RUOK is more than a question and more than a day


I’m writing this post during suicide prevention week, and on the day when it is encouraged to ask RUOK

Writing because of an experience I had today.

When asked if I am ok I typically say yes,  even if I feel a bit stressed. And that’s a true statement.

Because I am ok and becaue it is ok to experience some downs and ups in our emotional state.

Even though some days, as we all know, the level of stress on tougher days means that I can go from ok to not ok based on different factors. For example, a sad song is just a sad song on most days, yet every now and again I have a day where a sad song makes me tearful and sad.

Based on observations, conversations and experiences over the years, I’m pretty sure I’m not alone on this.

So why this post?

This morning I was ok, (even if after a bit of an unplanned start as I overslept and felt I was running late, but it turned out ok. Rushed but ok.)

NB those reading this who know me well, will understand that is a big thing because I hate being late and am (almost) always on time

photo 1.JPG

Cute Street names – all floral theme. Violet Town. Victoria, Australia

And this afternoon I was ok because I took some time out on a 200+km drive to stop several times to take photos and pause in a couple of lovely little towns that I usually drive straight through.

photo 2.JPG

Roadside view – stop and enjoy the view

Great views, nice sunshine and several stretch breaks as well as taking the pressure off me a little. Ahh, nice.

And then I had an interaction with someone I will call Thoughtless Employee or TE. That interaction was not ok and it made me wonder how many other people have had a similar experience.

My mum has lived with me for the past 20 years due to her poor health and I am her carer.

The role of carer has intensified in recent years as her health has declined, and as an only child I’m her main family and contact. We do have periodic visits from one sister and one brother of hers which is wonderful, but even so, she still sometimes grumbles about having to get up to see them. The end of it is that I provide significant emotional, financial and practical support for my mum. And I don’t begrudge a minute of that.

Mum and I have always got on well together and part of it is because we are quite alike. Yes we’re both stubborn, and determined, photo.JPGand we also like a laugh and doing crosswords. In fact mum taught me how to do cryptic crosswords. But we have lived comfortably together in the same house (separate bathrooms and living areas though!)

Today I called her to let her know what time I’d be home – yes I know 🙂 – and asked if she needed anything. She said she needed something today, that she couldn’t wait until tomorrow for.

With the right paperwork we can get this item for half price.  But it was too late in the day for me to go home, get her paperwork and get back to the store before they closed.

(I am being deliberately generic here because the issue is not about the store of the industry, my point is about how we communicate with each other.)

I assured Mum that I’d pick it up on the way home, and thought I’d be doing the right thing by going to our regular (read only) provider with whom I’ve been dealing for some years and am well known to the staff at all levels because I’m in there so often, usually trying to find a solution to a problem mum has.

I saw a staffer – we will call her “thoughtless employee” or TE – who I have seen most of the other times I’ve been to this store: which is pretty much weekly. So I’m not a stranger and usually the staff are friendly and helpful.

Today, I walked in to the shop just before 5pm and explained the situation and gently asked if I could possibly get the item for mum on the discounted rate, but that I’d not be able to bring in the paperwork until the next day.
Yes I understand the rules and protocols etc, but I am a regular customer on behalf of mum and they have her full details and list of what they provide  her which they update fortnightly. I thought it would be ok to ask, and was willing to hear No, my intent was trying to save mum paying twice the price for her item.

So back to the story, i asked my question and said that id just returned from one day away and mum had an urgent need because the item would run out tonight and she couldn’t go without until the next day.

TE responded that she’d have to ask, and I said that it was ok, but that I didn’t want to cause a fuss, was just trying to save mum some money and that I did not have time to get home to pick up the paperwork and get back before they close.

I thought it was worth a try.

TE went over to the store manager and from several metres away, in front of other staff and several customers, I heard her say that

Once it's said, or typed, the words can't be taken back

Once it’s said, or typed, the words can’t be taken back

I was asking because I “couldn’t be bothered” going to get the paperwork.


