“Find a place inside where there’s joy, and the joy will burn out the pain.“
— Joseph Campbell
Have you had this experience? Your career is going forward, you get to enjoy your free time with friends and loved ones, you’re smiling a lot more than usual. Basically, life is going great!
Then it hits you like a ton of bricks. It just takes one moment and all of that is gone. It’s like the troll in your mind launches a pre-emptive strike on happiness.
This is what happened to me last night.
I went to bed feeling fucking fantastic. As lately things have been coming up roses.
Then at 3:42 AM I wake up and my mind starts racing: “You know this feeling won’t last forever?”, “Are you sure about that thing?”, “You should’ve done this instead”, “When they find out they’re gonna be pissed!”, “You might as well just give up” and on and on.
I didn’t have a panic attack but I felt sad and insecure. Luckily, the very first thing the troll said was true, and I clung on to that. As true as the statement “You know this feeling won’t last forever?” was about happiness, it was also true about the sadness and insecurities.
It’s just a passing phase. A story my mind made up in the hope of softening the blow of potential setbacks.
Naturally, the next part of this is “So, I started listing things that I’m amazingly grateful for and the feeling subsided and I could go back to sleep.”
Which I did. But that’s not the whole story.
I’d be lying, or at the very least perpetuating a false narrative if I just left it there.
If that’s all we do when confronted with these negative emotions then we’re just ignoring the root cause rather than trying to understand it. We’re treating the symptoms not the disease.
Also, I’m not going to give you the hope that you’ll be able to annihilate the negative feelings. They’re probably going to pop up from time to time.
But what you’ll hopefully experience is that you’ll be able to identify them faster and work with them as they arise.
Now, what we need to do is to get curious. Why are we having these thoughts and emotions?
At the very core it’s our survival instinct kicking into gear. In the wild we needed to be vigilant about potential dangers. Unfortunately barring any natural dangers we apply the same instincets on our emotional lives. If things are a little too good or a little too calm we get antsy. We try to predict what’s going to happen and prepare for those eventualities.
The thing is that there’s no way that it’ll make things any easier. Sure, we get to say “See, I knew this would happen!” but that’s not going to do us any good. We’ll still have to go through the pain, grief and loss.
If we explore the feelings further we can uncover a lot of pain and trauma. Things we naturally want to avoid.
For me it’s really basic things like not being good enough and fear of abandonment. But rather than shying away from it I try to sit with it. And it fucking sucks. So bad.
What I’ve found is that it becomes more tolerable and I can handle it easier than I could 1 year, 5 years not to mention 25 years ago.
Knowing that things will change and that we’ll probably have to deal with negative things during our lives doesn’t mean that we have to go into full-on “burn all the babies!”-mode right now.
We have the right to feel sad and worried. But we also have the right to feel happy and grateful. We shouldn’t have to fear either, we need to be willing to experience both and sit with it for a while. Only then do we get to truly choose which we want to focus on.
I’d love to hear your thoughts and feelings about this kind of pre-emptive worrying. Have you found it useful? How do you manage it?
Have a kick-ass ₢eative day!