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It's Okay to Feel Not-Okay

I have a secret to tell you that can change your life, if you’ll believe it:

Nobody is normal.

If you’re in middle school or high school, or even if you’re a fully-fledged adult, and you think you’re the only one who doesn’t fit in, or measure up, or get it like everyone else does—you’re actually just like everybody else.

Nobody feels right in their own body at thirteen, or even fourteen, and sometimes fifteen, sixteen, seventeen, and beyond. You’re a butterfly breaking out of a cocoon, dear one. It’s hard, and it's painful, and it feels impossible. But that’s just—


And beautiful, in the end, if it’s accomplished as it’s intended to be.

A lot of us feel like square pegs on a board of round holes, like fish trying to ride bicycles, like ugly ducklings bumping around in a world of swans.

But most people—especially when we're youngish—are faking the appearance of being well-adjusted, confident, and in control of life.

Sadly, the most ill-at-ease people in the world often try to make those around them feel less-than, wrong, a mistake. Because misery loves company. If such people can draw you into their pain by making their distress look like happiness, or if they can push you to feel worse about yourself than they do about themselves, they think it will elevate them and will make them feel and look and be better.

(It won’t.)

You’re a masterpiece already. Don’t ever think you need to change who you are.

You say you don’t look like other people?

Nobody does. As much as people claim to want to be one-of-a-kind, most spend their lives trying to copy whoever they think has it most together.

You don’t need to do that. You’re more than enough just the way you are. You were beautifully and breathtakingly made.

You argue that you don’t like the same things other people like?

I promise that somewhere there’s someone similar to you—but not exactly the same—who likes that too. When I was a kid I liked to draw maps. Not real maps, imaginary ones. I have no idea why. A friend’s college roommate chilled out by looking at typesetting fonts. There are boys who macramé and girls who weld.

Don’t buy into other people’s strict, stereotypical definitions of what a girl or a boy is. There’s no server bank in the world that could hold all the myriad variations of personhood on it. So how could “Girls like pink” or “Boys like trucks” ever be able to sum up a human being?

You worry because you have, or might have, a diagnosis—autism, depression, anxiety, OCD, or something else—and you think that could mean you’re not actually who you thought you were, or who you wish you were.

Everyone has something that’s gone awry emotionally, psychologically, or physically. Every. Single. One of us. Some of us are just lucky enough to have a word for our particular combination of unusualities, and some professional guidance for managing it.

You may have been told that you need to change something about yourself in order to feel better. But here’s another secret:

It’s okay to feel not-okay.

Sometimes life hurts. Pain serves as a red flag or signpost, to alert us that something needs to be attended to: I need to remove my hand from the hot stove; I need to find friends who care about me rather than use me; I need to find out the truth rather than continue to believe a lie.

I’m sorry if you’re hurting. I’m sorry if people have hurt you. I’m sorry if life feels like a battle every day.

But drugs can’t fix your heart. Surgery won’t fix your feelings. Drugs and surgeries don't have that power.

Can I offer you a better idea?

Work on changing your feelings instead of changing your body.

Find someone trustworthy—someone without a horse in the race—who can help you figure out why you hurt, and where that hurt started. If you want to sort some of that out, here are a few good places to start:

You’re amazing, young one. And you're going to be okay.

Believe it.


Maria Keffler is a co-founder of Partners for Ethical Care. Contact Ms Keffler via

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