No puns here, I spelled that title right.
When I was going through my tough time in ’09-’10, I read a bunch of blogs every day, and my favorite was The Fluid Self. Havi Brooks’ combination of silliness, a confessional style, and unconditional acceptance of however you were feeling was profoundly soothing to me. I read through the archive in about a week and eagerly awaited five minutes of calm every day when I could read her new post.
At some point when things had gotten better I stopped reading all those blogs every day because I was busy. I “liked” The Fluid Self on Facebook and proceeded to essentially forget about it for three years.
Today I was looking through my news feed and I saw that there was a new post. Instead of scrolling past, I decided to revisit my old friend. As I read the post, I saw a link on the side of the site that went back to a post from the archive that I thought I remembered:
I want to talk some more about what to do when feeling like dirt.
I’ve been having rather a roller-coaster of a few days. Things are getting better, like they do, but for the first time in awhile, just “being” has been difficult. My anxiety has been rearing up. Staying in the moment has been really hard, which is ironic because it’s exactly doing that that will help most. Yesterday, for most of the day, I felt like I was behind glass, at least one step removed from the world, and not in a relaxed way. I was having trouble feeling grounded and focusing on what I was doing.
Pretty much the only good news was that I’ve been in this boat before.
I’m sure it sounds weird to say I feel lucky for having dealt with panic disorder, but what I mean by that is that, having been through some pretty crippling anxiety in the past, I know what it’s like for me to feel especially anxious and even dissociative. I know that, all things told, I’ve been in an even worse place before, and best of all, I know that this feeling is temporary.
That goes a long way toward defusing the situation, but it’s not the solution in and of itself.
So. Here’s what I do when I’m feeling this way:
-Recognize (You betta–!). Like I mentioned above, it’s helpful to pinpoint how you’re feeling. It’s even more helpful to mentally phrase it as a feeling and not identify yourself entirely with that feeling. For example, “I’m feeling sad” is more helpful than “I am sad.” It seems like a small point, but the first phrasing makes it clear that this is something affecting you but it is not some inherent part of you.
-Validate. You feel the way you feel for a reason. It might seem like a silly reason, and you might want to kick yourself in the butt for not getting over whatever it is you’re dealing with, but if instead you take a moment to identify why you’re feeling what you’re feeling and acknowledge that it’s okay that you feel this way, you’ll be closer to feeling better. Example: “I’m feeling sad because that puppy reminded me of my childhood dog and I’m missing having a dog. That makes sense. This feeling sucks,” is more helpful than “I’m sad because I saw a puppy which is dumb because I don’t even have room for a dog and if I did I could just go get one so I should just buck up.”
-Structure. This can be as loose or as rigid as you feel like you need it to be. Sometimes a given mood will make me feel like I need to keep busy or to get something done, and a little bit of planning will go a long way toward improving that mood. Sometimes I’ll want to do nothing and see no one and just have everyone give me a break already, and then if I figure out a way to take an hour or more for myself, that can help. This can also extend to problem-solving, to the extent to which there is a problem that can be solved by anything other than time. Don’t feel like you absolutely have to fix everything right away while you’re feeling down, though.
-Send in the clowns. I don’t recommend hiding from your problems or just distracting yourself until you’re convinced that they’ve gone away, but if you’ve acknowledged how you’re feeling and why and you’ve taken whatever steps you feel you can to remedy or structure the situation, you’ve earned some distraction. Listen to fun music (I recommend oldies, myself) or stand-up or an entertaining podcast. Go out and do something or just watch other people. You don’t have to spend every second trapped inside your own head. Sometimes that kind of rumination just makes things worse.
-Get some air. I actually think endorphins are the more important thing here, but if you’re getting one you’re probably getting the other. Go for a walk or a jog or do something to get your blood moving. You’ll feel like you’re making progress and it will be easier to focus on what you are doing now.
-Get some love. This is huge. You might feel like an island, but do whatever you can to try to connect with someone you care about, or do something nice for someone you don’t know. Talk about your problems or just get in some quality time remembering you’re not the only person in the world.
-Get grateful. It can be hard to count your blessings, but as Soul Pancake recently demonstrated, gratitude can have a quantifiable effect on happiness in the positive direction. Even if–sometimes especially if–you’re not feeling particularly grateful about anything, remind yourself of what you should be grateful for, even the smallest things (i.e. “I’m grateful that I didn’t spill soup on this shirt. I’m grateful that I didn’t punch a wall today”). Soon you’ll probably find that you are actually feeling grateful for something.
-GET SLEEP. Oh my gosh get sleep. Everything is worse when you don’t have sleep and everything is better when you do. 100% guaranteed.
Sometimes, when I’m having a hard time, I get scared that I’m going to use up my strategies and then find myself still having trouble and having worn out all my tools to fight it. I’m reluctant to do all of the above things in one day in case I need some kind of Hail Mary feel-better later on. I’ve found that usually, if you do all this stuff, the next day will be at least a teeny bit better, and you’ll need to work at it a teeny bit less. Worst case scenario, you can trust your own brilliant self to figure out what you can do next that will suck the least, and keep going from there.
So for today’s exercise in gratitude, I’m grateful for all of you–the people willing to read to the end of a post about life being tough sometimes. I’m not one for schadenfreude, but it *is* comforting to know that everyone has good periods and bad ones, and that the majority of us make it through just fine.
Here’s hoping tomorrow is even better than today!