• Anastasia Pantry

Are you ok?

In light of it being mental health awareness week last week, it got me thinking about a very thought-provoking topic. Are we all actually, ok? I am certain I am asked whether I am ok or not daily, and to be honest I don’t think people always want to know the answer. Surly I can’t look ‘not ok’ every day, so does that mean people are just asking the question out of courtesy or habit?

Do I just say “Yes I am good, you?” out of politeness or is this individual; whether it be friend, family, colleague, neighbour, amazon delivery man, or shop worker actually interested in whether or not I am actually ok?

Funny enough when you Google the meaning behind ‘are you ok’ the first thing that pops up is the question: is it rude to ask someone if they are ok? And my answer used to be no of course not, every person needs someone in their life to ask about how they feel. But, when you think deeper about it, it can be perceived as rude as they might be asking with no genuine care fuelling the three words. And what a heavy three words they are, I mean they can really make or break a person’s mood.

Perhaps what it comes down to is knowing whether or not someone is ok before you even ask. But then if you already know, for example, they aren’t well or have lost a loved one, or have recently received bad news, is it going to make things worse to ask someone if they are ok when you out right know the answer?

I can see this blog is asking a lot of questions as I write, and that is because I genuinely do not know the right answer; the topic both fascinates and frustrates me. What’s more is there really isn’t a manual that we all must follow that sets out correct communication etiquette. Nobody can say there is a right or wrong way to ask an open-ended question, and as such you cannot possibly know how to ask open-ended questions that indicate you are really thinking about this person with just the right level of seriousness.

I honestly think I could write a book on this as there is no answer, nor do I have any psychological knowledge to dive deep into the ins and outs of how people feel and why we say what we say. I could even flip a coin and say rather than the question seeming in-sincere it could be the response which is in-sincere.

I will delve into a personal example. I have suffered with anxiety (openly I’ll add) for years. I am an overthinker and a perfectionist, so a lot of things throw me off balance daily. This naturally causes questions and comments like ‘how are you feeling today’ and ‘how’s things going’ or ‘you look happy today’. And to be honest I don’t really need to commentary, so I lie. I know people are concerned for me and may genuinely care how I am, but I don’t want that to be all people see.

From my experience what I have realised is that the comments and questions themselves triggered a negative reaction inside me, because I don’t want to be this person that they are always projecting their questions onto. I accept my mental health and everything it brings so I just get on with life even when, in all frankness, I am not ok every day. So because I acknowledge what is going on inside my head and in my life, when someone asks ‘are you ok?’ I now just say yes to avoid loading off my issues onto other people. But does that make me the insincere one in the conversation?

At times, it can seem like we can be in a never-ending conversational loop, saying the same hardwired un-genuine responses rather than how we feel. Because here’s another question, how do you decide to respond when you’re not ok and you want help? Do you keep it to yourself? How do you openly tell someone that you’ve been in a really dark place for a while now, or that your anxiety is causing you to spiral out of control?

Maybe the key here is listening; listening for signs of distress which will tell us whether to flippantly ask ‘are you ok’ or whether to sincerely ask someone how they are doing and do they need an ear to listen. Although not everything is fixable; just listening may not help solve what is going on in someone’s head and of course they may not want to talk about it. According to the WHO (World Health Organisation) one in four of us suffer with mental health, but there is no real knowing who those one in four are. So do we just never ask someone if they are ok again in fear it wont help, or in fear we won’t sound sincere?

We all know that when we are asked ‘are you ok?’ that it isn’t coming from a malicious place, nor does the individual have negative intentions, so I think this feeling of annoyance doesn’t come from their question, but from inside of us. That is of course with the assumption that you choose your friends wisely and don’t choose ones that will mock you.

My final thought is that maybe this all stems from that natural instinct in thinking that we as humans need to defend ourselves. And as such, we never know the right thing to say to make us look good and not affect other people’s perspectives of us. Do we give the polite short answer, do we beat around the bush and touch just the tip of the iceberg, or do we pour out about everything we are thinking?

I told you it would be thought provoking, didn’t I? And, with that I ask you all to think ‘are you actually, ok?’ when someone asks you or are you sugar coating for self-preservation?