Are you okay?

Howard Taylor’s Schlock Mercenary is one of a handful of webcomics that I still read fairly regularly, and I’ve come to respect his opinions on movies, so I always check the blog post to see if there’s a movie I should see or avoid. I’m glad I’ve gotten into this habit, because it gave me the chance to read this short non-fiction piece about mental health. Do yourself a favor and check that out. 

Something that occurred to me though was that the title, “No. I’m fine.” is something I’m likely to say if someone asks me if I’m okay. Regardless of whether or not I’m okay, I’ve been more or less trained to answer that question with “I’m fine”, “Yes, nothing to worry about”, or “I’m always okay”, and usually I don’t even spare a thought to consider whether or not I am, in fact, okay. (Does it still count as a lie if you don’t actually know & just answer automatically?)

So here’s a story from my personal life: I hate shaving. In fact, the only reason I ever do it is that I hate having a beard slightly more. This makes for a useful signal when I’m starting to get depressed and stop looking to the future, one of the first things that happens is that I stop shaving. It’s not a certain thing, of course, sometimes I’ll be busy or sick or having adventures or just lazy, but usually the first thing that makes me realize I’m getting depressed (Or, more likely, that I have been depressed) is that I’ll look in the mirror and see a beard. 

I tend to mention this to my close friends, on the theory that it helps to have someone looking out for you. But the thing is, I haven’t been giving them the tools they really need for that, and I only just realized it. Because if I show up with a hairy face and they wonder if I’m in a bad way or just taking part in the latest beard fad, they’re likely to ask if I’m okay. And I’m probably not even going to think about it before I tell them I am. And that’s really silly, because there’s a simple & obvious solution to this, had I ever taken a minute to think about it: Don’t ask about my mental health, ask about the beard!

I already make a connection between mental health and shaving, so if you ask me “When did you last shave?” or “Are you growing a beard?” I’m going to think about it. I’m not going to give an automatic answer, and I’m probably not going to get defensive in that weird way people do about mental health. As a bonus, it gives me the option of answering the superficial question while keeping the other stuff to myself, so you could even check on my personal issues in public & feel all sneaky. 

All of this makes me wonder how often people think about exactly how to ask a friend if they need help. I’ve had little experience with professional health care, so maybe this is a standard thing that gets talked about, but it makes a lot of sense as I think about it. 

Do you have something like this? Something that will make you think about yourself, that your friends can use to check on you? Feel free to share in the comments if you like, but more importantly tell the people closest to you, those who care about you and want a way to check on you.

It’s so easy to miss when someone needs help, and our entire culture has trained us not to ask for it. 

About Leo Tarvi

Mostly fictional.

Posted on September 1, 2014, in Personal and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Duly noted. I’m…very opinionated. And I’m very honest, even with myself. Plus I get bored and I talk to myself. So, I almost always know when I’m bad. I usually know why. What I don’t quite know is how to stop it.

  2. Plus, most of my best beloved friends are stoic liars about their problems. And I feel awful being so self centered, but it makes me really angry when I inquire about my loved ones’ well being, and they lie or shut me out. Hello, not sparing me a burden. I ask because I know something is wrong, OK? And I want to, at the very least, listen and love, and help anyway I can. It seriously hurts when I can’t be trusted with my dear one’s pains. I would much rather be close, than shoved just far away enough to see something’s wrong.
    Of course, I don’t have a whole ton of friends, because I will see you. I will listen to what you say. I will listen to what you don’t say. I will watch your eyes, your patterns, and collect every little stray bit of being in case it comes in handy. That to me, is what relationships ought to be, but it scares most people shitful.

  3. I definitely have some ‘tells’: my physical space gets untidy and I start stacking stuff here and there, and I let my clean laundry hang around unfolded for days. From there, if things are bad enough, I shower less frequently – due to issues associated with bathroom spaces that become hard to fight when I start to spiral down. Typical ‘poor mental health’ stuff, actually. 🙂 I’m fortunate that the specific nature of my brain injury makes it a coin toss if I do the ‘I’m fine’ thing at all; usually I just blurt out whatever is on my mind. lol

  4. It’s just how society expects it. The few times that one genuinely answers that question, you either get overreacted to, or they think you’re joking. You can’t push the issue because it took most of your own effort just to admit it, or the reactions that people have make you so much more uncomfortable than if they just left alone.

    It’s a sad state. Some of us just have a coping mechanism. We recognize when a bout is coming. Honestly, living alone made it easier for me to deal. I could have complete mental and emotional breakdowns, taking care that nothing that I might hurt myself with were easily accessible. No one ever knew. Made it significantly harder to hide when (seemingly by cosmetic coincidence) people who normally wouldn’t message me (or swing by) would do just that. For that, I thank them and you for that.

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