Being OK with Not Being OK

or Happiness Isn’t a Goal or a Destination

or When “Not Good Enough” Has to Be “Good Enough”

Author’s Note: I wrote this post in June 2020. I didn’t publish it because … well, either because it/I wasn’t good enough, or because I wrote it and got distracted before I finished, and then forgot all about it. So it’s a little outdated (I don’t get to claim I’m a “new” manager now that I’ve had the role for over a year), and I have a different perspective on shelter in place 9 months in than I did 3 months in, but I’ll post it anyway.


I suffer anxiety, ADHD, and chronic health issues. I am also a woman in a male-dominated field, in a time and place that idolizes Productivity as the pinnacle of value. I am valuable, even when I’m not productive. I am creative, curious, and engaged with the world. Sometimes, I’m anxiety-ridden, unmotivated, or miserable. Even then, I am valuable. I’m OK.

Since COVID-19 led most of America (& most of the world) to shelter in place, I’ve been at home. Not constantly; I get out for walks, errands, and the occasional doctor’s appointment. I even went for a socially-distanced walk with friends. You might think that I now have more time, that I can focus on home things, that I can be more focused on work. I don’t have kids and I don’t live alone, so I don’t even “have it that bad”.

Nevertheless, my productivity has been low. I get tired easily, and my anxiety leads to insomnia sometimes. My hormones are out of whack (“chronic health issues”), and I have ADHD. Put it all together and my emotions are all over the place, my energy is all over the place.

I’m also a new manager. I switched roles last October, and while my EQ is high, my planning skills are not amazing, and my management skills are in their infancy. My hope was that this year I’d be busy learning & practicing those new skills I don’t have yet. And yes, I’m doing some of that. But let’s be clear: I’m drained. I’m not what I’d call “productive”. Some weeks I work a full work-week. I rarely work overtime. (This is on average. On a given day, I may work longer or shorter. But per week, not so much.) I just don’t have it to give. Since SIP started, I’ve dropped projects, winged** conversations that maybe should’ve been prepared, and held less structure and accountability than I’d like for my team.

There was one particular week when I told them, this week I’m not a good enough manager. One of my reports, a very senior person who I trust and rely on as a key member of my team, told me, “I’m glad you said that. I’m not either.” I even told my boss. He just nodded and said, “yeah, I’m not supporting you enough either”.

My whole life, my shame about “not being good enough” or “not doing it right” has been immense. That week, not only was I not good enough, but everyone understood. Everyone wasn’t good enough that week. And my boss and I, by letting our reports know, made it OK for them to not be OK. We normalized “not good enough” as the new “good enough”.

How do I know that “not good enough” is still “good enough”? Because my contributions that week were better than no contributions. No one was emotionally or physically harmed by my inaction. I prioritized what to spend my energy on, and I didn’t collapse into the shame of “woe is me I never do anything right”. And I took stock of everything else I was doing that wasn’t “productive”. I was managing my health, my ADHD, and my anxiety. I was fostering healthy relationships with my partner, my friends, and my coworkers. When I was tired, I was tired. You can’t be not tired when you’re tired.

I didn’t do all the pro tips for managing anxiety, ADHD, or chronic health. I didn’t make myself go to bed on time. I didn’t meditate often enough. I didn’t drink enough water or floss my teeth. I didn’t even go for walks most days. All of my inaction led to worse symptoms, it’s a fact. And still, I am valuable, I am worthy, I am lovable. Of course I should get paid for my work (and I am), but my value isn’t in how I behave when I’m struggling the hardest. My value is in how I interact with people, in my unique perspective, and in my creativity.

Even in the worst of my anxiety, in the worst of my de-motivation, I’m still a valuable, lovable person. I don’t need to be fixed (although I would love to be), I just need to be OK with not being OK.

Unpublished Post – March 24, 2015

Context:

This is a stream-of-consciousness post I wrote in 2015. I was too ashamed to post it at the time, because I was ashamed of my overwhelm, of “not being OK”, not knowing myself well enough, not having an operating manual, and of not being Good Enough, both in my daily life and in what I write down.

Why not just leave it in the junk heap? I’ve spent the past five years undoing and repairing that shame, being willing to be seen as flawed and chaotic. So here: see me as chaotic, curious, and yearning for more, and see how I’m not ashamed.

But also because, it’s got my tone of voice, with all my rambling and self-deprecating, self-observant humor. If you don’t like my tone of voice, go listen to someone else talk. 💖

Might it make a better post if I already had the answers to what was going on in my life? Maybe. But if you’re figuring out who you are, how you work, and why you feel like a chaotic mess in a world of orderly normals… you’re not alone. I promise.


Today I am tired and overwhelmed.  I’m emotional.  And it took me so long to find a computer that would turn on, and then log in, that I don’t remember how the rest of this thought went.

