Sometimes this is just the right question to ask. Sometimes it is not helpful at all. Commonly known as a ‘closed question,’ the choice of response is very narrow: ‘yes,’ ‘no,’ or something equivalent, can be a roadblock to further conversation.

Do I feel ok? If I’m feeling fine, yes is an easy answer, though I may wonder why you would need to ask me that. Maybe I’m unconsciously giving out signals that are of concern to you. I may recognize or interpret your question simply as the ‘social noise’ that is often part of a casual greeting and respond accordingly. If I’m feeling sad, angry, depressed or upset, I may have one of several responses. I may feel immensely relieved that you have noticed. Now I feel free to talk.

On the other hand, if I don’t want to reveal to you or anyone what is going on inside me, the question backs me into a corner. I may deny that anything’s wrong. It’s possible I don’t know myself what is going on and have no words to describe it. Even if I do, I won’t necessarily want to talk yet, talk at all, or talk to you. Please stay open to the possibility that I may initiate conversation with you at another time or seek out someone else.

Relationship plays a big part in all this. It’s good to consider whether you are the right person to initiate a conversation if you see someone struggling. I may not wish to be in a vulnerable position with you, especially if you can affect my life significantly, for example, my job or reputation. Whether you are family, friend or colleague, do make sure you remain supportive, genuinely caring and non-judgmental in your attitude. Let go of the illusion that you can fix another person’s problems, while not underestimating the power of your compassion and goodwill to make a difference, even if your efforts are not perfect.

At this time in our lives, trauma after trauma is building upon struggles already present in our lives. Drought, floods, fires and COVID-19 make up a very strong cocktail of pain and suffering, on top of pre-existing events, circumstances, health and vulnerabilities. It can all become too big. There may come a time when it is essential for me to seek help and essential for you to act on what you notice for the sake of my wellbeing and maybe my very life. You yourself may need advice from a professional on how to handle this situation. A trusted GP or counsellor can be a good place to start for both you and me.

September is National Suicide Prevention Month. Suicide can be a tragic last resort for someone desperately depressed or hopeless. Beyond Blue is a helpful website for reliable information and assistance.

As high over the mountains the eagle spreads its wings,
May your perspective be larger than the view from the foothills.
When the way is flat and dull in times of grey endurance,
May your imagination continue to evoke horizons. John O’Donohue. A Blessing for One who Holds Power. To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings (Benedictus in Europe).

Catherine Shelton rsj

R U OK? Day (10 September 2020) website