May 22, 2024 Paige Nolan

One Way to Get More OK…

I collapse on a coach in a therapist’s office on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and announce I am afraid to ride the subway, I can’t swallow food and from the moment I open my eyes until I fall asleep at night, I am afraid I will have a panic attack. This makes me feel like I can’t go anywhere and my life is over and if it’s *not* over, I don’t want to live it like this anyway.

Ok, she says.

She calls me on a Sunday morning, the morning after her husband is charged with a D.U.I. – his second offense. She has the name of the person who will facilitate the intervention. There will be friends and family flying in from various parts of the country. It is time for rehab. She is not sure she will be waiting for him when he completes the program.

Ok, I say.

We are brushing our teeth in the bathroom, side by side, when he says he doesn’t want two dogs. He has changed his mind. His face is pale, his voice is quiet, eyebrows raised – I can’t do this. I can’t do two puppies.

Ok, I say.

The deal that has been in the works for two years and actively in negotiation for the past six months is one signature from being complete.  The financial gain will make it possible for him to finally leave the company – it will make it possible for him to consider retiring from the this particular business all together. A dream he has had for a long time. The deal is dead – he writes in a text – I’m not in a good headspace.

Ok, I text back.

There are a million moments in life when we are not OK. Whether those moments are sudden + unexpected or slow burns that are ever-present just beneath our surface for periods of time – it’s easy to get swept into the slipstream of doom where we falsely believe we will never be OK again.

Our hurting demands a level of attention that narrows our view – we can only see the pain and it’s a fixed point of fear that presses upon us.

This is not OK. I am not OK. I don’t know how to be OK with or in this.

How quickly we overlook the possibility of our wholeness when a part of us is shattered.

How quickly we forget more than one thing is true at once.

The reminders come when we reach out of our own darkness towards the light of another – a friend, a partner, a helper, a healer, a family member – and that person responds with the most common word in the English language: OK.

The word is short – only two letters long – and yet it stretches into an infinite field of acceptance. In the space of OK we can help each other be more open to what is not OK.

I am an OK-ness Specialist. My work is to walk alongside people as they figure out what is OK and not OK in their family, in their work, in their lives. But the walk of my own suffering is how I’ve become particularly well practiced at OK.

I’m really good (expert level) at thinking I’m not OK. If I’m not conscious of my anxiety having anxiety – I am quickly ten minutes into I am *never* going to be OK.

One minute is aplenty hell in the space of that forgone conclusion.

I’ve definitely had the not OK moments during emotional influx points in my life – big changes, uncertainty, challenging circumstances with health or marriage or professional responsibilities. But, you know, I can also get not OK in a traffic jam.

This past weekend, I was not OK in a shopping mall with my teenage daughters.

One minute I’m in Hollister Co. baffled that a crop top costs $35 (what material?!) and the next, I am outside of Hollister Co. box breathing and reminding myself that heart arrhythmia is not a fatal condition.

As I am writing this, I still don’t know exactly why I’ve had so much anxiety this week, beyond the fact that anxiety is a friend of mine + visits often – maybe also, the collective world + cultural chaos that is a sign of these times.

Nonetheless, I’ve noticed it and in the mall, I become unsettled enough that I have to abort the shopping trip and find myself nearly running to the car, girls in tow.

When I get home and share with Boyd that I’m having a hard time breathing (because saying it aloud to someone, anyone, including you, always helps me – obvi) he says the thing he always says to me – the thing we are each called upon to say to another, a million times in life:

OK, he says.

And there it is – the neutrality, this is not good, this is not bad. Without resistance, with a calm and centered OK, there is an implicit approval of the moment. This is OK. I am here. We are here. It’s OK that it is this way. It can be this way because it is this way.

There is so much that is not OK in the world right now. There is so much that is not OK within each of us – right now and always.

And yet, when another person allows for it to be as messy and emotional and confusing and vulnerable as it is inside of you – it all feels…OK.

I think this is what we could do for each other. Right now and always.

We can offer a simple common acknowledgement of each other’s pain – it’s just a moment. There’s going to be conversation. There will be a longer exchange.

But when someone arrives weakened and scared, it’s the first response of OK that is so important. It’s a foundation for connection. It’s a safe zone. It’s a matching game. I go to you with my troubles – you flip up the square cardboard piece of OK and within me, there is a matching square cardboard piece of OK revealed.

You show me you’re OK with me being not OK and you give me a wider perspective, I change my view – and if I want to, if I am supported enough to stretch my awareness, I can see the other parts of me…I may have shortness of breath, but I am walking just fine. I am capable. I am courageous.

There is a part of me that is not OK – there is a part of me that is.

No one gets to be OK for an entire lifetime – we get OK days and some of us get more of those than others – but all of us, if we are tuned in to our emotional lives, will most certainly feel not OK more than we want to feel that way.

There’s this really nifty, redeeming quality of life that is the reason the whole thing is ultimately compelling – we have the power to offer compassionate acceptance to another person’s life when that person’s life seems unacceptable. (We  get to do this for ourselves as well.)

We get to help each other expand beyond what is not OK and in to the territory of all that is.

How beautiful it is to go beyond.

If you’re reading this and you’ve lost your OK for tonight, just know – you can have some of mine. Because as soon as you receive it, you’ll see – yours was there all along – and every single bit of your Ok-ness and not Ok-ness belongs.

p.s. Trees are also a pathway to OK – and maybe even the most reliable reminders of all time.