Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Facing an Unfamiliar Truth

I am not fine.

There. The truth is out. Sometimes the truth I cannot say seeps out through my finger tips and onto the keyboard. Then the small black letters sit there, staring at me from the computer screen, the flashing cursor and me just waiting to see what comes next.

How is it that the world continues? The sun is just coming up. A single ray breaks through the cloud cover and fills the apartment with liquid gold. Birds sing the light into being. City traffic starts to move over rain-soaked pavement.

I always say I’m fine. It’s a habit. A way of reassuring others that I don’t need much from them, that they don’t need to be afraid. A way of reassuring myself that things are not as bad as they seem, that I don’t need to be afraid.

A year ago, early one morning in the city- before I’d allowed the thought that my marriage was unravelling- I phoned the tele-nurse to see if she thought I should go to a hospital emergency ward. I hadn’t been able to take a full breath for over twelve hours. There was a constant and penetrating ache in my back, as if someone had slipped a dull knife blade between my ribs.

The night before, preparing to give a talk at a local venue, I’d had to lie down on the floor and wait for my wildly beating heart to slow down. Lying on the carpet, I’d put my hand on my chest. Like a trapped and frantic animal, my heart seemed to be throwing itself against my rib cage, seeking a way out or a way to knock itself out and find relief in unconsciousness. It was beating at six times its normal speed, skipping an occasional beat, shaking my body from head to toe.

Minutes before, on the phone, my husband had told me he was not going to keep a promise. He’d forgotten. Made another commitment. Something more important.

I told myself I was fine. My heart begged to differ. There was nothing to do but lie on the floor, breathe slowly and wait for it to pass. And it did. Suddenly the rapid fluttering stopped. There was a pause, a moment in between tachycardia and a normal pulse. Silence. I felt suspended, as if a decision was being made at a cellular level, beyond or behind or below consciousness, about whether or not to continue. I waited and watched, unsure of the outcome.

Then, my heart resumed beating at a normal if slightly irregular rhythm, like someone staggering away from the scene of a car crash. That’s when the ache in my back had started, like a kink from trying an impossible yoga posture, as if some part of me had stretched beyond its limits in order to continue.

The next morning, I still couldn’t take a full breath.

The nurse on the phone asked a few questions. Then told me she was dialling 911. She thought I might be having a heart attack.

Really? I said. I’m fine.

An impossibly short time later, two firefighters, a police officer and two paramedics were leaning over me.

Really, I said between small sips of air, I’m fine. It’s probably just stress.

The police officer shook his head and went into the hallway. A firefighter put an oxygen mask over my face. One of the paramedics said, You are aware that stress can cause a heart attack?

I lifted the oxygen mask and reassured them all. I’m fine.

They attached electrodes to my skin, while I wondered if someone would put that on my gravestone: She said she was fine.

When I was growing up, my parents were worried about my brother- unhappy and sullen, smoking dope, drinking beer, skipping school to hang out in the small town pool hall. My mother told me they never worried about me. They knew I’d be fine. I’m sure she meant it in gratitude- one offspring they did not need to be concerned about. I’m sure she meant it as a compliment- a testament to my strength and common sense. I heard it as a job description. My job was to be fine, even when I wasn’t. So, I have very little talent for not being fine, for recognizing when I am not fine. Once in a while, I wonder: Am I fine? Who should I ask?

The firefighters left. Forty-five minutes later the paramedics told me they didn’t think I was having a heart attack, although they recommended seeing a doctor.

So now here I am, a year later. My marriage is ending. My husband and I are separated. Could I say I didn’t see it coming? My heart did. After a decade together, I am not fine with the loss of my home, marriage, husband and dreams of deep intimacy and a shared life.

There is some relief in being able to lay down the burden of always been fine.

I am not fine.

And that’s okay.


  1. Dear Oriah.

    Thank you again for your courage, honesty and wisdom.
    Reading what you write often seems to open my heart, to myself and to others. This is a great gift.
    Fine, or not, burdened, or laying burdens down, whatever is going on with you, I send much appreciation, and I wish many blessings to you.

