Are you okay?

I’ve often had people ask if I am okay. It should be no surprise that I hate this question with a passion that’s only matched by my own feelings of inadequacy.

What happens if I say I’m not okay? The immediate reaction is either some kind of apology or trying to fix the problem. People don’t like feeling inadequate or helpless. Their unease becomes my responsibility to fix, lest they spend more time making my life worse with their questions, useless advice, or worse, platitudes.

I wouldn’t mind so much if people knew just what they were asking. Asking if someone is okay is a huge responsibility. Because if they’re not, you better be prepared to listen and accept what you’re about to hear.

Less than year ago, if I answered “Are you okay?” honestly, I would have told you that I want to die every day I’m alive. That I want the pain to stop. When you’re confronted with that, there’s nothing you can do to lessen my pain in that moment beyond just listening.

You can’t fix my pain with words. You can’t just hand me off to a suicide hotline. You can’t take me to the hospital because I’m not suicidal enough to be admitted. (And I don’t need another bill I can’t pay.)

If listening isn’t enough and you truly want to help, then buckle down and HELP. Help me research psychiatrists or therapists1, help me make phone calls, help me make sure I get to appointments, etc.

Trying to get in with a psychiatrist is so fucking hard. It took me 3 months to get up the nerve to push past my anxiety to make the first phone call and then I had to leave a voicemail. I hung up because I couldn’t talk. A week later I managed to leave a voicemail. Then I had to wait for a call back. Half of them didn’t call back. Half of those that did told me they couldn’t take me. When I did find someone that would accept me, I couldn’t get an appointment for three months.

For weeks, I had to use all the energy I had calling for help to soulless machines, knowing that call would end in rejection.

I wish someone could have helped me. It would have saved me six months of unbearable suffering.

This is a lot of effort, more than most people are ready to do. But there is one thing you can do and it’s really simple. Just listen and accept. Don’t try to fix it. It won’t feel like you’re doing anything but believe me, it’s probably the best thing you can do. I will understand if you don’t try to do more. I will appreciate not having to deal with your feelings about how I feel.

  1. If you’re in the US, start with