*trigger warning – this post discusses suicide*
Today is/was R U OK Day – a day where you are encourage to approach people (friends/family/strangers?) and ask them if they are OK. From the R U OK website:
Thursday 7 October, 2010 is R U OK?Day. A national day of action that aims to prevent suicide by encouraging Australians to connect with someone they care about and help stop little problems turning into big ones.
On that day we want everyone across the country, from all backgrounds and walks of life, to ask family, friends and colleagues: “Are you OK?”.
Because staying connected with others is crucial to our general health and wellbeing. Feelings of isolation and being alone are major contributing factors to depression and social issues that can ultimately result in suicide. Regular, meaningful conversations can protect those we know and love.
It’s so simple but in the time it takes to have a coffee, you can start a conversation that could change a life.
I get the whole raising awareness thing, but right now this doesn’t really work for me. If I had waited until today to ask my friend who attempted suicide a couple of weeks ago, whether or not she was ok, she may not have lived that long. The analogy for me is something like “Safe Sex” day where everyone practices safe sex and forgets about it for the other 364 days of the year (365 on leap years). That would be a bad thing, and having one day singled out in a year where you’re told (not encouraged) to ask someone you care about if they are OK, versus the rest of the year, is not exactly helpful.
I think I’d be less … something… about this if they more clearly stated that this was an awareness exercise and that this was to raise awareness of the tools available to those who want to ask if someone is ok, and to provide information to those who need it. Mainly stating that this is the day you should ask someone if they are ok, misses all the other days when they may not be.
It also assumes that everyone has the spoons to ask someone else if they are ok, or are ok enough themselves to ask someone else. I have had days where I did not have the spoons to ask someone if they were ok because being prepared to listen and engage with that person enough for answer required energy I did not have. Asking if someone is OK is not a short conversation, and can go beyond the one coffee suggested above. It requires focus, probing and understanding feedback, and a willingness to engage – and as well the understanding that whoever you’ve approached may not be willing to open up to you and that isn’t something you should take personally.
The R U OK website also has a page providing suggestions and advice on how to start an R U OK conversation. This page is full of good information except for one bit which I found somewhat problematic. The page rightly tells you not to offer advice, “Avoid telling someone what to do: it is important to listen and try to help the other person work out what is best for them“. But then delves immediately into:
Encourage physical health. Maintaining regular exercise, a nutritious diet and getting regular sleep helps people to cope in tough times
Encourage the person to seek professional help from their family doctor, a support service or counsellor, or a mental health worker
Encourage self-care. Sometimes people need to be encouraged to do more to look after their own needs during a difficult time
So on one hand, don’t give advice, but on the other encourage them to look after themselves more, seek help and maintain their physical health – things the person you are meant to be listening to may not be able to actually do for a myriad of reasons, or who may be doing all or some of them and doesn’t need you to comment on.
When I found out from my friend about her attempted suicide, I hugged her, took her somewhere quiet and listened to her. I asked if she’d like to come to my place for a while, if she needed to, again being ok with her saying no, because this was not about me – it was about what she needed.
The fact that the R U OK website also lists groups you can speak to if you need help now, is also a great resource.
In the end the R U OK idea is good, but for me to be satisfied with it, it needs more tweaking. More conversation up front about how this should happen every day and not just once a year. More tools for people who’ve never had conversations like this. More information about what constitutes being helpful, how to provide feedback during the conversation so that whoever is being listened to knows that they are being heard, what to do if things get out of hand, how to check up on someone again later and how to debrief with someone afterward so that you too are OK.
I’ve found yet another culture of silence I just don’t understand. This one has nothing to do with physical violence against others, nothing to do with racist, sexist, homophobic or transphobic behaviour, and nothing to do with rape apology. This is all to do with gossip and rumours… which really thrive in a culture of silence.
Some context would probably be useful here. I’m a member of a community that is relatively close-knit and some would say incestuous… but it is full of people who are polyamorous, so that second label is understandable. Given the interlinked relationships, friendships and the like there is a certain amount of disclosure about people, but it is usually safe, sane and truthful. It is useful, after all, to know your partner’s partner’s STI status, who else they are involved with, etc. Honesty is valued in poly relationships because it is just impossible to trust a group of people (tribes is the terminology I tend to use) without being very honest with them and having them be very honest with you.
So when someone joined this community, and spent some time in it, started talking about negative experiences with others, given the constant reinforcement of honesty as a necessary part of polyamory, we trusted that she was at least telling as close as she could to her version of the truth – so it may have been hurt or anger with someone, but she was being honest at the core.