  2. I hear you. I have weak ankles, and I sprain either of them about once or twice a year. I fall down, and someone runs over, asking, "Are you ok?"

    "Oh, yes" I hasten to reassure them, "I'm fine. Just a slip". Then I limp off, leaning against whatever is around to be leaned on.

    I don't think it's ok that you can say you're not fine. I think it's wonderful. The chances of arriving at any worthwhile destination with a distorted map are pretty low, so the fact that your map is getting more accurate is definitely a silver lining.

    Which does not diminish our shared and real pain about the cloud.

  3. uhclem- thanks for this- I like the idea that my map is getting more accurate! Might increase my chances of not driving into a brick wall :-)

  4. unhclem- i like your map analogy! :-D

    love and strength to you, oriah.

  5. i know that there are many of us that can relate to this. i can only ditto what uhclem said about the map, and that it is wonderful to say that you are not fine... so many of us seek deep honesty and yet in small ways we violate this deep wish by not offering it. here's to offering what we seek. blessings to you this day as you continue your journey through...

  6. Sometimes all we can do is just be, really truly be with what we are feeling. I too, without even knowing it spent many years of my life being fine. Only now, my body is rebelling and doing 'not fine' with a vengeance. The irony in this is that others around me seem to desperately want me to go back to being fine. Say that I'm fine, even if I'm not. My challenge is to honour the truth of what I'm feeling, even if it scares others who prefer to keep me on a pedestal.

    I'd like not to have to speak any of these words, Oriah. I'd far rather give you a long, silent hug.

  7. Oriah,

    I too have faced this task, as it seems such a task, to admit our true and current state of mind, where we are mentally, especially to those, which are most of society, that utter the polite, off the cuff, standard question, "How you doin'?" that we ask our dear friends, co-workers at the water cooler, or the cashier scanning our veggies. For the last several years, whenever I'm asked that question, the first thought in my mind is, "Do you really want to know, could you handle MY truth, would you be there to keep listening if I really needed to unload, are you asking so that I'll ask you and then you can unload, or are you just following some social norm, and trying to be polite?" Over time I have become very careful with whom I share my true and current state of mind with. Too often have I been real-n-raw, with and to the polite person, rather than the one who really means, "How you doin'?" as is eager for all responses. So, I guess I just want you to know that you DO have an audience, friends, what-have-you, that are listening, that care deeply to how you are doing, and its SO OKAY to not be fine. We are programmed at a very young age, like you mentioned, to make sure everyone around us isn't worried about us, always in fear that if we can't handle our own trials of the heart/mind/spirit/body, then who could, who would want to? I think a big part of it is trusting in ourselves that we can admit our truths, and also having a keen eye and ear for who really wants to know.....Thank you for having the courage to be honest, to admit your truth, and me too wishes I could give you a hug;) My best,


  8. These are my own thoughts lately
    "What if.. maybe it is ..perfect..
    Though it seems less than
    much less
    but it is the right place
    where you are
    where you stand"
    This is the spirit part of me.
    It is completly the opposite of what Im feeling as inside Im kicking and screaming along the way..that is the human part of me. I dont feel equipped, I dont feel strong enough. My daughter just got out of the hospital and one of my sons is suffering so badly with a mental ilness im grasping to understand..and I feel hopeless sometimes.

    So, kick and scream a bit..the look and see where your feet land..what if..its the perfect place..where you stand?

    And just know..if you look around, there might be a few of us holding your hand, in spirit..when your not feeling strong enough:)
    Big Hug!

  9. Dearest Oriah

    I have been watching and waiting and thinking of you every day. My heart fills with love for you and flows to you whereever you are as I read your words today.

    Yesterday during a long drive to my see my fragile, elderly parents I found your cd 'A Heart's Prayer' and listened to the whole of it. I presume, at the time, you were just planning your move to the wilderness and to a new home. You mention again and again the wonderful line from Rumi..'there is a broken, open place in a lover'....

