It's Okay to not be okay until apparently it's not okay to not be okay
Updated: Jul 5, 2021
This phrase has become the motto for those who are battling with depression, anxiety, and whatever multitude of mental struggles we're dealing with; however, it seems that the ones who are struggling the most are not the ones who are preaching this to each other.
I've heard this phrasing multiple times before it hit social media, mostly through my church pastor and my Bible study at the time. When I had first heard the six words strung together, my initial thought was, "This is really cool, we're finally getting to a place where we're accepting people's struggles instead of just telling them to 'get help' or 'get over it.'"Be that as it may, this was not the case for me, and if anything, it was more of a cover to manipulate me into thinking I was wrong for not being okay.
The "It's Okay to Not Be Okay" Contradiction Incident
In May of 2019, I had received a phone call during work that I had always dreaded - my mom had been involved in a car accident and was being airlifted to the Indianapolis hospital. A year has passed and I am still not ready to blog about it, but eventually I will write a post so others can unfortunately find another child who can relate to the sudden loss of a parent. The night this happened, I had decided to return to my own home rather than go with the rest of my family to process what I had just been told, although this processing would continue much longer than a single night, and even to this day I have yet to fully process what happened. I had requested that my Bible study get together at our usual study location for me to come home to and have support, but when I got there I was in so much shock that nothing had really gotten through to me yet - I walked in as if it was any normal Thursday night at Group. This was apparently red flag #1.
A few weeks later I had started planning a wine night at my place, which was often the norm for Girl's Night with my work friends prior to being traumatized. I had refrained from drinking alcohol since the incident because 1) I knew alcohol was a depressant 2) I was extremely vulnerable and wanted to rely on other, more healthy methods of coping 3) I honestly just wasn't in the mood to sit and mourn in my house - I needed to do something. If any of you know me, you know that I'm big on planning parties, regardless of the occasion. I absolutely love hosting Girl's Nights, Unicorn-themed Baby Showers, and Spooky Season Festivities, to name a few. Not only is party planning a fun hobby of mine, but it is also something that I can dive into and focus solely on without having the stress of the world interrupt me every few minutes, unlike some other coping mechanisms that I haven't exactly gotten a handle on.
Regardless, drinking wine with my friends was a common event that took place once or twice a month, and I was craving some normalcy. We had snacks, games, and various bottles of wine, and while we vented about work that I had been missing due to FMLA, we completely avoided the topic of grief and I was having the first glimpse of "fun" I needed in my life. I felt 100% supported by my friends as they offered to listen but wouldn't push the topic since it was so fresh. After about 3 hours and a bottle of wine later, the night had ended with me texting one of my Bible study friends and exclaiming how my wine night was a success and that I may had had too much wine over the course of the evening. This was "red flag #2".
A month later I had attended church for the first time since May, which happened to be our Father's Day sermon. Even though Mother's Day was technically the first holiday I had to spend without my mom, Father's Day was really the first holiday I was mentally there for. There were a lot of welcomes and condolences upon my entrance - my church community is really another family, and the second the service began, I lost it. And you guessed it, this was evidently red flag #3.
A week after my convulsive crying at church, I was spending the night alone at my house watching Netflix and drinking a glass of wine. All of the sudden I heard a knock at my door, which upon investigation I found some of my Bible study friends on my doorstop. I instantly thought, "Oh my gosh, my friends came to check up on me! That's so thoughtful." I let them in and we started talking about what I was currently doing and how I've been holding up, and then there was a pause. And within that pause my heart sank because I knew exactly what this was. A few others entered my house and shortly before I could interject, a full-on intervention was taking place in the middle of my living room and it started off with, "You know it's okay to not be okay."
Explanations of how I was showing red flags were discussed, red flags that lead them to believe that I was suicidal, along with allegations from another member of our Bible study, who I had only spoken to once for five minutes before she left on a mission trip to Africa, had heard somehow all the way in Africa that I was abusing pills and taking them with alcohol. And instead of having a conversation about said accusation or these "red flags", or even asking if this was true or not, I was being forced to pack a bag for the night as they were adamant about not leaving me until they checked me into the ER and told the staff I was suicidal. Of course, trying to be comforting towards my friends who honestly thought I was in danger, I tried to cooperate as much as I could until I could get a hold of my best friend, who was also my FP at the time. Once he arrived, I had explained the situation to him, in which he began siding how he didn't see how these were red flags, but he also wasn't there firsthand so he couldn't be certain that everything was okay. Mulling over the situation, he finally asked them,
"Did you ask her if she was planning on hurting herself?" in which nobody responded. Because they didn't.
Nothing was resolved by the next hour, and some were still pushing towards taking me to a hospital against my will. In order to compromise, and to get them out of my house because I've been through enough bullshit lately, to put it nicely, I allowed them to call the cops. About 10 minutes later two officers entered my house and asked how I was doing. "We heard you recently lost your mother, and we're very sorry for your loss. Your friends seem worried about you. Do you plan on hurting yourself?" In which I responded, "No, I have no plan of hurting myself. I'm just grieving the loss of my mom as any other person would." And with that, they turned to the group and explained how they didn't see a threat and they couldn't legally force me to be admitted. At one point I had even made a comment if one of the officers was single, because hey, he was cute. Right before he left he mentioned how he had children. Didn't exactly say no, but also came across as, "Hell no, this girl is crazy!" I wouldn't have argued with that statement if he had said it - he wouldn't have been wrong!
