It’s okay to not be okay right now

Can we give ourselves a pat on the back? We’ve just made it through the first month of 2022, y’all! We should applaud ourselves because I don’t know about you but January was a rough first month. This post I saw on IG the other day captured last month’s mood for me:

When 2022 came, for some reason I thought that everything would magically get better. It’s a new year, I thought! Maybe I figured that we’ve been in this pandemic for a while and that things would have to change after two years. New beginnings right? Or that after two years, the only way is up, right?

Clearly not. COVID cases rose to record levels from the holiday season. So many people were getting infected. Friends and family I knew personally were catching COVID (thankfully they are okay now). It felt like we traveled back in time as we had to limit our in-person social interactions, avoid public places in order to be safe, and see staggering infection rates. The dreary cold weather just seemed to add to the darkened mood. The number of hospitalizations and deaths rising from cases felt discouraging. All of it made me want to give a big FU to 2022.

I didn’t have that excitement of the New Year like I usually do. I did not care for the “New Year, new me” propaganda. Things just feel like shit right now. For anyone who is happy and living their best life, I am sincerely happy for you. I’m glad some of us are doing okay.

But for many of us, we are going through it and that is also okay. I’ve been feeling such a sense of sadness and heaviness in my heart and body these last few weeks and I couldn’t figure out why. A colleague told me that it feels like we’re in “the darkest timeline” (for anyone who appreciates a Community reference) and I thought, maybe that describes this period of time we are in.

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Y’all, I am tired. My mind knows to hold on to hope but my heart and body are saying to feel those feelings and to stop. Stop trying to act like my body is aching for rest. Stop trying to push through. Stop trying to be business as usual. Stop trying to operate as if there isn’t a worldwide pandemic affecting all of us with millions of lives lost already.  Stop trying to act like everything is fine when it feels like our species is on the brink of extinction between COVID and global warming.

My coach recently told me how these things are cyclical. This is nature doing its thing. And that we won’t be in this pandemic forever. It took many years for the 1918 flu pandemic to be over. The wild thing is that the flu never went away. Descendants of that original flu strain continue to circulate to this day – through the seasonal flu and other variations (like the swine flu). Like the seasonal flu, COVID will probably be the same way, becoming a permanent part of our lives decades to come. 

When she first told me that, I didn’t really take it all in. I was feeling tired, depressed, hopeless, and numb. Hearing that this is part of the circle of life just wasn’t resonating with me at the time. I could not see beyond the despair.

Some days, I struggle to get out of bed. All I wanted to do is curl up in the fetal position, stay in bed, and just veg out watching Netflix. Or drift away on my river of tears. Yes, I sound like a melodramatic teenager but it’s true! Shit sucks right now and why the heck do we have to pretend it’s not?

I’ve taken breaks at work to cry because I could no longer hold back everything I’ve been trying to push through. I’ve cried because I’m tired, physically and emotionally. I’ve cried because there have been more than 5,600,000 million lives lost worldwide and about 900,000 in the United States due to this virus (just let that sink in…).

I’ve cried because I’m angry that we’re still in this pandemic mess two years later. I’ve cried because of the loss of human lives where shit could have been avoided. I’ve cried because I’m struggling in some of my relationships. I’ve cried because working and going to school is hard and I have no motivation. I’ve cried because I’m struggling with my health issues.

Some days, it takes everything out of me to move forward. I’ve been faced with my mortality through this pandemic. Something that I think a good amount of us have been faced with. And it’s scary sometimes. Work, productivity, or school doesn’t always feel as important when the world is in the state that it’s in right now.

I’m going through it but I’m at a point where I’m no longer trying to push through it. I’m just trying to honor how I feel and ride the wave. For weeks, it felt like no one was feeling like how I was feeling. When people asked me “how are you?” I didn’t know if they wanted to hear “I’m not okay” or the standard “I’m fine!” response. Culturally, we don’t talk about “unpleasant feelings”. We don’t talk about the darkness, the loneliness, the fear, the despair, the grief, and the apathy.

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However, these things need to be brought to the light. They aren’t ugly or shameful but normal feelings, especially considering the circumstances we find ourselves in today. What has comforted me in the last few days is knowing that I am not alone in my emotional experience.

