Talk Hard and Listen Harder
It seems to me, the more time I spend on this beautiful, crazy planet, the more I come to realise that everyone is struggling with something. Every single one of us. No one is immune in this thing. The weird thing about us humans though, is that we are more than happy to share the most mundane of our lives readily, but we hesitate and resist talking about the things that really matter, especially if they happen to be a little gritty and uncomfortable.
As a country, we face some pretty appalling mental health statistics, and I wonder if our stoic, staunch number 8 wire, DIY mentality which allows us to be so innovative and successful on the world stage, might also have a not- so- nice flip side that makes it hard for us to ask for help when we desperately need it. We are proud, and we have valued ‘strong and silent’ as attributes that are inexplicably wound together, whereas in reality being strong really means having the courage to speak out and ask for help when necessary. This requires far more courage than silence. We are private people too. This can isolate us emotionally. Drive through suburban America, and you won’t see many fences in front of homes. Some don’t even have fences to separate their back yard from the neighbours. Here privacy is paramount. No fences would make us feel way too vulnerable. In new subdivisions maybe, but only if we absolutely have to. Is this symbolic of our culture? For sure.
We need to get better at talking. We need more John Kirwans and more Doug Averys. These men have done much to remove the stigma around mental health just by being brave enough to tell their story. We need more people like Emily Writes, whose realistic tales of actual, real parenthood have made parents feel more normal and less alone. Sarah Wilson has opened up about her struggles with anxiety: this coming from one of Australia’s most successful women. We need more of these people: the brave ones who are willing to admit that things are not always Instagram unicorns and Facebook rainbows. We all need to tell our stories. Not just the good ones, and especially the hard ones.
We also need to listen. We need to not shy away when someone we know starts acting a little differently. We need to stop shrinking from the things that make us feel uneasy. Someone who needs help could ask for it, but what if they don’t? What if they can’t? What if they are, but it’s disguised as some kind of ‘out of character’ behaviour? What if needing help masquerades as avoidance, drinking, insomnia, over working or recklessness? Listen hard and watch carefully. Pass no judgement. Have compassion. That’s what good humans do. If you are worried, don’t be afraid to ask if that person is o.k. I had a conversation with my friend Harriet Bremner, author of the children book ‘Bob n Pops’, who noted that ‘How Are You?’ has become more of a greeting, a sort of rhetorical question: and she is right. We don’t expect an honest answer., and we rarely give one in return. We need to get back to asking, ‘How are you really?’. As Glennon Melton says “People who need help often look a lot like people who don’t need help”. It isn’t always glaringly obvious from the outside.
Books you may enjoy:
“The Resilient Farmer” by Doug Avery
“Rants in the Dark” by Emily Writes
“First We Make the Beast Beautiful” by Sarah Wilson
“Carry on Warrior” by Glennon Doyle Melton.
“Bob ‘n’ Pops” by Harriet Bremner