You don’t need to pretend to be okay

Here’s why we should transform our theory of positive thinking and pretending to be okay this Thursday 13 September.

As humans, our sole destination in life is happiness. We strive for it daily, but for the most part, we are satisfied with being just okay. When we become aware of all the terrible emotions that have the capacity to eat away at us, we tend to aim for a happy medium. It’s as if a person’s negative sensations are pointing them in the wrong direction of their wellbeing compass. They shouldn’t be felt.  When we feel emotions of anxiety or depression, alarm bells go off in our heads. How most of us respond to those alarm bells says a lot about our society today. Instead of listening to what these feelings are trying to tell us, we often suppress the emotions. All in the name of maintaining a calm composure.

Think about it. What is your automatic response when someone asks you how you are? Okay. What is the response you want to hear from the people you care about? Okay. We want to be okay at all times. We want the people we love to be okay at all times.

Yet, this is an unrealistic goal. It’s no revelation that we will go through times where we are not okay at all. So if this is an inevitable, why do we enforce an impossible standard of wellbeing that makes those experiencing low emotions inadequate? It’s days like R U OK? Day where we can think about how we suppress important emotions for the sake of willing ourselves to feel better. What impact does this mindset have on you? What impact does it have on your loved ones? This R U OK? Day, think about how going forward, we as a society can be honest about how we feel - not just to others but to ourselves. Admit that things don’t feel right. Admit that you’re struggling. Admit that you’re human. Once you do that, you’ll be able to initiate potentially life-saving conversations with your mates.

We’ve grown accustomed to showing the world a calm and indifferent illusion of ourselves. The illusion is now a norm.

The desire to be okay is taken one step further by each and every one of us daily. We not only want to feel okay, but we also want to appear okay. If the sensations within the mind don’t equate to the happy medium, we construct a mask to delude others that we are doing just fine. This mask is a dangerous falsehood. We’ve grown accustomed to showing the world a calm and indifferent illusion of ourselves. The illusion is now a norm. We not only put on the mask ourselves, but we are fooled by other people’s masks. The world is filled with performers, all putting on the same romanticised act; that we have our shit together.  For so long, cool indifference has been the desired objective and being mentally unwell has been equated with emotional instability. The stigma surrounding mental illness originates from the constant need to be in control. But are any of us ever in full control of our emotions? We have to remind ourselves that we’re complex human beings with the beautiful ability to express thought and emotion. Why can’t we exercise that ability instead of trying to achieve robotic coolness day in and day out?

What is your automatic response when someone asks you how you are? Okay. What is the response you want to hear from the people you care about? Okay.

For the most part, this mask of “being okay” gets us through our day, and it’s all well and good until you’re hit with sudden chaos. It may be an unexplained feeling. It may be a tragedy. It may be an overwhelming workload. Whichever it may be, it happens to all of us. Every now and then, we don’t have our shit together. It’s during these times when our masks are tested the most. By placing all of our efforts into feeling or even looking okay, we’re not prepared for what to do when we’re not. In these moments, most of us will rely on our masks more than ever. If you haven’t already guessed it, this is the worst time to play the part of Person-Who-Has-Their-Shit-Together. This is the time where we should be reaching out to loved ones or a professional. We should be wearing our emotions on our sleeve. We should be embracing the negative emotions and letting them in before confronting them. Instead, we can’t possibly accept any feeling that is less than the standard of being okay.

Positive thinking has turned into a phenomenon that has taken our contemporary world by storm. Many learn to rely on affirmations that combat the negative. For the most part, there’s nothing wrong with that. The only thing wrong with positive thinking is how the majority of us exercise it. We’re aware that we’re experiencing low moods, but we decide to lean on one singular thought: Everything is fine. A lie in the face of panic. Why? It’s because we’ve been socialised that to feel good is to feel normal. And this so-called “normality” is what we strive for in high-pressure moments. But what is genuinely normal? Normal for a human is facing both joy and pain. Accepting this simple fact is what makes us durable. It leads to lessening our fear of being less than okay.

You wouldn’t pretend your leg is not broken if it genuinely was. You would go to the doctor, gain treatment and let it heal.

So, how do we navigate our positive thinking in times of strife so that it’s not counter-intuitive? In the height of panic, grief or pain, rather than telling yourself that everything’s fine or going to fine, tell yourself; this is normal. Let in the emotions instead of wishing them away with the sheer force of will. You wouldn’t pretend your leg is not broken if it genuinely was. You would go to the doctor, gain treatment and let it heal. Is it so different with mental health? It’s impossible to feel better without accepting that you’re not fine. Of course, this is easier said than done. So how can we simplify it?

  • Let out the emotions in a healthy way. Have a cry. Journal. Vent to a loved one.

  • Practise being honest about how you feel when someone asks (even when you’re feeling mildly stressed, talk about it rather than hiding from it).

  • Don’t assume that someone is okay just because they look okay.

  • Check-in with your loved ones and they’ll check-in with you. This could help someone more than you’d think.

  • Seek professional advice if the feelings remain with you for an extended period of time or are becoming impossible to manage on your own. Call Lifeline or Beyond Blue, utilise e-Headspace counselling, try mindfulness meditation or speak to your GP.

The next time you ask someone how they’re doing, consider if you’re already anticipating a positive answer. Be more mindful in the way you ask. Asking someone if they’re okay should not be a part of polite small talk. It should be meaningful and well-intentioned. More than anything, let R U OK? Day remind you that sensations of anxiety and depression are a common part of the human condition and are anything but abnormal. I’ve felt them. You’ve felt them. We all have.

If you, or anyone you know needs help:

This article was brought to you by Fatima Olumee, a second-year Journalism student. Besides being an absolute bookworm and obsessed Potterhead (not to be confused with Pothead), her passions include yoga, horse-riding, and Bollywood movies. This girl is a big bag of weird… the good kind, she hopes.