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  • Oluwaseun Olowo-Ake

We're Not Always 'Okay', And That's Okay

So I've spent the last 3 months watching K-Dramas almost exclusively (shoutout to my sisters and newfound love for BTS for putting me on). I mostly watch it for the fluff; the "struggling girl meets successful, handsome, bachelor and they start off in a weird, only mutually beneficial situation but eventually fall in love" stories; but occasionally, I come across one that moves me more than I would have expected. Shows like Extraordinary Attorney Woo, Hometown Cha Cha Cha (my absolute fave because it had me evaluating my life for days) and one I finished literally an hour before I started writing this, It's Okay to Not Be Okay (**mild spoilers ahead**)


It's Okay to Not Be Okay Poster
© "It's Okay to Not Be Okay" (2020) tvN, Netflix Inc.

Something I've learned through my recent venture into the world of K-Dramas is that they typically have what I've been calling a 'moral lesson', thanks to my Nigerian Primary School education, attached to them. They seem to intentionally address how we view life: Hometown wrecked me because I saw in Du-sik (and little I-jun) my own struggle with vulnerability; EAW addressed mental health and had everyone talking about Park Eun-bin's amazing portrayal of Woo Young-woo navigating her life as a lawyer on the autistic spectrum; and It's Okay to Not Be Okay (IOTNBO from here on out) took both of those, shook them together and drove the emotion allllll the way up.


In IOTNBO we step into the lives of psych ward caretaker, Moon Gang-tae; his hyung (older brother), Moon Sang-tae, an artist who is also on the autistic spectrum; and children's book author, Ko Moon-young. Through their jobs, we meet a bunch of other characters, most of whom have been diagnosed with a mental health condition as they are patients in a psychiatric hospital. The story is one of fantasy, romance, grief, severe daddy/mommy issues, *some* horror and so. much. sobbing.


© "It's Okay to Not Be Okay" (2020) tvN, Netflix Inc.

Occurring simultaneously with my K-Drama viewing (not because of it, but it's for sure feeding into it) has been me analysing my feelings and what I do with them. I periodically have moments where I wish I expressed myself more easily but this time, I had these characters to walk through my thoughts with. I've covered "being honest with my emotions" and "making time for people", and just as I was working through "not withdrawing when I think something is emotionally difficult", in came IOTNBO with a lead character who maybe thinks he's Jesus and is so willing to bear burdens with people.


I think the central statements of IOTNBO are, 'love means not running away' and, 'who do you belong to?'- two themes that might clash, depending on how you view them (but we love human complexity).


© "It's Okay to Not Be Okay" (2020) tvN, Netflix Inc.

The show places our perspective of fairytales head-to-head with their original grimm versions, with the more realistic Moon-young embodying, 'Belle had Stockholm Syndrome and fell for her abuser' and Gang-tae, if "I-can-change-them" was a person, rebutting, 'but her love saved him'. This translates to their own relationship with Gang-tae - who is already a caretaker at work and acts as one for his brother - falling for and choosing to stay with 'volatile' Moon-young - who literally attempts murder multiple times and repeatedly calls him her "safety pin" *side note, I really do love her as a character*. I'm just as romantic as they come, but part of me wanted this man to flee for the hills; which brings up that first theme: love means not running away (and my 'not withdrawing when it gets difficult' thing). I'll say here, if a Gang-tae and Moon-young situation was playing out in real life, I would tell him to run without even thinking twice about it. I don't think there is a reason to stay in a situation thinking you change the way a person behaves, especially if that person is abusive. With that said, and excusing its elaborate story, IOTNBO bringing up the idea of love staying when it gets messy makes sense because, as they tell us, we're all messy.


© "It's Okay to Not Be Okay" (2020) tvN, Netflix Inc.

IOTNBO introduces us to various characters with different disorders and illnesses: all complex, and worthy of love and respect; and then gives us a lead who isn't diagnosed with anything, but is dealing with his own stuff. We see in an early episode that Gang-tae has believed for most of his life that he was born for the sole purpose of taking care of his hyung. He feels neglected by his single mother, yelling at her at some point that he wishes he didn't have a brother- a sentiment he would spend the rest of his life trying to make up for, especially after his mother is murdered in said brother's presence. He makes every decision and builds his life around what he thinks is best for Sang-tae and only begins to relax on that when he meets Moon-young, who will do whatever she wants, wherever she wants. Gang-tae carries a lot of guilt, responsibility and resentment which just weighs him down (my man sheds tears in almost every episode) while also pretending he is okay and looking after everyone else. Moon-young's issues seem to also be borne from her childhood, having a mother with a propensity for violence who moulded her into a younger version of herself, and a father who just sat back and let it happen. These characters are made to be extensions of their parents, or bodyguards of their siblings, or 'rocks' for people at work, prompting the question of who they belonged to. 'Possession' of Gang-tae is claimed so many times in the show, with Gang-tae having to remind everyone - and himself: "Gang-tae belongs to Gang-tae." I think it's hard to acknowledge our own issues when we compare and see that others have is worse, but another person having 10 issues does not suddenly make your 5 issues zero. And while the examples in the show are extreme, the conclusion remains: stuff happens to us in our lives that affect who we become and because we're people, a lot of that is just- ugh.


© "It's Okay to Not Be Okay" (2020) tvN, Netflix Inc.

I think IOTNBO reminds us to be patient with ourselves and with others; and I appreciate that it lets us know that's not easy. Love can look like roses and hand holding, and like holding on to someone when they weep, talking *sometimes yelling* through how we really feel and stepping out of the way so the other person can figure out what they want. It's making the mistakes, being honest with the mess and choosing to be there for each other anyway.


I can't wait to see what part of my emotions my next 'K-Drama of the week' attacks.


It's Okay to Not Be Okay (and my other mentions) are streaming on Netflix.

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