“Something is wrong with me” – is a thought I’ve been hearing from more and more people lately. Not just one age group, but all. And I don’t remember hearing any such thoughts a few years ago from anyone around me.
People, even in this convenient era, seem to be convinced more than ever before, that they need help. It is no wonder that every time I walk into a bookstore nowadays, dozens and dozens of books on self-help stare back at me lustily, as if they can sense the feeling I’m carrying around. The feeling, that I’m not okay.
Unfortunately, we are armed with a much richer vocabulary than before to express this feeling. Depression, gaslighting, OCD, bipolar, impostor’s syndrome, etc. I don’t mean to discount the significance or validity of these conditions. But the moment we identify ourselves with these thoughts or words, we get more confident about it, and buckle under the weight of our own ill-advised assumption.
Every thought has an origin. We aren’t born thinking we’re not okay. It was fed to us, perhaps without us realising it. We have built a whole database of what is okay and what is not.
Take simple matters such as looks. From the hair, to eyebrows, nose, cheekbones, chins – is there any body part left today without a standard? There isn’t. Why do I feel insecure about my hair? It is because I have been taught that hair is an important attribute in looks. I’ve heard it in TV shows, movies, and even from a few friends. So even though it is not a cold hard fact, I am convinced of my deficiency.
This is what I want to bring to everyone’s notice. We have created unrealistic standards for every little aspect of our lives. We all know the effect pictures on social media have. But it’s not just pictures. Take LinkedIn for instance. Everyone loves to write about ‘how it should be’. How bosses should be. How companies should be. How hard working we all should be. How a company’s HR should be. Almost nobody writes about how it is.
I’m not saying they’re wrong to say so. But the consumption of all this solely glass-half-full content is taking us further and further away from our grasp on reality, and on normalcy.
Physical pain is objective. When you stub your toe, it hurts, plain and simple. We did not really need anyone to tell us that. Every other pain we feel is manufactured by our minds. You can test it yourself: say you’re not feeling okay.
Step 1: Ask yourself why. What is not okay? Your rating is not okay? The way your boss took all the credit is not okay? Someone you liked stopped replying to your texts abruptly is not okay? Not having plans on a Saturday night is not okay? Your parents pestering you to get married is not okay? Having incredibly low self esteem that makes you feel like a sack of shit every morning is not okay?
Step 2: Understand that regardless of what your reason is, your definition of ‘not okay’ exists, because you defined what is ‘Okay’ – or someone else did it for you. Take my example. I told my flatmate that I went for a Sangria alone to a pub on Friday night. His response was, “Your life is pretty sad.”
This might seem like a harmless comment to make but it depends on how much I believe it. He made that comment because to him, having a drink alone or going to a pub alone is pathetic. Maybe you think so too. But the real question is what do I believe. If I agree with him, I will feel quite pathetic & sorry for myself – not just for this one time, but every time I go out alone for a drink. Because I have defined what is okay and what is not. And since nine out of ten people I told this thought the same thing, their definition becomes my definition. Result: I’m not okay.
Step 3: Think: who defined your not okay state? You think you’re a mess. You think you are weak. You think you cannot manage your own laundry. Maybe it is one day, maybe it is everyday. I have only one question: so fucking what?
Who said it is not okay to be weak sometimes?
Who said it is not okay to feel afraid of pretty much everything?
Who said it is not okay to have a bad day, or week, or year?
It is. It absolutely is okay. You are doing just fine.
To measure yourself and your life against standards defined by a bunch of people, is to give away your mind. It is to give away your definitions of okay and not okay. And it seems to me, more than money or career or family – the quality of my life is a factor of how much I feel okay, how much I don’t. Ultimately, to be okay is another form of acceptance. But I have always felt acceptance as this magical Zen quality which isn’t available for every-day human beings like me. But feeling okay with a bad day or a bad thought? Doesn’t sound that hard. I guess that’s why I’m writing this, in the hope that this works for someone else too. If our intelligence can play tricks on us, maybe this is a way to trick it back.
Let me conclude with my favourite line from Avengers: Endgame, when an overweight and depressed Thor meets his Mother, and shares his pain about letting everyone down.
Thor: I’m not supposed to be like everyone else, am I?
Frigga: Everyone fails at who they’re supposed to be, Thor. The measure of a person, of a hero, is how well they succeed at being who they are.Avengers: Endgame
How beautiful is that? Maybe that should have been the whole post itself.