I’m Not Okay and That’s All Right 2


If you follow this website regularly or have me on Twitter, then you know that I took last week off from working on the blog. I claimed that it was for the sake of my mental health, and I meant that genuinely.

If I’m not in a good mindset, then I become very negative and it seeps into my writing. Or, at least, I think it seeps into my writing. Sometimes I’ve read these things back and realized they were actually okay. But I have to be very conscious about the fact that I might turn very pessimistic and start ranting about tangential but mostly irrelevant issues.

People who know me well know that I can be kind of intense. My emotions go to extremes. If I’m happy, then I become obnoxious. If I’m angry, it takes a lot of restraint not to hit things (never people) and I don’t always win that inner battle. I’ve opened up and cried to friends because I thought my life had gotten out of control. When I’m feeling particularly crappy, I’ve been known to write poetry.

But I used to hide this.

Let me back up to the sixth grade. I wasn’t happy then, either. In fact, I think middle school was probably the worst time of my adolescent life. One day we were sent to the auditorium to watch what I saw as a comedian perform live. What I didn’t realize at first is he was also a life coach.

This guy told us two things that I remember. First, he told us how much of our lives is spent at red lights (okay I don’t remember the exact amount, but it was a lot). Second, he told us that happiness is a choice.

It was the kind of statement that most people have a gut reaction to. It’s either “That’s so right!” or “Nope. Bull.”

I was somewhere in the middle. I was willing to entertain the idea. If I could choose to be happy, then why not try?

Well, it didn’t work, at first.

Years later, when I was sixteen and working my first lifeguard job, I was sitting alone at the pool and feeling like crap. I got to thinking, why do I feel like this? I had no idea. I couldn’t justify feeling sad, or angry, or anything really. So I chose to be happy, to actually see if I was in control. I smiled. I felt better.

The issue that I didn’t realize until years later was that I was faking it. I was still roiling on the inside. It was why I had outbursts. I like to describe my particular brand of anxiety as a plastic bottle where every bit of aggression I ignore or put aside (or bottle) adds a little pressure. Eventually, it bursts, all at once. All the things that were ignored or shrugged off didn’t just go away, that would fly in the face of Newton’s laws. It had to go somewhere.

It didn’t matter what ticked the pressure gauge into the red. It could be little or small. It could simply be that I couldn’t find a pen. Everything that had happened since the last outburst, little or small, came back, and the things and people around me took the full force of the explosion.

You might think I’ve got it all figured out by now, and you’d be quite wrong indeed. I did learn to deal with things head on, though. If someone says something that upsets me, I’ll reflect on it and decide if it’s worth saying something back to them. Sometimes people will say something frustrating and if I hold my tongue, I can seethe for hours or days dreaming of all the things I should have said. Letting myself react instead of bottling the aggression completely helps keep the pressure down.

Now my coping methods are different, and not altogether healthy. It’s something I’m working on changing, but there’s no magic bullet, and I don’t want to take pills. I’m not at the level of needing medication. They would help, I’m sure, but at least while I have the power to do something myself, I’ll hold off.

Probably my worst coping method is when I do the things that make me feel bad about myself when I already feel pretty bad. Like gaming for hours on end or drinking too much. Often both at the same time.

I don’t like pretending to be happy. It’s one of the reasons I don’t do YouTube anymore, because you have to appear happy on YouTube. Pessimism isn’t something that can be cut in post.

I’m also not the kind of person to get excited about mental health awareness month, because it doesn’t really spread awareness in my opinion. You either get it or you don’t and if you don’t then maybe you will if a friend opens up to you.

But you can’t hide it. If you hide it and people think you’re fine all the time, then that causes issues, too. People need to know that what they’re going through is normal, and if they don’t see other people being openly not okay, then they will learn to hide it, too. And the cycle continues.

This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t try to be happy. I know I do. But it takes a lot of introspection and knowing yourself and experimenting. It takes time, and it takes work. I know when I spend more time reading instead of playing video games or when I have a good writing habit going, I feel pretty good. I also know that regular exercise helps give you more energy, and making healthier food choices does the same. More energy tends to help make you feel better in general, which is why I go to the gym now and eat salads.

If you thought that all the self-improvement/self-motivation blog posts were written solely because I’m a helpful guy, you’re only half right. The other part is that I need the motivation myself, and writing it down helps to solidify it in my mind, and gives me a place to turn to whenever I feel lost. If I’ve helped anyone else along the way, then that’s a bonus.

Do you have anything you try to hide from people? Do you spend more energy trying to appear happy than actually become happy? Don’t be afraid to open up in the comments. I’d love to hear it, seriously.


Photo by Marc-Olivier Jodoin on Unsplash


About David Shank

David T. Shank is a writer, runner, and musician, in that order. His blog is hopefully an oasis among the vast ocean of negativity that is the Internet. He lives in Cleveland studying how to write good.


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2 thoughts on “I’m Not Okay and That’s All Right

  • A.S. Akkalon

    I really appreciate you sharing, and I think the best way for me to show how much I appreciate it is for me to share too. 🙂 If you met me in real life you’d probably think I was a pretty positive person – maybe not as relentlessly positive as I am online, but still pretty positive – and I don’t think it’s all a show. You probably wouldn’t realise that I struggle with depression (some of the time) and anxiety (a lot of the time). I know exercise helps to some extent, but it’s hard to make myself do it when I’m in a bad place.

    You come across in your posts as thoughtful and self-aware. Maybe you don’t have all the answers you seem to have, but I think that’s a good start.

    • David Shank Post author

      I think a lot of people are like that, honestly. Even when I’m at my best I’m still like that–generally positive, but holding back. The hard part is deciding when to open up and to whom (and how much). Context is key, as is the environment. It’s easier to be open and honest with close friends than with a random person you just met at a party. One will already know you enough to realize that you’re worth helping, the other will only remember that side of you.

      Thanks so much for sharing. It means a lot. 🙂