I’ve been running between projects, and then running to catch up on sleep.  (FYI, that doesn’t work.)

I can’t find the pair of knitting needles that are the right size for my new sock yarn.

I have lots of my stuff still packed in boxes stacked around my house.  I feel like I have no time to unpack the boxes.

At work, I have to have conversations with people, and right now people are draining.

Last night I was reading about Highly Sensitive People, which I’d heard about years ago, but never really read about.  I can’t tell if it describes me or not… I don’t think of myself as being sensitive to noise, or particularly aware of what will make another person more comfortable.  But if my mom is highly sensitive (which she is), it’s quite possible that my point of reference is not, in fact, normal.  🙂

I can tell you that nearly every week, I have some emotional disruption to my life, and it makes it hard for me to do my day job, or to be useful at home, or … well, it can impact anything or everything.  Sometimes I can point to something concrete and say, yeah that’s a totally reasonable reason to be having trouble this week.  When we moved back into our house, we had a lot of really late nights and early mornings, and packing my stuff is disruptive.  Totally valid.  But there’s always *something*.  This weekend I went on retreat, so I was up late and up early, and didn’t have a restful weekend.  Go figure that come Monday/Tuesday, I’m exhausted and dysfunctional.  But I’m also miserable, uncomfortable in my body, and I wish I could stay home and knit.  (But I can’t even find the knitting needles.)

So last night, I didn’t read the written-for-the-lay-person book called “The Highly Sensitive Person”, I read the first third of a clinical psychology paper about HSPs written by the same author.  This was helpful, actually, because she’s talking about Jung’s definition of “sensitive” (vs. “introverted”, which she says is different), and I’ve firmly fallen into the Jungian camp, so it’s nice to have this concept cross-referenced with a theory I respect.  And according to Jung, most, if not all, people with neuroses are highly sensitive, which means that a disproportionate percentage of the people who go to therapists are likely to be sensitive.  On the positive side, I don’t seem to be neurotic, I just have issues.

But it’s funny, because I don’t think of myself as being particularly emotional.  I think I’m always surprised when I have strong emotions.  I like it when I’m just going along all neutral, it’s simple and predictable.

This doesn’t feel like an essay worth posting on the internet, and I don’t have time to sort it into something more coherent.

COVID-19 spreads mental health awareness

Recently I had a week where I told my coworkers, “I’m having a really hard week, I’m doing the bare minimum. Let me know if you need something from me and I’ll try to prioritize it.” I showed up to critical meetings, rescheduled non-critical ones, and made sure all of my 1-1s with my reports had enough buffer that I could focus on them. I did what was absolutely necessary, and postponed anything ambitious or innovative.

I wouldn’t have told my coworkers any of that 10 years ago. I’d have taken days off (“not feeling well”) or pushed myself to do work that would’ve come out badly. I would’ve agonized over it.

But this year, everyone I work with is struggling. People who usually have the best mental health are grappling with anxiety and depression. People with kids are being run ragged trying to watch them and do work. People who live alone are lonely. And those of us who already have mental health challenges still have mental health challenges. If we had coping mechanisms before, we’re leaning on them extra hard. And we’re sharing those tips with our neurotypical friends.

I’ve told people I have a therapist. I’ve told people the things I do to manage my anxiety. “Our brains lie, don’t believe them.” “Look for evidence that the anxiety is wrong, not only for evidence that it’s right.” I’ve told people the things I do to manage my depression. “Treat it like a cold: drink tea, wrap yourself in a warm blanket, and get plenty of rest. It will pass.” (My depression always passes. I know not everyone’s does.)

I’ve made myself a resource for people to talk about how they’re struggling, without judgment or the need to change it. Emotions are more like the weather than like truth. They don’t need to be fixed, any more than the rain needs to be fixed. They need to be experienced, and responded to appropriately. Don’t leave the house without a rain jacket, don’t act like your anxiety isn’t there. But you wouldn’t take the rain as an indication that something is wrong, so don’t take your anxiety as an indication that something is wrong. Maybe it’s just anxiety.

But also, anxiety brings wisdom. Are there things I should be doing differently? Great, let’s write down what they are and do something about them. But I can’t just do them differently while the anxiety has me in its grip — the anxious parts of me don’t have those skills. Writing them down is like putting on the rain coat.

I’ve appreciated feeling more normal this year, as more people have had brain demons like mine. I’m not weird, this year. This year, I’m more prepared than most, because I already have coping techniques.

I’m also really struggling. This year has been relentless, and I’m daydreaming of a month in a cottage by the ocean or a lake, where I have no responsibilities and can just float from one restful thing to another. Reading. Eating good food. Staring at the water. Going for a hike. Having a quiet chat with whoever I’m with. Not having to remember which coping mechanisms worked well last time.

I’m ready for a new year.