Is it okay to be not okay?

Even if it could be worse…

Trigger warning: I mention suicide. If that will bother you, read this instead.

It could be worse. I’m in a country that’s doing a fantastic job of COVID vaccination. While several close friends have been severely ill, no one close to me has died of COVID. My friend with cancer is in a country where she can get treatment without going bankrupt. My mother is in a safe country with good social services. I have somewhere safe to stay, I have enough food, and I’m using my time productively. Objectively, I’m doing well — it could be worse.

So why do I burst into tears for no obvious reason? Why does the anxiety and fear never leave me? Why does every little bump in the road feel like a mountain? Sure, I haven’t been home for over two years and there’s no sign of being able to go home in the foreseeable future, but it could be worse.

When my brother killed himself, I found out mid-morning. I had a job to do, so I kept working. When I had time, I taped my phone to the wall of my cabin to record an obituary for his funeral. It took hours, but I eventually got a usable recording. As I sat awake at 03:00, hugging my pillow and watching the funeral on a flaky internet connection on my phone, I reminded myself that most seafarers couldn’t even access a bad internet connection to watch their loved ones’ funerals. I have no right to complain — it could be worse.

I’m doing well at college as I build a — hopefully temporary — new life in a foreign country. I’m grateful I was stranded in a country I’m allowed to live in. I’m grateful that I’m not one of the hundreds of thousands of seafarers stuck on ships. But it doesn’t help as, every week, I reassure my friends at home that I’m safe, and wonder when I’ll see them again in person. But at least my friends and I are safe — it could be worse.

Working at sea is my life, and I love my job. But If I get home, will I have the courage to go back to sea, knowing that the government might lock me out again with no warning? Where might I be stranded next time? And, knowing that my country might not let me go home at the end of my contract, would any shipping company employ me? But I’m young, healthy, and I can support myself through a career transition — it could be worse.

From time to time, high-profile people have the gall to admit in public that they’re not okay, that they’re struggling. The public response is to mock them.

We need to think about the messages we send to the people we don’t realise are watching and listening. Of course it’s okay to not be okay. At this point, it’s probably almost normal. Even if it could be worse.

How dare they complain, when there are so many people worse off? How dare they be not okay in a comfortable mansion, when millions of others are homeless, or crammed into overcrowded housing? How dare they admit to mourning when their loved ones die, when millions of others have lost far more? As we watch in silence, as the public and media tear them apart for admitting they’re not okay, how many others have learned the same lesson as I have: it’s not okay to be not okay. How dare I feel homesick, scared, anxious, and depressed, when it could be worse?

We need to think about the messages we send to the people we don’t realise are watching and listening. Of course it’s okay to not be okay. At this point, it’s probably almost normal. Even if it could be worse.

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