbish that I want to die, I’m completely ready to believe that I’m just a pain in the ass attention seeker. Which of course, to a mentally ill me, makes me think I am even more rubbish, and therefore would be aiding everybody around me by removing myself from the picture.
- Being a burden. In my absolute darkest days, I was often met with frustration from friends, family and loved ones that I was so “needy”. Aside from being miserable, I also had the intense anxiety that so often goes hand-in-hand with depression. There was no rational need to be anxious, and yet my heart pounded day in, day out. I was afraid of not getting to sleep, afraid of waking up and feeling afraid again, afraid of people, afraid of being alone, afraid of making conversation, afraid of, well, everything. I saw no light at the end of the tunnel, I was at times taking 10 times standard sedative dosage with no relief, and quite frankly, being in the presence of another human being was the only way to stop the temptation to end it all for good. Which might not have worked considering the amount of tranquiliser required would have to be stolen from the zoo, and that was tricky considering the whole afraid to go outside thing. And I guess if I’d had the mental capacity at the time to think of breaking into a zoo, I definitely would have been afraid of that too… But in short, I knew my existence was making everyone around me stressed, tired, and miserable. I recall with sadness and pain the amount of times I’ve heard somebody angrily declare that suicide is the most selfish thing a person could do. Really? Can they honestly not comprehend that to end your life, in order for those you care about to be free of the burden, to be free to get a “better” wife, “better” mother, “better” whatever… Is that selfish? It is incredibly sad, but not selfish. Not for somebody who sees absolutely no value in themselves whatsoever, and truly believes they are helping those who they love. No, I repeat, to be in that frame of mind is just terribly, tragically, sad.
And I’ve saved this for last, because it’s the one I have encountered so very often when trying to articulate just how bad things are:
- Rejection. It is so, so hard to say you’re not OK. The feeling of failure, of weakness, vulnerability. I’m not sure about anybody else, but it is almost impossible for me to admit that I’m failing so terribly at this thing called “life”. To actually work through that fear, to find your voice, to pick up the phone, only to hear, “I’m sorry, I’ve got a lot going on…”, or “Can’t chat now, how ’bout next week…”, or “I’m having a bad day, can’t talk…”. Yes, I totally understand that everybody else has just as much happening as I do. I really, honestly do. And I bare no malice toward anybody for responding in those ways. But it’s pretty hard to say “I want to kill myself”, and if you are met with such a response when you try to get to that point, you clam up pretty quickly. Unfortunately, it isn’t just friends. Once you’ve realised you’ve exhausted all possibilities of the least uncomfortable people to talk to, you have to admit you are really unwell and call a professional. Again, I cannot speak for others, but I find it the cruelest irony that psychologists and psychiatrists are almost never available. To be met with “Not available”, “Booked out”, “Will return your call” (especially when they don’t, which is often), is just another slap in the face, another confirmation that I am just another nothing with no value. Rejection is a crippling, a pain which every human being shares. In fact, studies in school children show they would rather be physically bullied than face emotional rejection from their peers. Heartbreaking. And yet, the lives we lead today, the continual fight to accomplish 25 hours of busyness within the unextendable 24 is what leaves us sometimes having to reject others, simply in order to survive.
And so RUOK day is fraught with danger for me. What if I’m not? What if I answer truthfully, but receive a negative response. Asking the question really doesn’t change the fact that it’s almost impossible to tell somebody if indeed, you’re not. And I think if we’re all honest, none of us are. How, in a society where the fight for the dollar in order to survive, leaves us overlooking the fact that in our inability to spare a moment for anybody else, so many others lose the fight for survival. Some would say that the “winners” are OK. You know, the ones that are surviving, are on top, are making the money. I would argue that sometimes, in order to be a “winner” we need to turn off our compassion, and our humanity. Those who keep up the good fight with barely a stumble, but do stay in touch with their humanity often trade the well-being of themselves and their kin with the guilt of being unable to do more for others. And so I sum up my musings with this realisation: I am over emotional, and I feel so deeply sometimes that it physically hurts, occasionally I need to rebalance by sobbing until there are no tears left to cry, and I spend “too much” money on compassionate causes… But, I think my being not always OK, is far more OK to me than what the world view says is OK.