My mom called me up the other day: “Are you okay?,” she said.
There was a little bit of drama in her voice. I chuckled the way I do whenever I’m trying to diffuse some tension inside of me. I revert back to my 17-year old self when we speak on the phone.
Still laughing I said, “Uh yeah, I’m okay. Are YOU okay?"
We’ve been checking in on each other like this regularly since my father passed away last Fall. Actually, today marks exactly one year since we got that particular call. I appreciate our check ins, yet every time it’s got me asking deeper questions. Questions like,
What are we really aiming for when we ask each other, "Are you okay?"
When I say I’m okay, am I really? And if I’m not, is that…okay? What else can I say?
What do we do with all this information anyway?
Over the year I've posed the same questions to my friends, many of whom are reeling from the state of world affairs, income instability, mental health struggles, and digital media fatigue.
Through that process, I’ve come to 3 conclusions about my own preoccupation with okayness:
It's okay to not be okay. For me it’s all about self examination and acknowledgement. It's about recognizing when things are not okay and that they haven't been okay for a while, and that it's normal. It's about knowing that there's an actual reason I've been drinking cheap champagne for lunch on Mondays and hiring a personal trainer to force me out of bed on Tuesdays. Everyone deals in a different way. Some times we clean every corner of the house and other times we let the weeds outside grow to Jumanji-like levels. It’s okay to not be okay. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't seek help of loved ones, trained professionals, or healers.
Not being okay is an opportunity to learn and to grow. I'm highly skilled at numbing and self-medicating now. Not so much at sitting in my emotions or celebrating them. What if I took a different approach and ventured to shift my perspective? This is where talk therapists and coaches can really help. Being honest with ourselves is the first step. Taking action is the next.
I won't fix you, but I can support you. Supporting each other is about allowing the other person enough space to really be honest with themselves without fear of judgment. Imagine if the next time someone asked “Are you okay?” you simply could reply with an “I don’t know.” Maybe it would feel more real? Take the pressure off? Maybe it would open the door to a deeper conversation. The likelihood of any of us truly fixing each other's problems is a zero, and generally an unfair unnecessary ask. Just listening, allowing that pause for reflection can be enough.
It’s okay to not be okay, and we can be it together.