In life, you’re supposed to always be improving. You’re learning from your mistakes, you’re old enough to know better now. The second you do something that’s bad, you’re expected to develop a learning curve and say to yourself, “This hurt me. This is unhealthy behavior so I’ll stop doing it now.”
The girl who falls in love with assholes is supposed to eventually find a nice young man. The man who drinks too much is expected to go to rehab and become a changed person. The girl who weighs 90 pounds is required to have a moment of clarity and eat that slice of pizza. Do you sleep around with strangers? Don’t worry, you’ll be in a monogamous relationship when you’re 33.
We’re a culture that thrives on bad decisions and recovery. We love to watch someone fall just so they can ask for our help to get back up. This kind of thinking is easy and it keeps things in black and white terms. We’re able to compartmentalize situations. This, we’re taught, will help us stay sane.
But what if you’re not okay? What if you’re 36 and worse off than you were when you were 21? What if the girl who falls in love with assholes decides to marry one and bear his children? What if the anorexic girl has some good days but mostly still hates herself? These kinds of narratives are harder to hear—they exist in the grey area and don’t have easy fixes—so they’re ignored.
We’re pressured by society. That sounds sort of simplistic but it’s true. We’re pressured by the implicit deadlines it gives us. We’re supposed to act a certain way at 23 and have it out of our system before people start to stare, before they ask us to please act our age. These deadlines are there to help keep us on track but, in reality, they’re often the reason why people go off the track to begin with.
There’s so much shame in saying, “I’m not okay”, in admitting that you neglected to retain the after school message. There’s shame in seeing yourself make the same mistakes for ten years instead of for a few months. This was not supposed to be your life. You were supposed to be somewhere else, with someone else, doing something else. But you’re not. You’re right here—a place no one wants to be—and you don’t know how to move forward. Everyone’s scared they might catch whatever it is you have so they keep their distance. You just want to be honest with people but you’re too ashamed so you keep pretending to be fine. Everyone knows you’re not but it’s easier for them to just go along with it. Cycle continues.
Why doesn’t anyone acknowledge how hard everything can be? And how some bad habits just don’t dissolve on your 31st birthday? Or that you can have the same bad day over and over again? Life doesn’t have the kind of endings you see in magazines or movies. Things linger past their expiration date and if people felt like they could talk about it, maybe they’d have a better chance at actually becoming the person they want to be. Saying “I’m not okay” may be what finally makes you okay.