Discover more from Dystopian Down Under
R U OK? is more than a social media square
A personal note
In January of this year, I was not OK.
I went through a snap of sorts. I would describe it as the awful, ego-shattering realisation that the people running things are either incompetent on a scale unimaginable, or are deliberately working to ends that do not benefit the people they govern. Either way, it’s very bad.
During this snap, which occurred over about 6-8 weeks, I behaved rather oddly. Over Christmas I spent 3 solid weeks reading studies, news and reports and watching academic presentations and documentaries. I cried a lot. I became vocal on political issues, both on social media and offline. I went to rallies for the first time ever. I developed an obsession with certain issues - mainly the ones that directly affected me, such as the segregation that prevented me from accessing necessary pain management services, and the social stigmatisation that daily assaulted my psyche. I found that I could not countenance conversations that skirted the big issues. I avoided social occasions where I couldn’t show up in all my fury. I told anyone who would listen that I was not ok, and initiated many discussions to try to make sense of what was happening. In one very dark patch of about 3 days, I removed some people from my social media account, people who had not responded to my ‘not-ok’ distress flares. I could not tolerate them watching me unravel without asking if I was ok, so I removed them so that they wouldn’t look.
A few days later, having simmered down, I realised that this was a juvenile move, and could have been better handled. I composed an apology for my rash behaviour, which I texted through. The responses I received ranged from defensive, to blocking me with no explanation, to even-toned acknowledgement. In the latter case, things were left open ended, though we did not continue communications after that.
A well-timed question
There were others who responded to my strange behaviour with a question: “are you ok?”. No! I said. I’m not ok. I told them all the ways that I was not ok. A few told me that I was being over the top, or that my fears were unjustified. I learned quickly to disengage this line of conversation with the well-meaning friends who asked the question but were not equipped to hear the answer. I appreciate that they tried, but telling a distressed person that their distress is unfounded rarely results in abatement of distress (even if the interlocutor is correct).
Listening without judgement
Other friends, and luckily for me there were more than a handful, were equipped with the empathy and skill required to listen without judgement. This was invaluable to me, as I had a lot to say and I had to get it out. I could not move past my anguish and anxiety without it being witnessed by compassionate others. Then they talked, and, having been heard, I could now hear.
These friends encouraged me to count my blessings. To stay in the moment, to process my BIG feelings in healthy ways, to channel my rage into positive action. They reminded me of all the elements of my life I can control, and of how I can be of use to others. They told me it was understandable that I felt this way, but encouraged me not to dwell in the darkness for too long. They invited me on hikes and picnics, and shared their own insights which lightened my dark-skewed perspective.
And they kept asking, “are you ok?”. Every so often, a text or a phone call. Over the months, my answers varied. Where at first I purged all my not-ok-ness at every opportunity because there was just so damn much of it, I gradually evened out. Some days I was ok. Some days I was not really ok, but not terrible either. On the very much not ok days, the lines of communication were open, and I knew I could phone a friend. And eventually, I was ok most of the time.
Acclaimed poet David Whyte says this witnessing of the other and being witnessed, even at our darkest and weirdest, is the essence of friendship.
“But no matter the medicinal virtues of being a true friend or sustaining a long, close relationship with another, the ultimate touchstone of friendship is not improvement, neither of the other nor of the self: the ultimate touchstone is witness, the privilege of having been seen by someone and the equal privilege of being granted the sight of the essence of another, to have walked with them and to have believed in them, and sometimes just to have accompanied them for however brief a span, on a journey impossible to accomplish alone.“
(From Consolations; Friendship, emphasis mine)
So really, asking “are you ok?” (and listening to the answer) is friendship.
Australian not for profit R U OK? suggests 4 steps to asking someone if they are ok:
1. ASK R U OK?
2. LISTEN WITH AN OPEN MIND
3. ENCOURAGE ACTION
4. CHECK IN
My friends did this intuitively it would seem, but it can also be learned. R U OK? has some great resources that I think are genuinely helpful (linked at the end). The main takeaway, from my own experience, is that if someone is acting out of character, rather than judging them, we can ask, “are you ok?” It may be the case that they are not.
A final thought on friendship and forgiveness
I recently had the opportunity to reconcile with a friend, the one with whom things were left open ended in January. I was upset that she didn’t say the 3 magic words. She was perturbed by my extreme behaviour. With water under the bridge, we were able to tell each other how we have not been ok, and to listen to each other in turn. These things are not repaired in a single conversation, just as “are you ok” is not a question to be asked once and never again.
Whyte expounds on the necessity of continued, mutual forgiveness if a friendship is to survive life’s inevitable turbulances:
“All friendships of any length are based on a continued, mutual forgiveness. Without tolerance and mercy, all friendships die.”
(David Whyte, online workshop)
Now that I am a little bit more ok, I am ready to forgive. Or at least, ready to want to forgive (some take more effort than others). I know that my true friends will also forgive me, in time.
R U OK? day is today, 08 September 2022. It’s a national day of action when we remind Australians that every day is the day to ask, ‘are you OK?’ and start a meaningful conversation whenever they spot the signs that someone they care about might be struggling with life.
If anyone is in need of a listening ear, this is a genuine offer - please reply to this email or DM me via instagram @dystopiandownunder and I will be happy to be your witness as others have been for me.
That was emotional. Subscribe for more insights (usually more data driven, but not always).