And we did not talk to those she said bad things about. I think this is a common thing regardless of the community you are in. Typically gossip is passed on to others and not the victim, which sadly means that the victim can be ostracised, isolated or subject to other forms negative of behaviour because something which may be untrue or taken out of context is believed by others and the victim is not given a chance to defend themselves, or if they are, it is usually far too late.
So why don’t we talk to the person the gossip or bad-mouthing is about? Sometimes I think it’s because you want to believe what the other person who is gossiping to you to be true. There were some things that were told to me by the aforementioned person which I could have believed to be true, whether that was because there was a grain of truth in them or because I was already biased against the person being gossiped about. Sometimes I think it is because you instantly dismiss what the gossiper is saying because you don’t think it is true or you don’t care one way or the other. The aforementioned person told me some things about people I was friends with which either did not fit my knowledge of that individual or were completely irrelevant to me.
It was only as we began as a wider group to start unravelling the lies that were told to us and found out the lies that were told about us that we realised the harm that this one individual had caused to our wider circle and community. We have since cut all ties with her and I am of the understanding that she has now left the community, but that still does not solve the main problem… that of the culture of silence.
Maybe it’s an Australian thing to not disclose negative and hurtful information that you overhear to the person/s that it is allegedly about. Maybe there are other places in the world that handle this openly and far better. I’m going to try and find some way to deal with gossip I overhear by approaching the victim and effectively tattling on the gossiper. Though it can be hard when you don’t know whether something is true or not to start with… If my partner’s partner tells me that their new partner does/has/wants X, do I go and talk to them and tell them what I was told? Where can I draw the line?
It is a very tricky thing to deal with, which is why I suspect I don’t ever deal with it well until it is too late, or when things are bad. I don’t know what would have happened if I had confronted the gossiper (and outright liar) that has most recently harmed my tribe, earlier in the piece. I suspect I would have been turned upon and maliciously attacked to others.
Some of the people who thought that they were going to be able to stay out of this have discovered that things were even said about them, things that were untrue that I dismissed as either irrelevant or unlikely to be true, and it wasn’t until we were debriefing about the situation that I passed those things on. One friend was deeply shocked to have had lies told about her – even though in my estimation those lies were so irrelevant and meaningless. Another friend who had had lies told about him did not seem to be bothered, even though the lies told about him seemed to be more serious than the other friend’s.
Debriefing has been incredibly useful but there is still serious damage that has been done. Several members of my tribe are afraid that their ability to judge people is skewed, and their ability to trust has temporarily taken a beating. There is a lot of anger and feelings of betrayal. And of course the big question, “Why would someone do this?”
This post has been cross posted to my poly blog: Only More So
Hollywood has done us a great disservice, though this should come as no surprise. This time, I’m thinking about relationships and how they are portrayed in movies, specifically when the relationship ends due to the death of one of the partners. In the average movie, when someone’s husband or wife dies, they spend a disproportionate amount of time watching their wedding video and being sad. The being sad bit I can understand, the wedding video I don’t.
I know its symbolic and is a quick and cheap way of showing how much this individual misses the other, but its also really wrong. As well as fuelling the wedding video market, which is stupidly overpriced and terribly saccharine, its not even a good representation of what a relationship is. A relationship isn’t one event, it is a series of events, both good and bad, over a period of time.
Although family videos were made of my wedding day, I never watch them and don’t think I actually have them anymore. I had a photographer come and take photos, and I look at them once every year or so, because they’re pretty, but not because “it was the happiest day of my life™”. I define my relationship with my (legal) husband by many different events, and I wouldn’t want just one to define my entire relationship. To only let my wedding day define my relationship of over 16 years with him cheats both of us the life experience we’ve gained together and the good and bad times we’ve spent together.
I’m far more likely to remember out 10th wedding anniversary, countless weekends lying in bed and talking about everything, discoveries that we’ve made while being out and about together, songs we’ve made up, laughing until we cry and much awesome sex. All of this is far more fun than that one day where I dressed up in a white dress and said, “I do” in front of family and friends.
To let a wedding day define an entire relationship is wrong and unfair. It puts impossible expectations on people to make their wedding day be the best day of their life, and suggests that everything from there onwards will be downhill. It fuels an industry that already gouges people, encourages conspicuous consumption and suggests to those who cannot afford the most outrageous wedding ever that they will be miserable for all eternity – when perhaps all they wanted (if they want to get married – that’s a whole different debate) was a simple ceremony in front of a few close friends and family.
I’d much prefer a montage of time spent together, as I have seen some movies do. Picnics, birthdays, anniversaries, parties and just time spent together to sum up the essence of a lifetime spent together. That is far more realistic than just one event being played over and over.