I’ve always been a very capable person. I was one of those annoying kids at school who was good at everything (aside from sports and not being annoying). Every new place I go I tend to make friends quite easily (in spite of my aforementioned annoyingness) and make a good show of looking like I have it all together. My day job is very go-go-go and I love keeping up with the pace so everyone can be impressed with how I’m bossing it. In the evenings I am constantly busy doing things for church or one of my two other jobs and I can do it, it’s fine, I’m fine. Except I’m not, and I don’t even realise it.
I have something loosely known as moderate, stress-related IBS. For those of you who don’t know what that is, IBS is basically the umbrella term doctors use when your digestive system hates you and they can’t work out why. There’s a whole spectrum of symptoms, causes and degrees of severity so I won’t pretend my experience is the same as anyone else’s but, for the purposes of this point, I need to explain my situation so any squeamish readers may want to stop here. Essentially, at any given moment, my stomach will decide it doesn’t want to do its job and, instead, would rather dish out huge amounts of pain until I’m horizontal with a hot water bottle and vomiting everything I’ve eaten in the last 24 hours. I’ve tried drugs, exercises and cutting out all sorts of food from my diet and yet these episodes occur from no clear source – until I tune in to what’s happening with me.
I have a lot of things going on right now. There’s sad stuff, big changes and a lot of little stressful things, all of which have knocked me down a little bit. But I don’t think about those things. I’m too busy. I’m too capable. I don’t have the time or inclination to be sad or stressed or deal with anything. But somewhere, on some level, I am thinking about those things and each horrible, debilitating IBS attack is my body’s way of telling me: “Just flipping stop and process this already!”
I don’t think we like to admit when we’re not doing well. It’s hard to let the world know you’re not Wonder Woman. It’s hard to give yourself the time and space you need to deal with what’s going on. When something big or scary or life-changing happens, we can be too eager get to the end point, to say: “OK, this has happened. But I have God and I don’t need to worry and everything will be fine.” But we haven’t reached that “OK” point organically, we haven’t worked through the “not being OK” bit that we desperately need to.
Everyone goes through moments during which they’re not OK. Everyone goes through great, long periods of struggling and being sad and not knowing what to do. And that, ironically, is OK. It’s necessary, even. It’s the forest of uncertainty you have to walk through to prove you know the way. It’s the mental wrestling match that shows how strong you are. It’s the long, dark night of the soul that, when someone you love is going through the same thing, allows you to say: “Me too. You’re not alone.” You can’t skip that part or bury it or pretend you don’t need to go through it at all – that’s how you end up lying on your sofa in your jammies, periodically reaching for the sick bowl on the floor.
You can’t escape not being OK; your problems will just find you in a very visceral way. Maybe you don’t have IBS, but maybe you end up snapping at your loved ones because your emotions are at the edge. Maybe you’re overreacting to petty work problems because something deeper is going on. Maybe you’re so busy that the second you get any time to stop and slow down you’re exhausted – and not from all the busyness – I mean world-weary, can’t move, exhaustion. In the past few months I have had plans every night of the week – fun plans, things that I enjoyed in the moment – and then the second it was just me and James I burst into tears for seemingly no reason at all. I went from life of the party to crying in a pub in a matter of minutes because I hadn’t given myself the break I needed to deal with things. It seems if you don’t let yourself be vulnerable, the universe will just force your hand anyway.
The truth is, life can be very sucky sometimes and you can’t escape it. You can’t fill your life with plans and avoid the pain. You can’t drink your problems away or cover them up with a new makeover. So if we can’t avoid not being OK, maybe we should just. not. be. OK. Maybe we need to say no to things so we have time to stop and process. Maybe we need to open up to our friends and ask for prayer. Maybe we need to admit to ourselves that no matter how quickly we’ve got our heads around the situation, our emotions are going to need a little time to catch up. And that’s OK. It’s more than OK. That’s life.
Written by Chloe Satchell-Cobbett, Deputy Editor, Liberti Magazine