It’s ok. You’re alright.June 23, 2013
Great Television Impact Moments – I guess we all have them. For those old enough – the first moon landing, the dismissal of a prime-minister or the death of a princess. For a more recent generation – the destruction of the Twin Towers on September 11 – a moment played over and over. For some of my dearest, it is the first televised sporting events – or those in which Australians have had their finest hour in the international sporting arena. I’m sure we all have the visual media moments that have left an imprint upon us.
I actually rarely enjoy watching television. It mostly makes me sad and angry.
But even I have some Great TV Impact Moments from my childhood: watching the Vietnam War was terrifying, but more warmly, the closing song at the end of Adventure Island each week which was filled with friendly smiles and the opening credits theme music of the 70s series ‘Black Beauty’ in which I simultaneously developed a school-girl crush on a horse and the timpani.
The first (Money Money Money) and last (MacArthur Park) performances of Tina Arena on Young Talent Time are recorded in slo-mo detail in my memory. After young Talent Time was axed and I went to university, had a brief dalliance with the early D-Gen, Good News Week, a few episodes of Blackaddder and Red Dwarf and then lost interest altogether.
But in the last decade, there is one piece of television that has stayed with me, haunting and yet with striking clarity.
In 2008 Andrew Denton did a piece called Angels and Demons in which he subjected himself to the simulated common experience of many sufferers of unsteady mental health. He wore an mp3 player for several hours of the day which simulated aural disturbances, voices, expletives, sounds and ringing, whilst he tried to go about his normal day.
He found it – well, maddening.
His own immersion journalism was placed in dialogue with interviews with several people who have suffered various forms of mental health challenges. These were all so painfully honest, desperate, vulnerable and yet commanding and awe-inspiring at the same time. The richness as well as the ruined-ness of humanity was evident in each person each interaction.
But one interview impacted me more powerfully than any – you could say that it took possession of me or that I owned it – it’s hard to know sometimes which way it is when we identify with something so strongly.
A young woman called Heidi described one distressing episode in which she lost the plot in a public space.
In her own words here:
HEIDI EVERETT: Yeah. Well, there was this time right, there was an ant and it was just walking around and I totally went into its world, and I was walking around with the ant in the pavement. And then um this person walked past and she said something to me and that’s when I realised I was in the ant’s world and I wasn’t in the person’s world. And I couldn’t get back into my body so I watched my body get up um and it started screaming and just going completely primeval. It was just, just screaming and rrraaaahh…down the road and I ran into the traffic and people were going get her out of the traffic and everything, and I’m like aahh … and I was over here watching it all happen from outside, and eh it was a terrifying, terrifying moment and um I eventually came back into my body and I was able to control it and bring it back under control and they just left me on the side of the road um in the gutter and I just sat in the gutter trying to compose myself and um started crying and everything cos I’d never been like that experience before and nobody helped me; everyone just left..
ANDREW DENTON: Why do you reckon no one helped you? That’s amazing.
HEIDI EVERETT: People were terrified. They were terrified; cos I was I looked like a banshee. I was just going aahh…down the road and people were just frightened. They didn’t know what was happening to me and I didn’t know what was happening to me.
And then Denton asks the best question in the world:
ANDREW DENTON: What would you have liked someone to have done?
What a great question – it recognises both the real need for help, the incapacity, but also the still active functioning and present person of will and feeling and preference. The ambiguous human.
It was a great question, but it was Heidi’s answer that was the moment of truth.
HEIDI EVERETT: I would have liked somebody to come up to me and say right, Heidi, just relax. Just relax. It’s OK. It’s OK, you know. That would have been good if somebody just said it’s OK, you’re all right.
Someone to say “It’s Ok, You’re all right”.
What kind of words are these? Such a simple sentence – not the kind you think you’d need a psych degree for, or training in pastoral care.
“It’s Ok, You’re all right”.
Reassurance. Acceptance. Hope. Presence. Recognition.
I don’t know how you hear her answer. Whether you believe her, or whether you are sceptical about that making a difference.
But I certainly am willing to take her word for it.
I have been there.
On both sides. I have been the one in such disorder and distress, suchdamage and derangement. And have had the steady voice speak over me: ‘It’s ok, you’re all right. I am here and you are here. We are here in this place. It is now. It is all right.’
– the voice of reassurance, acceptance, hope, presence, recognition.
And it’s been a very long time since I have been there, because those living words are words that are in themselves moments of great impact. Whether as incantation of prayer or as neruo-reprogramming or as re-telling the story – whatever you think – they have brought hope and healing.
But I have been on the other side too – I have been the voice for others, that says that simple sentence. “It’s Ok, you’re all right” – when they could not speak it or see it of feel it or know it for themselves. Such a simple sentence. I don’t have a psych degree and I got through my whole theology Masters without taking a single pastoral care subject. There is a time for all of that. But in the midst of the terror…
Reassurance, acceptance, hope, presence, recognition.
Something that anyone can do.
This Great Impact Moment came to the surface this week as I read Simon Carey Holt’s beautiful poetic story of such an encounter on Melbourne tram.
Read this moving poem/blog in which simple, naive, even ‘ignorant’ words somehow made a difference a moment of impact in grief or distress: