It’s Okay To Not Be Okay

It's Okay to Not be Okay

I don’t know if this post is for you. Maybe. I guess you won’t know either until you’re halfway through it. If it’s not for you, that just means it’s not for you today. It still might be for you three weeks from now, or next Summer. At some point, I think this post will be relevant to your life.

Unfortunately.

Even though it’s Monday, and I would have preferred to start the week with something lighthearted, I sat down to type and this poured out instead in a wave of emotion, so here we are.

I want to talk about unhappiness.

This is not an overt unhappiness with people crying at bus stops, or being unnecessarily mean as they cut in front of each other in queues. It’s not a screaming-at-service-staff-about-something-that’s-not-even-their-fault unhappiness, or even the kind of unhappiness that leads to dark undereye circles and terrible dreams. Instead, it’s an almost invisible cheese-wire thread weaving through people’s lives, slicing through their good days. It’s this weak but persistent undercurrent of…

you’re not good enough

you’re not funny enough

you’re not normal enough

you’re not popular enough

you’re not successful enough

you’re not loveable enough

you’re not doing enough

you’re not worthy enough

you’re not trying enough

you’re not happy enough

…..And here’s the thing about that.

It’s always been there. This Gregorian chant of insuffiency is an unfortunate symptom of the human condition. Thankfully, not always. It’s not constant for most people; it tends to chime in at brutally inconvenient times like when you feel so lonely you actually have a legitimate concern you might be invisible, or when you feel like your self-confidence has reached rock bottom and proceeded to dig, or when you have failed spectacularly at something in a public way and are desperately searching for the words to pretend that everything is fine.

It really picks its moments.

This repetitive, monotonous, doubting drone of voices has always been around me, and I just haven’t been paying attention. Now that I’m looking for it, I see it everywhere. I see it, and I recognise it, because guess what? I have it too. Everyone does. Trust me when I say that even the person you look up to the most has had days where they didn’t want to get out of bed.

We know this. We’re all aware of it. We’re alive, and sometimes life is a kick in the teeth. Even the luckiest person can’t avoid the most difficult parts of life forever. Even the cockiest person can’t ignore their inner fears at every waking moment. We’re human, and that means we are skin-draped skeletons walking around with an expiration date, and our short lives are vibrant pops of colour filled with emotion and adventure and love and heartbreak and passion and fury. We collect memories and experiences and feelings and struggles throughout our lives, ee mix them together as we grow, and whatever muddy concoction remains is the sum of our parts.

On some level we are all aware of this.

I think we are getting better as a society at articulating the stickier parts of life, the parts that slow us down, the parts we feel we’ll never move on from. I think it’s great that it’s slowly becoming less taboo to discuss negative feelings.

Have you noticed how we talk about them though?

When negative emotions come up, people have this habit of being unable to talk about them without attaching wholly unnecessary feelings of guilt and shame, like carabiner clips of dead weight. I do it too. I feel terrible, and then I feel terrible about feeling terrible.

Why?

It’s already exhausting to struggle through hard times. When life gets tough, your usual daytime stroll unexpectedly becomes a hike up a cold mountain in the dark, and most of the time it blindsides you and you’re entirely unprepared; you didn’t bring water, you don’t have emergency chocolate, there are no signposts, you’re pissed off because now everything is going to take that much longer, and you didn’t even bring a jumper.

It’s the worst.

Now imagine attaching two dumbells to your waist so you can drag them up that incline with you for no good reason.

Why?

I know that there’s an unease about what people will think. Everything is always supposed to be fine, right? Instagram should be comprised only of excessively highlighted people in beautiful clothes, eating photogenic food in perfect lighting. Twitter should be an oasis of sanity and witty, relatable comments from People Who Have Their Shit Together™. Human unavoidables such as misery, and fear, and unhappiness, and the sort of concerns that keep you up at night until five minutes before your alarm goes off don’t fit neatly into 1:1 ratio photographs or 140 character limits. They ruin the narrative. It’s not a comfortable thing to shine a light on dark thoughts.

And so any reference to these inescapable truths of life and humanity seems to be couched in remorse and embarrassment, and then wrapped in a shroud of shame. There’s usually an acknowledgement of heartbreak or depression or anxiety or failure, and then in the same breath it’s linked to a feeling of weakness or anguish. So not only are we not okay, but we’re not okay with not being okay. Sometimes it’s even followed by an apology, or a reassurance that it will soon change, or a determination to turn things around.

I see this happen not just in myself, or in people I know and love, but also people I don’t. Friends of friends who pop up on my facebook. Complete strangers that are retweeted on my timeline. I see it everywhere, this idea that not being okay is not okay.

So on this dreary Monday, let me just say this:

If you have been unknowingly looking for permission, or subconsciously searching for some sort of sign that you are allowed to take a moment for yourself to just wallow, or cry, or scream into a cushion, or punch a pillow, or go for a long walk with nothing but your thoughts, or anything that you had previously written off as an indulgence… I am giving you that permission.

This is that sign.