Colleagues have shared how they’re feeling lonely, feeling crappy, or feeling less motivated. Friends have shared their similar struggles. And my therapist has shared how she’s seen many people struggling right now. These conversations have reminded me that I am not alone and that these experiences are part of the human experience. I realize that these “not so rosy” feelings remind me that I am living and that they are part of life.

When I am feeling these feelings, sometimes I remind myself that others have it worse. Something I think we’re all too familiar with doing. Although I think it can allow space for gratitude at times, I think the practice of “others have it worse” often invalidates and dismisses one’s own pain and struggles.

I often minimize my pain, needs, and feelings for others. That’s been one of my struggles in the last few years. If I look at my life, it’s easy for me to say, What do I have to feel bad about? I can work from home. I have a steady income, a place to live, and food to eat. But I’ve come to realize that that doesn’t negate my problems or my struggles. And that type of thinking doesn’t just take me out of my funk but only makes me feel worse for feeling my feelings.

We all have our own suffering. It may look similar or different to others but that’s one of the things that makes us human and that connects us: that we all experience suffering. So both can be true – others can have it worse AND I can still validate my pain and feelings. That’s self-compassion.

Encouraging Its Okay GIF by GIPHY Studios Originals - Find & Share on GIPHY

Y’all, it’s okay to not be okay right now! Living in the United States can make you feel otherwise when the culture is obsessed with happiness. I know that life isn’t about happiness all the time. Sometimes we feel like shit and that’s okay. You can’t have a little sunshine without a little rain. It just feels like the rainfall is never-ending sometimes.

That doesn’t mean that we’ll feel that way forever. Just like we can’t feel happiness forever, we won’t feel sad forever. Like the seasons, there are periods of growth, warmth, and jubilee (spring/summer) and periods of darkness, death, and sadness (fall/winter). Things are cyclical and have an end that allows for a new beginning. It just sucks when you’re in it but one day, we’ll be telling our grandchildren about this time and how wild it was.

Many people hoped that 2022 would be different but it just feels like a crappy start to the year. So it’s okay to admit that it’s not fine. It’s okay to cry. It’s okay to yell and punch a wall. Pushing through our feelings only makes us feel worse and prevents us from being our best with others and loved ones.

The last couple of weeks provided me the opportunity to work on my vulnerability (very scary for me). Despite my fear, I took the risk and opened up about my “unpleasant feelings ” instead of keeping up a front. Doing so helped me feel more connected to people in my life. When others respond, “I’m feeling that way too”, I know I’m not alone in how I feel. That I’m not abnormal or wrong for how I’m feeling.

Where do the rivers go?, a poem I wrote last month, helped me to acknowledge and process these “unpleasant feelings”. Hopefully, reading it gives you comfort to know that you’re not alone in feeling less than stellar:

***

Where do the rivers go?

The concrete dam of my numbness is meticulously

layered with the aches from burning the midnight oil,

held together by the puppeteers’ strings,

stained with merlot, and sealed with gluttony

to prevent this grief from running over.

It stops the flow,

but it is no match for the wave of pain.

Scrambling to find soothing clay to repair the holes

so that my misery can proceed upstream

to allow space for other rivers to flow.

And yet, water retention got me expanding.

Swollen hands and feet are the punishment.

Skin tested to the point where containment is no longer an option.

Bloodletting becomes the only choice to provide some relief

but it’s too late.

Spider cracks turn to ruptures

and ruptures turn into explosions.

Shell shocked until I fall asleep,

drowning in the stream of my anguish because

the embankment was no match for the size of my sorrows.

If only I knew that our rivers could have led to the ocean

which can bear our weight,

making space for our collective pain.

***

Let’s feel our feelings. Let’s be there for each other. We don’t have to have all the answers or the right words to say. Let’s share how we’re really feeling instead of “I’m fine” or “I’m okay”. Let’s say “the fucking world is burning and I am not okay right now “.

When you do, you’ll be surprised by how many also feel that way too. Even though it doesn’t feel like an end is in sight, there will be at some point because like my life coach said, these things are cyclical.

If you’re struggling right now, don’t be afraid to seek professional help if you’re able to. If you need help now, please call 911 or contact SAMHSA’s National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

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