I am not ok.
These words generally signal the start of a crisis. For many people it’s the sign of someone who needs help instantly. It sends friends and family into a state of panic and worry. This means that many don’t want to voice these words until they truly are in a state of panic. I am beginning to wonder however, with all of the talk recently about mental health and self-care, how we might change this.
Listening to him speak to a group on a different continent, it felt as though he was in my living room speaking directly to me. Sangu Delle talked about taking the shame out of self-care. I watched his TED talk and instantly felt moved by this idea. Why is there shame in the first place? On social media and in life we celebrate with each other and when something really bad happens we mourn with each other. We can laugh with each other. So, why is it only a brave few who seek a pick me up if they need it?
I am not one of the brave few.
A friend of mine recently posted to Facebook that she wasn’t feeling strong. The tone of her post was almost apologetic. She was apologizing for feeling a few moments of insecurity, but she was brave enough to put it out there.
I have, like my friend, felt at times that because of who people see me to be I can’t be who I am. People see a person who is strong and organized and on top of things. Some may even look up to me and by showing something different, maybe I would hurt them in some way. I have to wonder if this is one reason why there is shame in self-care.
If this is true, it’s a flawed logic and it doesn’t give enough credit to people. My friend who posted that she wasn’t feeling strong received a flood of comments filled with love and care. By opening up, she allowed others the opportunity to serve and support her.
This give and take is what true friendship looks like. So, how on earth can we create spaces on the internet and in life where this kind of friendship is normalized? The solution is that we have to normalize needing and seeking help. That was my big take away from the TED talk. Mental health is a subject that I have seen cause unease in many people. The idea of making this issue smaller seems to be what the TED talk was getting at. If we can remove the shame from self-care, normalize seeking help, and create space for people to not be ok, maybe mental health wouldn’t seem so scary.
After all when a friend is feeling down, helping them is usually not about addressing a mental health crisis or having to know exactly the right words to say. Generally it’s just about creating spaces for people to be open and honest about where they truly are. Rather than forcing the idea that we’re all “fine.”
I’ve started in the smallest ways trying to create this space for people in my life to be not ok. When I have a meeting and someone pauses before they say they’re fine, I make a joke. “What good liars we are.” I say. It’s not a huge step, but it is a start. If as a society we could just start creating little spaces for people to be honest about where they are, even if that’s not in a good place, things might change.
Maybe then, saying you don’t feel strong today could be received similarly to saying you’re having a great day. Because waiting until a person is in crisis is not the best way to go about things.
Most people I know have mastered feeling horrible and continuing to function. Sadly the working world and commitments of life don’t truly care about feelings. The dog still has to get walked, the clothes have to get cleaned, and for most people if you want to keep your job you have to be in by 8am. So generally with my close friends if they say they are not ok my first response is not panic, but just a simple commitment to listen and support in whatever way I can.
If it became possible to normalize being not ok, I wonder how many emotional barriers and walls would come down. How would it change how we viewed our mentors and heroes?
Ultimately I believe this to be important because I think in the long run it could save relationships and lives. If in every workplace, organization and relationship there was space for people to not be ok, when a true moment of emotional crisis happened it wouldn’t be a shock. And leaders would know that they didn’t have to “keep it all together” for appearances. They would know they could lean on their teams and families for support because they had practiced many times before the crisis happened.
Because no matter what, the crisis will happen. Eventually there will be a death in the family or an illness or a car crash or a bad breakup. Something will happen that isn’t a regular “I am not ok” moment. But by then not only will the person experiencing the low or sad or angry moment have practice in expressing what they need, so will their community. With practice people get better.
And why wouldn’t we as a society want to commit to getting better at supporting one another when we need each other most?