Will I be OK? – Accepting and running away

I’ve maintained a journal for over three years.

Every day I sit down and write something. Usually about my day, a topic that’s interested me or thinking about how I’m feeling. The main topic tends to be about pain because I tend to write these words late in the day when my energy is low and my pain is high.

A theme that continuously appears in my journal is this: Will I be OK?


I’ve noticed that being in continuous pain and face to face with my bodily limitations on a day to day basis feels like a personal failure.

I wasn’t the one who caused this pain nor was I the person who asked for it. Yet, being in pain and lying in bed for hours or struggling through work feels like I’m doing something wrong and it feels like I am staring failure right in the face when I think about how I am in the present moment.

I’m exhausted even though I’ve barely left my room. I’m sad even though there are many reasons to be happy. I’m disappointed even though I’ve reached difficult goals in the past (like completing a Masters degree).

So, when I’m in pain, I feel as though I am also experiencing failure however irrational that might be. Perhaps you feel the same way.

Despite the belief that I’m “failing”, why do I still believe I’ll be OK? How do I know I’ll be OK?

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Photo by Ihor Malytskyi on Unsplash

What does it mean to be OK?

Maybe a strange question but it deserves some attention. Generally, it’s defined as something that is simply acceptable. Perhaps not good but not bad either.

We say it to our friends all the time:

“Don’t worry, you’ll be OK, alright?”

“We’ll be fine, we’ll make it through”

“You’ll survive this tough patch”

Should a life of pain be “simply acceptable”? Is it simply acceptable?

There isn’t much to like about chronic pain. However, that doesn’t mean that living a “simply acceptable” or even good life is impossible despite the challenges.

Experiences in life and relationships with others are thankfully a bit more complicated than the following argument:

  1. Life with chronic pain is bad
  2. I have chronic pain
  3. Therefore, I have a bad life.

There are many other people, experiences, relationships, gifts and so on to find richness in. To “be OK” is a reasonably personal definition because only you know what you find acceptable or which areas of your life are worse than others.

We can be OK in some places, worse in others. Upon reflection, we build an overall idea of whether we’re OK.

Engaging with difficult emotions is simply that. Difficult.

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I don’t know

Let’s look at it differently.

Perhaps I don’t know at all. Perhaps any time I say to myself or to my friends “you’ll be OK” is simply a leap of faith.

Perhaps I won’t be OK.

When faced with uncertainty, could it be best to believe it because it’s the most helpful option? Admitting we don’t know if we’ll be OK doesn’t mean we should definitely believe we won’t be.

Instead we believe it anyway because it helps inspire action that will help us walk in the right direction.

It reminds us that engaging with difficult emotions is simply that. Difficult. It is unlikely to be life threatening and can help us in the long-term with a healthy approach to addressing emotions we usually avoid.

Reminding myself that I’ll be OK started off as a near meaningless chant that I simply really wanted to be true.

Only telling yourself that you’ll be OK isn’t how to begin to believe it. It comes from slowly working through emotions and trying to address them any time they come in.

Anger, frustration and sadness are akin to unwelcome visitors. It is best we welcome them in and let them leave on their own.

Otherwise they’ll pick the lock and let themselves in.

Will I be OK?

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This doesn’t have much to do with the post. But I like it. Photo by Ricky Kharawala on Unsplash

And we’re back to the main question and my answer is this: maybe I will be. Maybe I’ll be good or even brilliant!

But that starts with slowly and softly giving ourselves a way to address and accept our difficult emotions instead of running from them. This way, when they come up in the future, we have practiced and know how to handle them.

We can start with a few things:

  1. Give ourselves a place to be vulnerable

Sometimes, everything just becomes overwhelming. And you know what? That’s fine. Having a physical place we can relax and simply experience our emotions is useful.

For me, it’s lying in bed or the yoga mat. For others, it can be a park they know they’ll have privacy.

Whatever it is, it’s a place for honesty. Over time, it may even become a place of strength. A place where you can say to yourself “I’m not running from this”.

2. Let the fear pass

The fear of the negative emotions approaching can be just as bad as the experience you’re hoping to avoid.

