You may have heard the phrase ‘it’s ok not to be ok’ floating around. I myself have posted it on my Instagram page. And let me make it clear – I absolute believe it is ok not to be ok. It is acceptable, and in many ways healthy and necessary, to feel the full spectrum of emotions – including the ones that would come under the category of ‘not ok’. However when I hear this statement, I bristle against it. I always have. Somehow the statement seems to place an onus on the person feeling the emotions to allow themselves to feel them. And yes, that’s kind of the point. The first step to healing is often simply learning to feel and recognise what we feel/ why. But this statement brings to the forefront of my mind a deeper problem – that many of us can’t allow ourselves to feel.
In our society, if many of us were to allow ourselves to not be ok, we would need time off work or school. It would impact our productivity in a capitalist system that thrives of productivity, that measures our value and worth on what we can contribute. And many of us simply can’t afford to take time off work, or miss out on education when there won’t be someone to help us ‘catch up’. If people can’t afford to self isolate in the middle of a global pandemic because of economic struggles, how are they ever to be expected to take a day off work for their mental wellbeing, until it is so far degraded they are forced to, or they have internalised any struggles so trauma continues to be passed down through generation and unspoken interpersonal difficulties spread in our communities rather than a strengthening love between us?
Then there’s the issue of needing support, emotionally. When current mental health systems are set up in a way that fails to individualise care, fails to help minorities, recognise the impact of societal structures on our mental health, looks to healing in the context of productivity and ‘normality’, and incarcerates those it cannot get to conform without true sympathy – with all of this, how are we meant to truly allow ourselves to not be ok if we can’t trust or rely on a system meant to help us? An incompetent system. And even when it does help us, getting access to care in the first place takes months or years.
Next comes the issue of how these systems have impacted individual psyches. Mental health issues continue to be on the rise. And I stress that I am writing about this not to bum anyone out, but because when we talk about these issues, we empower ourselves to build a brighter future. I truly do believe that. An estimated 50% of people will meet the diagnostic criteria for a mental illness in their lifetime, and pretty much all of us feel the impacts of the world around us on our mental wellbeing at some time or another in our lives (which in itself calls into question whether we over-pathologize human distress, but that’s a question to explore another day). After all, we all have mental health. So we need people to rely on, support networks. But it can be a challenge finding that in professional systems. Well then maybe we find that in our communities instead. That would be ideal. Except, we haven’t been taught how to support each other. We haven’t been taught how to build strong communities, or societies built on care for each other and working together rather than survival in a capitalist environment. And with everyone dealing with their own battles in life, it can be incredibly difficult to find our way through it all and build support systems. We simply don’t know how. But I believe we can learn. I have hope that with communities of people healing together, we can truly make ‘it’s ok not to be ok’ mean that – with none of this background context that I perceive now.
All your emotions are valid, and it is ok not to be ok. But it is also necessary that we continue to destigmatize mental health through breaking down the systems that compound the issues connecting it. Sending love and support to you all today x