How to Stay Fine, Even When You’re Not Okay

Call it a battle of semantics, but I think that “fine” and “okay” represent linked, but totally different, states of being. I will be red-faced with snot dribbling down my face and crying enough tears to save us from the impending water crisis and I will also be swearing up and down that I am fine. And I’m being entirely truthful. However, if I was saying I was okay, then it would be completely fair game to call me out on a bold-faced lie.

For me, being okay or not being okay are short-term states that fluctuate regularly. When you’re feeling hurt, it’s normal that you don’t feel okay. This hurt can happen if your heart’s feeling a little broken after a particularly bad day at work or if you just flunked a big test. And the hurt can come out in different ways, whether it’s manifesting as anger, an anxiety attack or if you catch yourself feeding into bad habits. Not being okay is a fundamental human experience, and that’s lame as hell.

Even though I haven’t figured out how to entirely shut off my emotions yet, I’ve figured out how to cope with them. And that is what brings us back to being “fine.” To be fine refers to one’s ability to cope with their feelings or to process the events that gave us the feelings in the first place.

The first step to staying fine is that you don’t catastrophize. It’s so easy to build things up in your head as meaning more than they really do, to say that things influence more than they really do. But, a lot of things that leave us not feeling okay don’t truly have a huge impact. If a boy breaks your heart, is it going to affect your future career? Hell no. If you fail a test, is it going to ruin your relationships with the people you care about? Absolutely not. If you have a truly terrible day where you leave your house but you still don’t see a single dog, does that mean that tomorrow is another dogless day? Nuh-uh honey, there are puppies in store for you.

If you’re able to recognize what the actual consequences of things are, you’re also able to put your energy into the things that you can control. Don’t brush over your feelings, but don’t simmer in them for too long either. Emotions aren’t things you’re entirely victim to, they’re feelings that you can either feed or let starve. Sometimes the easiest way to stay fine is to put aside whatever is making you feel a little raw and to instead feed other emotions. Pick some other aspect of your life (remember that you are in fact a complex person who has many factors that contribute to the sum of your being) and devote energy to that. This can be as simple as going to the gym, making plans to see friends or buckling down and writing the best essay of your life.

So, cry those tears, have a panic attack, go out with your girls and get obnoxiously drunk. There can be something incredibly liberating about not being okay, about not having everything contained. But, dig your claws into being fine and don’t let go. Build yourself into a person with vested interests in many things, so that the loss of one thing isn’t devastating. Process your feelings, but only feed the emotions that serve you. And if you’re ever at a point where you realize that you’re past being not okay, you are fully blown not fine, don’t be afraid to reach out and get the support you need.