He's writing them faster than I can post them. I have to say, heifers, this is my favorite yet. To watch someone go from a caterpillar into a butterfly.... priceless. I want to say out loud, publicly, BRETT, I am just so proud to call you a friend and to watch your transformation into who you've always been meant to be. Just so proud of you.
I’m okay, you’re okay
In 1969 Thomas Harris wrote ‘I’m Okay, you’re Okay’. It’s a brilliant piece of writing in which he postulates psychological development goes through clearly outlined stages ending, hopefully, in I’m okay, you’re okay. If you haven’t read it, you really should.
As my friend’s 40th Birthday party approached inevitably I reflected on previous large social gatherings and how I would approach this one. In the past events such as this had left me in a fair state of ruin whereby I would agonise over all possible connotations of who might be there, would the room be too hot, too crowded, would I know anybody, would I be left on my own, would I need to make a sharp exit and perhaps more importantly would everybody there be.... ‘better’ than me. Would they be more comfortable in their own skin? Would they glide effortlessly around the room meandering seamlessly from small talk to small talk? In the past I would go to such gatherings and wish I was ‘that’ kind of person; the kind of person who could effortlessly make a speech, the kind of person who looked liked they belonged there. I’m not okay, you’re okay.
This time however things felt different. The build up was a busy week with Dad duties, work, a house to look after and all things domestic (no change there) however I seemed to remain in the moment. The agonising and being lost in my own head never materialised. Yes, I wondered about what to wear but even that didn’t last long.
It’s the evening of the party and I iron a few shirts. I have a very limited wardrobe these days due to a) too much running kit being purchased and b) no time to spare in any fashion emporium attempting to determine what was ‘bang on trend’. Let’s put in perspective, I have two pairs of jeans and two pairs of formal shoes. End of. With two young children I’m sure I speak for the masses when I say ‘if it’s clean, aka no drool or vomit, and doesn’t need ironing that’ll do fine’.
I choose a shirt and dig out my remaining non ripped jeans. It’s all going well until I discover the jeans, which I usually wear with boots, are actually a smidge too short for my liking. Ordinarily this would have put me in a tailspin. Surely EVERYBODY will notice. I’ll look like a tool. I’ll walk in and the spotlight will be on me. That’s how it’s been in the past. That’s the voice in my head. I’m not Okay.
As we drive to the party I mention this to my wife. I mention it because I want to hear myself saying ‘it doesn’t matter’ because in all honestly, it doesn’t. In the great scheme of things my slightly shorter than I would have liked jeans really aren’t a big deal. First challenge down. I’m Okay.
We arrive. The walk from the car park is a freezing one. The temperate is around two degrees. 5 minutes later we are at the venue. A friend is in the foyer. We exchange pleasantries during which he informs us ‘It’s boiling up there’. The party is on the second floor. I know what’s coming. In the past I have reacted to massive changes in temperature with uncontrollable sweats, especially after a brisk walk. I can also hear the party. It’s in full swing and if I can hear it this easily downstairs the room itself must be loud. With hearing aids this can be a real problem as too much background noise means I’m reliant on lip reading.
We go up a long flight of stairs and enter a small side room. Its crammed. Out of the 100 or so people present there is nobody I know. The host beckons us over and we are ushered to the group of friends we do know. It’s now I pause to look around and the realisation dawns on me that for the first time I feel… equal. Perhaps more importantly, I feel happy being me. I’m Okay.
We skip back now. Once again I am a child and the messages I am receiving from my parents during my formative years. They tell me I am the second son and always will be. They ‘joke’ with me telling me my name is ‘Stoke’ and not Brett. I have no idea why but I remember getting distressed but they continue. My grandparents followed in the same vein. ‘You’ll always be grandson number 2’. This, to me, is second best. I am not equal, I never will be and therefore being me isn’t enough. I’m not Okay, you’re not okay.
The party continues. It’s loud but I pick on some of the conversation. We are all catching up on news and a question is fired directly at me. For the first time I feel the anxiety rise. I have two options, fight or flight. I do neither. I chose embrace. I knew this might happen and instead of using my usual coping mechanisms (control my breathing, shift the focus on somebody or something else) I choose to embrace the slightly clammy feeling. I’m not going to fight this because this is me, sometimes I get anxious, sometimes I get anxiety sweats and you know what, I’m Okay.
The moment passes. The rest of the night continues. There are speeches and as I watch I no longer think ‘I wish I could do that’ but instead ‘I could do that, no problem’. There is a band, it’s even louder and my hearing is pretty much non-existent but that’s okay too. At the end of the night - I’m stone cold sober and I am persuaded to hit the dance floor (which promptly empties) for a bit of salsa. I haven’t danced salsa for 7 years and I love it. A small crowd watches. I’m Okay.
The night finishes. I haven’t won any battles. I haven’t beaten my anxiety. Instead I’ve decided to embrace ALL of me.
Thomas Harris knew a thing or two. I’m Okay.
Brett is a father, a teacher, a runner. He completed his first triathlon at the tender age of 17 and has gone on to run every distance from sprint mile to marathon and aims to complete his first ultra marathon in 2018 at the not so tender age of 47.
He is open about his battle with mental health and since hitting rock bottom 8 years ago has been on what he would describe as being a life changing journey ever since. He is a firm believer that through sharing and support anything is possible and that above all else we must strive to de-stigmatise mental health. You can follow Brett on Twitter and cheer him along as he battles his anxiety and beats it most days.