Have you ever said everything is fine and actually meant it?
While giving context to her new song, Skye Wallace paralleled many people’s pandemic existence, especially my own: “We often say everything is fine when it’s not. On the other hand, we can tell ourselves ‘everything is fine’ just to keep going.”
Like many, on what felt like March 385th 2020, I decided to get organized during lockdown. After sorting my closet, kitchen and an old file shred-a-thon, it was time to tackle organizing the thousands of photos on my laptop. It was then, while going back to the earliest iPhone photo backups, that I had to come to terms with all the pictures I forgot to delete of… stove tops. My old stove in Vancouver, with the ridiculous word poetry magnets, my friend’s tiny gas stove in Barcelona from when I visited in 2018, the sleek stove of an AirBNB in Silverlake with the kettle taken off the burner, and the same kitchen stove I’ve used in my current apartment over and over again. I was always safeguarding, for reasons I can’t explain, to confirm that the appliances were off. It started out as looking at the knobs or touching the cold burners. Over time that wasn’t enough to confirm what consumed me – that if I’d accidentally left a stove on I could start a fire and hurt someone.
I can’t pinpoint when the obsessions began, nor why I need to confirm a stove won’t magically turn itself on. Even if I haven’t used it for days, every time I leave the house I check. And check. On the good days, weeks or months, just once. The others – it can be a whole song and dance routine of touching burners, counting touchpoints, and, since getting an iPhone, on the very bad days when I am crippled by a turned off stove, I take a photo. Whenever I have a moment of panic, I can check the photo and know that everything is fine. Another checking compulsion, sure, but one that works really well.
God forbid I ever have a fireplace.
Around the same time during the pandemic, and with far fewer photos of stovetops, Skye Wallace was having different conversations with herself about mental health and life as a musician caught in the gray area of a locked down existence. According to Wallace, she wrote “Everything is Fine” with friend Alex Marusyk as a mutual coming together, not just to bare her soul during a time of anxiety and depression, but to try to assess what was going on and attempt to get things under control. To try to find that control without knowing how, and without losing touch with herself in the process. “It cracked me open in a way that I needed, I wanted to connect with people; everyone collectively had been through so much” said Wallace in conversation, “Knowing the honesty in rawness and vulnerability can strike a chord, the goal was also to find comfort in the process, to be softer to yourself and find happiness, joy, or even simply find a way to get out of the cyclical spirals in your head.”
While some may wear a metaphorical mask when doing this work, for the video, Skye decided to don a real one, adding levity to gloom by becoming a sad swamp thing looking for small wins. Keeping vulnerability as the undercurrent was important: “I wanted people to see it and laugh and not be more bogged down…while making sure to acknowledge the pieces of the process people go through. To [connect] with this creature and character, the way they go about life. It’s the melancholy and the lightness after the storm. To go about a day with depression and do everything within your toolkit and in your power to try to be okay.”
For the last 14 months I’ve added to my toolkit. It now includes a therapist specializing in Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, working through Exposure and Response Prevention, and slowly learning to sit with uncertainty (stove and all) during a very uncertain time. For many years I hid behind the colloquial use of OCD as an adjective, as it’s unfortunately become common to describe everything from tidiness to having specific quirks or preferences as ‘OCD.’ Though those could be compulsions, compared to casually tossing around a disorder, my reality of living with one is far from just being particular or having an organized calendar. It can be overwhelming, exhausting and at times crippling. But like common responses to “‘How are you?”’ If we told people what we were really feeling, would they want to know? Or do we tell ourselves and others ‘everything is fine,’ put on a metaphorical mask, and keep going? I’m trying to take the mask off now. Maybe it’s not about being fine, it’s about trying to get better.
“Storytelling is everything,” says Wallace, “Our stories are at the core of connecting. Wanting to listen and wanting to be heard, it’s incredible.”
Listen to “Everything Is Fine” along with songs by Begonia, Otis Redding, and Jungle in our playlist, curated by Lana Gay.