Today is National Suicide Prevention Day, and it’s a day that’s important for a lot of reasons. The most important, I believe, is to acknowledge that there may be someone in your life who is struggling silently, and desperately wanting to be asked ‘Are You Ok’? ‘Like, really?’The second part is important, because there are some who brush off their mental illness either because of embarrassment, or just because they have become far too accustomed to dealing with their problems alone. And for a vast majority who don’t have the time to deal with their mental health, the second part won’t even have the time to come out because they will quickly interject with-
‘Yeah yeah, everything is all good seriously’
‘It’s just the usual work stuff but everything will settle down soon.’
‘Anyway, how are you?!’
Deflection is the secret weapon of someone who has a high functioning mental illness. And I don’t mean that as a form of comparison, to rate the levels in which someone can be depressed or anxious, but there are far too many of us that have simply become used to the concept of ‘getting on with it.’
I have a friend who for the longest time in her career, didn’t have a moment spare to sit down with her thoughts about her job and realise she wasn’t coping. Meeting the demands of her boss and co-workers, was always a priority, even if that meant for her working a 17 hour day. Her resilience is something I have always greatly admired, because as someone who is highly sensitive and almost too in tune with their emotions, I would have crumbled after the first week.
But sadly there is no badge of honour for this incredible feat of covering up your inner turmoil. Employers pay you to do the job, and unless you tell them otherwise, they will assume it’s business as usual. The problem with this approach, is you wind up resenting your job and sometimes your employer, because your mental health has paid the ultimate price all in the name of a days work. Targets are met and everything is kept afloat, but you spend your small window of a lunch-break crying silently in a bathroom stall, just to be able to plaster on that fake smile for the rest of the afternoon.
When I addressed this familiar pattern of deflection with my friend, she told me that she knew things weren’t ok but that she would deal with it after a few months. I kept holding her to this, praying in the meantime, she wouldn’t completely fall apart. Because it is far better to try and mend the beginnings of a small crack, then to start from scratch after everything has broken into unrecognisable pieces.
I can tell you now, she has finally got the idea, after countless conversations and one particularly emotional friend-tervention. It wasn’t myself or anyone else that ultimately got her to that point, but I believe by recognising and addressing that we could see she wasn’t in fact OK, it pushed her to see it for herself. And I can tell she is scared shitless about her next step, and moving forward in light of realising that her career might not be entirely suited towards her emotional makeup. But I think that is a beautiful thing.
Now my friend can truly start from the beginning, acknowledging her strengths and potential weaknesses that have come out of her experience, and follow a path that is a lot more personally fulfilling. I know it won’t be a clear-cut one, as it never is in life, but it’s far better to have the peace of mind to go in search of answers with clarity, then to feel like you’re drowning in uncertainty.
Having experienced depression and the suicidal thoughts that have come along with it, I can see so clearly that I have the power to impress upon somebody else the importance of mental health. So today on R U OK day, I really encourage everyone to look more closely around them and see if they recognise a friend or family member that might be struggling. Those three words are so simple and what a difference you can make just by using that as a starting point, but please don’t let it end there. Keep checking in and keep being a friend, because that’s what anyone who is down really needs, even if they try to convince you otherwise.
No matter how much you have worked hard for your career, or how desirable it may seem to someone else, your position at the end of the day no matter your standing is replaceable. So just as you have the ability to say yes to another task at work, say yes to finding the time to acknowledge that you might in fact not be ok. It will be that hardest thing you have to acknowledge, but it will be the beginning of a door opening into a life you didn’t think existed.