i am not okay, but i will be okay

a year-end retrospective

When I first started meeting with my therapist in August of this year, I thought I knew what “self-compassion” meant. It was a phrase he brought up nearly every week in our Zoom meetings, right after my usual routine of thinking about the pain of the past few months, immediately tearing up, saying something along the words of, “shit, fuck, sorry, fuck, I need to get a tissue,” leaving my meeting to get a tissue, coming back to the meeting with a full roll of paper towels, and staring in horror the slobbering mess I had become on my laptop screen.

After staring solemnly at my tear-stricken face for a minute or two, my therapist would often say, “Rachel, I wonder if you’ve taken a moment to be compassionate to yourself.”

I’ve tried to be self-compassionate! I would think. Yesterday, I woke up late and didn’t take a shower and stayed in bed all day because #depression and guilted myself into being angry that I didn’t do anything productive despite it being the weekend but I did have a Hershey bar that night and watched some inspirational volleyball anime while choking on my own tears so if that isn’t compassion I don’t know what is! Self-compassion, to me, meant trying to make peace with what I was able to do during the day, even if my thoughts would inevitably drift to what I was unable to get done instead. In other words, the only way to solve my self-doubts was to think my way out of them.

In one of our sessions, I met my therapist’s usual line with this sense of frustration. “I try to tell myself things like, ‘I’m doing my best,’ or, ‘I’m proud of myself for getting this done today,’ but these words do nothing to calm me down. I end up feeling more exhausted and don’t want to tell myself anything.” I really thought I had bested him with my exasperation. Sometimes I feel as though therapy can be a game to be won, that all I need to do is one-up my therapist with suggestions on my life that are better than what he has to offer.

Okay Rachel, so it seems like you’re saying that in order to gain true happiness — which is something that definitely exists in the real world — you just need to maintain an illusion of perfection to your friends, family, and arch-nemeses, never fuck anything up, and make sure everyone on the planet doesn’t think you are weird and ugly, which has nothing to do with your childhood trauma of being bullied in elementary and middle school. Well, that makes total sense to me! Here, have a heart container and the master sword!

Of course, in this moment my therapist did not, in fact, give me a heart container or master sword. Instead, he noted that if the phrases I were using to myself weren’t working, I could use simpler words, ones that didn’t require much thinking to be involved at all.

“For example, what if you said, ‘Everything’s going to be okay?’” he asked.

Instantly I felt tears rush to my eyes. The idea of letting go of the lightening storm in my mind, where my thoughts were conspiring fix me, was terrifying. Yet as soon as I latched my mind onto the one glint of sunlight breaking through stormy clouds, I felt an immense sense of relief. “I hadn’t thought about using that phase,” I murmured, stunned at the power those words held on me. I had lost the therapy game, but in that moment I was not thinking about the therapy game, and I haven’t thought about it since.

Nah, that’s a joke, I still want a master sword. I mean, who doesn’t?

We’re all in agreement that this year has been horrible in regards to the state of the world, our country, and in our personal lives. In the weeks leading up to the fateful last day of 2020, I internally struggled with the waking nightmare this year had been for me. And in truth, the nightmare will not disappear once the clock strikes midnight.

I am not okay. I am angry at the year we have lost, the life I thought I would have, the people I would be able to see, hug, love. I am scared for what the next year will bring, how many people will die, how many more months I will need to grieve.

But in this year, there were times I was okay. They were short and brief, like the few good scenes in a two-and-a half-hour long bad movie like Attack of the Clones. I did get secretly married to the forbidden, sand-hating love of my life, and honestly, that was great! But it does mean that we are going to have to live a lie, also my love slaughtered a community of men, women, and children like animals because his mom died after seeing him for the first time in ten years, also we’re entering a galactic war with an army of clones which rings as suspicious to me but the government is fucked and the jedi are losing power so we have no choice at the moment, also, if we could go back to my love for a minute, I’m still confused as to why I’m even in love with this dude because he throws tantrums as an adult and has a tendency to go into these dark rages which are probably going to lead to the dark side and possibly my own death and

What was I saying?

Right, there were times I was okay. I was okay when I listened to music by Waxahatchee and Charli XCX. I was okay when I’d try out a new cooking recipe and it tasted surprisingly good. I was okay whenever I asked for a hug from my mom and she’d give me one, no questions asked. I was okay when I put my winter hat on my dog and she looked like a coffee barista.

I am not okay, but I know that I have been okay, so I tell myself that I will be okay.

I believe you will be okay too.

Happy new year.