    I realise the terrible pain you must now be in and on whatever level I am able to I send strength and love and energy to you. Please try to hold on - keep on just keeping on...hold on to the birdsong, those early rays of light..let them become musical fingers lifting you and holding you high..

    You ARE held, you ARE safe and you are deeply loved. Hugs and more hugs, Annie in Wiltshire, UK

  10. 'come as you are' into each moment.

    you WILL be fine because you recognized and said "I am not fine."

    only if we accept things as they are, we can navigate ourselves to where we would like to be.



  11. Thank you for sharing. I cannot even begin to know "your place in this moment"; however I have been in my space in similar ways (The space where I am screaming and society just doesn't really want to hear). If I answer honestly to the "How are you?" I may unleash a hurricane and blow innocent bystanders over.

    I found my power in speaking my truth. I didn't have to be "superwoman" it was ok to be in an overwhelmed, angry, sad, anxious or even happy state of mind (in other words, Not Fine by other's standards!) even if the illusion was broken. Who was I kidding anyway? The more "fine" I was, the more amplified my inner screaming became and my body just let the "truth" leak out in a plethora of ways.

    Once I gave in and acknowledged that I was exactly where I needed to be in that moment. Once I stopped trying to live up to the "I'm fine" persona; my body stopped leaking out the actual truth. Fear no longer controlled my "auto response" and regardless I truly was "OK" in the place I was. Those that can listen do with all their heart and those that really don't want to hear the truth generally are not armed to understand and can't hear it anyway (and that's OK too).

    Sending hugs to you.

  12. Oh Oriah- it's so true that our bodies often tell us what is going on in our hearts even when we scream that WE'RE FINE, REALLY!!! I sometimes ask myself why I feel so scared and anxious and heart sick when I have SO much damnit, but the truth is that you feel what you feel and your experience is as true as anyone's. For me it's always my harsh inner voice that tells me to 'quit feeling sorry for yourself,' 'count your blessings' blah blah blah- all those things I've heard my whole life that tell me to deny my own heart. Thanks so much for being honest- it helps us all so much and allows all of us to speak our own truths about our broken and wounded and suffering hearts.

  13. Oriah,

    I am 22, and at the age of 16 I lost my best friend in a car accident. She was also 16. As a teenager, I was ignorant of the pain that existed in this world until her death. I felt hard and quick the pain involved in losing someone I loved.

    I think the most surprising thing about any loss in life, whether it is a friend or lover, whether it is by choice or through death, is that the process of grieving that loss- well, it doesn't actually kill you. At times I felt like it would. My brain would tell my body to breathe but my heart ached so terribly for things to be better again and for my best friend to be back, that I literally couldn't breathe. I'd be paralyzed from head to toe in a sobbing, hypoventilating fit of helplessness.

    Six years later, I still miss her every day. But it got easier. As hard as it may be to hear because it is not a quick fix, time does heal. I was never the same after her death, but I was sweetly broken. I was better for having had her in my life, and I grew as a person after the loss. I can't possibly know what you're going through, but I thought I'd offer my experience and let you decide if you could take any nuggets of consolation from it.

    On a lighter note, I could not help but be reminded of one of my favorite movie quotes from "The Italian Job" after reading your blog this evening:

    John Bridger: I feel so optimistic. How do you feel?
    Charlie Croker: [shrugging] I'm fine.
    John Bridger: Fine? You know what "fine" stands for, don't you?
    Charlie Croker: Yeah, unfortunately.
    John Bridger: Freaked out...
    Charlie Croker: Insecure...
    John Bridger: Neurotic...
    Charlie Croker: And Emotional.

    Perhaps a little ironic, comic relief to crack a smile?


