It’s not OK to say it’s OK for me to not be OK, OK?

It’s OK to not be OK.

It’s an oft-used phrase intended to offer reassurance to those with emotional issues, or mental ill health. It can be a useful antidote to the range of positive psychology ‘happy’ quotes we now see everywhere. Most of us would like to feel the happiness described in the happiness quotes, or at least feel able to strive for it. But for some of us, just surviving takes up all our energy. We feel anything but happy.

I have a problem with being told it’s OK to not be OK. As described above, I completely understand the purpose and intention of the sentence. I understand no one who has said that to me intends to be insensitive, or to upset me – quite the opposite, they are trying to offer me comfort.

The problem I have with “it’s OK to not be OK” is that there is absolutely nothing OK with my situation.

Being not OK does not feel OK to me.

My pregnancy nearly killing me is not OK. Neither is the constant anxiety and sense of dread I feel as a result.

My baby dying was not OK. The intense sadness, and fear that something bad will happen because this proves bad things happen is not OK.

The reason it is not OK is because I hate these feelings, I rage at them. My life has not turned out the way it should have. I have empty arms instead of holding a baby in my arms. I am exhausted, not from a baby who refuses to sleep at night, but from grief. I am tired and fed up from so many things related to this.

I have been told it is ok to have these feelings. Yes, all these feelings are natural responses to trauma and grief.

‘OK’ means acceptance, agreement, or approval. I do not accept, agree with, or approve of any of these feelings. Not yet, anyway. Maybe I never will.

Yes, ‘OK’ can also mean acknowledging something. Fair enough, acknowledging the feelings is something I am trying to do. But the more positive connotations outnumber this, so I still don’t like it, and I don’t have to like it.

Raging at the concept of not being OK being OK is not helpful to me.

I do not want the word ‘OK’ to be used anywhere near anything about the death of my baby, in whatever context.

I am sure I have used ‘OK’ in my writing, and it has never felt comfortable. It has taken me a while to figure out why. It is pretty obvious, now I have figured it out.

For me, the more helpful thing for me to say to myself, or for others to say to me is “it is what it is.” Or “it is an understandable reaction to the trauma and grief I have experienced, and continue to experience.” The latter might not be quite as catchy or succinct, but it is more what I need to hear.

Months down the line from Hugo’s death, I know that there is nothing I can do to avoid the grief. I am on the grief road until the end of my days. Along the road the going might become a bit easier, but there are no diversions. This lack of diversions means there is there is no avoiding the pain, no avoiding working through the grief.

I am trying to get to a stage of accepting my feelings for what they are. A mindfulness in grief. Not judging those feelings. I cannot achieve that while I am raging at a notion of it being OK to not be OK.

So, I am deleting that phrase from my vocabulary.

I’ll try to not get angry with anyone who utters it in my direction. Promise. I know it’s well-meant.

I’m not saying people should stop using the phrase, because if it works for you, that’s great. I do worry, though, that “it’s OK to not be OK” is at risk of becoming another platitude – meaningless, without depth, something someone says so they can feel like they’ve done something to help, but it actually devolves them of responsibility for listening. Listening is often what people need, whether they are bereaved, or have any other problem from the wide spectrum of troubles.

Please don’t tell me it’s ok for me to not be OK, OK? Because for me, it really isn’t.


19 thoughts on “It’s not OK to say it’s OK for me to not be OK, OK?

  1. Mummy Writes says:

    Leigh I read this post and saw my own anxiety and emotion coming through. I think we’re both heightened to our grief following Christmas and with our anniversaries approaching. It’s the bleakest of bleak time of year for us, and I don’t say that to discount any other day of the year when you’re missing Hugo but I hope to comfort you in some small way. This deep low will pass I believe for both of us but we have to get through it too. Keep writing but also take care of you. Read what you want to read, unfollow those who upset you even if you like them (I’ve had to unfollow a few as I found it upsetting), you can always follow again later. You’ll be glad you wrote this in the future. xxx


    • Leigh Kendall says:

      You’re right, it’s an extra painful time of year for both of us. This post came about after a discussion in my therapy session – I realised feeling not ok wasn’t ok for me. I’ve unfollowed people and organisations, but still these annoying and upsetting platitudes come from all quarters. I like trying to get people to think about the meaning of what they say without thinking. Thanks for commenting lovely xxx


  2. Caroline b says:

    You are right, and yes your opinion on this topic comes from your experiences of grief and the terrible pain. It is a bit too catchy to be meaningful for everyone with their own situation and feelings.

    However, I also despise the fact that I am mentally ill, I hate it.. ‘It’s ok to not be ok’ is another way of saying ‘your emotions are valid, you are entitled to feel how you are feeling, don’t ever question that’. As someone who is constantly at war with my emotions and simply cannot manage fairly hum drum ones, I need to be told that it’s alright to feel how I feel. But, this sentiment, like you say should be phrased in a way that is considerate to the reason for the deep sadness and our level of ‘not being ok’.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Leigh Kendall says:

      Absolutely. All these sorts of phrases are subjective and open to interpretation by the individual. It’s good the phrase works for you. You’re right, it shouldn’t just be a pat phrase though. Thanks for commenting xxx


    • staceytangerineowlproject says:

      Ladies, this is such a good thing to point out – Leigh, after reading your post, which makes TOTAL and complete sense, its enlightening to know your thoughts on this and why it effects you in the way it does. I think the best thing we can do there….. is either as you suggested, LISTEN, or how about simply asking, “What would you find most comforting today?” and letting the convo go from there.


      • staceytangerineowlproject says:

        Sorry, i meant also to echo about struggles with validation of feelings that caroline mentioned – this is backbone of what I do with TOP, because so often we are told that our feelings or grief aren’t “right” in some way shape or form…..but I never realized that it could be hurtful in some cases.


      • Leigh Kendall says:

        Absolutely, Stacey – most platitudes are well-intentioned, but the problem comes when there is an inference that you aren’t doing something ‘right’. Listening really is so valuable – let the person lead the conversation wherever they want it to go xxx

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Tim says:

    You’re right, Leigh, it’s definitely an empty platitude, albeit a well-intentioned one, that’s as much (subconsciously, at least) about making the person who says it feel better as it is about the recipient of the comment.

    (Quickly looks back to check how many times I’ve said that in the past – probably quite a lot. Oops.)

    It’s one of those phrases that would do well to be eradicated from all usage, along with such other phrases as “I don’t mean to be rude …” (i.e. “I’m going to be rude whether you like it or not”).

    Your grief certainly doesn’t require any validation. It is what it is, and how you deal with it is a personal matter.


    • Leigh Kendall says:

      Ha! It’s just one phrase on the long list of phrases so many of us say without pausing to consider the meaning or implication, just like “I don’t mean to be rude but…” Thank you for your kind comment x


  4. blopmamma2014 says:

    Of course it’s not ok my lovely.
    I prefer ‘Keep on keeping on’ if I use any sort of saying at all. But maybe that’s not any better, we keep on going because we have to, not because someone uses a trite phrase, however well meant.


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