May 21, 2016

Drowning in Unhappiness? Here’s How to Keep Afloat.


There are days we could drown in our own unhappiness.

Not that anyone would know because we are the consummate survivors—relentlessly keeping our heads above the tide of our loneliness, our longing, our dreams of something more.

There are days when the ache of loneliness seems to taint the air, making it seem heavy to lift in and out of our lungs. Speaking of the ache won’t stop it from existing so often no one knows it’s there.

We are not deceivers, just survivors.

We are the ones who keep picking up the pieces of our own lives and moving forward. We’re the ones who keep looking for opportunities inside of our obstacles because no matter how much we’d like to, sometimes we’re not able to give up the fight for what we desire. We’re the ones who spend so much of our lives pursuing our bliss and practicing gratitude but secretly aching for the smallest kindness to be directed our way.

Recently, I had a day when I was steeped in my own unhappiness. There were so many events in my life making it difficult to stay positive. I had been on the receiving end of unkindness and duplicity when attempting to purchase a used vehicle. I had also borne the brunt of a friend’s anger, although the anger was really aimed at herself and I caught some of the spill over from that. Also, I had been feeling lonely in a way that I rarely feel.

As a divorced woman in my 30s, a single mom, I am often alone, but I rarely feel truly lonely. I have wonderful friends and a wonderful life. I’m grateful for the life that I lead. So much of the time, I am cheerful and grateful and filled with joy. But on that particular day in that specific week, I felt lonely like an ache inside my bones. I felt it crawling up my spine at night and whispering lies into my ear.

On that day, what I truly wanted was someone to come and sit beside me. Maybe to hold my hand or offer arms to hold me. Maybe to sit beside me, not touching at all, but being present with me. Or for someone to lay down beside me so that my breath would not be the only breath in the night. So that I could hear another heart beating near mine, an attempt to silence the whispers for a while.

There was no one I could trust to call. I found myself sitting with the feeling instead, a poor substitute for what I felt I needed.

Then I found myself here. Writing. Trying to decipher my own soul in the tumult of a terrible day. When we reach that place of loneliness where we feel more broken than whole, what do we do when we need someone and have no one to call?

It can be difficult to touch our own vulnerable places, to feel out our loneliness and sorrow. Often, we try to cover those feelings up with other distractions. We turn on a movie or watch TV. We turn up the music. We clean our house. We read a book. If we’re lucky, we can phone a friend. We do so many things to keep ourselves from feeling the dark feeling that is there inside of us.

For me, I wanted to do anything but feel the ache of being alone. That loneliness whispered to me lies that I did not need to hear. That I have always been alone. That I’ll always be alone. That I’ve been loving in relationships where all I received was unkindness. That this is how my life is supposed to look.

We all have our limits of what we can take. When we reach them and there seem to be no options of support available to us, what can we do? Here are some ideas that came to mind when I was sitting deep in my own loneliness and trying to find a way out:

1. We can practice being relentlessly, ridiculously grateful. We can be grateful for the smallest of small things to the biggest of them and we can count those in place of our fears and failings. I’m grateful for the smell of a new book. For the taste of chocolate on my tongue. For thoughts that make me laugh out loud. For my children’s hands tucked into mine. For peaceful sleep.

2. We can find ways to laugh. Laughing is so difficult when we feel like we’re barely hanging on. So we need to put in the movie that always gets a laugh out of us. We need to pull up that YouTube video that is unfailingly hilarious. We can join a laughter yoga group. We can go to a comedy club or listen to a comedy routine. Laughter is healing but when we’re hurting like this, it can be tough to manage. So we must make ourselves try!

3. We can do a healing ritual. We’re all different so what is healing for one of us may not be healing for others. A long hot bath is my go-to healing ritual, preferably with a book; and if I really need the extra TLC, I may give myself a DIY facial (I prefer using yogurt and honey). For others, the healing ritual may involve listening to a favorite album or practicing yoga. Still others may need extra sleep to heal or to sit outside under the stars for a while.

4. We can remind ourselves that the challenging feelings we’re experiencing are only temporary. They’ll leave us soon, if only we can hang on. So we’ll find ways to keep ourselves afloat until they pass. It may take frequent reminders, but “this, too, shall pass.”

5. We can reach out to others when we feel like we’re barely hanging on. We can call someone or send an email or ask for support on social media. However we do it, it’s important to reach out. Sometimes it will seem like no one is there, but I feel that it’s important to give others the opportunity to be there for us just like we would for them. And if no one happens to be available, we start back at #1 and we relentlessly practice our gratitude.

We all have times when we feel like it’s difficult to go on. Some of us hide it better than others. On the days when the very thought of continuing seems a burden too heavy to bear, we can return to this list, as I have done tonight while recounting it to you. And it goes something like this….

I’m grateful for sunshine, warm on my face.
I’m grateful for nights filled with stars.
I’m grateful for the sound of my children laughing together.
I’m grateful for this breath. And this one. And this one.
I’m grateful for you, here, taking the time to read this.
I’m grateful.
I’m grateful.
I’m grateful.

Author: Crystal Jackson

Editor: Sarah Kolkka

Image: Rachel.Adams/Flickr

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