• But looking back now, I remember the people who asked. And I remember the ones who seemed to ask it in a genuinely concerned way. And it really helped. (Getty Images)
On 12th September I’ll be asking people R U OK? But then I’ll be doing it on 13th September too.
By
Rob Pegley

12 Sep 2019 - 11:42 AM  UPDATED 12 Sep 2019 - 12:22 PM

I’ve read a few opinion pieces recently in which people have bemoaned R U OK? Day: “Why I’m not OK with R U OK? Day etc”. Their argument is generally that it’s a blunt instrument used to tackle an impossibly complicated problem; that it’s a noble concept, with a clumsy practical application. And invariably the piece is written by someone whose depression has taken them to the edge; so it’s hard to disagree with them.

Well, from a place of love, I’m disagreeing. Depression has taken me to the edge in the past, and I love the fact that R U OK? Day exists. Expecting it to work literally is missing the point. To me it’s simply another way of easing towards an environment in which people feel safe enough to be vulnerable. It’s not about directly saving a colleague or neighbour’s life on September 12, 2019, it’s about letting them know that you’re compassionate and empathetic enough to listen when they’re ready to talk.

When depression is at its worst, people don’t feel a bit flat or unhappy; they feel profoundly hollow and hopeless.

They might not want to talk to you on September 12th, but hopefully they’ll feel comfortable to talk to somebody soon.

When my depression was at its worst, I had a simple answer to people asking me if I was okay. I smiled and said “Fine”. And I hoped they would leave me alone. Because the effort to have any conversation - let alone that conversation - was way beyond my emotional abilities at that point in time.

But looking back now, I remember the people who asked. And I remember the ones who seemed to ask it in a genuinely concerned way. And it really helped in the long run, even if it felt redundant at the time.

Because when my depression was at its worst, it was very hard to take much on board. Outwardly I would present a front: turn up to work and do my best to interact, because I had the intuitive self-preservative feeling that if I lost my job, then it would loosen my grip further on the ledge I was dangling from.

And I make that metaphor with anything but glibness. Most mornings I was walking across a Motorway bridge to get to work, and most mornings I wondered what it would be like to step over the railings and fall into the oncoming traffic below. Undoubtedly it would be tragic and horrific. But God, I needed a break from the emotional and mental turmoil.

I used to feel like I wanted to climb out of my own skin. That I wanted to hide from the world and sleep for months.

Because when depression is at its worst, people don’t feel a bit flat or unhappy; they feel profoundly hollow and hopeless. Completely and utterly overwhelmed by life; with a feeling that life is pointless, but they’re still not even good enough for that.

I used to feel like I wanted to climb out of my own skin. That I wanted to hide from the world and sleep for months.

In fact what I did was get up and go to work and have conversations, and try to pretend that nothing was wrong: Think of the memes about ‘what depression looks like’, across a picture of Robin Williams’ laughing face.

Behind my own personal facade though I found it utterly exhausting to get out of bed in the morning. My first thought when I awoke each day was “shit, I’ve got to get through another day.” I found concentration so hard; answering simple e-mails could seem beyond my powers of effort. I’d take myself to a toilet cubicle and shut my eyes for 10 minutes just to get respite. After work I’d go home and get into bed by 6pm and just curl up. I’d normally wake at 4am full of fear.

My therapist put it to me that I didn’t actually want to die, I just wanted to hibernate for six months or so.

My stomach was constantly churning and eating varied between having no appetite and bingeing. I avoided the numbing effects of drink and drugs because of problems with them in the past; they seemed too much of a gateway to possibly acting out on my darker thoughts. Nothing gave me joy. I couldn’t listen to music or motivate myself to get to the gym. I hated answering the phone, let alone going out.

Which is why when I read articles about how my solution to depression was going to the gym, eating healthily and seeing friends, I felt even more doomed.

In the long run, they are part of the maintenance that have kept me well. In the short term I needed greater medical intervention to start the momentum that would eventually lead to a change in lifestyle.

I saw my doctor and I started taking anti-depressants, and they worked for me. They didn’t make me happy, but they stopped me feeling like giving up. The doctor explained to me that I should treat them like scaffolding needed to hold up a house while it’s being renovated. My renovation was provided by therapy and mindfulness. Which in turn lead to meditation, the gym and gradually starting to enjoy life again. Mindfulness in particular has been a massive help.

Diet has indeed also helped to an extent. Less junk and sugar and fat, plus plenty of water and vitamin B have played their part. Exercise has been key: the endorphins on a daily basis - if possible - are like nature’s Prozac. I guess, because I don’t take Prozac.

At my worst, I regularly felt that I wanted to end my life, and I feel grateful these days that I never acted on those thoughts. I have three children and it may be a cliche, but the thought of them losing their dad kept me alive. Sadly, that doesn’t work for everyone. In chats with my therapist, he put it to me that I didn’t actually want to die, I just wanted to hibernate for six months or so - and that’s exactly how it felt. I’d run out of energy to live life.

On 12th September I’ll be asking people who I think need to be asked if they R OK. But then I’ll be doing it on 13th September too. These days I move in circles where it’s easy to ask and comfortable to answer. I’m lucky in that respect. And I can’t say that R U OK? Day has played a huge part in that; but I can’t say it’s been harmful either.

Keep the conversation going on 12th September, but make sure you’re prepared for whatever answer you get. You might be saving a life, without even knowing it.

If you need immediate assistance or support contact Lifeline 13 11 14 www.lifeline.org.auFor further information about suicide contact SANE Australia Helpline 1800 18 SANE (7263) www.sane.org or talk to a medical professional or someone you trust.

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