I have been struggling a lot over the past two years, but I noticed that lockdown forced me to change how I deal with my struggles. Rather than pushing through and trying to crowd them out with goals, activity and other distractions, I was forced to pause. Facing my struggles has been difficult: there have been times when I feel selfish for admitting I’m suffering, because I know other people have been suffering far more than me, and times when I gave up, believing everyone would be better off without me. Yet there have been positive outcomes from this enforced pause, which resulted from reflecting on and learning from my experiences.
Tara Brach’s guided meditations have helped me a great deal. She leads a lot of Vipassana meditations which encourage me to ‘listen to life’, emphasising mindfulness and compassion. They are available as podcasts and enabled me to establish a meditation practice, which I had been finding a challenge. Brach’s books have also been invaluable companions and guides over the past nine months. While I would be lying if I said I meditate every day without fail (especially during very dark times), I have managed to maintain the routine at least 50% of the time.
Meditating has taught me how to sit with my feelings, as opposed to trying to fix them straightaway.
It seems trivial when I put it into words, but I have realised that I don’t often take the time to ‘feel my feelings’ rather than trying to fix, numb or fight them. These responses often add to my problems and make me feel worse.
Trying to fix my problems quickly can lead to:
- Arbitrary or ineffective ‘solutions’
- Controlling or bullying myself
- Dismissing how I feel
I noticed that these outcomes are behaviours I find very frustrating when they come from other people, so why was I tolerating them from myself?
Numbing my feelings is often achieved through maladaptive coping strategies which cause more problems in the longterm, contributing to my ill health. Overeating and impulsive spending in the past have left me with problems which affect my current life a great deal, including weight issues and debt, yet it’s difficult to override these urges. Sometimes I need to distract myself because my emotional distress is so intense, but I’m trying to choose healthier ways to do this, such as watching a favourite film or listening to upbeat music (dancing optional).
I have learnt that fighting my feelings only prolongs the struggle. I tend to either deny they exist or pretend my feelings don’t bother me, which leads to:
- Numbing or trying to fix them after an extended period of time (see above) or
- Bottling them up until they explode and cause a lot of negative fallout
Either way, I’m left feeling worse and with more problems.
Accepting my feelings and sitting with them is difficult, but it’s seldom as difficult as the negative outcomes caused by quick fixes, numbing or fighting them. Tara Brach’s books and guided meditations have also helped me to accept my struggles and regard myself with compassion. Again, my practice of acceptance and self-compassion is far from perfect, but it’s progress.
One of the paradoxes I keep encountering is that when I give myself permission to pause, to sit with my feelings, it’s often the most effective way to move forward.
The past year has been painful, but it has taught me a lot about my priorities. My mental health problems got worse, which forced me to make two big decisions: to resume counselling and give up my personal website/blog. I could have made both of these decisions a year earlier, but I kept pushing on and hoping things might change. Lockdown forced me to admit that I had outgrown my blog and no longer wished to spend the amount of time (or money) required to keep it updated.
I also realised I needed to get help for my mental health and, since I am unable to access adequate longterm talking therapies for free, this involved spending a large proportion of my guaranteed income on private counselling. Trying to save my money for future plans was pointless, because I couldn’t see a way through each week. Even if I pulled off a minor miracle and saved the thousands needed for a specific longterm goal, I don’t think I would have been well enough to pursue it, so I chose to invest in my current life rather than hoping things would improve without psychotherapy.
These experiences were reminders that my mental health always needs to be my top priority. In 2019, I might have berated myself for making these decisions, but the power of pausing has given me more self-compassion and more confidence in my ability to know what’s best for me.