  14. Thank you, Oriah,
    as so often you speak for all of us. With hindsight I have always been able to pinpoint the moment when something broke and my body felt it even if it took years for the time of facing it to arrive. And each time I ask myself why I didn't listen back then and ackowledge what was changing. Then comes the self ctiticism for not learning. Circles.
    But I am grateful to you for saying this and reminding me that I am highly unlikely to be perfect, ever, and it is all OK. Fine or not fine, it passes, God loves us and maybe we will gradually get a little bit nearer loving ourselves just as we are.
    It must be so hard, my heart goes out to you, waves of grief are exhausting. Well done for every day, just to keep moving through every day is a really big thing.

  15. i am not fine either. thank you for helping me acknowledge a strange way i feel better.

  16. I know- it's weird but I guess acknowledging it at least stops the constant drain of energy required to pretend (mostly to ourselves) that it is othewise.

  17. It's like trying to dry your eyes in the pouring rain.

    I wish only for the best
    for you
    and for me

    and thank you for sharing yourself here

  18. You are courageous Oriah to share this with all of us. I am not fine some times...whew, there I said it. I was always the child that was fine too. I did all the "right", marriage, child, then single motherhood, worked full time, had a busy career moving toward executive management. All the while going to school part time and studying in my passion...healing, oriental medicine and energy medicine, herbology, flower essences and on and on. All the while dealing with CFS and FMS (Fibromyalgia) after a cycling accident in the early 90's. And I thought juggling all that was what I was suppose to do. It seemed perfectly normal to be a super woman.

    Even today at age 55, so called mid-life, I feel I must be fine for everyone else. Especially after my younger brother suicided 12/27/2007. Now I feel I must share about him, about preventing suicide, about loss, grief and trauma.

    I starting talking about it recently. I post at Facebook on my profile and my Inner Garden Path page. I volunteered today at a Crisis Hotline and will train soon to work there 4 hours a week.

    I was laid off in CA in July 2008, ended a significant other relationship that spanned 20 years in 2008, and moved to NM in Spring 2009. It has taken more than 18 months to find my bearings and still I am not fine.

    Some days I am fine. Sometimes for weeks, months, even years I have not been fine but I told everyone I was fine. I lied to them and to myself.

    I have learned that it is okay to be in the experience of not being fine. I still struggle with not being fine in front of my 80 year old mother whom I currently reside with. Recently, I had to tell her I was not fine...that was the day I lost my CA unemployment benefits and had yet another job rejection in my old career path.

    My great Aunt Christiana, who work at Unity Village in Missouri and was a Unity lay minister, always said, "Do the best you can, where you are, with what you have, now".

    You are a beacon of light...

    Thank you.

  19. You're not fine. And I like you being not fine. It's okay. Some day it will be me who's not fine, and it'll be okay. Perhaps I will not like myself as much as I'd like to, but out there is somebody who can like me the way I am. Thanks.

  20. Beautiful post. Very moving. You are able to communicate what many of us feel. Thank you for that.

  21. Can totally relate to what you're experiencing. I refer to the following linked piece often. Maybe it will speak to you, as well. Peace to you.

  22. Oriah,

    I am new to your website recommended by a close friend and confidant. I am enjoying what I am reading and have ordered "The Invitation.
    I have days of not being fine too.

  23. Reading your post brought tears to my eyes as I recall similar instances in my life.
    I,too, was in the habit of saying "I'm fine." even when things weren't. I thought being fine was the correct answer. I did not want people to know things weren't that way. I finally figured out that when you are "fine" you are denying your true feelings. I found the courage to admit to myself that I was not fine and needed to seek out people who could be with me unconditionally. Oriah, you are so right to say it is freeing to be able to admit that and to not have to pretend that all is well in your corner of the world. Once you admit that to yourself you can then be free to talk about what is not fine and to feel whatever feelings you are having at the moment.
    I applaud your courage and send loving thoughts your way as you continue to breathe in each new day.

