Yesterday was my first in-person doctor’s appointment since February. I typically see my pre-transplant team every month so it felt like a kind of homecoming for Ben and I to walk through their (surprisingly difficult to open) office doors after weeks away. Ty, Julie, and Vanessa greeted us as they took bloodwork, asked questions, and started the monumental task of scheduling upcoming tests. All the staff are more than our medical team–these people have become Our People.
Which is why when Dr. E came in and asked me how I was doing he did not immediately respond to the line that I so easily gave:
“I’m doing OK.”
Have you ever had a doctor stare you down? It’s frightening. And in my case totally called for.
“Caitlin, from everything I know about you and how the last few months have gone I have a hard time believing that. How are you actually doing?”
I am not OK.
“I’m OK” has somehow become my default answer to people’s questions about my wellbeing. And I know I am not the only one who is stuck in this. We as North American adults have been taught to reply with only positive responses when someone inquires about us, especially individuals we are not as familiar with. It is somehow considered impolite to share our hurt feelings or ask someone to recognize our crummy day, so the correct reply must be tied to “OK”. As in, “I am somewhere between painfully horrible and having the best day of my life.” It is easy to both step into and walk away from a conversation with that much ambiguity.
But the vagueness of “OK”, meant as the catch-all of emotion, is actually a lie I tell. To my cashiers. To my friends. To myself. As someone with limited physical, emotional, and mental energy (which, quite frankly, is ALL of us in this season) I am constantly tempted to lie about my wellbeing because it requires less effort. I don’t need to think about the day’s events, I don’t need to worry about having an emotion-filled response, I don’t need to get into a long-winded conversation. “OK” assures I can preserve my much-needed energy. And that is a good thing…right?
I have decided that in my life honesty is more important than preserving my energy. Sharing my reality allows me and my community to carry things together. It is really difficult to hold “OK” with someone. In a strange and paradoxical way, it is less complicated to acknowledge true emotions–even those that are heavy–and tell people the real story. They can respond however they see fit, I am not in control of that. I am in charge of inviting or excluding my community into my life and sharing the truth about me.
I decided Dr. E should be included, so I told him the truth: “I am not OK.”
I am fatigued and rarely get out of bed before ten o’clock. I am anxious about exposure to COVID for myself and people worldwide. I am struggling with brain fog and digesting meals and wanting to smash my computer screen as I scroll down conflicting stories that all lack compassion for people. I am thankful for great generosity and love. I am experiencing peace in my conversations with God. I am simultaneously hopeful and deflated.
Friends, Our People are not accepting “OK”. And you shouldn’t either. Now is a great time to not be OK. Be better. Be worse. But don’t settle for the lie we are conditioned to give. I invite you into the stretching space of honesty, the place where your real self exists, and know Your People are there to carry it all with you.