“Our community is in fucking crisis right now.”
As I stood in the shower, alcoholic beverage in hand, trying to let the hot water calm me down, I read this text message from a friend and fellow jumper. Yeah, no shit, I thought. I’ve been realizing for a while that as a community we’re not okay, but this was a much clearer, stronger, more blunt description of our dire situation. In 8 days time we lost 3 friends, including a double fatality, which other than a triple a few years back has never happened before. Most of us were still mourning the passing of Mat when we heard the news of Rami and Katie. Some of us, myself included, hadn’t even had a proper chance to deal with our grief and loss of Mat when Rami and Katie died. No, we are certainly not okay.
In most cases I hate the question “Are you okay?” because it’s such a fucking lie. Many times the person asking doesn’t want the real answer and the person answering isn’t going to tell the truth. It’s turned into a salutation just like “How’s it going?”
When nonjumpers ask if we’re okay we lie and say we are for many reasons. Maybe it’s to shield them from a world they aren’t familiar with, maybe it’s because we don’t want to talk about our pain, maybe it’s because we’re lying to ourselves. Or maybe when someone says “How’s your weekend?”, you just don’t feel like saying, “Oh you know, I saw my friend in a body bag and then stood next him for an hour talking to the police about possible ways to identify him. How was the football game?”
When fellow jumpers ask if we’re okay we lie and say we are for different reasons. Sometimes it feels like going through the motions. We’re not okay, and we know it, but we ask anyway as a sign of support. It’s like saying “Hey, I know this sucks, but I’m worried and care about you.” When we say we’re okay again, we’re lying, but for different reasons. Either we know everyone is hurting and don’t want to make the situation about us, or we’re comparing and ranking our level of grief to others, or sometimes we’re just acknowledging the situation and saying, “You know what, I’m not okay, but thanks for your concern.” Unfortunately most of the time this simply comes out as “I’m okay.”
I certainly don’t mean to or want to discount the times a friend asks me if I’m okay and they truly mean it. When they really mean it what they’re actually saying is “I know you’re not ok, so let me know if you want to talk about it, or just want a hug, but I love you and I’m going to follow your cue.” Exchanges like this demonstrate an amazing unspoken compassion and understanding.
I’m trying my hardest to stop saying I’m okay these days. Sometimes I still have to for various reasons—most of the time to try and shield others I care about—but whenever possible I’ve really tried to stop saying it. I’m not talking about gushing every time someone has asked, although to be fair I’ve certainly gushed a time or two so far in 2016. Something amazing has happened though—by not saying I’m okay, I’ve had some incredible conversations with friends. We’ve shared thoughts, experiences, and opinions that we otherwise never would have. If someone isn’t comfortable continuing the conversation then they won’t, but the result would be the same as if you had never started it. If they do continue it though, and together we dive deeper, then we might just learn something. We might learn something about ourselves, each other, the community, or maybe even something larger than any of us.