It can be difficult to notice but with some mindfulness training, it becomes easier. You may find that your body becomes tense or you crave junk food (not personal experience…).

But the fear won’t bite. We just sit and focus on something small. With time, the fear will subside and we will have the focus to engage with the tough emotions.

Like many skills, emotional acceptance is one to be developed through practice. We may not know we’ll be OK (whatever that means to us) but sometimes it’s helpful to believe that we will be.

Then, with time and practice we can answer the question of “Will I be OK?” meaningfully. Maybe we’ll accept that we do not know the answer.

Will I be OK? Perhaps.

Will you be OK? I definitely hope so.

Whatever it is, let us appreciate that we’re developing the skills to help ourselves along when times are difficult.


As always, thank you for reading!

My question for you is:

Do you have a sacred place to be vulnerable? 

You can follow me on Twitter and Facebook for more updates!

If you liked this post, share it with others!

 

 

How Do I Stay Mindful When the Present Isn’t Pleasant?

“If you notice any uncomfortable feelings while you’re trying to meditate, just invite them in”

Now why on earth would I want to do that?! That’s stupid. 

“Inviting discomfort is one way to learn how to stop fighting against them and accept them”

Well I don’t want to accept this – that makes me feel like I’m giving up. Plus, it’s just shitty. 

That was my thought process while listening to a guided meditation during a group session. Thankfully all of these thoughts stayed in my head – otherwise I would have disturbed a lot of people… and insulted the teacher.

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Photo by Carmine De Fazio on Unsplash

Sometimes, the present just sucks.

My last post gave us four reasons why we should try to live in the present moment. I pushed against the idea that mindfulness always leads to a special kind of calm – especially if you only meditate once, for example.

The little dialogue above demonstrated the personal resistance I had towards living in the present when the present becomes difficult. It’s normal to mentally check out of difficulty when we come across it because it’s normal to want to do the easier thing.

However, it isn’t always better for us. It can quickly lead to more stressful thinking patterns that make us feel worse. If I feel sad, it might be easier to start thinking about why I feel sad and what could have caused it and dig our way down that rabbit hole. Or I may try to distract myself and never address the thinking that consistently causes me to feel bad about something.

For example, you may begin to feel bad at school or work because you’re unknowingly comparing yourself to others. Even though it rests on a mistake.

You may become angry because you feel that you should be able to control something but with a bit more thinking, you’d find that most of it was out of your control.

And it goes on. How do we manage this?

How to stay mindful when the present isn’t pleasant

  1. Acknowledge it’ll feel uncomfortable 

You can say this aloud if you want. Negative emotional or physical feelings suck but we often begin our resistance here by refusing to admit that sometimes you’ll just feel uncomfortable.

It’s not always fair nor does it always have a grand lesson at the end. Acknowledging the discomfort is the first step to prevent our mind from running away from the uncomfortable.

This does not mean you’re giving in. It’s like observing a fact that’s simply happening.

“I’m in pain, yes but this does not mean I want to be in pain”

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Photo by Nitish Meena on Unsplash

2. Remove yourself from the story and remove judgement – make everything neutral

Toni Bernhard in, How to Live with Chronic Illness, teaches a skill that I’ve found simple but useful.

Stop judging the moment and just describe it.

If you’re in pain try saying “pain is happening” rather than “I am in so much pain”.

If you’re sad, try “Sadness is present” rather than “I am in the darkness again”.

If you’ve experienced disappointment, try “Disappointment is present” rather than “I was really let down by my friend”.

I’ve found this takes away some of the bite from the negative emotions that arise and reduce the suffering that we can easily add-on top of ourselves. It gives us the opportunity to watch the emotion rather than feed it with more negativity.

This isn’t lying to yourself.

3. Ask yourself these four questions (and another one at the end): 

To help halt stressful thoughts, it may be worthwhile to asking yourself these questions offered by Byron Katie:

  1. Is the thought true?
  2. Am I absolutely sure it is true?
  3. How do I feel when I think the thought?
  4. Who would I be without the thought?
  5. Then turn it around – what if something else is the case?

This helps us respond skillfully to stressful thoughts that make the pleasant moment uncomfortable. Let’s go through this together with an example:

My thought here is that I am incapable of creating good work so I should never try.

