Can a person be not okay and okay at the same time? I want the answer to be “yes” and I do believe this is possible. I want it to be because I am not feeling okay. The coronavirus pandemic is a reality.
Here’s a glimpse into my mind’s confusion. It starts like this: I am a child psychiatrist and I am supposed to feel and be okay. This is what my “tyranny of should” tells me. I mean if I don’t feel okay how can I be of help to someone who feels the same or even worse? My inner critic tells me that I should be coping par excellence and not be grappling with anxiety, fear, and sorrow. Or if I do, only a little, not for too long, and it must not interfere with my life. My inner judge also tells me compared with the world’s sorrow and families who are burying their loved ones in the hundreds of thousands, what do I have to feel sad or bad about? Don’t you feel ashamed of yourself? Stop the insipid wallowing. Who do you think you are? What if your colleagues knew you felt this way? Better keep those thoughts and emotions hidden. Be silent. Show only strength. Be a role model of resilience.
I’m a mother and isn’t it my job to be strong for my daughter?
As a grandmother aren’t I supposed to bring happiness and not a hint of sadness when I arrive for my 6 feet away and face mask visit?
As a sister what good does it do to share my worry? Won’t it make my sister and brother feel worried, too?
My friends have their own struggles. Why burden them with my problems? My imaginary problems at best. They have enough of their own problems. Besides I want them to think I’m fine because being fine is being strong.
So there goes the closed circle of my mind looping back again and again as it fights against its own sense of real not okay-ness. I want to be okay. I want everyone and everything to be okay. But I and We and It are not okay.
When I wrote those words, “But I and We and It are not okay,” I could feel the tears begin to well up in my eyes. My tears that I have been so holding back want to pour down and join into the rivers of sorrow that are being felt and lived by so many.
Does that make me weak? Does that make me incompetent? Does that make me a failure as a mental health professional? If being okay means pretending all is alright when it isn’t, I guess the answer is yes.
My mind also has a wiser and more compassionate voice. I want to learn, practice and share a new definition of being okay. That being okay is being okay with not feeling okay. Being strong is accepting I can also feel weak. Being strong is sharing my uncertainty. Being competent is a professional skill that does not erase my being human or make my human beingness irrelevant.
There is tremendous relief and freedom in saying what is so. Not hiding from the truth. No longer lying to myself and/or others. I am not okay and that’s okay and I know I’m not alone in feeling this way. It’s important to honor reality. To stop and feel the enormity if even for just a moment of what is happening in our world. We don’t have to be afraid of feeling. Release it a little at a time. Be comforted in knowing you are not alone. Seek care and support wherever that may be – from family, friends, inspirational quotes and books, faith, and from the beauty of nature. We will recover. Life will go on. A vaccine will be created. Social distancing will continue to keep us safe. And all that does not take away the right I have, that we all have, to feel our feelings whatever they may be.
I love these words by poet Walt Whitman, “Do I contradict myself? Very well, then, I contradict myself; I am large – I contain multitudes.”
I will dare and dare greatly by saying I am not okay because saying this aloud respects who I am, makes me stronger, shows my humanity and weaves me into the fabric of life and life’s people at this time of the coronavirus pandemic.
I am okay with feeling not okay. Resilience is not just about bouncing back. It’s acknowledging and accepting that yes, I am feeling down, but knowing this feeling does not mean forever. Once I see and feel where I am without judgement there is an opportunity to soothe the pain by telling my true story, to stop feeling ashamed, to be cared for by another, and to open my heart and mind to experiencing the multitudes of being that I am, the multitudes of being that we all are. This moment now inspires our better tomorrow.
Gratitude brings tears to my eyes. Tears shed for joy and not for sorrow. Another contradiction? Not if I allow myself to become large enough to embrace, endure, and accept all that life is.
Be Safe. Be Strong. Together We’ll Weather The Coronavirus Storm.
Written by Diane Kaufman, MD who is a poet, artist, and Child Psychiatrist. Diane is a suicide survivor, has Bipolar II Disorder, serves on ASHA’s Board of Directors, and is founder of Arts Medicine for Hope & Healing and Creative Life Lines.
The “Be Strong In the Storm” poster was created by Diane Kaufman, MD and artist Amanda Meador. The poster was made in response to the United Nations having an “open call to creatives to help stop the spread of COVID-19.”