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Sometimes behind the smile, the answer is no

By Claire Whittle on September 12 2013 - Be Well, Matters of the Heart, News

Never misinterpret depression for laziness.

If you’ve never suffered from a mental illness, then you might not understand the crippling anxiety that straps you to your bed, that locks you inside your house. The feeling that somebody is sitting on your chest; that you cannot breathe another breath due to the overwhelming sights and sounds around you.

Waking up so heavy with grief that you cannot even lift your head and body up from your pillow, let alone opening the curtains for any light to shine in, keeping your door closed, pulling your hood up around your head to block out as much of the sounds around you which are thumping inside your head.

Waking up and wondering how many hours are left until the day is over, every day the same, with nothing to look forward to.

Agitation that feels like you’re trapped in a telephone box being thrown from side to side.

Realising that you’ve asked yourself ten or more times in one day, ‘what’s wrong with me?’

sad cloud

The humiliation that you can’t keep a job, can’t get to class on time, can’t even get up before midday because you’re so hungover from the medication that you’ve taken the night before, or because you were wide awake at 2am, your head buzzing with thoughts, ideas, conversations, finally full of the energy you wished you had at some point during the day so you could actually achieve something.

The shame of certain aspects of your personality, like being in debt due to spending money that you don’t have to fill the void inside of you, not concentrating and remembering important facts and memories, chasing a high because you’re so desperate to delay the crash that follows. Realising that maybe these are part of your illness, not bad personality traits.

Asking yourself, ‘What’s me and what’s my illness? Where do I stop and my illness begins?’

Not being able to concentrate on a conversation let alone to sit down for hours to write a simple assignment.

Being so detached from reality that words feel like nothing. Words like, ‘I love you’ bounce off you, they have no meaning, they’re just sounds. Feeling like a shell of a person, an empty head, an empty heart.

Over-eating, under-eating or self-harming because the physical pain you cause yourself will never compare to the pain inside.

Feeling so alone at 2am on your computer, desperately looking at different websites to give you the facts, to help you, to ‘fix’ you, to at least make you feel like you’re not the only person who feels this way.

Being so emotionally exhausted from rapidly cycling every 20 minutes for days on end, from crying and sadness to laughing and being invisible, back and forth, back and forth.

Not wanting to call anyone or tell anyone how much you’re hurting because you don’t want to burden them with your problems.

This is just a tiny part of what mental illness feels like.

are you okay?

Family members, loved ones and those in a relationship with someone who has a mental illness also need support and an empathetic ear. It can be an extremely heartbreaking and emotionally exhausting job looking after and loving someone with a mental illness.

For those of you who’ve never understood depression or mental illness, please understand how much it means to someone who has felt any of these feelings when you ask and genuinely want to listen to the answer of the question, ‘Are you OK?’

Because sometimes behind the smile, the answer is no. And often, nobody has asked that person that question, or perhaps hasn’t listened to the answer. So many people suffer in silence. Sometimes a caring ear is all a person needs. Let’s break down the barrier and make it OK to talk about when you’re not OK.

So on this Thursday the 12th of September – National R U OK? Day – be a caring ear and ask your friends, your family, co-workers, your lovers, even the man that serves you coffee, ‘R U OK?

You might just save a life.


claire-whittle-headshotIf you’ve lost Claire at a music festival or craft market, chances are she’s the one dancing around with a fruit hat or a headband made of giant lilies, wearing a home-made tutu carrying a kilo bag of jellybeans braiding some girl’s hair. She loves doing photo shoots with her medium format camera and whipping out her Polaroid like a stealth ninja mid-party/wedding/trip to DreamWorld etc. She is well known for her amazing story-telling abilities. Claire is an avid fighter for breaking the stigma of mental illness amongst young people.

Your comments on “R U OK?

  1. Thank you, just thank you.

    So much of what you just wrote describes how I feel exactly, and actually every day should be RU OK? day.


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