Are you ready to feel happy all the time, no matter what?! Too bad! Because that’s impossible. But that’s OK. So is feeling like shit. And so are you. Here’s how to handle the awful feelings, turn them into tools for growth, and truly heal.
Congratulations. You’re a normal, healthy human.
But it hurts.
I know. I hear you. It does hurt. I hurt too.
I shouldn’t feel this way. I’m strong. I’m better than this.
To be crude, that’s like saying you shouldn’t have to poop because you’re strong, you’re better than it. Everyone suffers. Regardless of strength, of personal power, of anything. Hurting and feeling like shit doesn’t mean that you’re weak, that you’ve failed, that you aren’t good enough. Everyone hurts.
It shouldn’t feel this way. There’s something wrong with me. I’m depressed, I’m anxious, I have a disorder…
It may very well be that there is something wrong. Feeling really shitty sure as hell doesn’t feel right. Calling it a disorder — aka using the medical model of mental health — can be very helpful, and can really empower people in healing and moving towards wellness.
That’s because often, people in our culture don’t feel that we are worthy of radical self care (the kind necessary to profoundly happy and fulfilling lives). That leaves us in a position in which we require external validation of our needs and our right to have those needs met. A diagnosis or acknowledgement from a doctor, a psychologist, or even WebMD can give us the permission we need to actually take care of ourselves, to rest when we need it even if the dishes aren’t done, to cry even though it makes us feel weak. That acknowledgement can remind us that we do deserve to feel better, to feel good.
Here’s the thing about the medical model of mental illness:
There is no research to back it up.
Psychologists in the UK just released a statement undermining the entire model of mental ‘illness’. We already knew that there’s no virus that causes depression, and no urine test to tell if you have bipolar disorder; but they are saying that the entire model of groups of symptoms and experiences as ‘disorders’ is flawed and dangerous, and especially that over-medication of these disorders does more harm than good. In fact, a prominent research psychologist just spoke out about how “extraordinarily unsuccessful” the medical model of mental health is, statistically.
What about the idea that mood disorders are caused by a serotonin deficiency? There is actually no evidence that deperession, anxiety or any other mood disorder are caused by ‘serotonin deficiency’, which is used to explain the mass administration of serotonin re-uptake inhibition drugs (antidepressant medications). There is actually a growing body of research that shows that probiotics are more effective than SSRI’s. If deficiency were the cause, these drugs would solve depression. They don’t. They treat the symptoms.
Namely, the feeling like shit.
Feeling truly better, healing and connecting with the profound joy within, isn’t as simple as taking a pill, or curing an illness. But it’s a lot less complicated than you might think.
Feeling Better, Healing, and The Meaning of Life:
Often, the most powerful tools for overcoming a mood disorder, for healing the deep dark awfulness, and for ultimately creating a fulfilling and joy-filled life, have nothing to do with your doctor. Exercise, a healthy diet, meditation and spending time outdoors can all contribute to the happy life that you deserve.
They aren’t, however, necessary for everyone. They don’t work for everyone. Sometimes, nothing that your doctor can suggest is going to help.
Because sometimes, depression and other mood disorders are less illness and more spiritual emergency… or spiritual emergence. Sometimes, these are natural and healthy reactions to something being genuinely wrong or out of balance in our lives; an unhappy relationship that needs to be let go of, limiting beliefs about who you are or how the world is (for example, that you don’t deserve to rest…), there are many ways for us to be out of balance. There are many times we don’t face our spiritual path, don’t take that next step, because it’s scary… and our bodies and emotions react by, well, feeling shitty.
Living a life of meaning involves listening to your heart. If you aren’t living a relaxed lifestyle in harmony with the deep, quiet desires of your heart, you will not be happy. Unfortunately, our culture teaches us not to listen to our own needs, not to honour our intuitive knowing. That’s where the permission piece comes in: we don’t give ourselves permission to listen to our own wisdom.
Overcoming that and reconnecting with your vital, wise, inner knowing may be what’s necessary to true healing, and to learning the lessons that life is trying so hard to teach you… Lessons that can only be learned through feeling deep pain, and healing from it.
The Dark Night of the Soul
There are things we can only learn through pain and suffering.
Yeah. It sucks. I know. Believe me.
There are things that can only be learned through experiencing the darkest of the dark nights of the soul; living through those moments in which we wish we weren’t alive after all, because the pain is simply too great to bear. Living through those long, endless, tar-black hours of waiting for the pain to lift… and being disappointed, moment after moment. Living through those times where we lose hope.
