‘I’ve got friends by my side. I’ve got hope in my eyes. And dreams to aspire to. And the whole wide world to watch below.’
This Thursday the 11th of September is a very special day. I know that there are the obvious reasons as to why September 11th is forever marked as a day of remembrance, celebration of life and triumph over adversity. I can still remember standing in front of the television dressed in my school uniform watching as the modern world was forever altered. But it’s an event much smaller, yet no less important that marks September 11th as a day I believe should all mark in our calendars.
This Thursday, the 11th of September is the fifth annual R U OK day. A day where we are asked to create open dialogue with our friends and family, and ask the question we often neglect to ask in our overly erratic and face paced lives: Are you OK?
Founded in 2009 by Gavin Larkin, R U OK? Strives to inspire us to create meaningful dialogue to assist those of us struggling with mental illness.
As someone who has stumbled more times than he cares to count, the day is something that I whole-heartedly endorse. And I implore every single one of you to take a moment and sit down with a family member or friend and create a moment of intimacy and support that may just save a life. Sometimes a kind word or a moment of compassion means more to someone than you could ever possibly imagine.
Oftentimes on this blog I make light of the fact that I’ve pushed myself beyond breaking point with my own mental wellbeing. I reference my sometimes deliberate downward spirals into despair as a means of creating art and establishing a unique voice as I strive to be a singularity. But the truth is that some of my lesser moments have been no laughing matter. I’ve been sick. I’ve been low. And I’ve been totally alone, picking at my own mental scabs so as to leave my bones exposed. And while I do play on my own fractured mind with tongue in cheek, I cannot stress enough just how much I relied on the support of the people I love, yet tend to push away to save me from myself in my desperate times.
Even now I appear to be calm, happy, and at peace with myself. But the truth is there is a fire burning inside of me that will always threaten to consume my soul and leave me empty and alone once more. Am I OK? Perhaps on the surface I am. But the truth is this: I torture myself through my writing. I currently have two manuscripts under construction, a blog that I bombard with wildly erratic tales of elation and tragedy, and a completed novel under consideration for professional representation. I create acquaintances not friends; because I struggle to let people in for fear that they will see the monster in me. I’m in love with someone who sees me as an absolute cluster-fuck of raw emotion and insecurity. And sometimes I lay awake at night and wonder what it would be like if I never started this writing shit. I question whether I’d be happier, whether I’d be more willing to accept my own limitations, or more willing to let other people in.
The point is that our greatest failing as a species is that we only have the ability to see what is on the surface. When we look at our friends and family and see them smile, we naturally assume that everything is OK; that they are happy. But sometimes there is a fragility hidden beneath their smiles, a vulnerability concealed in their laughter, which can only be discovered if we take the time to truly connect with them. Have you ever heard the story of Pagliacci? It’s a simple story within one of my favourite novels of all time: Watchmen. It goes like this…
I heard joke once: Man goes to doctor. Says he’s depressed. Life seems harsh, and cruel. Says he feels all alone in threatening world. Doctor says: “Treatment is simple. The great clown – Pagliacci – is in town. Go see him. That should pick you up.” Man bursts into tears. “But doctor…” he says “I am Pagliacci.” Good joke. Everybody laugh. Roll on snare drum. Curtains.
Sad isn’t it? Yet so true. We misconstrue happiness and we fail to see just how powerful our thoughts, our feelings, and our words can truly be. But all is not lost, and although we so often become consumed with our own lives we can still stop and make time for each other. Unity is intrinsic and compassion, honesty, and candour are the only cure to mental illness. Take me for example: I’ve got pride by the fucking bucketful and before this blog I would never have even considered sharing my lower moments with anyone. I thought that my depression was a weakness and something to be ashamed of. And while it is a weakness, that weakness is in the chemistry of the chemical make up in my brain. Not in my character. My illness and my lower points are not something to be ashamed of at all. In fact, being able to speak about mental illness is about the bravest thing anyone can do. Having the guts to say ‘you know what? Fuck it. I’m not OK’ is something that should be celebrated not condemned.
So, this Thursday the 11th of September I beg of you to ask the question of those around you: Are you OK? Listen, empathise, and grow together. To paraphrase the epigraph above; help those who are low to realise that they have friends by their side; that they can have hope in their eyes. And that they can have dreams to aspire to; and a whole wide world to watch below. Your kindness just may pull someone back from the depths of their own self destruction. Take it from someone who has been there.