“It’s ok not to be ok”
It’s a phrase that’s thrown around a lot – intended to encourage and reassure people. Plastered everywhere on ‘mental health awareness’ days. It’s supposed to remind people that it’s okay to feel whatever they feel, and to be honest about that.
But is it just me, or does it still sometimes feel like a load of crap? Like a phrase that’s used, but isn’t really meant. For one thing, what even is ‘ok’? How many times do we ask, or get asked “how are you?” Or at least some variation of it, when we greet people. Whether they’re people we see daily or very rarely, it’s still the greeting we generally start with.
How often do we respond with the true answer to that question?
I’m not advocating telling the waiter in a restaurant or the employee at the checkout a detailed insight into your life and feelings. But with people we know – with our friends and family – how truthfully do we answer, or do we feel we can answer, that question?
I’m a firm believer in being honest about what we feel. For multiple reasons. For one, I’m training to be a therapist, so it would be odd if I didn’t think talking about thoughts and feelings was a positive, productive and healthy thing to do.
I’m also introverted and hate small talk, and sticking on that false, surface level conversation often feels futile and just pointless to me. I’d much rather have an authentic conversation with someone than mindlessly discuss the weather again.
All of that being said – I still find it really really difficult to answer that question with anything other than ‘yeah I’m fine, how’re you?’ Giving a vague description, using a word that’s not even a feeling(!!), and quickly turning attention back to the other person. No matter how much I want the other person to know what I feel, or what I’m going through at that moment, I struggle to verbalise and admit that. The best I can get to is normally ‘yeah I’m ok’ or ‘I’m not bad’, and secretly hope that they probe further.
But why is that? Shame? Embarrassment? Fear? The reasons are numerous and probably vary for each of us. I’m someone who craves connection and real, authentic relationships, and being vulnerable is pretty much the clear way to build those connections. But it’s so difficult to let that guard down and be vulnerable.
But the longer we keep that guard up, and the higher we build it, the more isolated we can become. The bigger our fears get. Our worries and feelings grow and can overwhelm us (hopefully only temporarily) with their strength.
I’ve been very aware of my mental health recently. Part of it I think is a byproduct of the course I’m doing, and of the career I’m heading towards. Both through exposure to mental health and all that entails, but also awareness – rather than avoidance, which is my go-to. The more awareness I gained, the more I realised I had to work on and couldn’t shy away from anymore. Add on some physical health circumstances, life in general, and 26 years worth of learned coping habits and core beliefs about myself, and we get to where I am now.
It’s been a difficult – and very much ongoing – journey, examining how I feel and what I think about myself. (Even writing that, I’m inclined to judge myself, thinking it sounds self-indulgent or over dramatic) Acknowledging feelings I’ve tried to hide from for years. I still can’t admit some of them – to myself or anyone else. I’ve been seeing a therapist myself, and have a love/hate relationship with the whole process.
But I still feel that fear, that shame and embarrassment. Fear of judgement – from the people closest to me, from acquaintances, but also from myself. I can say “it’s ok not to be ok”, but when it comes to myself, do I really believe that?
There’s also always that question of “why”. “Why” aren’t you/I/they okay? As though feelings and thoughts are something we always consciously choose or are self-inflicted. Rationally I know that’s not the case, but doesn’t it feel like it when it’s you who’s ‘not okay’? It feels like you’re letting people down, being spoiled or ungrateful for everything you have in life. But that’s just not how it works.
I started reading a book this week – it’s called “It’s not ok to feel blue, and other lies”, and is a collection of stories, poems, lyrics, musings etc. written by well-known people. Miranda Hart, Lena Dunham, Sam Smith, Emma Thompson, Davina McCall, Fearne Cotton, Reggie Yates, Alastair Campbell just to name a few. Stories of their own experiences with mental health – good bad and in-between. Lessons they’ve learned and lessons they wish they’d learned sooner. I’ve only read a few so far but it’s empowering and encouraging and reassuring. And possibly the key message – you’re not alone.
This has gone off in all kinds of tangents, but I think what I’m really saying is; (takes deep breath and feels very vulnerable!!) I don’t feel completely ok right now. And despite everything I just said, I’m not ok with not feeling ok. But I’m trying to be.
(All of that being said – this is in no way a cry for help or attention. I’m doing what I need to do to be ‘ok’ (for want of a better word!!) and know how to cope with things that come at me. I just thought writing about it might be useful…for me or someone else!)
Side note – it’s been ages since I posted anything on here, and this might be the last time I use the blog. Mostly because of the work I’m starting to do – I don’t really want/shouldn’t really have my thoughts/feelings/rants plastered on the internet. Maybe I’ll restart an anonymous blog – one without my name in the title 🤦🏼♀️ Looking back, I got a lot of confidence and encouragement from writing on here and sharing it from time to time – even if reading back now makes me cringe with embarrassment. (Who knew I could be so melodramatic and sound so entitled and self-absorbed?! 😳) While I may have needed a reality check sometimes, I’m always grateful for the conversations I had and bonds that were made or developed through something I’d written on here. If you were one of those people – thank you!!