“Excuse me, it is not because I cannot be bothered it is that I won’t be able to go home and make it back here before you close” was what I said across the chemist.

Firmly, calmly and politely. But loud enough for everyone there to hear.
Because everyone had heard what she said, about me, and about my attitude.

I also said across the store, not to worry and just get one off the shelf, I don;t want to cause any hassle.At this stage I want to get out of there, with the item for mum.

It was clearly a wrong question to ask in the first place (note to self Pam) and TE clearly wasn’t willing or able to help. Yet she stayed over with the manager a little longer.

TE walked back over a minute or so later and rang up the full price sale, at a register at the end of the counter away from the other customers.
As she was doing so, I said to her that “by the way, I found your comment that I couldn’t be bothered to be hurtful”
TE said she hadn’t meant it.
I repeated that her comment was hurtful and that I was upset by it because I love my mum and do as much as I can for her, and to hear someone say that I couldn’t be bothered was hurtful.
TE said it wasn’t her intent to be hurtful.
I commented that regardless of her intent, I was hurt and upset by her comment.
TE responded by saying  “well I’m sorry then” (and no her tome was not indicating that she meant it at all)

I paid and left.

Those who know me, know that I am assertive and probably more so than most. So I am probably one of the few people who, in this situation, would speak up at the time.

And I’ve been wondering how many people would have not said anything and left in tears.
I managed to speak up.

The point of this post and me telling this story is that on RUOK day it’s claerly not enough to just ask that question.

Because when you ask I might be ok, but still vulnerable to the thoughtless comment of another person, or even you.

Every day, and especially on  RUOK day each of us needs to take some responsibility for what we do and say to others. Think about if  that will help them to be OK and not to say thoughtless things that might hold them back from being ok.

Words linger longer than we know. Be careful what you say, and how you interpret others because the meaning you apply may not be the same as theirs. (this is what happened here – she interpreted my saying that I didn’t have time to get the paperwork as being that i couldn’t be bothered)

As managers and co workers, be aware of times when you rephrase something, because the rephrase may change the meaning entirely. That’s what TE did with my words.

Think about the positive and negative impact of wordsTo the TE at the chemist, sure I was asking a question that had little chance of success, and may have breached a whole heap of rules.  No problem – just tell me that is the reason why you can’t help me. I’ll understand.

Just don’t make statements about whether I can or can’t be bothered to do something – that’s judgemental. It is wrong, it is untrue. It’s hurtful. And i will not allow you to do that to me.

To the TE at the chemist, thank you for reminding me that I could have been clearer in my wording – saying “I don’t have time to get it done today”  may (and probably was) easily have been interpreted as “cant be bothered”, especially if TE has had a day of dealing with people who can’t be bothered. I just meant that I could not make the round trip before they close, and given than mum needed the item right then for that night, to me her health and needs came first.

To the TE at the chemist, I do hope that you will understand if there  are days in the future if you come to serve me where I ask “would you mind if someone else served me today?”
It’s nothing personal, just that if you’ve had a bad day and I have too then your TE comment might cause me tears and pain that I prefer to do without. There are enough other things going on that cause that kind of grief.


Exercise out the emotion and get the endorphins in

FYI readers, I made sure I went for a nice long run at a steady pace to get the emotion out of my system and to get some endorphins in. Then I sat with my mum for a while and we had dinner together. So I ended up OK on RUOK day.

To all of us, can I ask that we be thoughtful when we speak (or post on social media). Not censoring ourselves, just being mindful that our words can (and do) wound others. Often unintentionally, but the hurt is still there. Not everyone is able to speak up and let you know that. intentionally or not, that your words have hurt. (and please also note that I to aim to keep this in mind – and I’m not perfect at it either)

To all of us, can I ask that we be mindful of our own emotional and stress states and be able to either ask friends for a little support or to put in place your self care strategies early.
To all  of us, we all need to take good care, ask yourself if UROK, and be ok when some days feel tougher than others.


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