When you’re in the dark night of the soul, the solution isn’t to change the time on your clocks ahead six hours, turn on all the lights, get dressed and pretend it’s morning… a solution that’s surprisingly popular in our collective consciousness; it’s the ‘just think positive!’ mantra that labels sad people as toxic and sadness as failure. ‘Turning the clocks ahead’ (aka pretending things are fine) and distracting ourselves from the darkness and pain and suffering by working hard, or self-medicating with chemicals or activities, or even just watching TV… that might feel a bit better, sure. But it doesn’t really change anything.
Because if you sit in that darkness, if you sit there and face it, and feel it, and watch the minutes slowly tick by… eventually something changes. Eventually, you realize something about this darkness; a lesson left in that quiet night, just for you. Whether your realization is that everyone suffers, everyone feels like this sometimes, and because of my experience, I can help them… or that you need to change your life, and that doing so will allow you to be the incredible person you are meant to be… or that there is a God, or that life is beautiful even in the darkness…
And then the sun rises. And it’s not just any morning, it’s the most incredible morning that has ever been, because you were consecrated by darkness. Because you’re whole, and wiser, and kinder than you could ever have been otherwise.
Sometimes, Everyone Feels Like Shit
No one, ever, is happy every day. No matter what. Ever. Every single person no matter what has bad days, feels sadness, heart break, grief, fear, anger, etc.
That’s just part of life.
There are people who think they can sell constant unconditional happiness, and they are are seriously and dangerously deluded. They’re lying, whether or not they realize it; and making a lot of money from it, because they’re lying to a deep fear. A deep fear that is very common in our culture; that we are flawed and broken if we feel bad. They are speaking to that deep fear, taking advantage of it, saying they can end it. That is wrong.
So… how do you start to feel better, and balance your life? To have joy and happiness, to feel that sense of rightness again?
Therapy, counselling and coaching are great resources here. Therapy can treat certain mental health issues, and counselling can help in developing the resiliency and resources to accept and cope with negative emotions, to be more equanimous and brave in the face of them. But again, no one is happy 100% of the time. No one has 100% exclusively good days. Promising that impossible pipe dream to clients—defining it as the successful outcome of working with you—isn’t just ludicrous and impossible. It’s a very great way to lead people to a less healthy life, and to serious emotional problems down the line.
Because people are great at pretending, at ignoring, at disowning and repressing and all sorts of other methods of lying to ourselves that are a necessary part of someone saying ‘I’m happy everyday lalalala’. If someone believes that’s how they’re supposed to be, they’re going to make use of those methods until they believe it is so.
Even though it isn’t, won’t ever be, and can’t be. Ever.
And eventually, the fear and sadness and pain that they’ve disowned and repressed for so long becomes so big that they can’t ignore it anymore. And it fills their life up, little by little, demanding and needing to be felt. But they can’t feel these things! That would mean they’ve failed! And they sure as hell didn’t pay hundreds of dollars and desperately deny the authentic emotional truth of their own experience just to FAIL.
Sometimes we’re sad about being sad and anxious about being afraid
Sometimes, mood disorders develop because we are sad about that growing sadness, or afraid of feeling that ever-greater fear. This can create a feedback loop within us. We’re taught that if we aren’t happy (or at least neutral) 100% of the time, there is something wrong with us. No wonder we recoil and feel awful about awful feelings when they arise! The thing is, every life has suffering. Every person feels sadness, fear, and pain. Experiencing a terrible mood—or even a mood disorder—is not your fault, nor a sign of fault or weakness within you.
I’m not saying that will happen every time. I’m saying that people have feelings. People feel bad sometimes. AND THAT’S OK. I know it sucks. That’s ok too.
Pretending Everything is Great Prevents Healing — The ‘Vomiting’ Method of Emotional Healing
Pain, sadness, anger, fear… any bad feeling at all, is like food poisoning. Something happened that hurt you, which in this metaphor could be compared to ingesting poisoned food. Your body (emotional and physical) needs to process that and get it out of your system in order to heal. The denial and repression and selective focus necessary to pretending that everything is great all the time sunshine rainbows and grandparents live forever etc, those are valid tools for short term coping with the poison. Sort of like taking an anti nauseant until you’re able to get to a toilet.
But the cure for food poisoning isn’t to prevent yourself from throwing up. It’s not feeling a bit better now with the poison still inside you. That’s the ‘turning the clocks forward thing’, all over again.
