It’s okay not to be okay

….but it’s important not to stay that way.”

I love this quote. It acknowledges the fact that going to a dark place is a normal part of life. What isn’t normal is when the darkness become home.

I don’t know if it’s a cultural thing, but when I’m having a conversation with anyone about a difficult situation I’m facing I feel absolutely compelled to end it on an upbeat note. I would never, ever dare end the conversation dangling with some negative, bleak stuff because I don’t want to ever burden anyone else around me with my heaviness and have them leave thinking, “wow… she is such a downer, I’m never hanging out with her ever again….”

I’ve been taught me to be optimistic and cheery because it’s polite and pleasant. I feel obligated to be “fine” and “great” even if I feel the opposite. But I’ve noticed that whenever I’m around people who explain a situation they’re going through without forcing a positive edge to it, to be the kind of people I automatically lean closer to. They feel authentic, genuine and trustworthy. I feel like I can be my true self around them.

“Discomfort is the price of admission to a meaningful life.”

I recently came across an interesting Ted Talk that instantly stopped me from my mindless scrolling. It talked about how “optimism has become a new form of political correctness.” People facing serious illnesses, or grieving the sudden loss of a loved one are told to “stay positive!” “everything happens for a reason!” But what if staying positive feels impossible? What if hearing “everything happens for a reason” makes you feel worse? I feel bad saying this because even I do this! It does feel wrong to be anything but upbeat and positive. But when we use “positive coercion” it forces the person to push away or ignore the pain they are going through.

When we suppress emotions, they actually become stronger. It’s called amplification. How scary is that? Anytime you force a thought away, it builds upon itself and grows in size. When we embrace “false positivity” we lose the capacity to deal with the world as it is, not as we want it to be. All the normal range of negative emotions we feel; frustration, anger, disappointment, sadness, loneliness… these are all a part of being a human. Resisting or avoiding them is harmful. There is simply no way of having a meaningful career, or a loving relationship, or just being a regular human without feeling some level of negative emotions. If we hide from them now, there will always be a new opportunity for them to come back again. Then what?

“When we suppress emotions, they actually become stronger. It’s called amplification.”

It goes on to explain that we need to learn to accept our emotions. Accepting them as they are is the foundation to resilience and growth. Once an emotion floods through our brain we must first learn to see the emotion purely as a data source, not the truth. When we feel a certain way, we can begin asking ourselves why? We can peel ourselves away and examine it objectively. Once we gain a concrete understanding of this emotion and the root cause of it, we can take the appropriate steps to generate our best selves. Emotions can be like a compass in the midst of a dense forest, they can help to lead us out if only we pay attention to them. Learning to be emotional agile is about having the ability to accept your emotions with curiosity, compassion and courage in order to take value connected steps.

This not about bashing the “positive movement.” I’m totally on board with transforming darkness into beauty. This what Life After Elizabeth is all about. But it’s also about recognising our humanness and being honest about it. It’s the antithesis of the fake worlds presented on social media, it’s meant to serve you the stuff no one talks about publicly. We are not cardboard cut outs with a smile stretched across our face. We’re human. We experience joy, sadness, loneliness, anger, pain — and everything in between. And we will continue to experience all of them in deeper ways, always, for the rest of our lives, until we’re dead. We are designed to feel. Do not fear your emotions. Accept your humanness. Accept your struggles and imperfections. Trust me, I know it’s so much easier said than done.

But I suppose all we can do is try. Maybe by doing so we can show others that we aren’t superheroes and it’s normal to fall sometimes. Maybe we can be the kind of person others lean to, the one others feel they can take off their mask and be their true selves. That is where healing begins, and that is where the stigma around mental illness starts to crumble away. That is, to me, is what makes life worth living.