It’s funny, isn’t it, how things that inspire us can also be the things that stress us out and make us feel bad about ourselves. The internet is particularly good at presenting these things to us, don’t you think? All those Instagram posts and Pinterest boards and Facebook memes that show us, time and again, that we do not have to be beaten by life’s circumstances, that we can choose to thrive even in the darkest of moments, and that anything is possible if only we decide we really want it, are all shared with the greatest of intentions. And most of the time they achieve what they’re meant to – they inspire us to aim for something better. And yet, sometimes they can make us feel so much worse, because they seem so out of reach for us. Have you ever noticed that?
Don’t get me wrong – I love a good inspirational quote, positive affirmation, or success story. But sometimes, just sometimes, it all gets a bit unbalanced. We see snapshots of people’s lives, hear the stories of how they overcame difficulties to achieve great things, without ever truly seeing the reality of what they had to overcome in the first place. We come into the story at the end, after the battle has been forged, and though we may be shown snippets of the battle, a quick overview from where they were once to where they are now, they present us with the idea that it’s not okay to not be okay.
Maybe it’s a personal thing, maybe this isn’t relevant to you at all, but I’ve found that there is a very big difference between wanting to make change in your life because you want to improve it, and feeling like you have to overcome a challenge because it’s somehow unacceptable for you to be struggling with it in the first place.
Take, for instance, my healing journey right now. I am so terribly sick at the moment, and I am so anxious and stressed about what this means for me and my future. I do not want to be defined by my illness, and I certainly don’t want it to control my life. In that way, I am completely inspired by those who share their stories of overcoming ill health to become happier and healthier than they ever have been.
But on the flip side of this, I feel pressure to not succumb to ill health, to make sure that I do everything in my power to ensure that it doesn’t define who I am and what I do, so I hide the struggle and aim to be positive, even when deep down I am terrified. Because, at some point along the line, I have come to believe that it is not okay to not be okay.
I feel shame that I have been signed off work sick, I feel guilty that I am so heavily reliant on my family for support and have hardly seen friends in months, I even feel bad that the receptionists at my GP surgery now know me by name, and worry that people will judge me as a hypochondriac when I list off all the symptoms and specialists I am seeing right now. And this all stems from that belief that it is not okay to not be okay, that I have to somehow fight this battle and come out victorious, ready to shut the door on this stage in my life and show how I overcame the odds to create an amazing life for myself, whatever that may be.
But here’s the thing – this is a false belief, I know it is, but it is so hard to break. Because it is not alone, it is supported from all sides by similar beliefs we have ingrained into our psyche: it’s not okay to be unproductive; it’s not okay to feel sad, anxious, or depressed; it’s not okay to need help; it’s not okay to fail; and so on and so forth. We live in a society where mental health is still a taboo subject for many, and being poor, sick, or out of work is portrayed as being something you can simply change, if only you tried harder. And we’re so used to that mentality, that we don’t even think to question it.
I know that my shame and guilt and fear right now all come from these very beliefs. I recognise that my habit of worrying over the future and desperately trying to fix things, come from this feeling of not being good enough. I understand that I am my own worst enemy, and that I need to change my own perspective so that I begin to truly believe that it is okay to not be okay. Because right now I’m not okay, far from it. Right now my battle is with myself, to learn that it is okay to simply be and that doing so doesn’t mean I have lost.
Inspirational change doesn’t happen overnight, it is a journey that begins with a single step. And sometimes that first step is accepting that it’s okay to not be okay, at least for now.