You don’t have to be okay all the time. You don’t have to be perfect, ever. You are human, and you are loved, and you have a unique life unlike anybody else’s, and you are wonderful. You have talents in you that you aren’t even aware of.

If you have recently felt less than, know that you are not alone, and you are not less than.

If you have recently made a mistake or done something you wish you could take back, know that we have all been there (more than once!), and that the discomfort you are feeling is what teaches us not to make the same mistake again.

If you are feeling lost, know that sometimes the road is winding, and can even loop back on itself. Familiar landmarks are not necessarily a signpost of stagnation; remember that even when you feel stuck, you are still moving forward.

If you have recently had your trust betrayed, know that you are not foolish for having being fooled. Trust is a precious and fragile thing, and you are not to blame for somebody else having broken it.

If you have recently experienced heartbreak, know that this is the price of having loved fiercely, and that it is worth it every time. Some heartbreaks will make you feel like you got scammed, that maybe it wasn’t worth the cost. It was. It always is.

If you have recently had failure, know that there will also be success. Try not to tip the scale by giving more weight to the failure than it deserves.

If you are melancholy, or depressed, or afraid, or worried, or anxious, or struggling, that’s okay. That’s okay. You don’t have to feel guilty about that. You don’t have to apologise for not being a presentation-worthy version of your best self at all times. You don’t have to feel bad about experiencing the exact same struggles as everybody else.

You just have to be you.

It’s okay to just be you, even when you’re not happy. Even when you’re not having the most photogenic of feelings. Even when life is roundhouse kicking you in the teeth repeatedly and you feel like self-defence is not an option because your arms have inexplicably turned into pool noodles. Even then.

This is not to say that you can stay there forever.

Eventually you will have to stop punching the pillow. You will probably have to drink some water, because non-stop crying is very dehydrating. You will have to get up off the floor, pull your shoulders back, and tell the frankly irritating buzz of self-doubt to shut the hell up. I am not giving you carte blanche to wallow forever in the Swamp of Sadness. We all know what happened to Artax (NSFL), and you, dear reader, are far too precious to me for an ending like that.

Eventually, you will slide back down the scale to relative normality, and the feelings will shift, and the path will be clear again… at least until the next time.

But right now, as you read this – whenever that may be – if you find yourself in a heap, or you just need a breather, or you’re losing it, or you’re feeling ashamed because you’re losing it, and you don’t have anybody else around who can deliver this message in a timely fashion when you need it most…

This post is for you.

Ghost In The Cell(Phone)

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I may not be active on the dating scene, but I am aware that the times they are a-changing and these days it’s all about the swiping. I know that mirror selfies are a hard swipe left, and photos with dogs are a swipe right, and when I’m talking to friends who are users of Tinder, Bumble, or OKCupid, I’ve noticed something come up over and over and over (and over) again…

Ghosting.

I’m not talking about the Slow Fade. I’m not talking about slowly stretching out the time between unenthusiastic responses until they completely drop off into the void of forgettable connections. Last time I was single, the Slow Fade was considered the “kind” way to let people know you’d really rather not. The hint was subtle at first, but the process was drawn out and gradual and by the time the other person was taking four days to reply “Yeah lol,” you knew. You knew it wasn’t going anywhere. One last, “Okay let’s meet up soon!” (read: Never) and you were off the hook.

This ghosting business though, it’s different. It’s rough. The dates will go well, the texts will be promising, and then-

NOTHING.

One day they’ll be texting back within seconds, saying they see themselves with you and they’re a little worried they’re taking things too fast but they can’t help themselves, and the next they’ve vanished completely from this corporeal realm. Someone else will text deep into the night after your second date about how great a time they had with you, and how they can’t wait to see you again… and then they’re gone as if instantly vaporised by an alien weapon. Except that unfortunately, they haven’t vanished or been vaporised; thanks to the power of social media, you can see that they were last on Whatsapp two hours ago.

Three days later they’re sharing memes on Twitter like you never existed.

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Everything is so instant now. Push notifications on your phone tell you about likes and retweets and messages and statuses the minute they’re posted. Everything happens NOW.* Does the ghosting phenomenon mean that people are no longer willing to invest a little time in being kind to people they’re not interested in? Is it a case of, ‘Why bother?’ You’re not interested, it’s not going anywhere, why waste time writing back to them when you could be spending those valuable 30 seconds swiping right on someone you might actually connect with?

I don’t understand.

I’m trying to understand, but I’m failing miserably. I’ve tried to look at ghosting from the most sympathetic angle (they don’t want to hurt you by straight-up saying they’re not interested) but even that falls a bit flat. It is far more confusing and disorienting for someone to be unabashedly enthusiastic to the point of cringe and then drop off the face of the earth without so much as an adios, than it is to reply to a couple of questions with monosyllables before hitting them with a quick, ‘Hey, sorry but I’m just not feeling it. Was lovely to meet you though.’

