On not being okay

Ivory said something yesterday that really struck a chord with me. She was talking about trying to get to the core of what holds us back, about how we are self-limiting and self-repressing because of our fear of judgement. She said “it’s okay to not be okay”.

Sometimes I feel like life is one long struggle to be okay with not being okay.

I had a long talk with my dad about suicide about a month ago. It wasn’t because I was thinking about doing it or anything, but for one reason or another I can understand it on a level that most people probably never will. Sometimes you go through things in life that add another shade of darkness to the demons in your soul. Once you’ve seen or heard something, it cannot be unseen or unheard. It’s always there. The things that happen to you as a person, the dark and terrible things, they’ll be with you throughout your life. Like Ivory, I’ve been through some horrific things. They’re always with me. I can’t erase them. However many lessons I learned, however much stronger I am now, however much I’m not sure I’d change my past if I had the option, I can’t ever forget the things that were done to me. There are times I still have nightmares. Not often, but once or twice a year, I’ll be doing something totally innocuous and the anxiety and nausea will strike without warning.

I choose to live, but I can see that the burden of a lifetime of mornings waking up to the same memories and knowing that they’ll never change would be too much for some people to bear. You will never be okay again. You’ve lost your innocence. You’ve looked into the abyss and it swallowed you whole and you have to mourn for it. If you want to live, you somehow have to learn to be okay with not being okay.

Dad and I talked about mental illness, specifically in relation to my younger brother but also in a wider context. It’s such a vicious cycle. He takes his tablets until he’s balanced and then he stops taking them because he thinks he’s “fixed” and he goes off the deep end again. He cannot accept that he will never be fixed. He can’t accept that he’ll never be okay. In essence, he can’t be okay with not being okay.

He’s not alone in that. We had a fascinating talk at work back in the summer from a guy who had severe schizophrenia. When I say severe, I mean off the deep end, hearing voices, trying to stab people severe. He’s on a court order to take his medication and that’s the only thing keeping him on the straight and narrow. He freely admits that he cannot, theoretically, emotionally or academically, accept that he will never be well again. If he wasn’t having enforced blood tests every couple of weeks, he would not be taking his drugs. He was in his late forties and, after more than 2 decades of fighting his illness, he’s still not okay with not being okay.

Our discussion later expanded to include physical illness. I suffer from Polycystic Ovaries. I struggle with it on a daily basis. I am most definitely not okay with not being okay. I hate the way I look, the way that maintaining my weight is a constant uphill battle. I hate that I have to take so many tablets and that my body does insanely weird things when I’m stressed. I hate the headaches and tiredness. I don’t know how to be okay with the fact that I will never get better, that there is no cure. I don’t know how to be at peace with that realisation. It seems so big…so enormous. A lifetime of self-loathing with no chance of reprieve. However kind, generous, loving, smart, articulate or funny I am, I still have to look at myself in the mirror every morning and I don’t like what I see.

The more I turned these thoughts over in my head last night, the more I came to think that perhaps being okay with not being okay is…well…not okay.

I got to thinking about Christopher Reeves, the actor who played Superman and was later paralysed in a horse riding accident. I read his autobiography many years ago and it was one of the most heartbreakingly inspirational things I’ve ever read. Right up until the day he died, he was convinced that he would one day walk again. He put millions of dollars into medical research that has paved the way for groundbreaking developments in the treatment of neural disorders, for the sole reason that he was not okay with not being okay. His refusal to be okay with not being okay has altered the lives of thousands of people that follow after him for the better.

If you simply accept, if you do not challenge, if you do not push for a better life or a better solution, if you are okay with not being okay, then I think you’re lost before you even begin.

To me, if you are okay with not being okay, you’ve given up your hope and, as far as I’m concerned, hope is what makes us human. Hope is what drives us, what pushes us to learn, to adapt, to grow. Hope makes us compassionate and creative. If there is one thing that can change the world, it’s hope.

If you can be okay with not being okay then good for you. I envy your Zen. If you can’t…then hope, and change the world.

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