It's Okay to Not Be Okay Except for When You Have BPD
When I just thought the night was ready to end, there was more. "You completely changed your mood when they came in here, why did you lie?" Appalled, I responded with, "I have no idea what you're talking about," and hence brought up how because I have BPD, I can easily manipulate people by changing my moods, and since they've been there my moods had changed at least 6 different times. I was completely unaware of this, which I usually am not aware during any normal circumstance, and thought to myself, "if mood swings are a common characteristic of BPD, how does that make a difference in this particular situation?" More annoyingly, why was it assumed that just because I had mood swings that made me manipulative? #endthestigma I'm already not okay to begin with just for the fact that I have Borderline Personality Disorder!
Due to how long everyone was there for, they ended up ordering pizza and turned this intervention into a "get together," as if suicide interventions was a norm for them. And as if I couldn't get even more annoyed by their overstepping visit, they forced me to write down things I wanted to talk about with my therapist and watched. To me, that is definitely crossing a line, in which multiple lines had already been crossed in the span of 3 hours. And to make matters worse, it was even pointed out how my mood changed between the time I wrote my first bullet point to the last bullet point and how that was "a problem."
What you and your therapist discuss is 100% between you and your therapist, and don't let anyone let you think otherwise.
I do want to point out that I was never upset or offended that my group of friends were concerned about my safety and wanted to confront me about it; I will always support that decision. But what I was upset about was how they decided to do so and how my BPD was used against me to better support their justification for doing so.
I didn't have a problem with the "why," but I had major issues with the "how."
And even more so how they came in and left with, "it's okay to not be okay." Apparently not, but okay.
There are many takeaways from this experience that has shed light on the "it's okay to not be okay" movement. First off, the statement isn't wrong, just like how my friends were not wrong for being concerned and checking up on me. Just like the situation, it is more of how it is used that can cause an issue. It becomes contradictory when you're told it's okay when you turn around and judge someone for how they handle "not being okay." It's as if this phrasing should really be rephrased as "it's okay to not be okay so long as you not being okay is done in a way that's acceptable to how I think not being okay should look like."
The problem with the way this phrase was used during this situation is that it lead me to believe that because I wasn't grieving how people expected me to grieve, people saw me as suicidal and crying out for help, which was not the case at all. This forced me to start crying in public places, which made me feel like I was just crying for attention because it was not how I wanted to cope with things - it was just awkward for me as I try my hardest not to cry in public or around people who don't really know me. It also gave me more trust issues than I already had, believing that I couldn't be vulnerable anymore in my own church Bible study. I felt like I had to put on a show around them and be "fake" just so they wouldn't try to ambush me again. All in all, it made things worse; they may had said "it's okay to not be okay" but what was meant was "it's okay to not be okay unless you're not okay in the right ways we expect."
It is okay to grieve or be depressed in your own way - it's your depression! It's your grief! Don't let anybody tell you how to process your own not okay-ness! If you want to throw a full out pity party (blog on "How to Throw Your Own Pity Party" coming soon) then you throw that party! If you want to hide in your bed and sleep the entire day away, there's nothing wrong with that! If you want to sign up for online counseling and constantly text your new therapist for days on end, I can't say that they'll reply to your every text but I also can't tell you not to! If you want to go on a fancy wine tasting tour with your girlfriends, do it! The point is, there is no wrong or right way to go through a depressive episode or to express your grief. If you feel like crying so much during a church service that a priest could use your tears as the holy water, don't let anyone tell you otherwise!
However, although it is okay to not be okay, it is not okay to not be okay for an extended time. Think of it as moderation. There's a difference between having a glass of wine once a week and having a bottle of wine once a day to cope with your feelings. There's a difference between laying underneath the dark covers for a day versus laying underneath the dark covers for so long that when you get out of bed they need washed. And even then, it's still okay to not be okay, but once you reach a certain not okay-ness where you're at a loss at how to get back to being okay (or even somewhat okay, because you know, baby steps!) professional help might be needed to get back to that point, and that's okay! There's nothing wrong with needing help.
The way I see it, asking a therapist about coping skills is the same as asking a school counselor for career advice - it's the same principle.
And don't feel pressured to have to talk to your friends about your mental issues if you're not comfortable with the idea, because that's okay, too. I'm always for transparency when it comes to mental health #endthestigma but that's only if you're at a place where being vulnerable won't hurt you.
As for the people who are concerned about friends and their mental health, again, there is nothing wrong with asking them if they are suicidal or have any suicidal tendencies! I just highly advise not ambushing them and making accusations without confirming or even discussing with them. Even in 2020, suicide is still a hard topic to bring up, for both parties. And if you're not comfortable having this discussion, you can always call the The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 for support!