“How are you?”
“Yeah, I’m okay”
How many times have you said it? How many times have you meant it? Okay is the polite position. It is what we all want to be, and even when we’re not, it’s what we all say we are. It’s a whispered pacifier, a half spoken prayer, a hoping: it’s going to be okay. We use it as a euphemism for sanity (“She’s not, you know, okay”), a marker stone for whether or not action needs to be taken (“Well, as long as you’re okay”). But what happens when we’re not okay?
This week my friend’s dog died, and she wasn’t okay. She’s always the person that is in control, that doesn’t cry, that can cope, and this week, for the first time in a long time, she wasn’t. Her blog post got me thinking about the notion of being okay, and how obsessed we all are with it. I know I certainly am.
I put a huge load of washing in on Monday and when it had finished, I realised that it had shrunk my favourite wool sweater to a size that would only fit the smallest of toddlers. Absolutely devastated, I sat on the edge of my bed and cried, as I awkwardly hugged a damp and strangely sheepy-smelling sweater. Sat there, I whispered to myself “It’s fine, it’s okay.” Now, this seemed like an enormous overreaction to the shrinking of even a treasured sweater and it made me think that maybe I wan’t okay.
Now, the sweater was important. Being a stupid nineteen year old who thought life was going to be an endless party now I had finally attained my freedom, I took hardly any pictures during my year abroad and so I don’t have many keepsakes of that time. The top I bought in Paris to make me look like a chic french girl long ago wore into holes and the disposable camera turned out to have lots of fuzzy shots of the inside of a car on it. What I did have, though, was my Norwegian sweater, reliably cosy, utterly comfortable, and a delightful reminder of a time when my biggest worry was the condition of the snow.
In a world when I feel increasingly adrift without an anchor, after eighteen months of enormous change that have altered the course of my life forever, crying my eyes out about the sweater wasn’t quite as crazy as it seemed. The washing machine just ate my past, and at a moment when I’m trying to hold on to it as much as possible, being upset feels like a valid response. Just like, for my friend, having to take the time out to mourn the death of your family dog is a valid response.
We need to admit that it’s okay not to be okay. Men are three times more likely than women to take their own lives, a statistic that is often cited in arguments against feminism. The reason that men are more likely to commit suicide is because they are less likely than women to seek help. Basically, it is less socially acceptable for men to admit that they’re not okay. Not only does this show that unequal social expectations harm us all, but it also shows how damaging it is when we stop ourselves from admitting that we aren’t okay.
Often, if you do seek help about the fact that you’re not okay, you are prescribed medication to numb that feeling. Rather than addressing the problem, we medicate ourselves. We are so obsessed with being okay that we will sacrifice our emotions, our creativity, the ups as well as the downs, to be able to reply to that dreaded question about how we are.
Well, do you know what? I’m not okay.
I’m lonely. I’m worried about my future. The giant hairy wotsit in charge of America scares me. I’m not sure I’ll ever achieve anything more impressive than being able to eat an entire large pizza by myself. I think I might drink too much. Sometimes I cry for no reason and then worry that I’m going mad. I dream about my ex leaving me over and over again. I’ve put on too much weight to wear most of my clothes. I think I might be bad at my job. Some days I feel an overwhelming, bottomless sadness that I can’t shift. I still worry about stupid things I said more than a year ago. I think my cat might hate me.
Some of those things are more important than others, and it is always the important things that are harder to say. If you’re not okay, don’t tell yourself you should be. Reach out to someone, either someone you trust, or a professional person that can help you. Call the Samaritans on 116 123. Stop saying you’re okay if you’re not. Remember: that’s okay.