“Are you okay?”
Such a simple question. A question so engrossed in everyday conversation that it has almost become meaningless. How many times have you been asked “are you okay?” in passing – by friends, by family, by coworkers – and responded with the likes of “yeah, you?” or “fine, thanks”, when what you really wanted to say was “actually, I’m not okay?”. Too many times, probably. So, why do we do it? Why do we respond with such? Why do we essentially lie about how we feel? I’ll tell you why: because it’s easier. It’s so much easier to say “I’m fine” than to delve into all the reasons why we oftentimes feel quite the opposite of “fine”, be it to save face, avoid feeling like a burden or because we think the other participant of the conversation might not really give a crap. Isn’t that sad? Isn’t it sad that we are fabricated to respond to a question with what’s “easier” than with the truth? Perhaps if we all started to express ourselves more openly rather than adhere to the conventions of small talk, the stigma surrounding mental health would subside; a matter long overdue.
Why am I talking about this? Well, because – in all honesty – I’m not okay. I’m not okay because this year has taken its toll on my mental health – on everyone’s mental health – in that we were trapped inside for months, lacked socialisation, routine and normality and saw thousands lose loved ones due to a dreadful disease. I’m not okay because it’s been almost a year since I graduated with my master’s degree and I anticipated that I’d achieve so much more than I have by now but, thanks to COVID-19, my progress was stalled. I’m not okay because I really, really miss my grandparents. Yet, every day, I put up a façade and carry on.
The latter reason is the main reason I’m not okay right now. This Christmas will be my first Christmas without any grandparents. I’ve thought a lot recently – specifically, since my granddad passed away in August – that, at twenty-three, I’m pretty young to not have any grandparents. It’s a horrible feeling. Though I never met my dad’s dad because he, unfortunately, passed away before my brother and I were born and we were never close with my dad’s mum, but we were very lucky to have a great relationship with my mum’s parents, I still can’t quite fathom the fact that not one of them is still with us. Up until around seven-to-eight years ago, we’d spend every Christmas at my grandparents’ – my mum’s parents – and have the most wonderful, loud Greek-style Christmas. Things changed after my yiayia (Greek meaning “nan”) became immobile a few years before she passed away in 2016, but we would still visit them on Christmas morning. Then, my pappou (Greek meaning “granddad”) would spend the following few Christmases in a household other than his own – for instance, with us – so we still got to see or call him. But, now? We can’t see any of them. We can’t pick up the phone and exclaim Merry Christmas! and feel their smile beaming through the phone. We can’t hug them tightly as a means of expressing our affection. Things are especially different now neither of them is here for Christmas this year.
I have so many reasons to be happy. I have a loving family. I have the most incredible fiancé. I have a good job, the best friends and an adorable fur baby. I have so much to look forward to; buying our first home, our (postponed) holiday and our wedding to name a few. And I am. I am so happy for all these reasons. So happy. However, I’m also depressed for all the aforementioned reasons – the pandemic, the writing off of 2020 and the loss of my grandparents – and it’s important to remember that it’s okay to feel this way, even when we do have so much going for us. As the saying goes: “it’s okay not to be okay”. Still, we feel obliged to respond to such a simple question as are you okay? with – quite plainly – a lie.
Christmas 2020 is just around the corner (nine days away, to be precise) and, while some are more excited than ever to celebrate it this year after the crazy year we’ve had, others are not feeling so festive. The impact of COVID-19 has affected everybody in different ways but, for the most part, I think it’s safe to say that it’s been a pretty shit year. That’s why I want to kindly leave you with the following reminders (or clichés, but important ones) for this Christmas:
- Be kind.
- Everybody is fighting their own battle you know nothing about.
- It’s okay not to be okay.
The next time you ask someone “are you okay?”, be sure to show a little more compassion. Listen. It might just make their day. Likewise, the next time you’re asked “are you okay?”, don’t be afraid to open up. Speak. It might just be what you need.
Take care and remember to be kind this Christmas.
Soph, Little Pav ♡