After the death of his father by suicide in 2009, the late Gavin Larkin founded and launched RUOK Day. The premise of the day is to demonstrate that conversation can have healing and restorative powers and that you don’t have to be an expert to be able to reach out to a loved one (or a stranger) – you just have to take the chance to ask.
It is estimated that one in five people in our community will take part in this mental health initiative in some way.
The other evening I was waiting amongst a group of women I didn’t know. I had popped my kindle in my handbag knowing I had about 45 minutes to myself before returning to my current job as Mum. I was attempting to read some research literature but the chatter of the people in front of me made the dense words in my lap hard to process. I noticed that the more I tried to read the more I honed in on the conversations being had over my head.
One woman was commenting about her recent weight loss ventures. Apparently she’d lost those stubborn last five kilos and the scales had rewarded her with a number in the fifties. She threw a handful of statements out to the group, but not once did any of them pick up on her conversation droppers. Conversation droppers are the little prompts we throw out in invitation for further enquiries. Its not a technical term – I made it up. Every time she mentioned her goal weight, her dietary changes, her ability to fit into a size 10 pair of jeans her ‘droppers’ were met with silence.
The difficulty for me sitting there, not being part of their circle, was excruciating. I wanted to stand up and scream ‘she wants you to acknowledge her’. The woman’s neediness was palpable, she wanted people to congratulate her on what she had achieved yet the silence, or the subtle segues the other women offered to invite stories about themselves meant that there was no space for the success to be acknowledged.
Asking how we are, whether it’s reaching out about the big life challenges or the little ones gives the chance to bridge the divide between ourselves and others. Mental health is not just about focusing on the challenging times but the ways that we can remain resilient and on top of things before the downslide appears.
As I gathered up my handbag and shuffled out of the waiting area I wondered what it was like for that woman to not have her voice heard. As I moved past her our eyes met and I smiled and looked down. Part of me wanted to high five her for losing those stubborn kilos but at the same time I didn’t know what to say because I hadn’t been invited into the conversation.
Listen out for the conversation invitations. We are all guilty of dropping hints about who we are, or what we need. As a community member it doesn’t take much to let them land and then pick them up and hand them back.
For more information about RUOK day please visit www.ruokday.com
Are you OK?