It’s R U OK day today. So, am I OK?

By Kelly Wilton

It’s a question we get asked a lot, but do we always answer honestly?

For me personally – of course not!  For if I did, it would force me to face things I just don’t want to talk about constantly.

So instead I say, “I’m ok but struggling at the moment with stuff” or “I’m not having the best day/week/month/year(!) but thanks for asking”.  

I’ve learnt that if I answer honestly with the above, it does make me stop and pause for a moment, and acknowledge that I’m not great, and it’s ok to say so when someone has asked.

Depending on your relationship with the person who’s asking the question, it is up to you on how you want to respond. When we don’t want to delve deep perhaps: “I don’t feel like talking about it now but thank you for asking” or “I’m not in the mood to talk about it to anyone” (but I will book that psychologist appointment to get it off my chest – making a mental note to book it in).

Of course, the above won’t suit everyone, but they are little tricks that at the age of 43, I wish I had known 10 years ago. I used to also smile and quip “Yes, everything’s fine, there is always someone worse off”.  I always minimised or dismissed my problems and buried them deep.

When my twins came along, both with disabilities, I found the same quip just didn’t cut it for me anymore.

Because it was hard, it was tough. I thought some days I was breaking, then I’d wake up the next day and do it all again.  Now I’m a bit further along my journey, I realise how damaging it was to minimise big problems, especially when we have little control over the circumstances surrounding our families.

We aren’t talking about broken bones or routine procedures for children, where there is an end date – a recovery period, then, bang it’s all over. We are talking about life changing surgeries, lifelong disabilities, unknowns that are ongoing.    

I do have a psychologist that I see regularly and she’s amazing.  I talk to her no holds barred. I vent my frustrations, and instead of worrying after that ‘I’ve said too much” (ever had that feeling?!) – I leave satisfied knowing that I’m not being judged and instead met with compassion and real strategies to help when I re-enter my world.

Also, I’ve found that finding a professional that I ‘click’ with is a really important factor in all of it.  I’ve tried other psychologists in the past, and we haven’t clicked. If this happens to you, just move on or ask if there is someone else in the practice that could be a better fit.  They won’t be offended (and if they are, run because that isn’t professional!).  A great psychologist will want the best for you, and they will understand that sometimes, they need to step aside and let someone else step in to support.

Most people won’t be able to truly understand the life I lead, the life you lead as a special needs parent.  Parenting children with chronic health and lifelong medical issues, intellectual and physical disabilities is just too much for them to imagine.  They look at the ‘happy snaps’ on Facebook and that’s all they see.  Very few will see beyond this (which can be said about most circumstances really – we never really know what goes on behind closed doors!).

However, there came a time when I learnt to accept that there are many others who will understand and that is because they are walking a similar path to you.  And you find your strategies for survival by finding out who can support you in times that are tough.   

Find a few trusted friends that you can share with (you might start like I first did and find them online!).  If you’ve been burned far too many times, you may find it hard to open up, but if you find just a couple of people you can start sharing your mental load with during this parenting gig, the rest will flow.  You won’t have to justify or explain much at all, these people will just know.  And isn’t that wonderful?!  Half my stresses are brought on due to explaining the same stuff over and over again!

There is no shame in seeking out what you do need and letting go of what does not work. 

There is nothing worse than feeling disconnected from the people we are close to.  However, if you find a circle you can share your journey with that truly understand, then you will find that your other relationships will improve, as you are not putting all your eggs into one basket!

So, if you need a bit of a helping hand, remember we are all here for you.  Some of us are further along; but take that first step, reach out to someone online or in real life –  reach towards the people who will truly listen to your response when they ask you ‘R U Ok?’.

For guidance on what to say when someone says they are not okay, go to: www.ruok.org.au/how-to-ask

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