Back to results

R U OK? Day – A conversation that could change a life

Year 12 student and Public Questions Society (PQS) Prefect, Luca Jolson, shared a speech with his peers at their Arts Assembly. The story he shared about his 'not-so-sweet High School Sweetheart', weaved a powerful metaphor about his struggles with mental health, which resonated with all who were listening. Below is Luca's story, a reminder to stay connected, seek the support you need and to keep fighting, as you will never be walking into battle alone.

Year 12 student Luca Jolson's speech at Arts Assembly, St Kilda Road Campus:

'I want to begin by telling you all a brief story about a friend of mine that I’ve known, for what feels like a very long time. I wasn’t surprised to meet them, but I WAS surprised at how close we became. Too close if you ask me. Now, if you’re sitting here wondering how this story is relevant to you, or if you’re even wondering whether you know them too, I’d be more than happy to introduce them. I’ll say this though: whether you’ve met them before or not, it’s likely that you will get to know them at some point in your life. Their name? Anxiety.'

'Looking back at last year, my relationship with Anxiety fluctuated; at times we were really close and at other times we were quite far apart. I’ll be the first to admit, though, that it’s one of those relationships where long-distance works really well.'

'While it’s difficult to recall my first encounter with anxiety, it’s certainly not difficult to describe what sort of person they are. You’ll find that Anxiety can be extremely mean. If you’re lucky, they will initially leave you alone for the most part. If I was watching a movie, playing sport, listening to music, or if I was fully immersed in something, Anxiety tended not to bother me. It was only when I was least expecting it, when my mind wasn’t distracted, that Anxiety would strike, locking me in a pitch-black room to which only they had the key. In that room, rendered completely blind, my mind would take over, using my imagination against me to construct a reality of its own.'

'I can recall times when I would spiral into believing that everything I would ever do in life would never be good enough and that any of my previous achievements had been either mistakes or flukes. You see, anxiety has this ability to prevent you from being able to rationally deal with the problems before you and instead, it coerces the subconscious voice in the back of your head into making you believe the most unreasonable things.'

'Don’t be deceived by your subconscious voice, sometimes it is your friend and other times it is just as easily your foe. Unlike anxiety though, your subconscious voice is a permanent resident of your mind, and so you must learn to control it, for otherwise it has the potential to control you. Let me give you an example. When I found out that I had been shortlisted for a Prefect position, my subconscious voice rewarded me with praise and propagated all these feelings of excitement and pride. It wasn’t long after though, that my subconscious voice became swayed by Anxiety and with that came a drowning wave of trepidation, doubt and uncertainty, to the point where I was on the verge of emailing to withdraw my application.'

'I can remember mornings walking to school and even nights lying awake in bed where Anxiety’s voice would force me to contemplate packing my things and running simply to avoid the constant voice that threatened to label me a failure – both in school and in life. I can remember sitting down to do my homework and the next minute I’d be pacing, hyperventilating or just lying on the floor succumbing to the voice that berated me with criticism and invalidation. Just imagine being locked inside a pitch-black room with that voice.'

'But this is not a story of sorrow or despair, nor is it in any way a cry for help. Rather it is a story designed to highlight that the challenges we face do not define who we are. For ultimately, what will define us as people is how we choose to overcome the obstacles that life will inevitably throw our way.'

'And so, just because one voice might be the loudest in the room, does not necessarily mean that what they have to say is worth listening to. An ironic piece of advice coming from someone who is currently speaking through a microphone…What I am trying to say though, is that it is important to learn that rather than expend your energy listening to someone like Anxiety, focus instead on seeking out the more discrete voices of two, sometimes flighty, friends: trust and confidence. Yes, they may not be the most loyal of companions, but I can assure that their voices are ones worth listening to.'

'I found that the more time I spent listening to what Anxiety had to say, the more I fuelled it and the louder it became. But as Niccolo Machiavelli so famously once said, “It is double pleasure to deceive the deceiver”. Once you realise that Anxiety is only as powerful as you allow it to be, you will have effectively stripped it of its power. Keep in mind that this process is not about being able to control Anxiety, but rather controlling your perception of it. Thus, I believe that one of the best ways to deal with anxiety is through finding ways to transform its nagging voice into one that is motivational, propelling you to prove it wrong by achieving what it initially made you believe you couldn’t.'

'In learning how to disempower the voice of Anxiety, it also became easier to hear the voices of the people around me. Especially, my friends and family. Being stuck in a pitch-black room may render it hard to see them clearly, but it can be reassuring to discover that you are in fact not the only one who might be feeling lost in the darkness. Ultimately, being made to believe that you are helpless does not mean that you are incapable of receiving help from others.'

'It is a common phenomenon that when faced with an unfamiliar situation, our first instinct is to either run from the problem or confront it. You would have no doubt heard of the expression of either choosing ‘fight, flight or freeze’. Initially, I chose to ‘freeze’ as the overwhelming voice of anxiety had left me blind and unsure as to where to go or what to do. As the voice grew louder and there was clearly no end to the relationship in sight, ‘freeze’ transitioned into ‘flight’ as it was easier to run away than walk into battle. Eventually, though, I began to realise that no matter how far away I ran, the thing chasing me would always be in close pursuit. And although stopping so abruptly after running for a long time can be physically and mentally painful, it’s necessary. If there is one thing that I want you to take away with you though, it’s this: when you do choose to stop running and you do decide to turn around and fight, you will not be walking into battle alone. Why? Because all those voices that had been previously dominated by the voices of Anxiety and your subconscious now have a platform from which to be heard. Suddenly, you will find yourself not alone, but part of a much larger army who will do everything in their power to help you.'

'So, there you have it; a small insight into the friend who for many years to come, I will no doubt be referring to as my not-so-sweet, High School Sweetheart. But even though I, and many of you, may not always reflect on anxiety with the fondest of memories, we should never allow our experiences to make us feel isolated from each other. The truth is, many of us will endure anxiety, and while often we choose to internalise our feelings, understand that it’s ok to voice your emotions as no one deserves to suffer in silence.'

R U OK? Day is a day to remind everyone to reach out to someone who may be struggling. There are four steps you can follow to help you have a conversation that could change someone's life:

1. Ask R U OK?
2. Listen
3. Encourage action
4. Check in

For more information and resources about R U OK day, please visit: