My first R U OK Day talk

Years ago I had put in place a protective barrier in my life dubbed the 'Nic bubble'. It was built to limit the pain and disappointment sometimes caused by interacting with the outside world, and it was necessary at the time. Uncertainty bothered me, and I needed control (or at least the illusion of it) over what happens next to feel comfortable in situations and surroundings that were unfamiliar. Anxiety could be quelled by limiting the breadth of life that I'm living. The comfortable life.

That's so not me.

Although it was necessary at the time, and I don't regret living that way for a while, I recognise how limiting it was. Someone at the time pointed out that I have every right to live in the 'Nic bubble' and that it's useful for limiting the possibility of being hurt. But if I choose to live that way I'll need to get comfortable with it also limiting the possibilities of ... well, what's possible.

I broke through the 'Nic bubble' years ago and haven't regretted it. I know what's meaningful to me — sharing the stories of my mental illness misadventures to try to help people in some way. In the last two months of committing more time to it I'm starting to get a clearer picture on how to achieve it.

A great opportunity came up a couple of weeks ago. I was invited by the Migrant Resource Centre to speak at an event in Hobart for R U OK Day. I was asked to be the keynote speaker on Parliament Lawn (weather permitting) talking to crowds of high school students about my personal memories of that time.

I actually really like airline food. Weird novelty factor.

I actually really like airline food. Weird novelty factor.

I did get a bit emotional on the flight on the way over there, as I wrote about last week. I realised on the way what the stakes were. This is geographically the farthest I'd ever been to talk to people about mental illness and it suddenly felt overwhelming real when I remembered why I was doing it.

Beginning to set up in the brief moment of sunshine.

Beginning to set up in the brief moment of sunshine.

It's still always a little bit nerve racking opening up to relative strangers but the buzz surrounding R U OK Day was clear. Everyone was willing to listen and to talk about real things. Things that I would have loved to have been able to be more open about when I was in school. I wish we had something like R U OK Day back then. Its impact is so clearly visible. R U OK has helped the most secretive and once shameful topic of conversation come out into the open and be held up to the light to see the taboo for the nonsense that it really is. Just by conversing. It's the same method that I've been championing for years which I think is why R U OK Day resonates so deeply with me. It was evident also in that the different schools that had come to the event didn't have much prior interaction with each other but by the end were acting like old friends.

Some of the super dedicated volunteers. I learnt that I am humbled by setbacks when attempting to set up a marquee.

Some of the super dedicated volunteers. I learnt that I am humbled by setbacks when attempting to set up a marquee.

The most impactful moment for me was when I had a conversation with one of the students afterwards. She was a bit emotionally overcome and wanted to talk. I think what I was speaking about in hindsight was a lot closer to the present for her. I got to listen. She let me listen. She explained how things have been difficult and why they have been that way. She told me about the progress she has been making and the imminent achievements that are just around the corner. I could see that moment of hope when she expressed how she believes things are going to continue getting better even when there are days that that doesn't seem true. Most inspiring though was that she's beginning to mentor younger students. To pass on her personal learnings of her own experiences so that they can benefit from them. I think I almost cried when she told me that. It was absolutely heartwarming. She was more than OK.

I learn so much from the people I speak to. I learn so much about myself and about people by listening to what they have to say. I feel very fortunate now that what I know is meaningful and important to me, and what I'm able to actually achieve, are getting closer and closer to each other. I have a lot to be thankful for.

That day I saw up-close what I strongly believe to be true. By pushing ourselves even just a little bit to discuss depression and suicide we're automatically part of a big societal change which chips away bit by bit at what's holding us and other people back. It might not feel like it at the time but it truly is life changing and often life saving.

ps. Here's a little word from R U OK DAY:

Do you or a loved one need help? Find help now.

R U OK? is a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to encouraging and empowering all people to ask “are you ok?” of anyone struggling with life. Our vision is a world where everyone is connected and is protected from suicide. This year, R U OK?Day is Thursday 11th September.

Find out more: ruokday.com