Are you okay?
When we say that in Britain we expect people to say, “I’m fine thank you”, the showy exhibitionists will say something like, “Absolutely Amazing!” or “Grand, how are you?” but mostly when asked we say we’re ‘fine.’
The last thing people expect when they say are you okay, is for people to say “no actually, I’m not…” People aren’t equipped to deal with that normally and besides most people say ‘fine’ even when they’re not and then you can skip on to other safe topics like the weather, Brexit and the potential Prosecco shortage.
I was one of those people…I said ‘fine’ when I blooming well wasn’t. On paper, I should have been fine. Married to my sweetheart, close circle of friends, loving family, good job that paid well above the national average, house way bigger than the two of us needed, designer handbags and a Porsche on the driveway.
To everyone else I was the emotionally strong one in my family, the person people turned to in a crisis because I was calm and rational. I was getting strong performance reviews at work. I was the funny one, the person that could always be relied on to cheer you up. Inside I was slowly going downhill.
I’ve always been anxious about stuff, before my university exams I used to not be able to eat or sleep crashing out after they were done with exhaustion when I should have been partying to celebrate. I’m not sure when it started later in my life, but it crept up on me. I stopped sleeping and would pace our hallway all night, I lost my appetite, I lost my enjoyment of anything. My husband said he really started to worry about me when I stopped getting angry or amused or sad but showed next to no emotion.
Marian Keyes the Irish author I am not afraid to say I am a huge fangirl of nailed the way I felt in her introduction to her Cookbook ‘Saved by Cake’;
“The best way to describe it is I feel like I’m in a science-fiction movie. I feel like I’m living in a parallel universe. I’m on a planet that looks very similar to Earth, but pulses with a totally different energy, something malign and threatening. The people I know and love have been replaced with sinister doppelgängers and I feel like I’ll never get back home. The way back has closed and disappeared and I’m trapped here in this awful, unfamiliar place.”
When you are not sleeping everything seems a million times harder than it really is. Work felt impossible and I would drive home fantasising about crashing into the central reservation and then being able to finally sleep in a hospital (preferably in a coma). Eventually, I agreed to go to the doctor because there had to be something physically wrong with me if I was feeling this way, right? A misbehaving thyroid perhaps?
The doctor asked me “are you okay?” and instead of saying ‘fine’ I broke down in tears and in my babble of nonsense that came out along with all the tears and snot, the doctor advised that I was suffering from anxiety, signed me off work and prescribed anti-depressants.
I was mortified! Anti-depressants! They were for weak minded people, the ‘prozak generation’ not me. The doctor calmly explained what has stuck with me ever since. That mental health is reliant on a chemical balance in our brain. When that balance goes off kilter we can feel anxiety, depression, etc. We wouldn’t think twice about taking a painkiller to aid the pain of a broken bone, or inject chemicals to fight a cancer so why should the brain be any different?
She was right and I got ‘better’ and I wished I’d sorted it out sooner as I like the me I am now far better than the one that was ‘coping’ for all those years (and I think everyone else does too). Just think what she could have achieved! And I have never once shied away from talking about it, owning it and trying in my own small way to remove the stigma that is associated with mental health.
It is getting better, people do talk about it more often. But we need to do more and as friends, colleagues, parents, siblings or even that person sitting next to a stranger on your daily commute. Ask them if they are okay? Really okay? And if they say ‘fine’ but look anything but fine don’t just say great and move onto the next topic of conversation. Probe a little deeper and even share if you’re not fine and you might help someone more than you could ever realise.