Sometimes the universe just gives you one of those weeks.
I’ve spent much of the past few days exhausted. I had an unexpected jaunt to accident and emergency last week when I felt chest pain and short of breath at a choir rehearsal, thankfully nothing was amiss with anything vital and I’ve been forced to the realisation that burnout is something very real that I’ve inadvertently done to myself. A lot of other physical symptoms now make a lot more sense. I don’t really feel at fault for this, I’m so made that I have to be ‘doing’ otherwise I’ll mentally give myself a hard time for wasting the day, and I know that while I can take the edge off that I’ll never get rid of it entirely. A combination of university, work, placement, choir, physical impact of disability and other things besides, not to mention the emotional taxes those things bring, has left me recently with a lot of cheques my body couldn’t cash. This then went into something of a full financial crisis, when my body and brain decided that a couple of days later, a major anxiety flareup would be just the thing to couple with physical fragility. It’s been fun…
As you can imagine, this has not been the greatest few days emotionally. It’s unpleasant to feel that on some levels you’re falling apart. It’s never nice to feel that you’re stopping, simply for self-preservation. And if you’re like me, it’s deeply troubling to feel that you’re not able to push forward and through these things at the moment. And I’ve been thinking a lot about that.
In our culture we may not be OK with feeling negative emotions, feelings or going through traumatic events, but the one thing we abhor even more than anything negative, is the idea of being stuck. The worry that this might be all there is. The fear we may never get to where we want to go. The dread that we may always have dark feelings, thoughts or self image. If you recognise any of that ‘stuckness’, I’m not here to try and argue you out of it. Not really. I will say though, that I believe it is possible to make and go through fundamental changes in perception and/or circumstance that may currently seem impossible. But I’m not going to guarantee that’s going to happen. And if you’re stuck currently, you probably wouldn’t wholeheartedly believe me anyway. I want to say to you, that if you find yourself stuck, it is OK to stay there.
As a culture we’re so terrified of negative feelings without an easily identifiable (usually single) time-limited cause. We tell people that if they continue to dwell on things that they’ll never ‘let it go’, or that if they don’t push on that they’ll never move past something. We tell people that they mustn’t get stuck. Recently I heard someone describe a depressed friend with the analogy that their friend was drowning. It strikes me now that this metaphor is very apt, but not in the way intended. One of the main things you’re advised to do if you end up in difficulty in cold water, is to relax and stay calm. The instinct is to thrash around, swim hard and try to get to safety – and this leads to further risks and dangers. What you should actually do, is try and stay calm and try and get to a safe position to float in. You’re still in trouble, the situation is dangerous, but you’re safer than trying a quick fix. I’m sure you don’t need me to point out the blatant parallel with emotional distress and difficulty too. If you’re in emotional pain, it’s OK to just be where you are. And it’s OK to take the longer, but ultimately safer route to better times.
This is something I am still working on. Just because I recognise all of this does not mean that I’m always able to move past it. I am not immune. Even though I’ve found myself in an exhausting position with a combination of burnout, anxiety, stress and my body letting me down – I still found myself yesterday, arguing internally about the essays I should have written by now…We have the instinct to get the quick fix because we want to feel normal again.
But often the hardest part of ‘stuckness’ is realising that there is not a quick fix to be had. For all the internal arguments, I have been able to give myself something of a mental break, because I know my body well enough that it would take days to get back to a position to be active and ready – as I write this I feel at about 85% – and I’ll take that. And because I knew that it would be a matter of days, it was not a tough realisation.
Stuckness in on something emotional however, is a different matter. I’ve been going to my therapist for a year, and although I’ve made enormous progress and huge strides, I consistently have to work on myself to show my brain that the current plateau of ‘stuckness’ is acceptable and that it is temporary. But that fear is still there. Because as with my illness this past week, I still want to be able to push through, I am still frustrated that I haven’t yet, I am still intimidated by how much there is yet to do.
And at times like that, all one can do – is to say that because there is so much yet to do – it is OK to be where I am. Because these things don’t come out of nowhere, and even though I hate this platitude with a passion undying, when it comes to emotional responses, everything happens for a reason.
Even though you feel stuck. It’s OK to be where you are. I’ll try to remember that too.