Compassion Part 1: It’s okay not to be okay. When it’s someone else.
I would like to tell you a story about a text I received recently. It really got me thinking about how we deal with others when we’re struggling with our mental health. Clearly, as I’m writing a post about it! It made me realise that being open and asking for compassion is something we’re still not comfortable with. In other words, it’s okay not to be okay. Unless it’s you. I wanted to write a little about how we can change that.
You need to know that this story is about a fierce lady, a no bullsh*t, empowered strong woman, for whom I have the utmost respect. She will, of course, remain a mystery woman as I write this. But imagine your ultimate woman who champions self love and being comfortable in your beautiful jiggly/not jiggly/tall/small/whatever-you-feel-that-day body. Times that by 10. Now, you’re about at the right level of awesome.
Step 1: Realising it’s okay not to be okay
So I recently had a class to attend, that day, I received a text from the mystery woman, letting me know that she needed to rearrange. She didn’t have to give a reason why. But she did. The reason was that she had recently been in a bad place and the doctor had recommended that she take a bit of recovery time at home with her family. She said she felt “gutted, and embarrassed, and frustrated” and she apologised profusely.
My heart instantly went out to her and, you know what, this text made my day. Why? Because all too often, we use cover stories to hide struggles with our mental wellbeing. I’ll hold my hands up, I’ve told people I have a headache or period pain or… my arm has fallen off (got caught out on that one, wouldn’t recommend it).
Why? Because I was scared that people would think of me as weak. And f*ck that, right? Who wants to admit that they have feelings? Repeat after me, “I am a beacon of strength, happy 24/7 and I shall refuse to let anyone know otherwise”. It’s completely ridiculous. We need a different approach.
Step 2: Realising that other people aren’t either.
When I worked for PwC, I attended a seminar on workplace wellbeing. It was fascinating. To this day, one thing stuck in my mind. In one study, the majority, yes THE MAJORITY, of people would rather explain a gap in their employment history by SAYING THEY WERE IN PRISON than admitting they’d had time off due to their mental health. I KNOW. It is f*cking ludicrous to me that there is still such stigma around admitting you’re not okay.
We can’t all be sunshine and smiles all the time. Sometimes it’s the people who are trying their damned hardest to be positive who finally crack and they struggle the most. I know this because I’m one of them! Being ‘strong’ is something I’ve always been proud of. I think I get the stiff upper lip (luckily minus the moustache) from my dad. My mum and dad are polar opposites you see. Mum reacts first (usually by crying, bless her) and processes later. Dad never appears to do either. That’s the crucial point. He never appears to. But I know he does. Because I’m the same. Dad and I scorned my mum for her overly sensitive ways and lack of control. Never crying, never losing my temper, never admitting that I was struggling with something.
That brings me to an important point that this text reminded me of. If you see other people rewarding this Sergeant Major approach, of course you’re never going to feel as if it’s okay not to be okay.
Step 3: Asking for compassion. You’re not alone.
This is the hardest part. Feelings: Embarrassment/shame/guilt/fear/frustration/anger and probably a million others. But this is really very simple: ask for a little time or space or comfort, or whatever it is you need. Look how inspiring that wonderful, strong, real AF lady asking for help has been to me. You could do that. It doesn’t make you weak. It makes you human and honest.
What’s the worst that can happen?
Some d*ckhead gets their knickers in a twist and never speaks to you again. I’m not a religious person but I do believe in treating others as you wish to be treated. If they were going through a tough time, I’m sure they’d expect compassion. *Not if. When. Every single person on this planet will struggle with their mental health at some point. Life isn’t all sunshine and rainbows and realistically, clouds of anxiety or depression pass us by at different points throughout our lives. No one knows what will cause them but I do know that they will pass us by.
If in doubt, remember it’s okay not to be okay. Even when it’s you.
If you don’t feel like it’s okay not to be okay, then how can you make that clear to others? Those harmless fibs I’ve told to cover up the fact that things had become a bit cloudy for me may help hide my shame but they don’t help anyone. That text made me feel better. The simple act of admitting that you’re struggling is HUGE. Now, if you’re all cool, please continue on with your day; you probably don’t need this message right now but someone you know might. If you think so, pass it on!
I’d love to hear about experiences you’ve had where other people have inspired you and helped you realise it’s totally normal and it’s okay to not be okay all the time. You’re a star and you’ll be shining even when the clouds pass you by!
If you enjoyed this post and you haven’t checked out the Compassion series intro, find it here.