Who’s your person?

Kari Swanson

How many times a day do you get asked: “How are you?” How many times do you answer honestly? Most often, in passing, we get asked, flippantly, how we are and we most likely, without thinking, just say “good”, “fine”, etc. When something bad happens we get asked: “Are you okay”? Again, we most likely respond “yeah”. The question really isn’t “are you okay?” or “how are you?” The real question is “Who is the person you trust enough to tell you are not okay?” Please notice the word tell. Not “who would you answer honestly to if he/she asked you?” You may not always be asked on the days you aren’t doing well, but on those days, who would you trust to let know that you are not doing well?

This appears to be a difficult question for some. I think there are many factors that get in the way. Pride. Embarrassment. Feeling we should be strong. Not wanting to burden others.

I read an article last weekend about five suicides of kids 14 and younger within the last year in Kentucky. All five children, ages 10, 11, 12, 13 and 14, three girls and two boys, hung themselves. Why am I bringing this up? I think as adults we have a hard time identifying that person we would go to if we weren’t doing well. What about our kids? Have we stressed the importance to them of finding that one person they would let know if they were not doing okay? Have we stressed the importance that it doesn’t have to be us, the parents, but somebody?

Kids today struggle with things I can’t imagine struggling with and fortunately, I didn’t have to struggle with growing up. As the adults in their lives, parents, coaches, youth leaders, church members, teachers, etc., do we role model that it’s okay to not be okay? It’s okay to have a bad day, a bad moment or not feel happy all the time? Do we poo-poo their “petty” girl argument or their not making the sports team or not getting invited to the get-together and just expect them to feel upset or disappointed for a moment and move on? Have we given them the tools to use if they can’t move on from it? Have we let them know that if they can’t move on from a negative emotion eating at them they need to tell someone? Have we role modeled having a bad day and talking about it?

In speaking with youth I have heard that the one thing they don’t want to do is disappoint their parents. Some have convinced themselves that experiencing a lengthy time of not being okay would be disappointing to their parents because they “would expect more” so they put on a happy front. This certainly can just be a kid’s perspective but as parents and adults in a community, we need to do better. We need to make sure that our youth, our friends, our families know to wave the white flag and talk when an emotion goes deep. We need to listen without judgment. What is difficult for someone to process or “get over” may be easy for someone else, but that person’s feelings is just that…that person’s feelings. If you know of a situation that has occurred in someone’s life, minor or major, check in and let that person know you are there.

We all need a person we trust to be able to tell when we are not okay. Talking about not feeling okay as soon as you realize you feel “different” will help that feeling to begin to dissipate and allow it to not grow within your own mind.

Please think about the question “who do you trust enough to tell when you are not okay?” How long would you let the negative emotions fester before telling this person? What barriers get in the way of telling someone you are not okay? These are questions we all need to get real about and help our kids with as well. Not being “okay” does not mean you are “crazy” (I do not like that word) or that you need professional help. It means you are struggling with something that talking about could possibly help as well as having someone that cares about you walk through it with you. Seeking professional help is not a weakness but strength and sometimes, talking to someone that is not a part of your inner circle helps.

My hope is that everyone has someone they could tell when they are not okay. It is okay to not be okay but it’s not okay to struggle in silence.

Kari Swanson is a Master’s level clinician with 25 years of working in the mental health field. She is the founder of CORE–Choosing Openness Regarding Experiences which is a non-profit organization with the mission to provide mental health awareness and suicide prevention education to Warren County.