by Doreen Khamo MSW, RSW; RWCS Individual & Family Support Program
“It’s okay not to be okay.”
A simple statement yet one of the most reassuring and impactful pieces of advice ever given to me.
It happened during a time in my life when I was experiencing many challenges and just couldn’t snap out of it. I wasn’t feeling okay and on top of everything I was going through, I began feeling down on myself and guilty for the mere fact that I wasn’t feeling okay - like that makes any sense – but true story!
Of course this conflicting thought-process led me to a never-ending cycle of trying to convince my not-so-okay self to just be “okay”: “Why can’t I just be happy?” “Just show up and smile!” “Think positive and things will get better.” But truth is things were not getting better. And it seems that the more I pushed myself into practicing the above-noted mantras of positive-ness, the further away from positivity, or feeling happy, I was. I was tired of trying to forcibly push back my authentic feelings only to make room for fabricated happiness.
And that’s when it happened.
I was confused and tired of mismanaging my emotion-full world when a dear friend of mine said the six-word sentence that would change the way I felt about feeling forever: “It’s-okay-not-to-be-okay.”
I admit that I have had many “a-ha” moments in my life, and sure enough this was one of those times. Within seconds of hearing those words, I felt instant relief. As if I was waiting my whole life for permission to just feel my feelings without feeling guilty, ashamed or less-than.
It was then that I came to the realization that society puts so much pressure on us to be positive and happy all the time, leaving us to constantly compare ourselves and situations to others. How many times have you been going through something only to be told “You should be happy and grateful because there are others who have it way worse,” or my favourite one (enter sarcastic emoji here) is “pull yourself up by the bootstraps and get going.” Well as many of you may already know, not all of us have bootstraps, or wear boots for that matter.
And when it comes to others having it way worse – well, if you really think about it, there will always be someone out there who has it way worse. So does that mean we should never fully feel our not-so-okay feelings ever again? How scary!
Get ready because I’m about to drop some serious truth here: Just because we are feeling how we are feeling does not cancel out someone else’s feelings, or vice versa.
Let me repeat that because it deserves an encore:
Just because you are focusing on yourself and embracing the emotions you are feeling does not CANCEL out someone else’s. We can ALL have circumstances that make us feel not okay sometimes….and that’s okay!
This does NOT mean:
- We are cruel
- That we only care about ourselves and no one else (note: self-care is highly recommended!)
- That we think our feelings and problems are the only feelings and problems in the whole wide world
It simply means that our circumstances, and feelings as a result of, are valid and they are real to us and we are allowed to feel them. Period.
Society puts so much pressure on us to interrupt our not-so-happy feelings, rather than just be with our emotions and try to understand why we are feeling the way we are feeling, how our bodies are responding to these feelings, and so on. We don't always have to have it put together. And we definitely need to disrupt the feelings of guilt and shame that we so often associate with feeling or being something or someone other than what the larger society expects us to feel or be.
Understanding that our sadder emotions are just a part of who we are as our happier emotions, and the better we become at embracing all our emotions, the closer we are to self-discovery, self-awareness and self-growth. And in order to do that, we need to unlearn the unhealthy societal expectations of suppressing our unhappy feelings in order to be optimistic all the time. Don’t get me wrong, optimism is a beautiful thing and is important in life, but being present with our emotions, regardless of what those emotions are, is just as important, in fact it’s necessary. Even better, it’s empowering!
Here are a couple of my other favourite “It’s okay” affirmations for the day:
…to feel sad
…to feel angry
…to take a break
…to say no
…to cancel plans
…to eat the food you love
…to not want to socialize
…to take time out for yourself
...to ask for help when you need it
…to cut ties off with people who drain your energy
…to not want to talk about "it"
…to not answer calls or texts right away
…to not have it all figured out
…and so much more! The list could (and should) go on and on!
Have any of your own? Jot them down (on paper or mentally) daily, or whenever you want, or don’t – it’s totally up to you! Personally, I find it as a helpful reminder that it’s okay to…just be.
And most importantly, should you find yourself not feeling okay for longer periods of time, if you are having a crisis, or if you just want someone to talk to, know that you are never alone and support is always available. Here are a few places that you can call:
- Mental Health Helpline: 1-866-531-2600 (open 24 hrs)
- Toronto Distress Centres: 416-408-4357 (open 24 hrs)
- Kids Help Phone: 1-800-668-6868 (open 24 hrs)
- Gerstein Centre: 416-929-5200 (open 24hrs)
- Spectra Helpline (Contact Centre Telecare Peel): 905-459-7777 (open 24hrs)
- Assaulted Women’s Helpline: 416-863-0511 or toll free 1-866-863-0511 (open 24hrs)
- Distress Centre Peel: 905-278-7208 (open 24hrs)
Please Note: If it is an emergency, always call 9-1-1
For more information on Mental Health, you can also visit:
Centre for Addiction and Mental Health
Canadian Mental Health Association
If you have any questions or require additional information, please feel free to contact me at:
Doreen Khamo MSW, RSW
RWCS Individual & Family Support Program
Tel. 416-784-0920 Ext. 3233