“Are you okay?” That’s a hard question to answer. I’ve gone through a lot this year, with interpersonal struggles, financial struggles, and health scares in people close to me. I tend to attach shame to admitting what I struggle with- even though they are very real hard things that I know plenty of other people relate to.
“Are you okay?” Maybe it’s hard because I’m so used to covering up my moments of struggle: whether it’s with my tendinitis or mental health issues. It’s easier to cover up otherwise invisible issues: most people don’t care to know or won’t understand. For example, explaining something so specific as sensory overload* to someone who hasn’t experienced it before is difficult, especially when my eloquence levels are going to be pretty low during and after the overload. Even if I wanted to make up a more socially acceptable excuse for looking unwell or upset, I’d be bad at lying about it. I just tend to say I’m fine and deal with things internally. I quickly shelve things so I can return to normal functioning and appearing confident and “together”.
“Are you okay?” I just lost my aunt Friday. That’s not something I can just shelve and then move on with my life. I haven’t really lost someone before (except once, when I was a toddler and my grandma passed away). I’m allowing myself plenty of time to process alone. However, expressing to others how I’m feeling is hard.
“Are you okay?” I rarely cry in front of people, even family members. Nobody has asked me to prove that I’m sad, but I feel like I’m expected to- partially because of gender stereotypes. Women are expected to show more emotions with their body language. Perhaps people notice that the effervescence I usually layer on to my social persona is gone, or that I’m quieter than usual.
“Are you okay?” When people ask me how I feel, if we are not close, I’ll tell them there was a family tragedy or not tell them at all. I am still trying to figure out what levels of closeness make it okay to share certain things. I err on the side of caution if I’m not sure. A person who isn’t close to you doesn’t usually want or need to hear about your problems. People just want to hear that you’re fine and continue with their day.
“Are you okay?” Even with people I’m really close to who genuinely want to know, I can hardly express how I feel because I’m still figuring it out myself. I know that I’m sad because I’ll cry really hard sometimes- and the way my stomach twists in knots. That only happens when I’m alone. Describing the feeling itself is where I get lost. Words, my best tool of self expression, are failing me. I just end up telling people facts- like the story of what happened and how I found out, or how things are with my family. Or I share fond memories of my aunt.
“Are you okay?” While I’ve had some of my hardest times ever this year, I’ve also experienced some of the deepest closeness I’ve ever had with God and the people that I love. The illusion of independence is stripped away when you go through your hardest times- you’re forced into the beautiful mess of vulnerability. It’s reframing the way I look at closeness. We don’t always completely understand what’s going on, or what the other person is thinking or experiencing. In fact, we’re very often in the dark. That’s why we have to trust each other and stick together. Ultimately, God has His purposes, even if the way is not clear. If I lean on Him, I feel peace.
“Are you okay?”
No, I’m not okay. But I’m learning it’s okay to be not okay.
“It’s one thing to trust God’s guidance when it’s actually quite obvious what to do next. It’s something else entirely when you seem to be going on and on up a blind alley.” – N. T. Wright
*Sensory overload is when the sheer amount/variety of competing sound /sights/other stimuli becomes overwhelming for a more sensitive brain. It’s something I’m more sensitive to when I am tired or stressed, or in certain high-stimulus environments. It’s something many people on the Autistic Spectrum and related disorders struggle with. Different people have different sensory sensitivities, and therefore avoid certain environments as much as they can. These sensory overloads put the brain into “fight or flight” mode, and the reaction can look different depending on the severity and the individual. My reaction is a “flight” response, usually: to escape in some way, by turning away or exiting the room.