It’s okay to not be okay

I have a confession: I’m tired. Mentally and emotionally. It’s been a long two years. I barely regrouped after finishing treatment for clearing a third cancer when the coronavirus pandemic swept across the world. And it’s still sweeping, back and forth. So some moments, I’m doing okay. And others, not so much. But I’ve realized that it’s okay to not be okay.

Running the gauntlet of emotions

It’s natural for your emotions to run the gauntlet during a trying time. Or, heck, even in every day life. Many people in my circle admit that the pandemic has mentally worn them out. Especially my cancer survivor friends. It’s been difficult seeing people so flippant about their health, and others’ health. Witnessing arguments over seemingly simple things like wearing a mask is baffling, even maddening. I guess when you face cancer or some other serious illness or injury, you often look at your life in a different perspective. Most of us don’t take life for granted, appreciating the simple things around us. And our health.

Going through cancer is a classic example of feeling a range of emotions. And some people make me feel like I shouldn’t. I felt anger, sad, anxiety, and some days even shattered, at my third diagnosis. And hopeful, positive, grateful, blessed. I still feel all these things some days. It baffled people at times. In fact, I even had a stranger on social media tell me that I was too positive during my cancer treatment. I caught myself pausing to ask ‘am I?’ Pffft. Thankfully that lasted a few seconds before I politely responded, ‘Thanks for your input. You do you.’

He clearly didn’t understand that you can be a lot of things. It’s okay to be not okay. And also be okay. You can be both!

It’s okay to not be okay, especially around those you trust.

A few weeks ago, a good friend called to see how I was doing. This was shortly after my latest surgery, when I was feeling emotional and mentally tired. Between surgery, concern about the ongoing pandemic, watching people behave so thoughtlessly, isolation and more, I was a bit overloaded. But when she first asked how I was doing, I simply answered, “Doing well. Feeling good.”

Then after a pause, she said, “I’m glad you’re healing. But how are you really doing? Talk to me. I’m listening.” Something in her kind words and genuine interest in my well-being made a subconscious wall crumble. I started crying and shared my exhaustion, frustration and sadness at others’ behavior during the pandemic, frustration at going through another surgery, etc. Then I asked how she was really doing, and she shared. Through lots of dialogue, some tears, many laughs and caring, we both felt better. I am grateful for a friend like that.

Acknowledging our greatness

Many of us often push emotions aside because it makes others uncomfortable. Heck, maybe it makes you uncomfortable. Or we don’t have time ‘to deal with it.’ Emotions makes us look or feel weak. People don’t have time to listen. How many of these things resonate with you? How many of you are tired of always putting yourself on the back burner and suffering for it?

You can:

*be happy, and sad.

*be content, and want more.

*love someone, and be angry with them.

*be nervous and excited.

*optimistic and realistic.

*scared, yet hopeful.

I have the capacity to be all these things, and more. Sometimes at the same time. You do too!

Wow. We are amazing, complex beings capable of doing and feeling many things at once. And it’s time to acknowledge that.

Here are eight tips to help take care of you:

1. Turn off social media.

Social media is good for many things, including staying in touch with family and friends, learning new tips, staying updated on news and more. However, it can also be a black hole sucking time and energy. Especially over the past few years with so much separation on politics, pandemic actions and more. So take a break. Delete apps form your phone. Unfollow people, even family and friends, if their posts are causing more stress and anxiety than smiles. There is no rule that says you must be social media friends with someone.

All in it together.

2. Surround yourself with like-minded people.

Don’t let others stress you out. Everyone has an opinion about pretty much everything. While it’s great to be open and welcoming to differing views, especially if we’re open to learning, some people just are there to argue. Or simply have completely different views as you. You can respect people, yet not want them in your space. Finding like-minded people doesn’t mean you agree on everything. But it’s fun and relaxing to hang out with people who have similar interests. It’s okay to want peace, laughter and happy moments in your life.