  1. Is the thought true?

Yes, I’m writing this right now and it’s terrible – so many mistakes!

2. Am I absolutely sure it is true?

Perhaps not – I have a bad habit of being a harsh critic who refuses to see the good. 

3. How do I feel when I think the thought?

I feel disappointed and angry. I’m trying my best to create high quality work but my efforts don’t pay off. I become angry because I seem to be wasting my time. 

4. Who would I be without the thought?

A person who creates without expectation. A person who tries their best because they believe that is the most useful way to stick to their own values. 

5. The turnaround – how can the story be changed?

Here, we change the story slightly just to see what other possibilities are out there. Then think of reasons why it might be true.

Now, what if I’m a person who creates helpful work and has the ability to get better if he keeps trying? 

  • My blog posts have improved from a few years ago and I’m more comfortable in my own voice. 
  • If I never try, I’ll never have the opportunity to improve. 
  • My academic writing is better than it was when I started. 

Will you always believe this turnaround? No. Sometimes you’ll need someone else to tell you these things. But it’s a start – and a reminder that the negative thought you have now isn’t the only possibility in the world.

4. Remember, it takes practice. 

I’ve written these pointers in the hopes that you’ll be able to live in the present even when it’s difficult. With time will come acceptance and a clearer mindset to make useful change happen.

Yet, it doesn’t all come instantly. I try to remind myself of points like this regularly because negative thinking, when times get tough, is a difficult habit to break out of.

We all have positive and negative thinking habits. This does not mean our ways of thinking are permanently broken.

And finally… 

Breathe in.

Breathe out.

(and shake it all about)


As always, thank you for reading!

My question for you is:

How do you handle unpleasant feelings? 

You can follow me on Twitter and Facebook for more updates!

If you liked this post, share it with others!

 

 

Some days will be difficult

Some days will be tiresome to get through. Some days, nothing will go your way. Some days will be bad from the moment you wake up to the moment you go to bed.

Those tough days might become a tough week. A tough week might become a tough month.

If you’re dieting, during those difficult days, you might give up and eat whatever you want.

If you’re trying to read more, you might watch YouTube videos all day.

If you’re studying for an exam, you might throw your pen at the wall and declare yourself stupid.

These difficult days happen and I think it’s important to remember: They’re a normal part of any journey.

In the midst of these days, it is often extremely difficult to see where the end is. We feel much worse because we’re suffering and don’t know when it’ll end! If it goes on for long enough, we might begin to convince ourselves that it’ll never end. Or even worse, that if it actually doesn’t end, I’ll always struggle and never adapt. I’ll never achieve the goals that I want because I don’t have the will power or I don’t have the energy or I always make mistakes because that’s the way I am.

We need not feel this way. Difficult days are normal. For some, they will unfortunately go on for much longer. However, such days are not a signal for us to give up on our goals and especially not ourselves. They aren’t the clear reminder showing us we’re better off quitting and that our good intentions will only lead us to bitter failure.

During these days, take some solace in the fact that our emotions often come and go without our permission. And so, it helps to take a deep breath.

Slow down.

Then return to the present.

The present contains none of the future worries or past regrets. It contains none of the anger, sadness, frustration or hatred. It just contains you and your breathing.

You might, or in fact, probably will, still feel like things aren’t going your way. But now, by slowing down slightly, you have taken a break from the distraction and frustration the day has presented you with.

Remember that some days will be difficult. Sometimes they’ll last for far longer than you think you can handle. But as with all things, they’ll pass with time. You’ll find your peace again.

When it comes, you’ll savour it and maybe the tears you once cried during a difficult day will now be tears of joy.

If you’re experiencing difficult times at the moment, I wish you the best and hope the dark cloud passes and the sky becomes clear once more.

As Ralph Waldo Emerson says better than I:

This is my wish for you: Comfort on difficult days, smiles when sadness intrudes, rainbows to follow the clouds, laughter to kiss your lips, sunsets to warm your heart, hugs when spirits sag, beauty for your eyes to see, friendships to brighten your being, faith so that you can believe, confidence for when you doubt, courage to know yourself, patience to accept the truth, Love to complete your life.