  24. most of the time i find the harder you try to be fine the less fine you actually are. at some point you gotta stop trying and just let go the idea that you have to be fine. our lives were not created to be perfectit is quite all right to not be fine as a matter of fact it is good to not be fine sometimes because it makes the moments of happiness and true joy that much better and more potent!

  25. Oriah, your writing is clear and powerful in a way I haven´t felt since coming across Clarissa P. Estes´ book "Women who run with the Wolves". The world needs more of this. Please take good care of yourself and keep writing - I wish you lots of strength and courage,

  26. I can so easily remember when my marriage actually ended at least 30 years ago. It sounded like the shattering of glass and I was despondent but was also dependent on my husband to help me raise two children. Our marriage only formally ended less than two months ago.

    At the age of 55, I have known how not to be fine in my marriage. Now I have to learn how to be alone and not be fine. At the moment, I'm wondering if I will get the hang of it.

    I wish you peace. Thank you for putting into words what I can only guess at.


  27. Thank you Oriah, for being vulnerable and speaking to the hidden part of me. that line about being willing to disappoint others helped me to see I needed to choose life regardless of others disappointment in me.


  28. Dear Oriah,
    I too was the child that "will be fine, just fine" as my mother quoted to me so often. No worries about me, she could spend her time on brother dearest and his latest crisis.
    Thank you for your courage and bravery in acknowledging that sometimes you are not fine and sometimes I also am not. Declaring it somehow makes it easier to deal with. My thoughts are with you in your changing cirumstances and painful moments. May you find ease and comfort in knowing so many of us care about you. Be kind to yourself.

  29. I happened along your blog today, and am so happy to have found you. I read your book "The Dance" over my vacation in May, and now am reading "The Invitaion". I'm so sorry to read of your marriage, but just from reading your messages, I feel a peace coming to you. As hard as it is, thank you for your honesty and courage to share. There has to be a angel setting on your shoulder. Take good care. Hugs. Pam

  30. Oriah,

    Your book "The Call" saved my life yesterday. I asked myself "Why go on? What for? I'm sick and tired of all the pain, of always telling people that I am fine just make them feel okay. Why not simply swallow all those pills and be as you wrote on page 3, quote from your book "The Call": "Why not just find a really good pharmaceutical product that will allow me to continue to function in the world and be a happy carrot?" Weird as it may sound, this made me laugh. It made me laugh so hard because that is exactly what I figured I prefer to be able to keep on keeping on. But now I see this visual orange carrot with this crazy grin and I have to laugh despite my tears and despite my heart-aching sadness. No, I'm not fine, but I'm feeling slightly better and it is all thanks to YOU. Your honesty helps me cope, helps me to go on, helps me to have hope again and I no longer want to quit and visit the angels for good upstairs. The birds sing outside and the green leaves on the bushes outside soothe my soul.

    THANK YOU for the ray of light, the ray of hope you have given me. Thank you for writing your blog. Thank you for being who you are.

    Love & Hugs,

  31. Sabine, thank you for this. I am so glad you have decided NOT to be a happy carrot but to stumble along with the rest of us. I understand the temptation very well, when things just feel overwhelming. Laughter probably really is the best medicine- it means we are still alive, still capable of joy, still able not to take ourselves too too seriously. Blessings, Oriah

  32. Dear Oriah, I started reading your book Invitation yesterday and I must say I am pretty amazed. the introduction is one of the most beautiful things I have read lately. you have touched my heart with it.

  33. Dear Oriah; thank you for your courage and honesty. You can take great pride in your raised awareness and continued learning. The act of making yourself vulnerable boosts your invulnerability. Your poem 'the invitation' drew me out of my darkest moments, and your other books each fed my spirit and lifted me through the vaporization of my life as I knew it. I pass along my best and most positive energy to you, and wish you well on your path.

  34. Dear Oriah, I am sorry that you're not fine, but I am glad you have accepted that. The only thing that causes us suffering is our unwillingness to accept reality.

    'Sometimes it's enough to put one foot in front of the other and remember to breathe, but that's okay too.' SmileyJen