Why aren’t I feeling that great?

I found myself asking that question in the shower the other morning.

Maybe I hadn’t been getting enough exercise recently? Maybe I was starting to feel anxious about an upcoming trip? Maybe I hadn’t slept very well? Or maybe my problem was something bigger, something deeper?

As I kept extending this list of things that might be upsetting me, there was no end in sight.  And the more things I added to the list, the worse my mood became. Why was I bothering to look for reasons for my distress, if those reasons were only making me feel worse? 

If I could just find the correct explanation for why I wasn’t feeling great – if I could just arrive at a proper “diagnosis” – then the cure would become apparent.

But I was in the shower at the time. I wasn’t going to fix anything then and there. The idea that I was engaged in a useful troubleshooting process provided a “cover” for me to keep doing something that wasn’t actually helpful. 

A question popped into mind: “Who said I wasn’t feeling great?”

Really, who said it? 

It was as though I had been working on an essay assignment: “Explain and justify why you are not feeling great.” But I had received this mysterious assignment from nowhere. I couldn’t remember when I had started working on it.  And no one had checked with me to see how I was actually feeling.

The single thing that was most contributing to my distress was the assignment itself. An illusion of productivity masked the counterproductivity of this assignment. Could I entertain the possibility that maybe I was fine, maybe everything was OK? 

If everything was really fine then why would I have become convinced that it wasn’t? Surely something was dragging me down? 

But when I tried out the idea that I was fine, it seemed to work too. When I placed my faith in the notion that everything was OK – just temporarily – I realized I could get on board with that concept, and start defending it too. I could begin writing a different essay. 

Maybe I was feeling good because I’d had a fun weekend? Maybe I was feeling good because I had just created a new piece of music? Maybe I was feeling good because there was a vacation coming up? 

The substance of this new assignment made me feel better, but the change in assignment was jarring. Was I ignoring my true feelings? If a friend had said that they were sad or upset, I would have asked them to tell me all about their situation. If I had insisted that I knew better, if I had said “Actually, you’re feeling fine,” without listening to them, that would have been rude, dismissive, insensitive. So why was it OK to take this approach with myself? Wasn’t I under an obligation to listen to my own complaints and to be present for my own suffering? Or was it this very sense of obligation that was keeping me trapped in my bad mood?

I got out of the shower and started attending to the day’s many tasks. The idea that I might be totally fine had saved me from a downward spiral. I can’t say that this one idea was sufficient to transform my mood, but it helped me avoid some unnecessary distress. 

The next morning, I found the same question lodged in my mind again: “Why aren’t I feeling that great?” This happened a few days in a row. So probably there really was something “going on” with me, something that was dragging me down that I couldn’t identify or understand.

But trying to diagnose it only made it worse. Whatever it was, it passed in a couple of days. The story that I was totally fine had helped me. It had stopped the situation from getting worse, and now it was becoming true. ■

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