Thursday, 15 September 2011

'I Am Actually Feeling Awful Today...'

It is really hard talking about depression. Which is why against the advice of many I often write about my experiences with depressive illness here. It lets people know how I am truly feeling, friends and strangers alike. I feel an obligation in a sense because I know lots of people with depressive illness or symptoms who are afraid to discuss their feelings. I am more than comfortable doing so, and I think its important that I detail those experiences. because they are rarely talked about publicly: particularly in the context of disability.  In some cases people have expressed publicly that they have identified with my feelings, but mostly I choose to write highly personal content, because it is where I’m most comfortable expressing myself.

Which brings me to Australia’s first ‘Are You Okay’ day, today. It is designed as both a suicide prevention tool and an awareness campaign to encourage people to ask the titular question. Without a doubt, there needs to be more information about how to talk to people with depression. Unfortunately, while I believe asking the simple question is an important first step, this campaign is addressing the wrong problem.

Have you thought about what happens if you ask a person how they are, and they say 'I am actually feeling awful today’? I’ve been asked that question several times this year during my crippling battle with the black dog, and each time I have responded with unflinching honesty. While the instantaneous response to ‘I feel like absolute shit’ has always been one of empathy or pity, very few have actually put their hand up and provided ongoing support, or at the very least a listening post where I can vent my true thoughts, no matter how dark or sad they may be. That being said, I am eternally grateful to those who have been helping me along the way.

The true test of friendship is someone who can put up with you on your best and worst days. We as a culture are always prepared to ask ‘Are You Okay?’, almost instinctively, but we remain hopelessly ill-equipped if confronted with a negative answer.  Society needs to learn how to ask the question, but it also needs to learn how to cope with the answer in whatever form it may take.

Just yesterday, I was sent an email asking ‘Are You Okay?’ essentially and because I was feeling confused about a number of issues (but not overly depressed, for one of the few times this year) I sent forth a rather detailed email about things that had been buzzing around in my head. The response I received in kind was equally detailed, acknowledging my feelings and helped me carve a way ahead.

‘Are You Okay?’ is never a simple question and requires a compassionate, supportive and multi faceted conversation.

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