Not ok

Do you remember Successories, those posters (and so many other products) that had “motivational” sayings on them? Fifteen or twenty years ago, they were everywhere – offices, dorm rooms, and gyms across the country. [Full disclosure: I had a desk calendar. Our office manager chose it.] I suppose the idea was that if you were struggling with Gratitude, Collaboration, Excellence, Integrity, Perseverance, (all those things you’re already bringing to the table), you could just look at one of those posters and muster the strength to be all you could be, to borrow an Army slogan from roughly the same timeframe.

Im Not Okay.jpeg

I have seen a lot of articles mimicking that sentiment directed toward patients struggling with difficult conditions. The main theme is, “Everything is going to be ok. You’re going to be ok.” That’s good some of the time. Not all of the time. The fact is, these conditions are scary. Sometimes you’re not going to be ok. And that’s ok.

When I was diagnosed with kidney disease, I had a very kind doctor who let me sit in her office and cry for an hour while I called my dad and my boyfriend. I was really scared then. It didn’t feel like I was going to be ok. And that was fine. It was a normal, if overwhelming, reaction to a serious condition. It didn’t help that most people diagnosed with that condition were decades older than my 29 years old. It made me feel that I was that much closer to the possible death that came with it. (The most common causes of death in diabetics are heart disease and kidney failure.)

At that time, I probably would have punched someone who told me everything was going to be ok. I needed time to process, to adjust, and to prove to myself that maybe that was true. I’m not saying that we should allow ourselves to develop a victim’s mentality, but there are more dimensions to the psychological impact of chronic and autoimmune conditions than can be addressed by, “It’s going to be ok” or any other simple motivational saying (I’m looking at you, Nike’s Just Do It).

I wonder how those of you with chronic pain feel about that? Or multiple sclerosis? Or cancer? Or any of the other conditions that challenge you every day or come with the possibility of a long, slow degeneration? I imagine that, like me, you’re ok in waves – up for a while, then down, then up. Hopefully the ups last longer than the downs, but sometimes they don’t.

So, yes, it will probably be ok, but it’s perfectly acceptable to feel like it might not, as long as you don’t let that feeling interfere with getting there. And if you do start to feel like not ok is taking over, make a call.