“It’s OK to not be OK” - it’s got to be one of the most over used cliches of our time.
I’ve almost certainly used it myself with clients, or on my social media in the early days of my work. Time and experience offer me a chance to reflect on this.
Granted, it’s one of those phrases that is affirming and validating when we feel down. It almost has a soothing property about it. But is it really OK to not be OK?
I realise this may be a controversial question with some of my peers, colleagues, clients and the wider world, but I would love to offer you my thoughts.
Whilst things have improved dramatically in recent years, I do think there remains a huge stigma around mental health. I think as a society it is our responsibility to take away the stigma and shame that accompany the state of being not OK.
The reasons for not being OK are huge and varied. We could point to some of the more obvious ones like grief, loss, family issues, stress, anxiety, abuse, or depression. There are also more existential reasons such as confusion over who we are or what our purpose is in life. Issues such as low self-esteem can be debilitating. These feelings can be confusing and hard to manage. Often this is because we simply don’t know how to feel our emotions. In the western world, we are often so based in our heads, the cognitive realm, that we may brush our feelings and our emotions off. I’m no exception when it comes to this.
But here’s the thing. If we sweep these feelings and emotions under the carpet, or numb those difficult feelings, can we really expect to return to “normal” or to being OK? Probably not.
Therapy helps us to explore our feelings and emotions. It helps us to experience those challenging feelings, and to sit with the difficulty. This often has an aim of halting or even reversing the accumulation and build-up of emotional challenges that stand in the way of a return to OK-ness.
Whilst it may be OK to be not OK right now, in this moment, temporarily – I think this permission of saying it’s OK to be not OK has the danger of keeping us stuck in a wilderness of going nowhere. It may even push us backwards. What if feeling not-OK means someone feels suicidal, or wishes to harm themselves, or others? Is that still OK?
In a Guardian article in 2021, consultant psychiatrist Rebecca Lawrence said that “many of us experience mental ill-health, but some more than others. These people need well-resourced recognition and support, rather than platitudes. I think they already know they’re not OK.”
So rather than accepting this well-meaning platitude, remember that it may prevent us from dealing with the emotional build up, and prevent us engaging in positive change towards a different future.
It is important to remember that for some, change by talking alone may be difficult, if not impossible. Severe mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, psychoses, or ones where drugs and alcohol feature as a physical dependency. But for the majority of us, studies have shown that Talking Works.
So, whilst there is no magic pill or magic wand that can make anyone OK again, what I argue is to engage in a change of perspective. This may involve the skills of an independent counsellor or psychotherapist such as myself. I am not arguing that we should be reaching for a toxic positivity agenda here. But how about starting with the simple knowledge that the experience of being not OK today will make you more conscious, more aware and more able to deal with the challenges of tomorrow?
I would always say that holding a positive outcome for the future in mind is helpful. Make it real – visualise it, try to experience what it means to reach that goal – how will it feel? What will that mean for you? Moving towards a positive aspiration is much easier and more compelling than trying to move away from a difficult or challenging past.
By all means normalise the state of being not OK, but rather than celebrate it, let’s work on it. Let’s work out the causes, come up with ways to deal with those, and perhaps we can generate some solutions to move towards a state that we can really associate with and celebrate.
It’s OK to not be OK right now, but perhaps it’s time to move past this, and realise that it’s even better to enjoy a long-term state of OK-ness 😀
If you would like to seek some independent help, get in touch with me.
All my contact links and social media links can be found here : www.talkingworks.uk/tw
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