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The Importance of RUOK Day
September 13, 2013, 9:55 am
Filed under: dear diary, depression | Tags:
This year, the 12th of September 2013, marked yet another official RUOK Day – a day in which people are encouraged to ask those four magical letters of those they love. It is a simple idea with complex, far-reaching consequences.

As is my usual habit on the internet, I made the mistake of searching the #ruokday hashtag on Twitter, and subsequently came across a cynical subset of people who questioned the very worth of such a question, let alone a day dedicated to asking it. This is my response.

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I remember the day perfectly, all these years later. I was 15. Long blonde hair, blue eyes, fair skin, straight white teeth. A cheerleader, a class captain. Liked and respected.

And desperately depressed.

I didn’t know it at the time. Even as a teenager, I thought I was able to intellectualise my depression and write it off as nothing more than a pesky teenage phase. Long before “emo” became part of the social vocabulary, I simply assumed I was part of the emotional teenage masses.

Months slid by, my A-level grades gradually declined, and slowly but surely I started eating less, talking less, caring less. Eventually I was joining my many friends at recess and sitting in complete silence, without a word or a bite. The world continued around me.

I didn’t think anyone noticed. I didn’t want anyone to notice. I wanted to be invisible, because that’s what I felt I deserved.

I didn’t deserve any modicum of respect. I didn’t deserve popularity. I didn’t deserve to be a class captain or a cross country team member or a cheerleader. I didn’t deserve concern.

At one stage, I vaguely recall my homeroom teacher taking me aside and asking if everything was alright. I smiled and nodded and said I was fine. I know he wasn’t convinced, but there was little else he could do. As class captain, I was fulfilling everything that was expected of me, crossing every T and dotting every I.

Weeks later, I stood outside my physics class, bulky textbooks clutched to my chest, as I stared into the distance thinking of nothing in particular. The sky was a brilliant blue, the bricks of my single-storey 1960s physics lab were their usual dull red, and my eyes were as vacant as they’d been the last few months.

“Are you okay?” asked a girl I was only fleetingly familiar with until that moment. Snapped out of my daze, I looked at her as if I’d never seen another human being, paused momentarily, dropped about $300 worth of textbooks, then burst into tears.

Until that point, not only had I not realised that I wasn’t okay, but most importantly, I hadn’t realised it mattered. I truly didn’t believe anyone cared, because I didn’t think I mattered.

If ever I’ve had a light-bulb moment, that was it. After many months of my closest friends being scared and unsure of me, of why I’d changed so dramatically, it took a near-stranger to ask that one simple question and change my life.

As far as I’m concerned, this is there inherent and undeniable strength regarding RUOK Day.

My closest friends at the time knew there was something seriously wrong, but without any form of permission to ask me if I was okay, implicit or otherwise, they said nothing. They were still concerned, they still loved me, but they needed an external power to let them know it was okay to show their concern.

Even still, asking the question is just the beginning. Those asking the question in earnest need to be ready to hear the honest answer, which could so easily range from casually flippant to terrifying or heart wrenching.

Outside that physics lab, so many years ago, I wasn’t okay. It took someone to ask me outright for me to realise I wasn’t. Perhaps not incidentally, that person has been my best friend from that day forth.

And yet, when a select few people asked me yesterday if I was okay, my unintentional response was to cry.

I guess that means I’m still not okay.

That’s not the fault of those who asked me if I was okay.

Nor is it the fault of those who didn’t.

But the message of RUOK Day is that asking the question and truly listening to the response is priceless. It could greatly improve someone’s life, or even save it. The power of those 4 little letters need not be constricted by the designated day of awareness – that’s the entire point. The permission, even the incentive, to ask that one question on that one day, then empowers you to continue to ask it the remaining 364 days a year.

If you think RUOK Day isn’t worth it because it’s only one day, one question, then you’re not only missing the point of the movement – one of continued diligence and engagement, but you’re also missing the point of the power of that one simple question.

It may not mean much to you, but those 4 letters saved my life.

I very much doubt I’m alone.

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