No, the ‘cure’, the way to become actually healthy again, to actually heal… well, it’s not a pretty process. It hurts and it’s gross. It’s actually feeling the feelings. Accepting that grandparents die, and when they do, our hearts are ripped open and we are so sad we don’t know how we will survive it. It’s feeling that sadness and accepting it; surrendering to the pain not because we are weak, but because we are strong enough to bear it. Bearing it as the necessary burden of having an open heart, of being human and living in this beautiful, terrible, perfect, bittersweet world.
But I’m Spiritual!
And therefore I should be above feeling shitty, ever!
Even if there is a spiritual component to your shitty feelings (likely, there is), suffering does not mean that you are not spiritual enough, because again, everyone suffers. Everyone gets sick, or feels bad. Being happy all the time does not equal being enlightened. Being enlightened does not mean that you will always feel great.
Healing is not bolstering ourselves against the pain with “I’ve learned a valuable lesson here and therefore I can feel happy again RIGHT NOW!” or “I just have to be grateful! Gratitude fills my heart! WHETHER I LIKE IT OR NOT! I don’t have to feel bad because I’m grateful!” or “Love and light! Love and light! LOVE AND LIGHT!!!”
Sound familiar? That’s because it’s the turning the clocks ahead thing! Again! You know, the one that means we suffer endlessly, never really learning the lesson that would make our suffering worthwhile and meaningful.
When we ‘turn the clocks ahead’ because Spiritual People Are Grateful and Never Feel Bad, perhaps by practicing loving kindness for hours, or repeating that mantra, or doing yoga til our toes bleed, that’s called Spiritual Bypassing. What’s bypassed is the lesson, that only living through suffering can teach.
We don’t get to decide what the lesson is. We don’t get to bypass the pain and the actual growth that pain brings by deciding that we’re ready for the lesson. That’s like saying we don’t have to take a class, and sit there in the classroom and do the readings and the homework, because we have somehow spontaneously learned everything the class has to teach us already! The pain is the class in this metaphor, btw.
We don’t get to decide when we are ready for the lesson, period.
The lesson does.
All we get to decide is whether we are willing to drop the ego charade and listen. And feel. And learn. Even though it’s hard.
Pain hurts. But it can’t hurt you. Feeling it, fully, can heal you.
Even if you aren’t transforming into a yogi-typed spiritual guru, having a mood disorder, facing something horrible, or just generally feeling like shit is always an opportunity to grow as a person, even though it’s awful and really hard. By learning to surrender to the painful feelings, you may learn the strange, paradoxical truth that pain can’t hurt you; not you at your core, not the unblemished part of you that is eternal and pure and beautiful. Feeling feelings is the only way through them. I’m not just saying this—I’ve overcome mood disorders, and I live with daily physical pain from injuries, that prevented me from working for two and a half years, because it’s so severe.
I encourage you to try and create a life that you can be happy with, even if that seems impossible. We tell ourselves a lot of stories about why we can’t actually listen to the quiet truth our heart speaks. Those stories are not true. It’s not impossible. You can do it. And you deserve it.
I also encourage you to accept what is, right now. Surrendering to the moment, to every part of it no matter how painful, can mean processing and overcoming trauma from the past, developing profound inner strength, and perhaps even discovering that, as bad as things may seem, there is a place inside you that is OK. Even if there isn’t, don’t give up hope. Someday there will be.
Surrendering to the suffering you feel in the present moment doesn’t mean you’re weak. It means you’re strong enough to face reality.
Sometimes, people go through challenging periods of their lives due to tragedy, excess stress, illness, injury, loss; which can cause the symptoms of depression or anxiety disorders. Other times, you may experience those shitty feelings and even get a diagnosis for a disorder without an obvious or outward ‘problem’ in your life. That doesn’t mean that your challenges aren’t real—on the contrary. It may mean that you are going through a time of profound change, transforming internally on a fundamental level, for the better. It may mean that your lesson is coming, that thing that will change you… that thing that means the world is a magical place in which suffering has meaning.
The most painful part of the butterfly’s life is the transformation it undergoes from the comfortable world of the caterpillar; its emergence from the cocoon into a brave new world. That isn’t just a positive change for the butterfly. It’s a positive change for the entire ecosystem that the butterfly is part of. Similarly, sadness, fear, pain, even mood disorders may be the very real growing pains of your spirit, as you transcend the way of living you have known so far, and become someone more powerful and beautiful and caring than you could have imagined before.
You’re not just going to be OK. You’re going to be even better.
Even if you feel like shit.
From the heart,