It's not about “RU OK?” That happens once a year.
My not-quite-random call to one of my oldest friends – someone I've known since about 1975 or 1976 – was just a “hi, how's it going?”
She was quiet and monosyllabic, which if I wasn't as thick as a plank might have given me a hint. I really am thick, though. I don't get the interpersonal signals very well, and I talk too much anyhow, and when I eventually noticed that I was doing all the talking, except for single words from the other end of the line, I started trying to ask “are you okay?”-type questions.
For which I am as well fitted as a square peg confronted with a round hole, and a small boy with a hammer.
Thank heavens, the friend has by now known me for close to 40 years. And, perhaps, she's as familiar with awkwardness as I am. So somehow we got through the initial miscommunications to a discussion of her children, someone she likes as a friend but doesn't want to sleep with, Ms T's health, and various other things.
Just one of those calls that people make, really: the slightly awkward conversations that old friends might have, when there's no actual news, tailing off to a slightly awkward goodbye-for-now.
And a week later a text arrived that called me “warm and fluffy”, which is a bit of a stretch, so I called again instead of waiting our usual interval, about a month and sometimes as long as a year.
I won't pretend I can reconstruct the conversation, because I got a jolt and don't remember the details.
But somewhere in there, she told me I called when she was working through a suicide-pile of pills.
I have no special, secret magic about suicide prevention. I have a good, healthy, iceberg-sized ego, but really there have to be limits. "You're good, but not that good".
It's about people talking to people.
Communication – making sure that people who might be isolated don't get that way – is a big hunk of making us all feel worthwhile. Wanted, if for nothing more than a “hello”.
The idea that someone might call just because they want to talk to you is something that matters. There's no business-case for the call, no discernible benefit to be had, no plan in the conversation beyond “hello”.
Because – you're worth talking to simply for the conversation. Simply for “the sound I have heard in your hello”. Simply because you're a human with at least one friend left in the world.
That's more than a (my opinion) contrived “RUOK” campaign, and it seems to matter. It mattered to my old school friend, and it matters to me as well. I know who to call if 4am is too dark to see the dawn, because I have someone who gives me (thank you, you know who you are) infinite license.
People with depression are told to “make the call” – send out a shout if they're feeling bad – and I wonder if that doesn't create a problem for them: “But I don't want to be a burden” becomes another reason to be depressed, if you doubt yourself.
But confining communications in the other direction to “RU OK Day” leaves out the rest of the year, when a single incoming call makes the difference.
Which, I guess, explains the point of this ill-directed, probably self-indulgent and certainly not definitive collection of thoughts.
You can't know when or if your call to a friend will make a difference to someone.
You certainly don't have any special expertise in suicide prevention.
What you do have is a bunch of friends who might be happy to hear from you.
So: make the effort. Get yourself off the impersonal feeds from time to time to simply let someone hear your voice. “The sound I have heard in your hello” might be someone's call back from the abyss.