By Jack Canfora
First of all: I’m so sorry to hear that. There are few feelings that can sink us lower. However, a surprising amount of us have been in your shoes before. Well, not your shoes, as you’re still in bed, but you get my point. Not only have many of us been there before, but I’d be reluctant to trust those who HAVEN’T felt that way at least once or twice. Let’s be honest: sometimes the world seems to merit despair. Noticing that doesn’t make you weak: it makes you insightful. This isn’t to negate your particular experiences, nor lump your suffering in with millions of others. Everyone’s source of pain is unique. The feeling that pain creates, however, is far from isolated.
I wrote above that feeling despair can be a sign of insight. But simply acknowledging that’s how you feel is a courageous act. So, let’s start by giving yourself a little credit – hell, a LOT of credit for that. You may be reluctant to do that. You may have been taught such thinking is self-indulgent.
It isn’t. It’s self-aware.
Self-awareness is a double edged sword. It can lead to self – criticism, and while honest self-reflection is important, going down that rabbit hole in a moment when even walking to the shower seems like a Herculean effort isn’t a time to tackle that.
I love baseball, but I understand teams can’t play in a heavy thunder storm. I don’t think less of the players; they’re responding reasonably and with common sense to their situation.
About that shower I mentioned earlier. If you can make it there, that’s not nothing. That’s pretty big, actually, even if it’s adjacent to your bedroom. That’s a mental marathon you’ve just successfully run. Seriously. If you can summon yourself to shampoo? Well, that’s an Iron Man level of emotional endurance. And, if in your emotional condition, you manage the conditioner? You’re my new hero. Not to mention clean.
And guess what? If you can’t, don’t criticize yourself. If you had the flu, you wouldn’t be disappointed in yourself for running a fever. If you had a herniated disc, you wouldn’t judge yourself for a lack of movement.
Here’s an ask I’m going to make of you, and it’s not an easy one, but man does it pay off if you can do it.
Learn to give as much care ant respect to the pain of your soul and mind as you would to your body. It’s not the way many of us have been taught to think, but it’s a key part of learning to be kind to yourself and understanding your unique needs.
Try to do one – just one – kind thing for yourself today (more than one is great, but that’s extra credit). Refusing to judge yourself for how you feel is often a good (if not always easy) place to start. Further acts of kindness to yourself and others are wonderful, but those usually spring from that first step.
What you’re experiencing now may FEEL like a permanent state, even if you KNOW it isn’t. It’s amazing how often feelings outweigh knowledge. That’s ok, too. Someone suggested to me this exercise to fight that, and I’ve found it’s helped me at times:
Try, if you can, taking a half a step outside of yourself: just observe yourself feeling what you’re feeling, as if you were another person. Do NOT JUDGE THOSE FEELINGS! Just watch them as they unfold. Acknowledge them. “I’m experiencing feelings of incredible loneliness right now. It’s causing me real pain at the moment.”
“I’m feeling a great deal of rage because I don’t think anyone is truly hearing me right now.” You may discover that simple-seeming act, because you are naming and therefore respecting your emotions in the moment, but at the same time thinking of it AS just that – a moment – you can, bit by bit, loosen their seemingly ironclad grip on your psyche.
Know this, too: that most great acts of empathy and beauty, from art to simple gestures of kindness from strangers, stem from at least an acquaintance with what you’re feeling now. I’m not suggesting you have to compose a concerto or do anything heroic. But my guess is you’ll feel more empathy and forgiveness for others. Which will, without you even realizing it, help you learn to feel those essential qualities for yourself.
I believe the closest thing people have to true wisdom is kindness. You can take or leave it. But that’s what I’ve come to slowly, painfully believe.
Lastly, know you’re in the worst of life’s ironies right now: at a moment you feel so achingly alone, you’re absolutely not. I pinky swear.
Most people worth knowing have fought – are fighting – similar battles to yours. And because you ARE fighting (even though right now you may feel beaten down; fighting can feel that way), you’re going to be even more deeply worth knowing.
Especially to yourself.