“Are you okay?”

“Yeah, I’m fine.” 

This question and answer routine is a dance we learn as children. Politeness demands we ask it, and politeness also demands we make no claims as we answer. 

But what about when it’s not ok? 

There’s part of us that is terrified to feel the sadness. We have no motivation to feel the pain, to sit in emotions that feel too overwhelming to handle. So we eat, we drink, we numb out, but gosh dang it, it’s only temporary. The feelings are biding their time on the other side of the numb. They demand to be faced. 

I am not a licensed therapist or mental health professional. If you are suffering and need treatment please seek the help of a professional. This post may contain affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.

We have to be ok with ourselves not being ok.

And if it’s that difficult to face our own feelings, it’s magnified ten times when we see suffering written on the face of one we love. 

We say, “oh, don’t cry” not entirely because we want to comfort the crier. It’s in part because their pain is making us uncomfortable and we want them to stop. Yet this response will make the hurting person even more upset or even embarrassed which is the opposite of helpful. 

I can see this tendency in myself and it makes me cringe so badly. As one of those annoying Pollyanna optimists, my soul longs to find the silver lining. I am driven to reassure, to say “it’s not so bad,” to point out the part that is better than my past experiences.

Newsflash: A suffering person wants none of these “reassurances.” None.

What they hear is minimizing, the message that their sorrow is misplaced or somehow irrational because “it could have been worse.” 

We have to be ok with others not being ok. 

We have to learn how to do this and it does take practice. Bringing no comparisons, no solutions, no silver linings to the table. Simply bringing our presence, our hug, and our attention is all the sufferer longs for. A chance to talk if they want to talk, to be silent if they are silent. 

Let them know you are in it for the long haul, because grief distorts time in a weird way. It makes hours impossibly long, full of minutes that you simultaneously wish over and dread passing because it brings you further away from your lost one. The healing that you know will lessen the razor sharp pain, but that you also resent because it makes them seem more gone. Remembering the final goodbye that once you knew it was inevitable you wanted to both hasten and stall. 

We have to be ok with ourselves not being ok, AND others not being ok. 

It’s like being stuck in a burning building. It’s freaking scary. Curling up under the bed, hiding from the flames and ignoring the fire feels safer. But it’s only temporary – the flames will find us anyway. The only safe way out is exactly how they taught us when we were five. On hands and knees, under the smoke, go directly to your exit. This soot covered exodus is a moment of supreme “not okay”. But it’s what’s needed to survive. 

That smoky, scary, tear streaked crawl will bring us to safety. That firefighter who appears with a high beam flashlight to guide us and keeps the fire at bay long enough for us to get out, that is the power of a friend’s presence. We do not call for a firefighter to stand there and say, “Well I was in a worse fire yesterday, so you should chill out.” No. Heavens no! We need the one who holds our hand, who battles the confusion of the smoke beside us, and brings us over the threshold back into the fresh air. 

May we always be willing to admit when we are not okay, hold space for others who are not okay, and be the hand to hold along the smoky journey for our loved ones. 

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22 thoughts on “When You Need to make Peace with Not Being Okay For Now”

    1. Heather, that is a really constructive way to use that time. That way when you are feeling okay again, you’ve moved further along your growth journey. Thank you sharing!

  1. It is totally ok to not be ok. We all go through crappy stuff at times, some times it takes being down in the dumps for a few days, until we get the courage or sure will to get back up and keep fighting. I do wish people would open up more, and instead of going to the default “I am doing ok”, let it all out haha. I know when I have discussed issues that caused me to not be ok, openly with friends, family, it has certainly helped. Of course, it helps to have people that you feel comfortable opening up to.

    1. You’re right, having safe people to talk about it with is a really important aspect. I’ve also found that a moment of sharing can take a friendship to the next level, so sometimes it’s worth while to be vulnerable. Although of course if you don’t get a good response, I wouldn’t try again!

  2. There is so much truth in this. People often think resilience is maintaining the happy cheery state during challenges but it is more than that. It is our ability to accept that we are not okay, that we are going through a difficult situation and that it is part of the process. It does take a lot of practice and a conscious commitment and realizing that it is okay to not be okay is the first step.

    1. I had not fully connected this with resiliency and I am so intrigued by this connection. What an amazing idea – that resiliency includes acceptance of the low and high part of the cycle. You’ve given me a new perspective to think about. Thank you for your comment!

  3. Yes to all of this! I spent a couple of years in the “not okay” position and now I am doing even better than okay because of it, in spite of crazy swirling around me, lol. I have also had great support that encouraged me when I needed it.

  4. Though it can be quite difficult to comprehend and cope with, we really do have to learn to deal with not being 100% at all times. It’s important to understand that without darkness, we really can’t understand the beauty (and appreciate) the light.

  5. It’s so important to own that you’re not okay. It’s nothing to be ashamed of! As someone who often feels like this, I don’t like people fussing and trying to reassure me!

  6. I know it’s difficult but one should accept the fact that it’s totally okay to not be okay. You don’t have to be strong all the time and give yourself time to accept these feelings and heal. It’s good to have a me-time when you are not feeling okay.

    1. Yes, thinking about others is such an important relationship skill. We should be careful to give them space when it’s needed.

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