We’ve been quiet at Village for many months now and I have to be honest with you—it’s hard to be a light unto others when I don’t feel light within my soul. From late summer 2020 until about now, I have felt heavy. For the first time in my life, I had the thought, “Am I suffering from anxiety and depression?”
There were many factors in my life that created an environment where I started to ask that question more often. Amanda and I had sold our home and moved into her brother’s one-bedroom basement. Our personal space was greatly reduced and that lack of space can be reflected in reduced mental space, less capable of coping with life’s challenges.
I was also facing mounting stress and pressure at work. Work that I grew to really dislike. I was venturing into a new area of my career and beginning to feel stuck for the first time. I began looking for those moments of freedom that were robbed of me throughout the day from constant interruptions, requests, messages, etc. I wanted relief and I wanted it through control. At least, that’s how I was correlating one with the other at the time.
I spent more time on my phone. I grew less patient and more irritable and began treating those around me in ways they did not deserve. I was not myself and didn’t want to be who I was, but at the same time, just wanted to be by myself. In many ways, I felt I was barely hanging on with everything life was throwing at me—like running on the edge of a treadmill and the speed just kept increasing. There was no time to recover and find peace. There was no time to let my brain get in a groove, or so I thought.
I tried to leave my company and had gotten another offer that seemed promising. I signed the offer letter, but some very unforeseen events happened which jeopardized my potential employment. I had to stay in a role I was unhappy with. The stress and pressure only grew which continued to weigh heavy on my soul. It was around that time that I felt I had experienced my first real panic attack as well. I suppose it was a precursor for not being able to breathe well in the months to follow.
Months passed by and I felt Springtime would bring new hope with its warmer weather and opportunities to be outside. As soon as April came around, Amanda, my 7-year-old daughter, and I tested positive for COVID. We felt discouraged we were so close to making it to a vaccine only to get the virus. It still affects our lungs weeks later.
What was this feeling?
I was grieving from the lack of normalcy and loss of control in my life. I wanted my confidence, enthusiasm, and purpose back.
I finally came across an article in the New York Times about this neglected middle-child of mental health they call languishing. I really resonated with it. I began sharing it with my close friends and they all told me they had been feeling the same things I had been feeling over the past several months.
Languishing is a great way to describe the “Meh” feeling I had every day. Just a real lack of enthusiasm to get anything done and the inability to focus. Literally, to languish is to become weak, feeble, or enervated.
From the article, these lines really described my feelings well, “It wasn’t burnout — I still had energy. It wasn’t depression — I didn’t feel hopeless. I just felt somewhat joyless and aimless. It turns out there’s a name for that: languishing. Languishing is a sense of stagnation and emptiness. It feels as if you’re muddling through your days, looking at your life through a foggy windshield.”
The fog seemed palpable at times. COVID only made the brain fog worse. The thing about fog is that it blinds us. We don’t see where we are at until the fog is lifted.
“Part of the danger is that when you’re languishing, you might not notice the dulling of delight or the dwindling of drive. You don’t catch yourself slipping slowly into solitude; you’re indifferent to your indifference. When you can’t see your own suffering, you don’t seek help or even do much to help yourself.”
So how is that fog lifted?
As many who suffer from mental illness know, simply bucking up and being optimistic or positive is hardly a cure. How do we even muster that positive energy when apathy abounds within us?
Studies have shown that “flow-inducing” activities are directly linked to mental well-being and act as the antidote to languishing. Flow state happens when the activity we are doing melts time, place, and self away. For me, activities like being outside, going for a walk or run, drawing, playing drums, writing, watching funny videos all put me places where flow is more likely to happen. These activities can be seemingly trivial like a crossword puzzle or playing a game. Flow allows to feel a sense of progress—a key essential to feeling joyful.
In order to create an environment where we feel we are making progress, we need to do two things:
- Have uninterrupted time
This sounds crazy, but in order to lift the fog, we need a sense of accomplishment and progress. For that we need flow and for that, we need a few consecutive moments to ourselves where we stand guard. Put time on the calendar or simply ignore texts, slacks, emails, notifications, phone calls, or anything that can possibly wait for your attention.
- Set small, incremental goals
No need to set out to conquer the world, that’s really hard to do when we’re languishing. My goal today was to finish this article. It’s been sitting with a blinking cursor for some time now. Pick a goal that matters to you and do it. It should result in rediscovered energy lost through languishing.
It will take some time to recover from 2020 and all its effects, but I have felt the fog begin to lift allowing me to see where I stand. As I'm getting my footing and direction back through intentional flow-inducing activities, I'm feeling joy on a more regular basis. I'm not sure there is more I could ask for:)