How To Say “Actually, I’m Not OK”

“So, how are you?”, I guarantee that no matter how you really feel, most of us give the standard response of “Oh, I’m fine”. As a society, we are very good at putting on the “I’m fine” mask, even when just behind that smile we are genuinely struggling. The alternative, being open, honest, and vulnerable is much more difficult than many of us would like to admit. Taking time to reflect on these tips will ensure that you get the support that’s right for you.

Firstly, It’s Ok Not To Be Ok

Given the many challenges that we’ve faced this year, it is understandable that people may be approaching the “R U OK?” conversation very differently. Those of us currently in stage 4 restrictions particularly, continue to struggle with many challenges including social isolation, potential job loss, homeschooling, financial and health worries, and feeling disconnected from family, loved ones, and our usual support networks, all of which can negatively impact our mental health.

It Takes Courage To Say That You Are Not Ok

Sharing that you are not okay can be quite daunting. Anyone can stick their head in the sand and say “I’m fine” when they’re not. It takes courage to put up your hand and say “I need help”. Much like the sketch in the Monty Python classic ‘The Holy Grail’ when Arthur fights the Black Knight who continuously downplays his injuries. When he is gravely injured, he responds with “Tis but a scratch”, even when he has lost both arms he keeps fighting and insists “It’s just a flesh wound!”. While this approach may have resulted in a lot of laughs for Monty Python fans, in reality, insisting you’re perfectly alright when you are struggling is likely to only lead to further decline. The sooner you admit how you really feel and reach out for help, the sooner you’ll be on the road to recovery.

Don’t Be Afraid To Reach Out First

You don’t have to wait for the person to ask, (we are all pretty good at hiding our struggles so others may not have noticed). If you trust the person you can start the conversation with “I’m not ok”.

You may feel that other people are worse off than you, so your worries aren’t significant. Perhaps you’re afraid that you’ll be rejected, judged, or perceived as needy if you ask for help. Whatever the reason for not reaching out, the irony is that in most cases, people do want to help.

Be Specific About What Support You Need

Reflect on the type of support that would be helpful for you right now (e.g. practical, emotional, professional etc.). Think about the people in your network that have skills to meet your needs. It might be as simple as “All I really need is for you to listen to me without judgment” or “I think I might need professional help but I don’t know where to start, can you help?”. Sometimes simple practical things can make a big difference “I’m just feeling overwhelmed at the moment and any help with grocery shopping or maybe some pre-cooked meals would really help”.

If you’re feeling completely overwhelmed letting the person know “I don’t know, but I know I need help” is ok too.

What’s the Intention Of The Person Asking?

Try to understand the intention of the person asking the R U OK? question. Do they genuinely want you to be open and honest? Have they got the time, the energy, and the capacity to support you? Or are they just being polite and expecting an “I’m good, how about you?” kind of response.

Who Should You Have This Conversation With?

Choose the people who are good at providing emotional support. Some people are very practical. They might be able to tell you where to go to get a referral, but they might not have the right skills to provide emotional support. Ask yourself “Who would be a kind and empathetic ear?” it might not be your immediate family or friends. It may be someone outside your close support network that has the right emotional skill set to be there for you.

It’s important to focus on some constructive and proactive things that you can invest in to feel better. So, make sure that you’re reaching out to people that will be optimistic and that will offer you practical guidance and support.

Set Boundaries

It can be helpful to put some boundaries in place if the person tries to ‘take over’ the conversation or jumps into ‘fixing/solution mode’ before you’re ready. If you’re simply looking for someone to vent to and they start putting forward solutions, it’s okay to let them know “Look, I appreciate what you’re trying to do, but at the moment I’m just looking for someone that can listen to me, I’m not at that point yet. I hope that’s ok?”.

Don’t Take Unhelpful Responses Personally

Not everyone is going to respond in the way that you need. Perhaps you’ve worked up the courage to be vulnerable and the person seems a bit stumped or just brushes you off. If you receive an unhelpful response try not to take it personally. It’s not a reflection on you; your needs are still valid. It may be that it wasn’t the right moment for that person. They may have their own stuff going on, or they just weren’t prepared and that’s ok.

If you don’t get the response that you need the first time around, it’s important to let someone else know that you’re not ok. Don’t stop asking for help until you get the support you need.

Professional Help is Available

Friends may be well-intentioned, but there are times when it’s worth speaking to a professional. Your GP can assess you for a mental health care plan and refer you to a professional counsellor or psychologist. With a GP referral, you will be entitled to Medicare rebates for up to 10 individual and group support sessions a year. People in Victoria subjected to further restrictions can now receive up to 20 sessions of psychological care through Medicare.

Find the Right Fit

It’s important to feel safe and have a good connection with your therapist, so don’t hesitate to look around. Seeing a professional therapist is a service – just like finding a good mechanic or a good hairdresser – you may need to try a few before you find the right one. Don’t worry, therapists won’t take it personally if you don’t come back, they appreciate that a good therapeutic fit is absolutely essential for success.

Let Them Know You Appreciate The Question

Even if you are okay, please let the asker know that you appreciate their concern “I’m ok, but thank you for asking/caring.” How we chose to respond to the genuine RUOK’s makes a big difference in reinforcing and normalising these conversations.

Knowing how to reach out to others and offer support is vital. Equally important, is knowing how to have the courage to ask for help. Not only will being honest about your struggles help you feel better, but it also encourages others to be open, creating opportunities for a deeper connection.