Musings from the ever-changing, ever-amazing and occasionally ever-baffling Fort McMurray, Alberta.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Why It Is Okay to Not Be Okay

It is a very human tendency, I think. Someone asks if we are okay and almost without thinking we answer: “Oh yeah, I’m fine!” even when we are not fine and when we are not okay. It is almost like a little white lie we tell ourselves and others, a social nicety and a bluff we carry on in order to not admit that maybe – just maybe – we are not fine.

Recently I ran into someone I admire so tremendously and they shared with me some of their recent struggles. It all began with the simple question of “Are you okay?” and ended with hugs, because they were not okay and they acknowledged it, which perhaps takes far more courage than ever claiming to be okay would do. My admiration for them simply rose, as I know quite well how hard it can be to admit you are not okay.
The last few weeks as I have worked my way through an extremely difficult manifestation of my recurrent eye disease I have been far, far from okay. And while I am fairly well known for stoicism and a refusal to admit to not being okay I have adopted a new strategy with this one, because I have realized that it is okay to not be okay – and even to admit it.

It has been a difficult time, but a learning journey, too. I have found that when people ask if you are okay and you respond: “Do you want truth or social nicety?” there are those who will opt for social nicety to avoid the awkwardness of acknowledging that someone else is not okay. For those people I spin the usual tale, of how it is tough but yes I am absolutely fine! (accompanied with a smile, of course) For those who want honesty, though, I share that I am not okay and that this is a trying period in my life, a life lesson in patience I think as my recovery is painfully slow and literally quite painful, and I am someone profoundly lacking in the virtue known as patience. The reactions are remarkable.
When you share that you are not okay it seems to encourage others to share with you, too. Maybe they are totally okay or mostly okay or not okay at all, but by being frank and honest with them you allow them to be frank and honest, too. You allow them to be vulnerable, if just for a moment, and perhaps that is why it is so hard, because we avoid showing vulnerability at all costs.

It is something I know well. My own Intrepid Junior Blogger has an aversion to asking for help or acknowledging she is not okay because it is, in her mind, admitting vulnerability – or weakness, as she calls it. I suppose it is because of her that I am now exposing my own vulnerability because it is up to me to show her that vulnerability is not something we can or should avoid – it is simply something we all experience.
I have in the past often shown some degree of vulnerability in this blog, but so too I guard myself a bit because I know the risk in doing so. I know there are those who take advantage of vulnerability to attack others, and those who do view it as a sign of weakness and not as a simple state of our human condition. But I think we might just need a vulnerability movement in this world, as lying to each other – and ourselves – about being okay doesn’t decrease our vulnerability. I think, in fact, it makes it far, far worse in the end.

Fort McMurray, it is okay to not be okay. And it is okay to acknowledge it, because there is some degree of relief in saying “no, I am not okay” because the reality is you will likely be okay – just maybe not today. And so today I take space in this blog to share not a story of Fort McMurray but a page and time in my life where I am not okay, but where I have sincere faith I will be okay over time and with the dreaded “patience”. I make myself vulnerable simply to say it is okay to not be okay – and on the brink of Thanksgiving I am grateful to have the ability to open myself enough to simply say it and lay myself open, vulnerability and all.

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