3. Follow the news in small doses.

I used to be a news junkie. Probably due to my journalism major and a career in communications. I like to be informed, research and learn new things. But, yikes, today’s news can be overwhelming (this doesn’t mean that I don’t value the media and their coverage of important topics). So now I take it in bits. And you know what else helps? Clicking on those seemingly silly stories. Pausing to read about when the next Bridgerton season will begin filming or updates on the new baby Polar bears at our local zoo or a good deed done by someone for another provide the light side that I often need to balance the other stuff.

4. Get support.

Never feel like you have to go it alone. Finding a helpful therapist can help get you through the challenging times, including cancer, COVID, relationship strife, whatever. There are also tons of support groups for so many topics, from health issues to relationship struggles to careers and beyond. Heck, you can even usually find a Facebook for just about any topic too! Talking to a licensed counselor or others facing similar situations really is a great way to feel supported and work through concerns.

Always believe in you.

5. Find a hobby that makes you happy.

I so often find great peace in doing things that I enjoy. Biking, hiking, reading, writing, gardening and more bring me joy. And doing things you enjoy also help your overall mental, physical and emotional health.

6. Know your comfort level.

Check in with yourself – does the idea of doing an activity feel heavy/create anxiety? Or are you feeling calm and okay? This has been my go to throughout my cancer journey and especially the pandemic. Heck, in everyday situations, regardless of cancer or coronavirus. With a partial femur and total knee replacement, I often check in with myself to assess my comfort (and safety) level of activities. When I went through chemo again a few years ago, there were some situations (restaurants, large fairs, etc.) that I knew weren’t the best for my health so I declined. I’m constantly aware of my comfort level during this pandemic. I still haven’t let my guard down despite being fully vaccinated. So I check in with my comfort level and decline social outings when it doesn’t work for me.

Sometimes it sucks to say no, but mostly I know it’s the best for me – it would suck more to be anxious the entire time I’m out or worse, get sick or injured. I used to get a little uncomfortable or embarrassed admitting declining invites due to my physical limitations or my anxiety was spiking at the thought of doing activities. But then I reminded myself that this is about my peace, health and happiness. So now I’m pretty open with friends about my comfort level, or I simply say that I’ll pass. You don’t always need explanations. If my friends don’t understand my decisions. that’s okay.

7. Know what type of friend you’re interacting with.

Share concerns, successes, anxiety, emotions with those who will take the time and energy to actually listen. I’ve learned that there are several types of friends – the most common for me are surface friends and deep friends. I’ve learned to identify who I simply answer “I’m fine” or “Life is good” when asked how I am or which friends I can give a deeper, more honest and emotional answer (when I want to) and know they will focus on me and really listen. It’s okay to have a variety of friends.

8. Protect your energy.

There is a lot of heaviness in the world. Not just with the pandemic. Civil unrest and our democracy threatened in the U.S. Health concerns. Every day struggles that many face. And some people thrive on those heavy thoughts and energy, sometimes even trying to suck others into the negative vortex. Or attack those who seek the positive. Total opposite of who I am and want surrounding me. Don’t let people suck your energy. Be compassionate without draining yourself. Be kind, yet firm. And close the door on those who always take but never give back. Also remember to respect others’ energy. Before dropping your negativity on another make sure they’re comfortable and capable of handling it (maybe if you sense/know someone is having a rough day, save your concerns for another time).

It’s okay to not be okay

With all of this shared, I recognize my need to follow these tips too. Yes, it’s okay to not be okay. I will admit when I am not okay. But I also know I need to protect myself from too much negativity overwhelming me. Negativity is not my normal wheelhouse, nor do I welcome it. Which is why I’ve put ‘safeguards’ in place to protect my emotional, mental and physical well-being. Continued stress isn’t good for anyone. And after clearing three cancers, you can bet that protecting my inner peace and body from stress is my top priority, no matter how much I may like or love someone causing it.

It’s important to take are of yourself. It’s okay to not be okay. Just remember to not let it pull you down too far or for too long. Focus on the positive and possibilities. And remember that we can ALL be part of the solution.

Be well, friends. Stay healthy!

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