Thursday, September 14, 2017

Mental illness is far more complex than asking "R U OK," but it's a great place to start

I can't comment on former Olympic medallist and cyclist Stephen Wooldridge's struggle with mental illness or the circumstances around his giving his life away last month. Nor can I speak of the efforts his friends and family made caring for him. That is not my intention here.

But after seeing the beautiful images from the cortege at his funeral in Sydney and people lining the street as it passed, I couldn't help but think of my own battle especially today on R U OK day.

While a fitting homage and celebration for those left reeling, I was struck by a realisation: such a procession would not be much use to me after I'm gone.

I need it now.

 Depression - it's a toughie. I have close friends and colleagues who do have my back, who pay more than lip service than those that ask something like “R U OK” but still expect so much more from me than the chemical imbalance in my brain can deliver.

I need that procession now. Not so I can hear someone tell me how good I am, or how I'll get through this, or to hang out or take me for a bike ride. I can't chase the shadow away with a bike ride. Some days I can. But mostly, the thought of getting on and some little niggle on my bike turning something so wonderful into a revolting battle is more than I can handle while a maelstrom parties in my mind. 

No, I need one person to drag me out of bed. The next one to put me in the shower. Another to clean my teeth, and because my partner’s always in the firing line of all this shit, help him out with the garden, the kitchen or the bathroom. Then I need someone to get me to work because we can’t afford my mental illness.

But if the procession arrived at my door today, I may reject it and tell everyone to go away – there’s nothing to see here. And you’d have to be OK with that. Yet, there’s every chance I won’t. And you’d have to be OK with that too.

That's my struggle with depression. You see how more complex mental illness is than asking and answering the question "R U OK?" For family and friends - it's a repetitive and exhausting rollercoaster ride of caring received, rejection and ultimate impotence.

But asking and answering the question is always a great place to start.

Anyone needing support can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14. Or visit RUOK day's website for tips and resources on how to have the conversation and take further action. 

For those inclined, SBS’ own Michael Tomalaris is riding from Perth to Broome in the upcoming TourXOz to raise funds for the Black Dog Institute with Stephen Wooldridge very much in mind. You can visit Tomo’s fundraising page here.