Fire Swamps of Life
I hate “down” days. These days are different than Pajama Days, turning inward, or just being tired. Typically, down days mean I:
• am harder on myself than usual
• experience a loss of motivation
• have a desire to cry often, and/or
• am irritable or crabby toward others.
I generally do not like being around myself on these days. Internally I feel prickly, and I know that my outer energy is pointed and sharp. And no matter what I do, I cannot seem to stop the mood, sharp edge of my tongue, or scowl on my face. Which all makes it worse because this is not typical of me and I feel more frustrated.
But the more I dwell on improving my mood, the worse it becomes, and then the more frantic I grow to bounce out of this depressive feeling. It seems that my day slips away as I brood about self-doubt, weight gain, not being able to efficiently navigate technology, and the desire to throw out my life (except my pets, my family, and my friends). I genuinely hate feeling like this. And Charlie just patiently lies by my feet, occasionally laying his head on my lap with a big sigh.
It seems that Charlie may experience “down” moments, but not days. His ears will droop as I walk out the door without him, or when I have been petting him for a long time and stop, or when he gets scolded. Perhaps a “down” day in his life is when he wants to run and play, but we are not able to get out to the hills to hike. But his energy stays soft and welcoming. The only time I have witnessed Charlie more aggressive or irritable was just before he was diagnosed with Cushing’s Disease. Then his behaviors made sense. Once on medication to manage this condition, he made a full recovery to the soft and amenable Charlie.
However, as human beings, our cognitive functions are very different, and we have more intense emotional experiences. We are meant to experience a wide array of emotions. It is unique to our species. Yet we turn away from what we have labeled the “painful negative” emotions because they are too uncomfortable, too overwhelming, too personal, or too intense to experience. Down days feel horrid and I would run from them if I could.
I have been on such a high lately that it makes sense I experience a day that isn’t spectacular. We must have the bad to know and appreciate the good. It is a part of the natural gentler rolling patterns of moods (think of soft rolling hills). But it doesn’t mean I like the darker valleys. And some days it feels like the Fire Swamp in the movie Princess Bride.
But what if one learned how to turn into these uncomfortable moments and embrace the experience? Crazy, right? Certainly a different “what if” thought to contemplate instead of what the critical voice offers.
What does embracing this darker feeling on these days mean? For me, it means to stop running away from it, stop trying to analyze it, and learn to go with the flow. I use compassionate self-talk and attempt to stop the harsh critical voice. If, during a down day, I experience a lack of motivation, then maybe I curl up and watch television or read a book – judgment free. If it is a day at the office, then I acknowledge that I don’t have as much energy that day and be mindful to not overdo things. If I am scheduled to work on Charlie’s Wisdom, maybe I just play with the photos or make some simple adjustments to the website. I would let my family know that I am feeling irritable or crabby, so they do not personalize my mood. I keep computer tasks simple and only answer the most critical e-mails so that I prevent feeling overwhelmed. And, most importantly, I keep a stash of dark chocolate nearby and give myself permission to have a few pieces without beating myself up. Down days mean to prioritize what must get done and to save other things for a different day. It means stop doing something about the mood and just be with it. Acknowledge it, notice how it feels, and know that it will be okay and you will be okay. Oh…and if it is a beautiful day outside, get on my bike and ride to my heart’s content.
When I remember to go with the flow during a down day, the negative thoughts start to dissipate, and it is easier to feel a tad more at ease and back in control. Charlie just lies down with a big sigh when having a “down” moment. He does not let it ruin the rest of his day or week. Why should we?
I realize that sometimes it is more than a down day. Life events happen that are downright difficult, miserable, or horrific (i.e., the death of a loved one, divorce, accidents, trauma, etc.). Other’s experience chronic depression or anxiety. The time to start worrying about down days is if you experience a depressed mood or a loss of interest or pleasure in daily activities for more than two weeks. If you are experiencing something more than a down day, make sure you are using healthy coping skills (if you are not sure what those are, it would be good to check-in with a professional).
Otherwise, go with the flow and stop being afraid of the emotions.
“Tell your heart that the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself. And that no heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dreams, because every second of the search is a second's encounter with God and with eternity.” - Paulo Coelho
© 2013-2019 Kelly Marker, Charlie’s Wisdom All Rights Reserved