It's OK not to be OK. This has been a slogan at the heart of many campaigns driving positive change in the landscape around mental health in the twenty first century. It has empowered people to be vulnerable, to put their hands up and simply say 'help'. From football to royalty, from pop stars to boardroom, and in houses across the country, it's been a simple message of hope and progress. However, it has struck me in recent weeks that we also need to empower people to say that they are okay; so in this time of lockdown and lives being changed drastically, how do we get a message out that it's OK to be OK?
This is not OK
2020 has not been OK... let's get that out there. Close to quarter of a million people, at the time of writing, have lost their lives to a virus that has brought tumult and chaos to lives as we know it. None of that is OK.
And away from the death toll, businesses of all sizes are being brought to their knees, people's lives destroyed as the economy crashes around them. Governments across the world are looking at measures to help people wherever possible as the value of currencies reach depths hitherto unimaginable. None of that is OK.
People are losing jobs, youngsters are unable to sit critical exams, Liverpool may not win the League after 30 long years (OK, the last one, even for me, seems relatively unimportant although I may lose it completely if that eventuality happens!). Many have essentially had their liberties taken from them with lockdown measures across the world. None of that is OK.
But here is the deal... and it is OK
You see, we are not meant to come out of this as the same people who came into it. In fact, I would argue that it would be a tragic waste if we came out of this, whenever that may be, and just went back to life as it was.
I know that I am not alone in saying that this period of lockdown has given me the opportunity to assess and change so many little (and some bigger!) things in my life, and I know I want my normal to be very different upon exit.
I wrote about introversion in lockdown recently and while I admit it was always going to be easier for me than many, the changes I'm appreciating are not all related to that. Here are just some of things I'm doing differently.
- Working hard but creating boundaries - there's no excuse to stay just that ten minutes extra at the office which eventually turns into a 14 hour day. Right now, I still run to work every morning but I just happen to arrive back at the same place I left... but where I leave the house, I arrive back at work. In the evening, I finish at a decent time and enjoy quality time with my wife.
- I'm eating so much healthier. Instead of leaving work after six and being home just before eight, I can finish work at six and be home by six thirty (the half-hour commute may just be standing in the front or back listening to music or reading a book, anything to end the work day) - this allows for proper and good cooking, not ANOTHER Deliveroo or a hastily put together and unbalanced meal.
- I'm connecting with my family and friends... although I typically won't do Zoom calls on weekday evenings, I am definitely in contact with people more now than I have been for a long time and I love that.
- I'm enjoying keeping fit and really valuing my exercise, just having fun (responsibly!) and not worrying about having to train for races.
- Living life at a sensible pace, not trying to go at 100 miles per hour from waking up at just after 5am all the way through until bed time. Simply by slowing down, I'm suddenly reconnecting with the beauty and vibrant colours of the world around us.
- I'm spending quality time both with my wife and with God, both of which drive my joy in life... I'm even finding purpose without live sport!!
In short, I am actually thriving in lockdown. I am physically exercising, I am managing my mental wellbeing, I am working hard but finding time to rest, and I am connecting with loved ones. Simply put, it has taken lockdown for me to be still.
I am constructively busy but still able to find the silence that I cherish, one that has been lacking for some time.
Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will - Romans 12:2
I have been living life at full speed and that can be no good for anyone. This period of still has allowed me to reconnect with a balanced life, still working hard in all I do, but also prioritising the most important relationships in my life.
For me, lockdown has been more than OK, it may well have been the catalyst to improve my life beyond recognition.
It's OK to be OK
I've tried to be as careful as possible in my wording above. It is not intended to come across even remotely as smug or self-satisfied. It is simply a reflection of how lockdown has allowed me to reassess how I want to live my life.
Covid-19 and the impact it has had on so many lives is not OK. As I said, right at the beginning, hundreds of thousands of lives lost, lives destroyed and economies in irreparable crisis are not OK.
And I fully appreciate that I speak from a place of comfort financially, a secure job (as it stands!) a wonderful wife, and stability that most do not have.
There is a deep sense of calm which is underpinned by faith. I am and have always been thankful for God's provision. I have known homelessness, I have known what it is to sleep on the streets and have never forgotten that. I have always been driven to give back to others who don't have and that will always be the case.
Through this crisis, my constant gentle challenge to myself has been to find the balance between self-care, caring for those around me, and serving the wider community. What we have all seen is incredible generosity and kindness, the likes of which we have so often failed to notice in the hectic nature of the world as we have known it. That is something that we should cherish and continue to see in the world that we are reshaping now.
So in ending, I flip back to where I started. We have shaped a narrative around telling people that it's ok not to be ok, and I'm a big advocate of that.
However, my plea to all of us now is to also acknowledge that it's OK to be OK. We all want to come through this pandemic and we all yearn for the day when we can embrace our friends and families. We all have empathy with those who have lost so much.
But all of us are permitted to grow in this, all of us are permitted to find solace and happiness in this.
It is OK to be OK. And don't let the world tell you differently.