When I was in my early 20s I was living with my boyfriend, studying teaching at university, studying kung fu,, creating short films, I was on New Start, and was working periodically in libraries, science labs, bars, and essentially anywhere I could. It’s not exactly an abnormal existence for a girl in her 20s. Lots of people work odd jobs to get through uni, lots of people move out of home, albeit the trend is to move out much later these days. Most people would have thought I had it pretty together. I had a smart boyfriend doing a prestigious degree, followed by honours and then a PhD, I was working towards getting my degree, I had active hobbies, short film and kung fu, that I was progressing well with, I was fit, and I was living relatively independently. Acquaintances would have thought I was doing well… but I was not okay.
On moving in with my boyfriend I had become increasingly isolated from my friends who I had previously seen regularly. Prior to my relationship I had a wide circle of friends in multiple friendship groups. I could dip in and out with different people from time to time. Strangely being an introvert this suited me well. I could see people briefly then flitter off to recharge. I didn’t burn out on people this way as I did when I had intense, one-on-one, friendships. My new boyfriend was the opposite. He had a very tight circle of friends and enjoyed intensity of time and attention. His friends were all living hours away in his hometown whilst he had moved to study. I became the sole focus of his attention. My friends began to balk, why does he always have to come? I was hurt by my friends shutting out my boyfriend and so withdrew. This led to my increasing isolation and suffocation in a relationship that wasn’t healthy for me. My boyfriend and I had so many activities that we loved in common that we just kind of assumed that we were meant to be. We were not.
Anytime I started seeking out new friends and wanting to go out on my own my boyfriend would see that as an attack on our relationship. He would in turn attack by saying that my new friends weren’t really my friends and they were just using me. I hadn’t come out of high school with sufficient self esteem to shake off his comments. One of my friend’s older brother had called me the walking forehead in year 7 and the name stuck. I had “cool girls” drawing pictures of me in year 9 science and passing them around the class saying how stupid I looked and what a try hard I was. In year 11 other kids complained that sometimes I wore shorts and sometimes I wore skirts and I should always wear one or the other. It wasn’t even that I could never win, I could never be neutral, I could never be just me. I withdrew in high school and did the same in this relationship. I became increasingly depressed. My boyfriend needed a rather closed relationship and I needed to roam. Not in a non-monogamous sense. I’ve always been monogamous in romantic relationships. It was a mismatch of relationship styles.
A year or two into living with my boyfriend I encountered an old friend. She could sense something was up. She asked me if I was okay, and I said no I was not. Not only did she treat it seriously and not try to diminish or dismiss it she helped me deal with how overwhelmed I felt. She booked me an appointment with a GP and she even went with me because she knew I was too anxious to go. Now unfortunately after that point things unravelled for a variety of other reasons but what she did was important.
She didn’t just ask R U OK? and then move on.
She helped device a plan of seeing a doctor and helped me get there.
Sometimes when you’re at your lowest and feeling overwhelmed you need someone to step in and take care of you. You need someone to not defer and say that the parents, or the boyfriend, or the family, or someone else SHOULD be helping, but to say I will help you and here’s how I’m going to do it.
So if you know someone drowning in their iwn depression offer them a life line and sit with them and make that call. Take them to the doctor. If it’s an online friend send them links to Black Dog, or Relationships Australia, or Beyond Blue. Try to take a concrete step beyond just asking. Because words are nice but often people are already overwhelmed with sites and sounds and they need action to be taken. Ask R U OK, but let that be just the start.