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Wednesday, August 15, 2018

It's Okay to Not Be Okay

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the second leading cause of death amongst American white males[1] between the ages of 15 and 34 is suicide (the first is accidents).[2] In total, 45 thousand Americans die by suicide every year. And for every suicide, 25 more attempt it, meaning that over a million people attempt suicide every year.[3]

I knew suicides were a problem in our country, but up until now, I hadn’t put all these numbers side by side. I want to thank my friend Suresh for putting some of these numbers side by side for me and giving me the inspiration to write this article.

In the frantic words of Kari the babysitter from the movie The Incredibles, “THINGS ARE NOT OKAY!” Behind the glamorous facades by which the world has come to recognize us are a bunch of messy, broken people who are struggling with lots of doubt, insecurity, and shame. Many of us realize we don’t live up to the expectations we feel pressured to meet, but because of our fears of rejection and the stifling (or ending) of our careers, we’re afraid to admit it to one another. So instead, we prefer to keep it locked away in a vault, hoping no one else will ever find out.

I’ve written this article for two reasons. First, I want you to know that it’s okay to not be okay. And second, I want to share some ideas for taking down our facades and confessing our shortcomings.

Some of My Feelings from Over the Years

To get this ball rolling, I’m going to share some of my mess from over the years. Not all of these feelings and thoughts are present today, but they have been at various points in the last ten years.

I wake up every morning to the realization that it’s time to leave my dream world behind, a world where I’m much more in-tune with my subconscious state than at any other point in time, and put on my well-organized, confident mask that I’ve spent years and years fabricating. It starts with taking a shower to rid myself of my natural, repulsive stinky smell. Once out of the shower, I put on a clean, wrinkle free set of clothing which matches all the way from the shirt to the belt to the pants to the socks to the shoes. I then top it off by making sure my hair looks neat, giving my face a clean shave, and brushing my teeth to make them sparkle. Now that I give the appearance that I’ve got it all together, I’m ready to enter the world.

But deep down inside, I don’t look anything like I do on the outside. Inside, I realize that I stink, my clothes are wrinkled, my hair is a mess, I haven’t shaved in weeks, and my teeth don’t sparkle. My life doesn’t look quite as much like a picture of utopia as it’s perceived to be by those who are on the outside looking in. I may look well put-together on the surface, but deep down, I’m a complete mess.

Unfortunately, the world has demonstrated little patience for my mess; it wants me to be confidently put together. If the world realizes how messy I really am, instead of being there to help me through the mess, it’s going to run me over with a fifty thousand pound bus. It sees my wounds and instead of offering to heal them, it pours salt on them. The same world that I continue trying to help day after day turns its back on me when I show it how messy I really am. What am I supposed to do on the bad days? Am I supposed to curl up in a ball and hide in my closet so that no one has to see me that way?

The safest thing I can do is erect an enclosed wall around my mess and hide behind it. If I keep my mess contained and hidden behind an immaculate fortress, then maybe I’ll appear to be exactly the person the world expects me to be. Maybe then the world will accept me. So I’ll continue to wake up every morning and hide my mess behind the façade of my shining blue-eyes, smiling face, and sparkling teeth.

No matter how immaculate I make my fortress, I still can’t seem to escape the pain associated with my mess. I still feel inferior to the rest of the world. Why does everyone else seem so well put together? When I open Facebook, all I see is a bunch of people whose lives seem to be in perfect order. Why can’t my life be like that? Why do I have to be such a mess all the time? If only they knew what was really hidden behind these walls, certainly they’d reject me. They’d cease to stand and gaze in awe at my pristine fortress. They’d tear it down and expose everything inside of it. I’d become the laughing stock of the world. And not a single person would be willing to stoop down to pick me back up.

In our competitive, dog-eat-dog world, I can’t afford to show people the mess I truly am. Finding people who accept me is hard enough; why would I want to risk losing their acceptance by giving them a grand tour of my fortress? I’d rather just keep them outside my four walls so they can continue to admire the beauty of my stone masonry handiwork, all the while having no idea what sits just a few feet away from them on the other side of those walls.

I share these thoughts and feelings because I think you may be able to relate with them. Coming from someone who is a mess, I want you to know today, right here, right now, that it’s okay not to be okay. It’s okay to be a mess. And I don’t and won’t think any differently of you when you admit it.

Coping with Not Being Okay

Two of the most destructive coping mechanisms I’ve observed people use when they realize they don’t feel okay is to get drunk or commit suicide. I don’t recommend either of these two options. Instead, I’ll suggest two other alternative options which have proven to offer great support and healing in my own life.

The first is to seek God. I realize that may sound absolutely crazy at first. How in the world can God help? I don’t have all the answers to this question, but I can share about what he’s done in my life.

God is omnipotent, meaning that he knows everything. Thus, he knows I’m a complete mess. I may successfully fool everyone else with my façade, but I can’t fool God. Yet, he has chosen to love and accept me despite the mess that I am. Regardless of what I do (I’m not suggesting that I use this as an opportunity to do whatever the heck I want), I realize that he’s still going to love me. There’s no part of my mess that will separate me from his love. God recognizes that I’m not okay and still choses to love me anyways.

But God also isn’t content with leaving me in this place. Day after day, he continues to clean up the mess that I am. He continues to take away the doubts, insecurities, and shame and replace them with assurance, security, and honor in him. I doubt he’ll bring me to a place in this life where I’ll be completely mess-free, but I do believe he will bring me to this place when I’m with him.

The second coping mechanism I’ll suggest can be done independently from the first, but I’ve found it and the first complement each other very well. This mechanism is to invite a few people you love and trust into your fortress to see your mess. Taking this step can be extremely difficult because it defies all intuitive human logic: it involves being vulnerable. When we’re vulnerable, we’re opening ourselves up to potentially getting hurt even more. As one author once put it, “vulnerability quite literally means capable of being wounded, open to attack or damage.”[4] That’s what makes being vulnerable so uncomfortable. But when we have the courage to be vulnerable, we open up an opportunity for other people to empathize, support, and encourage us in a way that they can’t do otherwise.

Although some people in our culture view vulnerability as weakness, not all people do. The people who I feel most connected with are the ones with whom I’ve been the most vulnerable and who have been the most vulnerable with me. I believe that vulnerability is not a sign of weakness, but rather, it is a sign of courage.

So my encouragement to you is to be vulnerable with a few people who you love and trust. Of course there’s the possibility that they could reject you, but there’s also the possibility that you could become more connected with them. Is it worth the risk? It has been for me. Family and friends who have walked alongside me through the mess that I am have been a huge encouragement in my life and have played a big role in participating with God in the work he’s doing in me.

I’m going to leave you with a few questions to consider. Are you okay? I’m not asking whether you’re façade is okay; I’m asking whether you’re okay. What coping mechanisms do you use when you’re not feeling okay? Are you willing to seek God? And are you willing to be vulnerable with one or two friends?

[1] I used the statistics on white males because they account for roughly 7 out of 10 suicides.
[2] “Leading Causes of Death by Age Group, White Males-United States, 2010”, Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 2010, accessed August 15, 2018,
[3] “Suicide Statistics,” American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, 2018, accessed August 15, 2018,
[4] J.R. Briggs, Fail: Finding Hope and Grace in the Midst of Ministry Failure (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2014), 79.

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