are you okay?

I knew I was going to be down on points from the moment I opened my eyes and it has not been an easy day. It’s been that kind of dreadful that is all consuming; I’m not quite sure of whether I am sick, sad or just tired of riding this Yo-Yo.

Of course if you asked me, I would probably say I’m fine..

‘Are you okay?’ is common conversational currency. It’s the equivalent of a five pence piece, winningly compact but of little real value. It’s one of those questions we often ask, forget an answer might  follow, and then move on with only the slightest pause. It leads only to a narrow space – the permitted responses of ‘yes’ or ‘no’ or ‘fine’ – one which will gently rattle the universe.

Honestly, how often have you said ‘no’ in response? That path seems only for the brave; a breach of etiquette, likely to be met with an awkward silence, an abrupt change of conversation or perhaps a call to the emergency services… perhaps its just a British thing..  what do you think?

At any rate, today when I say that I’m fine, what I really want to say is that:

I woke from a dream of dad only to have the memory that he’s gone break over me like an icy wave that’s left me cold all day.

I got up, did the dishes, fed the dog and then sobbed in the shower till my tummy hurt – then wondered if that qualifies as coping.

I’m imagining myself as a gingerbread man with the middle cookie-cut out.. maybe the pain I feel is my veins, muscles, sinews re-routing to try to avoid touching on that absence, that emptiness.

I’m painfully aware that grief is something beautiful. It opens your eyes to life, asks so many questions – but I am honestly a little frightened to find that I have so few of the answers.. and if I try to explain this awful beauty you might just think I’m crazy.

For the first time in weeks, I let myself cry in front of my brother and felt oddly proud that little risk gave him permission to tell me how he really feels too..

I don’t want to feel sad but I am deeply committed to letting myself feel, no matter how little fun it is. I do not want deadness to be my way of escaping from this death. It seems I have become a grief evangelist..

The messed up thing is that when I tell you I am not okay, I feel bad. Not for my pain, but your awkwardness, the sense I get from you that there is something you should do, or say, that you don’t know how to, or don’t want to. When I can’t sign up to ‘okay’ I feel just a little bit like I’ve let you, and myself down… and frankly that makes me want to hit someone with a plank!

For all my frustration with that damned question, I am no bold pioneer. I have no strength to cut my way out of this conversational convention.

But perhaps the next time someone asks me that question I’ll have a little rebellion – I’ll say ‘I’m not okay, but that’s okay’… and then we can edge a little closer to something real.

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13 Responses to are you okay?

  1. Ah dear heart, here are some more hugs for you. What I say when people ask if I’m okay and I’m not feeling great is either ‘not really’ (less harsh somehow than a simple ‘no’), or ‘up an down’, indicating that I know things will get easier again at some point. It’s unfortunately not an exclusively British thing… but bring on the rebellion 🙂

  2. It’s strange how we feel we have to pretend we’re OK when we’re not – it’s such a strong social convention. But I like “I’m not OK, but that’s OK”. If you try it, you’ll have to let us know how it works out.

    I know what you mean about dreams too – they can be so vivid and sometimes more real than what happens during the day after you wake up.

    • It is odd but true that society seems to demand nobody ever be in turmoil.. when you think of it like that the ‘real’ starts to seem like a bit of a dream world so it is not surprising that sometimes dreams seem more plausible!

  3. madryy says:

    Hehe I wish you to be OK for real, but when I’m not I say, ‘I’m OK .. I guess’, but unfortunately, the ‘I guess’ doesn’t seem to cut it.

  4. Felipe Neumann says:

    When people ask me if I’m okay and I’m not I usually say “no, but I don’t really want to talk about it so you can just… buy me some coffee and I’ll release you from your burden”. 🙂
    Don’t be so hard on yourself, it’s okay to feel like crap, just make sure you choose the right people to hear you say “no, I’m not okay” – I’m sure they’ll bring you comfort without saying a word.

  5. aimeeval says:

    Such true and honest words, and written with such beauty and sincerity!

    I find myself kindred in what you write. Three years after my loss I feel like I have to “be okay” even when I’m not. It is a difficult journey to take, but I’m happy to read that you are allowing yourself to experience grief and to travel through it and come out better.

    • Hey Aimee, Thanks for the comment. It is a tough journey to walk isn’t it? The scary thing is that sometimes I say I am okay so much that I forget that I am not.. the words somehow make me forget to look at what I’m really feeling.

  6. bobleckridge says:

    As with ALL your posts your so spot on! Beautiful, yet again!
    I’ve often slipped up walking a patient along the corridor from the waiting room to my consulting room and asked as we walk, “So how are you?” or “How are you doing?”
    Well, what are you going to say in the corridor??
    “OK”, or “Fine thanks” are the commonest responses……a few seconds later in the privacy of the consulting room, the real answers are given….and they’re very different!
    In the corridor, I’ve taken to consciously trying to stick to that other quintessentially British subject and chat about the weather instead!

  7. I find that “as good as can be expected,” or “I’m getting along,” can work pretty well. I think that How are you? or How’s it going? are more platitudy. Usually when someone asks if you’re okay, it’s because they can see that you aren’t. At least that’s been my experience. Thanks for visiting my blog today.

    • Hello Brook – that’s true people do tend to ask when they know the answer is not ‘zippity great thanks’.. I wonder why? seems we need a whole new idiom from somewhere… lately I’m going for ‘there are good days and bad days’ which is short enough to allow the faint hearted to bolt but honest enough to allow room for more conversation for the brave!

  8. Pingback: grief 101: for a friend… | finding life in a death

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