“It’s Okay to Not Be Okay”

Laurent D’Almeida, contributor

CW: Gun violence

Throughout our lives, family, teachers, trusted adults and especially mental health professionals have talked about understanding our emotions and feelings, maybe mentioning the phrase, “It’s okay to not be okay.” So what does it mean to truly not be okay? What does it mean to understand one’s feelings? The answers are different for everyone, and they can change. I thought I was starting to figure out how to navigate life with everyday battles of chronic pain and struggling with my health. But it wasn’t until an unexpected encounter that my world was shattered to pieces, and I’ve had to adjust to my new reality.

One evening in August—just last month—I was leaving the comfort of my apartment building that I had moved into only three months earlier. It was around 9:30 p.m., a typical suburban summer night—still humid and just getting dark. I barely left the parking lot of the complex to cross the street before a car I recognized from dropping a person at the apartments pulled up next to me. The people inside cracked their window and started yelling obscenities, which alarmed me, and then moments later, a weapon appeared. I remember freezing in shock for what felt like forever, but I’m sure it was just a second. The gun looked so real, but keep in mind, I’ve never seen one outside of a TV show or film, so I don’t know how to tell a real or fake gun apart. It wasn’t until they began firing that I started running as fast as possible. I never thought I would have to call the cops saying I was just shot at since I live in Shakopee—a suburb that’s supposed to be safe and quiet. While I was running, I was thinking that, if I get out of this alive, I need to have some proof to show the police. As a Black person in America, even as the person calling for help I could be harmed by them. So, while running for my life, I quickly looked back and took note of as many details as I could. Even as I was thinking I could be killed, another thought in the back of my mind was as a Black person can I even call the cops, and would they believe me?

This horrible evening in August has really impacted my mental health. I went for a walk last week for the first time since the shooting took place, around the same time. I will say, it’s the last time I will go walking again by myself. I can’t really sleep, and I constantly worry about someone getting into my apartment and hurting me while I’m in the shower, or late at night and early in the morning. These are the types of mental health struggles I have been living with daily since the shooting happened. Nothing has felt normal since. And on top of that, the shooting added to the laundry list of my struggles, including chronic pain, migraines, anxiety, panic attacks and depression. Imagine going through this without having a family to lean on. 

So when one talks about not being okay mentally, it’s okay to put on one shoe at a time and go on to see another day. Just in the past two days, my emotions have been all over the place. I’ve cried. I’ve felt sad. I’ve felt defeated. When one says, “It’s okay to not be okay,” it’s about being able to push through every day knowing it’s okay to cry. It’s okay to feel sad, angry or bitter. But that’s only what your head tells you. You have to know it gets better. You aren’t alone. It’s okay to cry. And most of all, it’s okay to acknowledge that you aren’t okay.