It’s okay to not be okay.
Did you hear me?
It is OKAY to not be okay.
I want you to know this. I want you to know that you don’t have to hide your “not okayness” behind a fake smile or behind words like, “I’m fine” or “It’s okay” which only sharpen the edges of the “not okayness” that you are trying so desperately to swallow. It is okay to not be okay. To be hurt. To be angry. To be afraid. To be heartbroken. To be. Your job as a human is not to be Happy, but simply to Be. And sometimes, that means being “not okay.”
As a life coach, I spend a lot of time talking to people about Happiness. What it looks like, how to cultivate it, and what to do when it’s getting squandered by fear, doubt, stress, shame, responsibilities… you know, Life. I love talking about Happiness and I love love love witnessing the beautiful changes that transpire whenever a friend or a client breaks past a mental obstacle and finds a new level of Happiness. But Happiness, as I’ve come to learn time and time again, isn’t a one-man show. It’s part of a duo. And if we’re ever going to well and truly experience Happiness, we’ve got to get comfortable sitting with its other half: Heartbreak.
To master one, one must master the other.
Of course, most people- and I count myself among them- prefer to concentrate on mastering Happiness. They take up yoga, meditation, motivational mantras, gratitude lists, productivity systems, action-steps, and whatever else they can sink their teeth into to push past limiting beliefs, comfort zones, and the negative thoughts that keep them stuck in Un-fulfillment. And who can blame them, those things work and however daunting they may seem they almost always pale in comparison to the idea of wholeheartedly sitting with one’s own Heartbreak.
But there is no Happiness without Heartbreak. There is no world in which we can open ourselves up to all of the warm and fuzzy feelings that come with being well and truly Happy without also opening ourselves up to the possibility of feeling totally and completely devastated when Life happens.
Try as we might, the day will come when we are forced to face the unthinkable. Unrequited love. A college rejection letter. A promotion that doesn’t pan out. A job offer that never comes. Bankruptcy. A lost loved one. Illness. Death. Divorce. Disability. Life is going to happen, and if we’re ever going to master Happiness, we’re going to have to master Heartbreak just the same. That means not avoiding it, not rationalizing it away, not compartmentalizing it until it looks like something else entirely, but learning to be okay with not being okay.
It is okay to not be okay. You do not need to numb it. You do not need to hide it. You do not need to cover it up with gratitude and purpose and determination, least of all if you are only doing those things to shelter others from the discomfort of dealing with your “not okayness.” All that you ever have to do is sit with it, be honest about it, and listen to what it’s telling you. Because Heartbreak is almost always talking about Happiness.
This past week I was most definitely not okay. And for the most part I did what I always do, I told people that I was fine (“because I have to be”), or, as was often the case, I just didn’t tell people anything at all. At home I seamlessly moved between distractions and breakdowns. An episode of Gilmore Girls here. A breakdown there. A productive cleaning sprint here. A breakdown there. Meanwhile, in the real world, I just pretended to be fine and if the reason for my “not fineness” ever did come up I just shrugged it off, feigning as much indifference as I could muster, while muttering, “Meh, it’s fine. Life happens.” And so it is that six days went by and despite stumbling upon moments of feeling fine as I surrounded myself with friendly faces and productive accomplishments, not a day went by when I wasn’t suddenly blindsided by a flood of “not okay” tears. Multiple floods.
I made gratitude lists. I made “why it’s better this way” lists. I made “look at how much you’ve accomplished this year” and “how much you’ve lived through” lists and none of them changed the fact that every so often “You’re an idiot” weaseled its way into my thoughts. Until eventually, after six days of trying to think myself into “okayness” while simultaneously giving in to my “not okayness” I figured out what was keeping me from really feeling “okay”: Shame and the expectation that I even should. You’re an idiot. How could you make the same stupid mistake again. You’re not enough. You should have known better. You’ll never learn. What kind of life coach are you if you do stupid shit like this. What kind of life coach are you if you can’t just bounce back and be fine… You’re an idiot. It wasn’t just the circumstance around my sadness that was making me miserable, it was all of the judgement that I was piling on on top of it. Judgement that was keeping me from telling people “hey, this happened and I feel like an idiot,” even though all that I really wanted was to just breakdown in front of someone who would shroud me with love and acceptance and say, “I’m so sorry. That sucks. Here, share your not okayness with me, you’re not an idiot.”
I’m not great at sharing my messiness with people and I’m spectacular at self-judgement. And if I managed to make it to twenty-two without knowing this, Lyme Disease made it painfully obvious.
When in the midst of a panic attack you are more worried about the wellbeing of those witnessing your panic than of your own, you realize that you have a problem. When anti-seizure meds leave you zombied out and suicidal and you are too ashamed of your suicidal thoughts to tell your mom that you’re having them, you realize that you have a problem. When your life is completely derailed by a chronic illness and you feel “weak” because heaven forbid you don’t immediately move on from the emotional shit storm of nearly dying…you know, without a shadow of a doubt, that you have a problem.
Vulnerability does not come easily to me. Shame does. And I have spent years slowly chipping away at the idea that it’s not okay to not be okay. And guess what? If you let yourself really, truly lean in to the “not okayness” of life and, better yet, when you share your “not okayness” with people who love you and care about you and who recognize that it is totally okay to not be okay, you actually start getting back to “okay” again.
I’ve learned this a hundred times over in the past seven years. I just forgot it again. Shame won last week. Until I remembered that it’s totally okay to not be okay.
When I finally sat with my heartbreak and listened to what it was saying I heard the shame and judgement. And then I heard that part of me that just wanted to be shrouded in love and acceptance and told that “it sucks, you’re allowed to be upset, you’re not an idiot, I’m here for you.” I wanted to be taken care of. I needed to be taken care of. And if I was going to get what I needed, I was going to have to trust someone with my not okayness long enough for them to show up in the way I needed them to.
And so I did. I talked to someone who I trust, someone who I felt comfortable enough crying to and talking about how ashamed and stupid I felt and how much “this whole thing sucks” and I just let myself Be. Be honest. Be vulnerable. Be sad. Be hurt. Be a blubbering mess… And then this person shrouded me in love and acceptance and reminded me that I’m not an idiot. I’m just human. And when I woke up today I didn’t have to pretend that I was fine, because I really was fine. Maybe not an “I’m totally over it” fine, but a “phew, I can breathe again” fine, which is a big step in the right direction because I definitely didn’t feel like I could breathe last week.
Life is hard enough without having to pretend that it’s easy.
It is totally OKAY to not be okay.