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Being okay is a role we play

'"I'm good thank you, are you?"

She smiled kindly. Black circles covered by makeup, holding herself in an upright posture. Hair neatly arranged, body clad in an ironed suit and high heels looking feminine and fab. She strode confidently to her desk and sunk her tired body into her chair.

The nauseous feeling in her stomach distracted her for a moment from the reality of her duties and obligations. When she thought about where she had to be by the end of the day, the nausea only deepened, and engulfed her. The numbers in the Excel spreadsheet on her screen seemed to dance in front of her eyes. Every cell of her being wanted to disappear in that moment, but she couldn't...'

When you ask someone whose perceived role in life is to be okay no matter what, "are you okay?", they are probably going to lie to you.

An admission of not-okayness is almost impossible due to the deep shame that someone carries about failing to carry out that said role.

The strong one.

The dependable one.

The capable one.

The smart one.

Whatever nuance you would like to give it.

That role is part of their IDENTITY. Who they believe themselves to be as a human being - how they value themselves.

To strip that away from them with force would be to reduce them to nothing in a moment.

This is not just my story, it's the story of many of my clients and friends who have experienced incredibly difficult periods in their lives. I know viscerally the seriousness of such a situation. And I know viscerally that it can be overcome.

But this is deep identity work. Not cupcake work (sorry, I know it's well-intentioned, but we need to have some tough conversations).

Someone in a state of not being okay may not even know they are not okay. More likely, they may suspect they are broken and need fixing, which they will first try to do quietly without anyone noticing.

They don't need fixing—no one does—but they don't know that (yet).

[Side note: this is a great thing to know for when someone says they are not okay. If they don't need fixing, it means there is nothing you need to do except listen! Never try to fix, especially when someone is opening up for the first time. Perhaps you could ask how you can support them - let them decide. Make it known that you want to.]

This is the point where things must shift; they can either go up, or down.

This is how you can help in a meaningful way:

If you want to be an ally, if you truly want to be there for someone who is not okay to open up about their personal struggles, then you need to seek to be a safe and accessible person the other 364 days of the year, too. Okay, so perfection isn't needed, but intention is.

You might also think about how important it is to connect with the people around you not just at the level of what they do, but who they are. And celebrate that. Quirks and all.

You have to role model being open and, dare I use this word, vulnerable. Let them see your challenges, and your quirks, too. Let them know that it's actually okay to not be okay. And it's okay to not know if you are okay or not.

To be this person, you need to look at your own stuff, too.

Do you really expect someone else to be honest with you when you're not being honest with yourself?

Stay humble. Hemingway once said "the world breaks everyone."

Given the work I have been doing for almost four years now, I believe Hemingway's assertion to be true. For my most "successful" clients, even those under 40s who could retire tomorrow if they wanted to, or those who have beautiful partners and children and a white picket fence, it still holds.

We need to work together to start dissolving the shame around not being okay.

Guilt reveals, shame conceals. We cannot solve this with just one question. We're working against a very powerful aspect of the human psyche. But you can offer hope by being a good human and letting someone know you care about them.

When we start doing the deeper identity work, including shadow work, we can then begin to detach ourselves from our perceived roles and responsibilities in life. We can see which ones are true, which ones fit, and start to shift away from those things which take away our life force.

We shine the light on shame and dissolve it away.

When we do that for ourselves, we give others permission to do the same.

It's a deeply personal journey and no one can do it for us. We must have the courage to look at ourselves truthfully. That's where it all begins. From there, we can be open to the support we need.

I made it though an incredibly dark passage in my life, and yet I still have some unbelievably terrible days amongst the good ones. Which is okay. That's the nature of the human experience. I am sure even darker days lay ahead, too. Have compassion. Stay curious.

I know you can do this, but I also know you need to do it in your own time and in your own way. Help is available when you're able to receive it. And if you don't believe in yourself, borrow my belief in you until yours is strong enough to move forward.

It's not your fault that you feel bad, it's about how your mind and body have processed the events in your life that have happened, and the thoughts and beliefs you hold about those events and yourself as a result. But that doesn't make you powerless. It means you get to claim your power back. You are powerful. Even if you don't know that yet.

Sometimes it takes a few tries. See below a nice metaphor to remind you of that along your path.

There’s a Hole in My Sidewalk: The Romance of Self-Discovery


I walk down the street.

There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.

I fall in. I am lost. I am helpless.

It isn't my fault.

It takes forever to find a way out.


I walk down the same street.

There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.

I still don't see it. I fall in again.

I can't believe I am in the same place.

It isn't my fault.

It still takes a long time to get out.


I walk down the same street.

There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.

I see it there, I still fall in.

It's habit. It's my fault. I know where I am.

I get out immediately.


I walk down the same street.

There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.

I walk around it.


I walk down a different street.

© 1977 Portia Nelson


If you believe you or someone you know is at serious risk, seek help immediately - don't wait. Contact a doctor or mental health professional to talk about putting in place long term support.

US: National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or Live Online Chat

AUS: Lifeline call 13 11 14 or Live Online Chat

Search for the relevant suicide prevention hotline in your country.


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