If you’re like most (dare I say, all) people, you’ve had times in your life when things just weren’t going well. You’re stressed, you’re sad, you just had a crisis, you had a breakup, you’re coping with an illness or chronic condition, someone you love is struggling, or you have a mental health issue such as anxiety or depression. Life feels hard.
Life has felt hard for all of us at one time or another.
When it comes to handling these hard times, bookstores are crammed to the rafters with books giving us advice. YouTube is rife with videos; the blogosphere is humming with opinions. Meditate! Cognitive Behavioral Therapy! Dialectical Behavior Therapy! More exercise! Reach out to friends! Do art! Less sugar! Volunteer to help others! Read books! Get off your phone!
All of this is good advice, and all of it can help to varying degrees, depending on our situations.
But there’s one thing I don’t hear very often, and it’s this:
It’s OK to feel bad.
I know, I know: “But feeling bad, well, feels bad! I don’t want to feel bad!”
Of course not. Nobody does.
But what if feeling bad is just part of life, like the sun and the moon? What if part of the suffering of feeling bad is not wanting to feel bad?
Last week I felt depressed for no (apparent) reason. I just woke up feeling low, and it lasted for two or three days. I struggled to focus on work. I couldn’t sit still. I just felt bad. I’d leave the house to do an errand or go for a walk, just to get out of the house. As I drove and walked, I’d go over and over it in my head: What’s wrong? Why do I feel this way? There was plenty of stress in my life (running a solo business isn’t for the faint of heart), but nothing different than the stress from the previous week. Nothing in my diet had changed. I wasn’t doing anything differently. I just couldn’t figure it out. For days my mind examined this feeling like a monkey examining a new kind of fruit. I never did find an answer.
But then one day I woke up and felt fine: creative, inspired, engaged.
What the heck was that?
It’s not the first time that’s happened, and I’ve certainly had longer bouts of “real” depression—the kind they medicate—but I still have no idea why it happens.
But what if it’s not a problem that it does?
This idea isn’t new: the fact that suffering is caused by wanting things to be different than they are is an ancient teaching.
But we still suffer and struggle and try really, really hard to “fix” it when we feel bad.
Friends come to me often to talk when they’re struggling with something. I try to be a good and empathetic listener. What strikes me about these conversations is that often, there’s a desperate quality to them: my friend feels bad. They feel really, really shitty. They’re going over and over—we both are—to figure out a solution. For hours and hours we talk and grapple and make and reject suggestions. And then the friend goes away, and almost always, at some point later on, the problem resolves itself somehow, and the pain is gone or at least lessened.
This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t go to our friends when we’re suffering. But what if part of the suffering is the constant mulling over what’s wrong?
What if we just allowed ourselves to feel bad when “badness” comes up for us?
Imaging that you’re taking a walk outside. It was warm when you left, and you knew you’d be generating body heat by walking, so you didn’t bring a coat. But then, a freak storm rolls in when you’re miles away from your house. It rains. You didn’t bring any rain gear so you get drenched.
You have two choices: you can freak out and complain and shout at the heavens: “Why are you punishing me?!” (I have to admit I do this way too often), or you can feel the rain on your skin, and the cold sensation, and the mud squishing into your shoes and the water dripping into your eyes, and feel it without making it bad or good. It is.
It can be difficult to do this in the moment, I know.
But what if we can shift our suffering a millimeter just by allowing this to be true: it is OK to feel bad.
It doesn’t mean you’re weak. It doesn’t mean you’re incompetent. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad person. It doesn’t mean you’re a failure. It doesn’t mean you’re being punished. It doesn’t mean you have to desperately find a solution (unless you’re literally spraying arterial blood over everything, in which case, yes, you desperately need to find a solution).
What Is Joy?
Can life really be joyful, even when hard things happen? Maybe not on the surface, but below our pain and fear, below the judgment of ourselves and others, there's a kernel that's an inherent and unstoppable desire to live; to see what happens next. At JATHT, we'll explore life, love, joy, and sorrow and hopefully learn something in the process. Welcome!