Why You’re Not Allowed To Be A Trainwreck

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. TC mark

image – Arenamontanus

Ryan O'Connell

I'm a brat.

Trace the scars life has left you. It will remind you that at one point, you fought for something. You believed.

“You are the only person who gets to decide if you are happy or not—do not put your happiness into the hands of other people. Do not make it contingent on their acceptance of you or their feelings for you. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if someone dislikes you or if someone doesn’t want to be with you. All that matters is that you are happy with the person you are becoming. All that matters is that you like yourself, that you are proud of what you are putting out into the world. You are in charge of your joy, of your worth. You get to be your own validation. Please don’t ever forget that.” — Bianca Sparacino

Excerpted from The Strength In Our Scars by Bianca Sparacino.

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  • Guest

    Ryan, I can’t say I’m always 100% on board with some of your entries, but this piece is touching and heartfelt.  Thank you!

    • http://fastfoodies.org Briana


      (still don’t get just how the title fits, though)

    • http://fastfoodies.org Briana


      (still don’t get just how the title fits, though)

  • Mba

    Found myself thinking along those lines all day long. Its good to see you wound up here too. Thanks

  • FC

    Dude, you are on fire today

  • http://twitter.com/justinspage Justin Brunner

    I’m 35, and albeit in a better place than I was when 21, I’m not in a monogamous relationship and may drink too much (on occasion).  I tell myself, “I’m not where I should be.”  “I’m too fat.” “I don’t make enough money.”

    Then immediately after think, “But where should I be?”  The answer is always the same – right here, right now.   All of us, bombarded by society, forget that we own our destiny and can do what we want, regardless if the Jones’ look at us in disgust. 

  • Anonymous

    Please write an anecdotal book, a collection of short stories, something, anything, I will purchase it.  I completely agree, thought I’m not 30, I always feel that I’m not okay.  The moment I say that I’m not, the room goes still and after 10 minutes someone will say “it’s ok life gets better.”  Well what if it doesn’t?

  • http://twitter.com/nestevian888 Brooklyn

    Reading this reminded me of the progress that I’ve made throughout the years.   Thanks Ryan. 

  • 21

    This was a home-run.

  • http://twitter.com/nestevian888 Chick

    The aliens will save us from misery 

  • ErpDipSiap

    It’s unhealthy behavior to micromanage your life according to contemporary mores.

  • your cousin


  • http://twitter.com/elizabethwisker elizabeth wisker

    I’m in total agreement with this. Sometimes the hardest thing, in addition to saying, “I’m not okay,” is understanding that someone else’s “should or should not be” are not applicable to yourself. 

    • Guest

      ^ yes. 



    “What if you’re 36 and worse off than you were when you were 21?”
    This article really hits home for me — tomorrow is my 36th birthday, and I most certainly am worst off than I was when I was 21, which is something that I’m deeply ashamed of.  Fifteen years ago today I was less than 12 months away from graduating with a BA from an Ivy League school, and I had a prestigious summer internship at an internationally-known non-profit in DC. Today I’m single, live with 2 roommates, and have a part-time job that pays by the hour and doesn’t provide health benefits.  I can barely pay my bills each month, and if this shit continues I’ll probably need to be a greeter at Walmart in order to support myself as a senior citizen. Meanwhile, on Facebook, I’m regularly deluged with wedding and baby photos posted by former classmates who are all well-paid professionals. This serves as a reminder that I once assumed that I would have one or more of the following by the time I was in my mid-30s: (a) great success in a professional field I felt passion for, (b) financial security, (c) a stable and happy marriage with kids, or (d) cartoon birds and mice that would make me fancy dresses to wear with a pair of glass slippers.
    Only 6 years ago I seemed to be on the right track — I was in both a 4-year relationship and a PhD program.  But I ended up blindsided by the boyfriend calling it quits. Then, as a bonus prize, I was kicked out of the aforementioned PhD program 3 years ago, mostly due to some major political bullshit.Basically my self-esteem hit rock-bottom, and I’ve become the epitome of an underachiever.  But I’m now in therapy and have started building up my confidence and self-worth bit by bit. It’s been a struggle to start breaking out of the mindset that I’m a loser and a huge failure, but the thought of repeating “Welcome to Walmart” as I drool and lean on my cane is great motivation for getting my life back on track.

    Anyway, thanks for this, Ryan. It’s a great article.

    • GUEST

      I should also add that I’m no longer looking for a fairy tale, just a sense that I’m still capable of leading a life in which I feel truly fulfilled.

    • FC

      Since you mentioned it, don’t let Facebook be a barometer for life and/or happiness- Slate did an article about this: http://www.slate.com/id/2282620

      • GUEST

        Oh my god, this article speaks to me in volumes, particularly as a woman.  Thanks so much for link.

