The politics of “I’m not okay”

This post will come as a surprise to many people because they think my expat life is so much better. Because I travel a couple of times a year. Because I live outside of the US in an African country where racism and being in fear for my life is not the main thing on my mind. But yet here we are with the ugly truth…I’m not okay. I’m safe physically but I’m not okay. Because these past two weeks have sucked big time. I have cried so many tears and been so angry at my living situation. I’ve contemplated quitting my job and being unemployed. I’ve wanted to just run away. But I’ve kept it mostly to myself. Which brings me to the topic of resilient friends and toxic positivity.

It’s a nuanced, tricky topic because as a School Counselor I am often tasked with telling students: Hang in there. It will get better.  As a Christian I often say to myself: Have faith. Pray about it. Believe in the good.  While there is nothing wrong with any of these messages on their own.  When they are used to make you feel like you can’t be honest about your sad, angry, feelings that’s when they become representative of toxic positivity. Oftentimes we are forced to pretend everything is fine when it is not. To put on a happy face. People tell you that you are blessed when you feel like crying.  When you say you’re struggling, well meaning friends tell you to focus on the good things in life or to pray for strength. It all makes you feel like you can’t be anxious, sad, upset when bad things happen.  Of course there are horrible tragedies happening in the world everyday and my life is good in so many ways.  However this doesn’t mean I’m not struggling or feeling like life sucks right now. People like to tell me how strong I am, how resilient I am, how courageous I am. And while all of these things are true, since I have been back in Abidjan I just feel overwhelmed and exhausted and sad. I am not okay and I don’t want to say I am. I am not sleeping well and I don’t want to be here. While I know these feelings will pass, I don’t want to pretend they don’t exist. I have given myself the gift of therapy as a way to heal because I know it’s power. Therapy seems like a luxury to many people but talking can really help you manage and regulate your feelings.  I know it helps me tremendously. I know how to pray when I feel defeated but sending me positive messages right now just annoys me. So please if you reach out and check on me don’t send me positive messages.

Today I did something I needed to do to feel better. I finally got out to the beach after days of agonizing about the drive, and whether the place would be nice or if there would be dogs on the property. It is a place that brings me peace. I saw people from work when I arrived and decided to avoid them because I didn’t feel like talking to them. I don’t feel bad about that decision because I’m honoring my feelings. I am pissed at the way my feelings have been dismissed. I am annoyed because I had to send multiple emails in order to be allowed to move on Saturday. I don’t feel valued or listened to. I know that forgiveness is important but today I’m still pissed and it doesn’t mean I have to be around people socially. I ate my meal, sat away from them and listened to the ocean. I focused on what felt good for me and I wrote this post. #selfloveisrevolutionary

The best thing you can do when your strong, resilient friend tells you they’re struggling.  Listen. Don’t try to make them feel better. Don’t offer solutions. Allow them to vent, cry, scream.  Ask if there’s anything you can do to make it better. But please don’t tell them to focus on their blessings.  Don’t say this too will pass. It just minimizes their feelings and makes them keep them inside.

To those of you who may be struggling, it is okay. The first step to healing is expressing and accepting how you feel. Don’t pretend to be okay when you’re not. Allow yourself the space and time you need. Get  help if it doesn’t go away. The journey to feeling better is not a straight road, there will be highs and lows, good and bad days. It takes time so be patient and gentle with yourself. It is perfectly okay to not be okay. To avoid people who make you feel worse. To choose to be alone if you don’t want to be bothered. To not want to have to explain why you feel a certain way. Do what makes you feel better.
Sincerely,

A resilient friend who is really struggling right now and is currently Not okay. Who is grieving. Who knows it will be better soon. #BlackExpat #myexpatlife #lifeinAfrica #outsidemycomfortzone

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