Mitchell HarlanIn recent years we have seen growing support for the idea that it’s okay to not be okay, and that concept has been a great champion against the stigma of mental illness. However, some of us need a reminder that it is also okay to be okay.

It probably isn’t difficult for you to think of a specific moment that you look back on fondly. But how many full chapters of your life do you look back on the same way? Is this the first time it’s occurred to you that full portions of your memory could be seen through positivity? Does your mind organize your personal history as stuff that happened between and around the hard parts?

Experiencing trauma, abuse, or neglect, especially over prolonged periods, makes it hard to reflect warmly on life. That seems obvious, but those experiences inhibit your ability to reminisce on good feelings without focusing on specific moments. You still have fun and remember positive events, but you struggle to internalize your life’s chapters as good. The only “good” seasons come from periods before the trauma began or after you have significantly healed, and even then your brain may have rewired itself to catalogue your history through this new fog. When an emotional wound runs deep enough to dominate a span in your life, it feels impossible to internalize positive memories in a way that outruns the hurt because every event near that mental landmark is obscured by its shadow.

Prolonged trauma conditions you to always be on the lookout for the next hurt. You do not recognize the good chapters because you are not mentally present for them. Life may be objectively good for an extended time, but you spend the good times in dread of what tomorrow brings because that’s when the other shoe has always dropped.

If I just described you, especially if you are still navigating the haze of your trauma, then I need you to take a breath for just a moment. This year has been awful on many levels, but what made you smile today? What made you laugh recently? Your trauma may have robbed you of appreciating a good day, but you deserved that little moment of happiness. It wasn’t something you snuck in while karma had its back turned, so you should not feel guilty about it. Good things do not mean that you are overdue for a setback. Challenges are inevitable, but scars are not. And even if there are more scars in your future, that does not have to diminish today’s warmth. It is okay to be okay.

Mitchell Harlan is an attorney at Disability Rights Arkansas. Email him at