    • http://somuchtocome.blogspot.com Aja

      Wow.  You realize at least and that says leagues.  I think you’re going to be okay.  But in the meanwhile, keep your chin up.  And remember, these times are pretty rubbish for everyone.  People often paint a prettier photo than the reality of their life (I think that’s what facebook is mostly for).  And I (like many people on here) know a thing or two about part time jobs. 

      • http://twitter.com/nestevian888 Born in NY

        My thoughts exactly.. no matter how pretty the picture may seem on FB there is always another side of the story.  

      • GUEST

        Thanks for such a nice reply. :-)

      • http://somuchtocome.blogspot.com Aja

        No problem.  Seriously, never feel alone.  You are not the only person who looks at their life and feels like they’re not quite where they should be.  The only thing you can really do is try and take every day for what it’s worth.   Oh and kill your facebook.  At least for a few months.  It will probably make you feel better.  Facebook free for a year now.  

    • Anonymous

      But when you’ve hit the lowest of the low, it can only get better.  Don’t dwell on the things you don’t have, but the things that you do.  

  • Woyzeck

    This right here, this is why I read Thought Catalog.

  • http://twitter.com/piile pīle

    thanks for this.

  • Kukiehustle


  • Mr Shankly

    Write bitter, pedantic criticisms in the comment section and mock other people for showing emotion and shit. It’s the way forward, mang.

  • London

    This piece really hit me because I’m realizing that I am not ok. I have a check up at the doctor on Tuesday and the entire month after scheduling the appointment, I have been trying and trying to find ways to admit to the doctor (to anyone) that I am not okay.

    It feels shameful and it’s upsetting that not being ok is something so alarming that I have been planning for an entire month how to approach a doctor about it instead of my own mother.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=501809676 Francesca Filardo

    Did you ever know that you’re my hero?

  • Keleacromer

    You might have written this with me in mind! Great article!

  • Anonymous

    I normally go to your articles for the comedic wit, but this was different.
    And what sucks is today has been one huge pity party for me because of what I did last night – again.  I feel like I’m stuck on a track that I can’t get off of, and I know I’m bright enough to stop making the same mistakes over and over again, but I just don’t.  So this article made me feel worse.

    But I appreciated it, because I can relate. Damn.

  • Warmshade

    Ryan this really touched a chord for me.

    In high school I was forced to read this book called “Ordinary People”. It is about how the accidental death of the older son of an affluent family deeply
    strains the relationships among the bitter mother, the good-natured
    father, and the guilt-ridden younger son. 
    Yes I in fact stole this right from IMDB.
    I didn’t really care much for the book as a whole, but there was always one part that stuck out for me.
    The youngest son Conrad is sitting in his doctor’s office talking to him about his stresses with making choices that will be less desirable to his parents and the others who influence his life. His Doctor suggests that Conrad should drop 1-2 two classes to drop his stress level; Conrad responds
    “I can’t I am already behind”.
    The Dr’s reply is what always stuck with me.
    “Behind what? The Great Schedule in the Sky? The Golden Grade Book?”
    After a witty retort of Conrad’s about his Dr. preaching to him he replies again with
    “So, sue me. Listen, kiddo, I lied. I believe in dreams, and I especially believe in yours, they’re fascinating as hell. Only sometimes I like you to tell me about what happens to you when you’re awake, okay? Something is bugging you, something is making you nervous. Now what is it?”

    Life cannot and should not be about what will work for other people. If something in your plan falls apart, It is ok.  It will be ok again. Take the time to wallow in the feelings that “failure” causes. But don’t be afraid to take back the reigns. I feel the hardest part for everyone is being able to look at your own path and being able to find the clarity necessary to implement the changes you need to make for yourself. Whether those changes are a new route to the same goal or making a new path, it isn’t easy. Sometimes we need help as life is never easy I have found; please don’t be afraid to speak up and tell someone.

    I am no “winner” by societies standards, I am “far behind on the clock” so to speak.
    The best advice I can give is that you should try and live this life with out regret. Try to be as positive an influence as possible. Strive for wisdom and purpose. You will be able to see the path again.

  • guest

    Thank you for this.

  • Ice

    I do believe too that if we admit that we’re not okay, it may be the key to becOming okay. Changes worth making take time. We just have to be patient with ourselves. But it’s also important that we commit to ourselves that we want to be okay eventually. Otherwise, we might just get stuck to being not okay. Lastly, when I am in dispair, I check myself against Kübler-Ross stages of grief. It helpa me keep myself on track & compartmentalize my emotions. It’s okay to be sad, mad, in denial, whatnot.. As long as you move on & on & on. There may be times be repeat a stage, but thar’s okay… Just keep moving forward. Sooner than you expect, you’re out of the mess, completely okay.

    Thank you for this encouraging article!:)

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