It’s OK to not be OK.
It’s an oft-used phrase intended to offer reassurance to those with emotional issues, or mental ill health. It can be a useful antidote to the range of positive psychology ‘happy’ quotes we now see everywhere. Most of us would like to feel the happiness described in the happiness quotes, or at least feel able to strive for it. But for some of us, just surviving takes up all our energy. We feel anything but happy.
I have a problem with being told it’s OK to not be OK. As described above, I completely understand the purpose and intention of the sentence. I understand no one who has said that to me intends to be insensitive, or to upset me – quite the opposite, they are trying to offer me comfort.
The problem I have with “it’s OK to not be OK” is that there is absolutely nothing OK with my situation.
Being not OK does not feel OK to me.
My pregnancy nearly killing me is not OK. Neither is the constant anxiety and sense of dread I feel as a result.
My baby dying was not OK. The intense sadness, and fear that something bad will happen because this proves bad things happen is not OK.
The reason it is not OK is because I hate these feelings, I rage at them. My life has not turned out the way it should have. I have empty arms instead of holding a baby in my arms. I am exhausted, not from a baby who refuses to sleep at night, but from grief. I am tired and fed up from so many things related to this.
I have been told it is ok to have these feelings. Yes, all these feelings are natural responses to trauma and grief.
‘OK’ means acceptance, agreement, or approval. I do not accept, agree with, or approve of any of these feelings. Not yet, anyway. Maybe I never will.
Yes, ‘OK’ can also mean acknowledging something. Fair enough, acknowledging the feelings is something I am trying to do. But the more positive connotations outnumber this, so I still don’t like it, and I don’t have to like it.
Raging at the concept of not being OK being OK is not helpful to me.
I do not want the word ‘OK’ to be used anywhere near anything about the death of my baby, in whatever context.
I am sure I have used ‘OK’ in my writing, and it has never felt comfortable. It has taken me a while to figure out why. It is pretty obvious, now I have figured it out.
For me, the more helpful thing for me to say to myself, or for others to say to me is “it is what it is.” Or “it is an understandable reaction to the trauma and grief I have experienced, and continue to experience.” The latter might not be quite as catchy or succinct, but it is more what I need to hear.
Months down the line from Hugo’s death, I know that there is nothing I can do to avoid the grief. I am on the grief road until the end of my days. Along the road the going might become a bit easier, but there are no diversions. This lack of diversions means there is there is no avoiding the pain, no avoiding working through the grief.
I am trying to get to a stage of accepting my feelings for what they are. A mindfulness in grief. Not judging those feelings. I cannot achieve that while I am raging at a notion of it being OK to not be OK.
So, I am deleting that phrase from my vocabulary.
I’ll try to not get angry with anyone who utters it in my direction. Promise. I know it’s well-meant.
I’m not saying people should stop using the phrase, because if it works for you, that’s great. I do worry, though, that “it’s OK to not be OK” is at risk of becoming another platitude – meaningless, without depth, something someone says so they can feel like they’ve done something to help, but it actually devolves them of responsibility for listening. Listening is often what people need, whether they are bereaved, or have any other problem from the wide spectrum of troubles.
Please don’t tell me it’s ok for me to not be OK, OK? Because for me, it really isn’t.