“Don’t worry. It’s all going to be okay.”
“Okay, I’ll be there for you.”
“What you’re going through is perfectly okay.”
“Okay, this is how we’re going to get through this.”
“You’re perfectly okay. Stop with the self-pity (bitterness, rage, grief, despair, frustration).”
The word “okay” is one of our most simple terms in the entire English language, and yet so few short words are so loaded with multiple meanings. It’s hard enough to navigate the meanings of “okay” during the best of times (someone’s in agreement? someone’s obeying their parents or boss? someone’s approving of our work? someone’s agreed to do something? someone thinks we’re pretty cool?).
Add mental illness to the mix, and the word “okay” can suddenly take on a sinister tone over and above the confusion. It seems many folks have an idea of when we should be “okay”, about how we’re going be “okay”, or about plans made to get us through to being “okay”.
In all of this, a wounding rot creeps into our spirits: we feel pressured to feel okay sooner than our systems are able. It’s like a gangrene. We might be getting help and support from different areas, but sometimes those supports don’t realize that the push towards being happy or joyful or restored too soon is introducing an invisible infection. We feel it, we know it, but rarely do we have the words to express the pain of it.
I’ve been doing a lot of searching about the direction of this blog. I still want it to explore faith and spirituality in a world in need of social justice. But in a blogosphere that is replete with DIY solutions to our heart and soul problems, and self-help volumes all filled with secrets to happiness and joy, I’ve been struggling with how to craft my writing so that it doesn’t become one more “Do this, and you’ll be OKAY!” blogs.
No easy task.
Spirituality and faith are often airy-fairy tales we approach with some intuition, some tradition, and (hopefully) some common sense. But trying to create tangible pathways towards healing — bringing the abstract into a messy marriage with the concrete — is a most formidable task. And yet how many of us can relate to the experience of being told: “You’ll be OKAY.”
And you know for a fact: you won’t.
Where’s the space for all the truth within us when others simply want to be OKAY themselves?
I freely admit that I’m no optimist. But I wouldn’t say I was a pessimist either. I’m a highly anxious person that is prone to severe depression, but in all of that swampy mess I’m more of an idealist. I sense how things SHOULD be.
Oh there’s another word bomb: SHOULD.
It can be my greatest motivator, especially in terms of social justice (not that I’m right in my views all of the time); but it can also be on of my greatest foes. I know how I, myself, SHOULD be and when I’m not, guilt and shame pile up on me en masse.
Optimists naturally sense that their worlds will be OKAY. And that’s not a bad thing! Sunnier people have keen intuitions that all will come to rights again. The trouble here is when optimists think sharing their sunny views with struggling people is always helpful.
From someone who has a number of optimists around her, I can readily say: NOT HELPFUL.
Sometimes optimism feeds that wounding rot. It blocks healthy air from the wound, it denies clean, new bandages, and it sometimes even refuses to concede defeat. For we know all too well, readers, that for some people the world never really becomes OKAY again. We need optimists, but optimists also need to learn space for the ugliness and pain in the world and within ourselves. They need to learn space AND be patient in delicate times of suffering. Everyone’s path will twisty and windy in different ways. Honour must be given here.
Pessimists naturally sense that their worlds will never be OKAY. The internet went down because that’s just their bad luck. Anything bad that can happen on family vacation WILL happen because it’s bound to happen. That’s just how the universe operates. Again, this is not a bad thing! (can you hear the optimists screeching right now? Ha!)
Pessimists can often pick up on potential problematic details while others are pushing for healing too quickly. We need these voices to help us spot those signs of wounding rot. The danger here is that pessimists often fixate on the things that are going wrong and use them as proof that the world will never be OKAY. Period.
Of course, I’m using these classifications in the broadest senses of the terms. We all have bits of optimism within ourselves, as we do pessimism. Sometimes we’re born with a natural inclination towards one or the other, but our experiences radically alter our natural leanings. That, in itself, can create inner turmoil.
So within this swamp of voices, what does it mean to be OKAY?
Well in this space, it means it’s OKAY to tell people: “I know you mean well, but I don’t believe the world is going to be okay right now.”
It means it’s OKAY to listen to how our feelings and emotions need to live and breathe: “These aren’t bad or good, evil or righteous. They simply are, and they need life right now.”
It means it’s OKAY to shoulder the shame, guilt and anxiety that often comes with grief, loss, pain and suffering: “I know people are telling me not to feel guilty, but I do. And I don’t feel I have the power to change that tonight.”
Am I advocating for people to wallow?
Yes I am.
For a time.
I cannot tell you all how long your times are to be, but wallowing isn’t maybe all evil or selfish or riddled with self-pity. Those things might be a part of wallowing, but it’s become increasingly apparent to me that wallowing is far deeper and more nuanced than pity parties. We are a complex species.
Speaking from experience, there are definitely times I don’t want life to be OKAY again. Especially when there’s grief and loss, I don’t want my world to right itself again because that screams “time to move on”. And when I’m not ready to move on or let go or hear the “life goes on” speeches, I tend to cling to the sadness. At least the sadness honours my feelings and experiences more honestly than moving on ever could.
Optimists will race to say: “Yes it’s true you’re sad now, but you’ll be OKAY to move on when it’s time.”
Pessimists will mutter: “You’re right. The world is one big crap-hole and it’s time you got used to the truth the nothing is every OKAY.”
I’m pleading to be mindful.
I’m sad and anxious right now.
Full stop. Period.
In the moment, this is how it is. And it’s OKAY that I feel what I feel; it’s OKAY to blurt out that I don’t want to be happy or rely some kind of joy of the Lord; and it’s OKAY to even believe that nothing will ever be the same again.
And it’s OKAY that I know not think or feel beyond these moments.
Sure, there are self-care supports that need to be in place. And they will. They are. But on the day-to-day, minute-by-minute rhythm of life, it’s OKAY that I not perform to be happy or joyful. In this mindful attitude, I begin to learn how these connections within myself live in sync (or totally out-of-sync).
How about you?
What does your wounding rot look like? Sound like? What does it say to you?