Are you ok?

Last year, during a fairly traumatic time in my personal life, I wound up sitting next to a friend at work. A few chance sighs and pointed comments on both sides during the staff meeting led us to realise that we were both struggling. They were wildly different traumas, but nonetheless it helped to feel as though someone understood. After the meeting we lingered to chat, and she confided her struggles to me. Even after my friend had been open and honest about her own situation, my first instinct was to shrug off my own difficulties and “not burden” her with them. I wanted to support her, but I didn’t feel right dropping my own troubles in her lap. Fortunately she wasn’t about to take that sort of nonsense, and in short order I found myself telling her what was bothering me.

That turned out to be an exceptionally good move, as we have been supporting each other ever since. And yet last week when she asked me how I was, I managed to choke out “bad question” and turn away. My friend apologized for asking, saying she should have known better and went away without another word, casting anxious looks in my direction. I struggled through that day – as through many lately – without talking to anyone about how I was feeling, and went home feeling very alone.

I don’t know why it should be so difficult to say out loud “I’m struggling”, or “I need help” or even just “I need a hug”, and yet the more difficult life gets, the harder it is for me to speak up – even to trusted friends. I start to feel as though I am a constant drain on resources – an incessant source of trauma – and I try to hide it behind a cheery smile and a “business as usual” front.

When your day is long
And the night, the night is yours alone
When you’re sure you’ve had enough
Of this life, well hang on

Don’t let yourself go
‘Cause everybody cries
And everybody hurts sometimes

Everybody hurts, REM

The truth is, of course, that everybody has times when life gets too much, and even though we invest so heavily in our independence, we all need support during those times. I have so many dear, close friends who I could ask for help, who would not hesitate to reach out to me if they knew what I was going through, and yet I curl in on myself and try to go it alone.

Thursday September 13th is R U Ok? day. Checking in with your friends to see if they are really ok is important – but sometimes just asking “Are you ok?” isn’t enough. I know my glib answer – “I’m fine” – generally leaps out of my mouth before I have even had time to think about it. And you know what?

I’m not ok.

I will be, eventually. And I could probably cope on my own if I had to, but it would be so much easier if I could ask for help. Sometimes we have to ask a second time, or take a close look at someone’s face to see what’s really there. Sometimes all it takes is “are you sure?” Sometimes it takes something a little more open-ended like “that wasn’t very convincing…”

Questions that seek a “yes or no” answer are terribly easy to dodge. Sometimes you need to give people more space to open their hearts. And sometimes you need to open yours first. We’ve all got hard stuff in our lives. We’ve all got burdens. They are so much easier to manage when they’re shared, but sometimes we need more than a little encouragement to lay down the load.

Not everyone wants to share their trauma. But sometimes people just don’t know how. So ask yourself – are you ok? And then share the answer with someone close to you.

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