Doin’ the Dance: The “I’m OK!” Act

A friend shared this video with the online support group I’m part of, and it made me smile 🙂 but towards the end (spoiler alert!) – the part where poor Hashtag is exhausted, but keeps on getting up and dancing when the music plays – it reminded me of part of my experience, living with mental illness: the need to keep going, to keep “performing”, even when I feel I have nothing left to give.

I’ve read others’ stories here along a similar theme. We plaster over our anxiety, depression or different ‘quirks’ with the “I’m OK!” act. As with most things, the “I’m OK!” act can serve us well at times, but is not always our friend.

I’m at the point where I don’t think I present as OK a lot of the time. I can manage it for short spurts, but anything longer than around two hours and I draw up short. For instance, a couple of weeks ago I was at a social function with the dearly beloved. A few people asked how I was in that tone of voice (you know what I mean!) and I knee-jerked out a repressive “I’m fine, thanks.” Later I regretted it, because they were kind people, and perhaps I could have been more open with them. I was also the designated driver that day, responsible for getting three men home. Despite giving myself breaks by slipping away for a while, volunteering for babysitting functions and taking some “important” calls, I was completely spent after a few hours and my poor passengers were dragged away well before they, in their merry states, wanted to leave. I just had to get out of there so I could be my anxious, twitchy, newly-introverted depressed self. I didn’t want to be a dancing panda anymore.

I know the pressure to say “I’m OK!” can be universal*, and isn’t limited to those with mental health issues. How do you cope with what I’ve decided I’m going to call Dancing Panda Syndrome? Is it a big issue in your life, or a sidebar?


*  I’ve had contact with some cultures where saying “I’m OK!” doesn’t work. Don’t bother trying it in South Sudan: those Africans look at the whole person when you speak with them, and if your body language isn’t saying “I’m OK!” they just won’t buy it, and will call you out on it! I think perhaps we in the west focus more on the words people speak and can sometimes gloss over the other communication cues which come our way. Well, that’s my theory, anyway.


Filed under Up

8 responses to “Doin’ the Dance: The “I’m OK!” Act

  1. I think we in the west just tend to ignore signs that people aren’t okay no matter what their mouths are saying. Vulnerability and honesty are unwelcome bedfellows here.
    Love your words and your thoughts!! I’ve been struggling with anxiety and a panic disorder for 18 months now and just recently depression has entered my cocktail mix of mental illness.
    I’m getting to the point where I’m just too exhausted to put up a front anymore. It’s hard to be honest, it’s hard to be a liar.
    Too many times I’ve wished I could just ignore the world until I was in a more stable frame of mind… but considering that would have already been 18 months I don’t think it’s a possibility. Haha.
    Anyway to answer your question more directly, it’s becoming a side bar issue, but only because I’m too tired now to keep up the dancing. 🙂


    • Ah, that’s hard. I’m sorry to hear that. It’s a shame that mental health issues love to congregate in cocktails, isn’t it? It would be nicer if they formed an orderly queue and we could deal with them one by one!


  2. I get like that some days when I am happy to be out and about but then I begin to long for home again. Kinda sucks really.


  3. eddieredvine

    I am queen of the ‘everything’s fine’ act. So much so that I wish when I said it I actually believed and felt it.

    *sad panda keeps dancing*



  4. I think this is a dynamic thing for me – it shifts from big issue to sidebar depending on where I am in my head. Mostly I cope by limiting my interactions to people for whom the Dancing Panda Act is new. They can’t recognize that’s there’s anything going on behind that, and therefore it’s “safe”.


  5. I spent too many years trying to be “normal” and hidng my inner self that now I no longer want to contain it and/or it is no longer a burden I can contain… people think I’m crazy for saying I do have this mental health illness. It is driving me CRAZIER. the fact that if I am making it up wouldn’t that mean I was a different kind of crazy… either way mental health issues! Boooo 😀 Thanks for this post.


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