I don’t have to be OK.

Today is “RUOK” day.  This is a wonderful idea to encourage people to reach out and check in on people to see if they are OK.  It can be such a positive uplift when someone lets you know that they care when you are not feeling great. Hopefully we are all open to checking on others and ourselves more than just once per year, but the day is a great reminder that we should do so.

If you asked me “Am I OK?” my answer would be ‘it depends’.

I have spent 170 days in lockdown,  many of these days I would say I was not OK.  I really struggled.  Yesterday there were times when I was not OK.  In the morning, across the afternoon.  But in the evening when I caught up with some friends on Zoom, I was OK again.

And this suggests important lessons:

I don’t have to be OK all of the time.  Life is an ebb and flow of circumstances and how we respond to them.  If I allow myself to be a range of things, then OK becomes possible, and not being OK becomes allowable.  If it is allowed, can I then work on amplifying other experiences that make me feel more OK?

It is not a competition,  being OK is not a reflection on my character or some state of perfection.  I feel bad about things at different times, I struggle when I am stuck.  I would not be human otherwise.

One thing I struggle with is ‘how do I tell you I am not OK?’

Regardless if you ask, I still might not be comfortable letting you know when I am not doing OK.  For me, it comes down to a few things – being vulnerable, being the one who is supposed to help others (does not being OK make me a fraud?), and simply acknowledging it makes it hurt worse – I have to stop hiding it from myself.

Being not OK involves me considering myself in a certain context.  I compare myself to some ideal (or simply expected) version of who I am, how I should feel and what I should be achieving.  When there is a gap, this is often expressed through a deep sense of dissatisfaction.  I can feel helpless or hopeless, anxious and scared. I can struggle to understand my choices and behaviours. 

So how do I change when I notice that I am not OK?

I do something that draws my attention away from myself.  If possible, do something you love doing so you become absorbed in that, and less in your feelings.  I might walk the dog, do some exercise, contact a friend, do some reading, listen to some music.  You will have your own thing that can absorb you in something different.

I recognise that the feeling is telling me something about what I am experiencing, and what I expect to be experiencing.  Often just reflecting on the gap and changing the context can be enough to start a shift to OK.  For example, I get my energy by helping people.  In lockdown for 170 odd days, my ability to work with people has been limited.  I can feel bad about that.  But then I realise that by staying in lockdown and doing the right thing I am helping so many people to not catch the virus, to lead by example, and to make a real difference.  It is how I look at it that matters.

I wonder what I can learn to do differently.  What could I learn about the situation and myself that could be valuable?  Taking the time to learn and update your view can be really useful.

I try being vulnerable.  It is hard, and there are only as small number of people I am comfortable being vulnerable with.  But choosing to open up often clears the air about what I am going through and by shining a light on it, it often seems so much less that when you carry your burden alone.  There are also helplines like Lifeline (131114)  where you can just be anonymous and vulnerable in complete safety.

I allow it to just be how I am for a while.  Just be OK with not being OK.  If it is somehow ‘bad’ then not being OK is something you will avoid and suppress, rather than simply be curious about and to find an adaptive way to deal with it.

So, Are you OK?

In fact, I won’t ask, in case you are not comfortable telling me.  I’m OK today.  I’m sure that will change – there will be times when I will not be OK, and times when I am off-the charts fabulous.  You cannot have day without night.

Be strong, do what you need to do to look after yourself.  Helping people always make me feel OK, so please do not be afraid to reach out if I could somehow help you – even just to listen or remind you of something other.  Be well.