Why we ask each other R U OK every day?
Dr Natalie Flatt & Sasha Milinkovic, founders of Connect Psych Services
How lucky are we to have found each other? No this is not your typical love story but one with just as much heart and soul. It’s also a story of two people who know the dangers of assuming how someone actually is.
We have known each other since the crazy teenager days, we shared parties, drinks and even boyfriends. As life went on our paths crossed occasionally as we shared the same profession (we had moved on from sharing boyfriends by then).
Almost 20 years later came the serendipitous moment when we ran into each other on the NSW Sapphire Coast with our families; Sasha with her then husband, 3-year-old and newborn baby and Nat with her hubby and 3 and 5-year-olds. Wine
s shared and a ‘digital health’ innovation towards Employee Assistance was brainstormed and road mapped.
So that’s the beer and skittles version. The version that doesn’t disclose the dark times and the life changing moments that peppers this story. In between us coming together, as life does, it threw both Nat and Sasha curve balls that shaped who they are today.
Sasha – My twenties was a little different to other people’s. I was on holidays in Bali with my boyfriend at the time when he found the lump. Nothing, we assumed. A bit of lumpy tissue, most likely. A cyst, at the very worst. Even the first doctor I saw about it was blasé. Probably nothing, he said. But we’ll look into it.
Spoiler alert: It wasn’t nothing.
Having faced breast cancer at 26 I was forced to consider things I never thought I would have to; my mortality, the question of whether I’d be able to have children, my career identity. My employer at the time was less than supportive, and this taught me much about the importance of compassion and empathy: two words I value strongly to this day and believe a silver lining out of this traumatic situation. My cancer was categorised as ‘high-grade cancer,’ so my wonderful team of specialists decided that we needed to throw everything at it; surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. I went into ‘automatic mode’ for those long 12 months; focusing on each day and what needed to be done. When my final treatment was complete, an acquaintance commented “you must be so relieved and happy to have finished all your treatments!” Strangely, I felt the opposite; it was as though all my emotions that had lay dormant during this time had begun to surface — trauma, fear, anxiety, depression, grief and overall disappointment that my physical body let me down in the first place. It took a lot of therapy – and time – to work through those feelings.
Flash forward 10 years, the road to motherhood became my next hurdle and after many heartbreaking IVF cycles I was thrilled to hold my first baby boy in my arms and three years later welcome my baby girl into the world. Today, I still hold my breath each year at my breast screen checks and focus on my future with two healthy and happy children.
Nat – I started my career as a child psychologist and always was infatuated with the idea of having my ‘three sons’ (triplets please). My first son, Quinn, was born at a tiny 26 weeks from a complicated pregnancy. Not the ideal entry into motherhood I planned; rather, a time where my husband and I learned a NICU medical background very quick. Every beep makes you jump; frantically looking at your monitor, O2 levels saturation, knowing the ins and outs of CPAPs levels, prick testing, incubation temperatures and lumbar punches.
On a fateful day where Quinn had ticked over into his 9th week of getting to know his beautiful soul, he developed septicaemia and died suddenly. To walk into the hospital and to make a decision to stop resuscitation still haunts me. The grief soon took over and was all consuming; panic attacks, bargaining, depression, extreme rage, sensory issues, and eventually acceptance. We had good people around us to pull us back from the brink and our relationship became stronger than ever. When we decided to try again and was blessed with another boy carried to full term, we were over the moon. Life became a new norm full of nappies, giggles, sleepless nights and a million photos. Fast forward two more years and we were blessed with my third son, Xavier. So, as bittersweet as it was, I received my three sons.
Throughout all pregnancies and the spectrum of emotions, I still held my role as a GM of a school-based psychology service. This was my constant and my outlet to many amazing, supportive and intelligent colleagues along with the freedom of being able to express my creativity and innovative strategies for best practice; so much that it was recognised as Australian Young Businesswoman finalist. Whist I experienced being recognised on this National platform, I came up against a force came to recognise as something that is all too common in the world of business where my ethical position was placed under pressure; gender inequality in the workplace (FFS it is the 21st century? Why is this still happening?!). What’s amazing to witness and experience is standing up for my own value and moral position resulted in an 18th legal battle that is still ongoing. Everyone (gender non-specific) should be remunerated and recognised for what they are work. The traumatic and unjust journey left me exposed; holding self-doubt, anxiety and an overall identity crisis. However, as the famous James Allen Lane states, Crisis Doesn’t Build Character, It Reveals It. Gaining all the resilience I could muster, I brushed myself off and started again. And wow, this is a far better adventure than I ever anticipated.
So why do we ask each other every day if we are ok? Because we still feel the trauma and the triggers of our past. However, we have also seen first-hand the value of your chosen community, the way they buoy you up when you need it most. We are each other’s people; both friends and business partners. We also show hard shells; learning over the years to ‘get on’ with things. But never be fooled about a ‘mask’ and never make assumptions. We know when one of us are struggling and we silently pick up the slack for that day; asking each other what they need for that day. We share the same values, compassion, empathy and authenticity and not only do they allow us to support each other but they have kept us accountable creating, building and managing a business where we can lead by example and hold a level of Emotional Intelligence not only towards the employees and leaders we support but also to our amazing community of Connect Psych practitioners.
While this day is important to check in, don’t let it be the only day you check in. It doesn’t even need to be crisis mode. And so we ask you to use your fidelity towards others, place assumptions aside and ask R U OK today?