The head of a man who is smiling, but in his head there is a smaller version of him looking sad and sitting locked in a jail cell

It Is Okay Not to Be Okay

Many of the cancer fighters I have spoken with struggle with keeping up appearances. Our concern is how the illness will affect our loved ones. Just having cancer seems to invoke shame and a fear of being a burden.

We don't want to admit any weakness

We have been caregivers and providers. Now we are the ones in need of understanding and care and that is a huge adjustment. Another aspect of this is the idea that admitting any weakness makes cancer real. If we can appear to be fine, then the cancer never lands. Self-sufficiency can become imprisoning.

I ran myself ragged

For me, this was one of the greatest battles. Truth told, it still is. I had my tumor removal one day and took one day off, then it was back to work with no break. I scheduled my appointments and my scopes so I did not miss anything. I made work every day. I made all of the kids' events. I ran myself ragged. No one told me I needed to. No one pushed me or made any demands, I did this to myself.

We refuse to admit we need help

The problem I created was an unwillingness to admit I was not okay. I would be asked how I was and knee jerk my response, “Okay.” “How are you doing?” “Okay.” “Is there anything we can do for you?” “No thanks, I am okay.” You see the pattern. I was so fixated on being what I had always been that I could not accept help as I adjusted to my changing needs. I now realize that I was not alone and many of us rob ourselves of receiving what we need by refusing to admit we need it.

Letting our loved ones care for us

We also rob our loved ones of the opportunity to give the care to us that we have given them. By shutting down and being perpetually “okay” we stop ourselves and our loved ones from working through this and processing it. We create a blockage to healing, ours and theirs.

Most people would be willing to help if we were honest

Think how silly it would be for someone with a broken arm to act as if they were able to do everything they did with two good arms. If we see someone with a visible challenge we are happy to make allowances. I think most people would be just as willing to help if we could get to an honest, open place to say, “I am not okay right now.”

Speaking the truth

Just for now, “I am not okay.” I am tired. I am struggling with anxiety and some depression. I hurt and need to sit down or lay down for a bit. I just need to slow down. I need someone else to cook or clean or set up, and I am going to supervise, or I am going to play badminton. What I am learning is that it is okay to not be okay. I am learning that just speaking the truth about not being fine is powerful. I can be not okay and still be strong and capable and all of the things I need to be. Most of all, I can be not okay and be fully human and alive.

Accept the help and support you deserve

I am thirteen years out and to this day, I have times when I cannot ask for what I need. I will be fine one minute and undone the next. I am learning day-to-day to say, “I am not okay right now.” Speak your truth. Be willing to be honest about your struggles. Give yourself permission to accept help and support and the love of those who are waiting to support and nurture you. Be okay with not being okay.

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