In the first scenario, there are multiple things that can have happened. Maybe they were in some horrendous accident, or they dropped their phone in the toilet, or they were falsely accused of a heinous crime and are now in prison where they had to use their one phone call to ring their lawyer, or they’re in a monastic hut on a remote island somewhere with no reception, and they’ve been desperately trying to communicate with you via smoke signals, but since smoke signalling is a lost art you saw his, ‘I miss you and can’t wait to see you again, how about Friday?‘ wisps of smoke, and mistook them for nothing more than distant cloud.

I mean really, anything could have happened.

The second scenario is a lot more cut and dried. They’re just not that into you. It is what it is. It sucks, but there’s no ambiguity. There’s no need to expend valuable mental energy wondering what happened. It doesn’t feel like something potentially promising was cut short for reasons unknown. You just didn’t click and sometimes that happens.

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Maybe it’s because I don’t use Tinder or Bumble (unless I’m using them on the behalf of close friends, which is great fun and highly recommended), but it really bothers me that ghosting is so common. I heard the other day that ghosting is “common after the second date.” What? Why are people putting the effort into pretending to be interested, rather than putting that same amount of effort into slowly stepping back in a gentle way?

Absorb the fact that at least one person out there thinks it’s a reasonable move to text someone about having kids… and then never text again. Just sit with that for a moment. What is that about? Am I the only one that feels like the leap between those two actions (the text about kids and the ghosting) is a bit like the leap between two four-storey buildings? Like, sure, you can do it, but I wouldn’t advise it and I definitely don’t think it’s healthy.

I think certain things are getting lost in our instantaneous culture; I think some kindness is slipping through the cracks in communication.

Have you ghosted or been ghosted before? Can you explain the thought process? I’m feeling very old and out of the loop here. There’s enough to be confused and worried about in the world than why your Tinder date hasn’t whatsapped you back even though they’re online and you know they’re online and they know you know they’re online…

Can’t we just bring back the Slow Fade? Is it retro enough yet to be cool again?

*I’ve disabled pretty much all push notifications on my phone for the last while. Other than Whatsapp and Snapchat, nothing gets through instantly anymore. It’s actually been pretty great! If you have a lot of social media accounts I definitely recommend trying it for a week.

 

Thoughts On… Mother’s Day

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The other day, my mother called me like she always does. She calls every day. She calls to tell me what she’s doing, or to tell me about her day, or to tell me the latest deal in the grocery store. She calls about anything and everything. She talks away in rapid-fire Spanish and really, minimum input is required on my part. The occasional, “Mmm hmm,” one or two yeses and some listening sounds are sometimes my only contribution.

The other day, she called and talked to me about certain bathroom renovation plans. I half-listened while making soup.

“… No se como va a salir pero por ahora va bien la cosa. A ver si viene el Martes y asi empezamos a ver como va a funcionar…”(“… I don’t know how it’ll turn out but for now it’s all going well. If he comes over on Tuesday then we’ll start to see how things will work…“)

Suddenly her voice dropped away and there was a muffled sound.

“Hello?” I asked, alarmed. “Mama?”

“Ah, no pasa nada, es solo que…” (“Ah no everything is fine, it’s just…“) Another pause followed, and then suddenly, at the end of the phone, in English, “Hello! Where deed you cam from?”

I frowned, wooden spoon held aloft. “Mama?”

“No, no te hablo a ti,” (“No, I’m not talking to you“) she said. No kidding, I thought. She continued, “Es el perro del vecino, que se ha escapado.”(“It’s the neighbour’s dog, he’s escaped.“)

I nodded thoughtfully and placed the wooden spoon back in the pot to give the soup a half-hearted stir.

Another muffled sound.

“Do you wan to go hom? Weel I take you hom?”

More muffled sounds.

“Es el perrito del vecino, es muy mono, es que a veces se escapa. Ahora le traigo a casa.”(“It’s the neighbour’s little dog, he’s very cute. Sometimes he gets out. I’ll bring him home now.“)

A pause, and then, away from the mouthpiece, “Cam on, I take you hom.”

My eyes rolled to the ceiling as I considered the fact that my mother 1. was talking to the dog as if he might answer, 2. obviously believes the dog speaks English, and 3. also believes that the dog can somehow tell the difference between English and Spanish. I started to laugh then, softly at first and then harder and harder until I was doubled over against the counter. My mother, unaware of what I was laughing at, started laughing too. We laughed together over the phone; me, her, my spoon and the neighbour’s dog.

“Que? De que te ries?” She kept asking.

Yesterday was Mother’s Day.

I had a very different post lined up for today; an intensely personal post with mixed feelings and some fury that I wrote a while ago after a particularly bad day. I was feeling frustrated and upset and keyed-up and disappointed and angry and basically every kind of negative emotion that can be bundled into one moment. Sometimes Mother-Daughter relationships aren’t the stuff of most Mother’s Day cards. Every year I spend a long time looking through the card aisle before I can find one that is appropriate. I love my mother; she’s my mother. It’s just… complicated.

So on this, the day after Mother’s Day, I decided to share this moment instead, because that’s how she is. That’s how we are.

At least sometimes.

Happy Belated Mother’s Day to all of you out there who are mothers. Odd mothers, wonderful mothers, hardworking mothers. I hope you had a lovely day.