Updated: Feb 25, 2018
Ever been in a funk? I’m not talking the 70’s disco era kind of funk. I’m talking about the negative attitude, down in the dumps, unmotivated, and exhausted kind of slump.
Not to be confused with depression (though funks do share some characteristics with depression), funks are something that usually are triggered by an event or series of events. Maybe it’s a pile up of stress, a series of losses, or a lack of rest.
Well, the beginning of February (my least favorite month of the year) found me in the aforementioned funk. There was a combination of factors leading to the funk. I was burnt out on self-development (too many podcasts and books), and I felt like I got slapped in the face with grief.
In the last year and a half, my partner and I have lost 3 grandparents, 2 dogs, an aunt, and an uncle, with the most recent death occurring the day after Christmas.
It seemed like a weird time for grief to show up, I thought I had "dealt" with it and mourned pretty effectively. I have since learned that grief and mourning are not things that can be checked off a list (and I LOVE checking things off of lists). Rather, grief and mourning are constantly evolving processes, and you're never really "done" with it.
I was especially missing my grandmother, who was arguably my favorite person in the world. I was dreaming about her, and longing to hug her. It didn’t hit me until a week post-funk, that it was the 6-month anniversary of her death. It’s funny how we sometimes experience things before we are consciously aware of them.
Grief for me manifests in a few ways: sadness, (the obvious way), homesickness, and self-disparagement.
Self-disparagement doesn’t seem like a normal place to go in grief, but it makes total sense when I think about my default emotions when I feel out of control. Grief, in all of its unpredictability, is definitely out of my wheel of control.
We all have default emotions we go to when we are under stress or feeling powerless.
For some people it’s anger, for other’s it’s taking on a victim mentality, and for me, it’s self-deprecation, and not in the self-deprecating humor kind of way.
I think in some ways we go to our default emotions as a distraction from the real pain we are feeling. We attempt to distract and externalize. As painful as our default emotions are, they are more comfortable than unfamiliar feelings or things we can’t control.
So as I said, I became stuck in my default of “not enough”. This “not enough” has a way of worming its way into everything I do and everything I am. Suddenly I found myself in a comparison game with others. I began doubting everything; I began picking myself (and my body) apart, and regretting not taking opportunities (that were not the right choice for me, but were more prestigious).
I went to emotional ground zero.
It was a peculiar experience, because it had been so long since I had been in that place that I had forgotten what it felt like. It was like walking through the Upside Down in Stranger Things.
This was a powerful experience because unlike the years I once spent in the emotional Upside Down, I did not allow myself to linger there long. I realized that I had far more tools, with the first being an understanding of why I was going into my default emotions to begin with.
I took a step back and realized the origin of my pain. I took into account the timing of things, what was going on, and what I was trying to control. There are certain things I listen to or watch that perpetuate that "not enough" feeling. When I took a step back, I could see the things that I was reading, listening to, and consuming that triggered and maintained that old thinking.
Here's a real example: One night, mid-funk, I had to spend the night in Chapel Hill for an early morning seminar. That night I went to the student rec center (AKA the sweat box) to work out. As soon as I walked into that place, an old feeling hit me.
It felt like suffocation.
For a moment it felt like I was 19, in my college's gym where I would spend frustrating hours on the treadmill while simultaneously reading my organic chemistry text. Running from treadmill to tennis courts, and tennis courts to chemistry labs.
The smell of that gym was like breathing in a time in my life where I ran and ran and ran, and could never quite run fast enough. I could never quite do enough to be satisfied with myself or with my life.
SO, rather than hitting the weight room at Chapel Hill, I went down to get a squash racket and ball and sequestered myself in a squash court where I proceeded to hit the shit out of the squash ball. I settled my nerves, and I reminded myself that while that 19 year old girl is a part of who I am, she has grown and is in a totally different space at 29.
I played squash, I worked out, and I left. And I felt tremendous gratitude to be 29, to be out of college, to have learned the lessons of the last decade, and to (hopefully) not have to learn them ever again.
I share this anecdote with you because this experience was not helpful in thwarting my funk. I recognized pretty quickly that I had been emotionally triggered, and I moved on. Yet while I was in a space of not feeling great about things, choosing to go to one of the few places that has the ability to create a strong emotional reaction in me, was probably not the best decision.
The moment of gratitude I experienced upon leaving the gym was transformative. It was transformative because it was specific. I was grateful for being where I am, in this moment, at this age.
Over the years I’ve tried daily gratitude practices, and they always rang hollow. I am tremendously grateful for the food, warmth, clothing, shelter, family, etc. that I have been blessed with, but making a generic list of things I am grateful for never felt helpful to me.
Instead, I made a What is Going Right for Me gratitude list. For me, the specificity of this list, particularly in the areas where I tend to cut myself down, was what I needed. It was a way of re-setting and putting things back into perspective.
The third thing I did was reach out, which, by the way, does not come naturally to me. I’m a bottler, and put on a mask of “all good” for a long time. Over the last few years, I’ve really been flexing my vulnerability muscle, and am working on articulating when I’m not “all good”.
So I called home. I cried. I called mom and talked about how much I missed Gam. I sobbed into my partner’s shoulder and allowed him to comfort me. I told a friend that I felt like shit, but that I knew it would pass soon.
And it did.
I got out of my funk.
Emotional resilience is a powerful thing, and it’s something we all have. It’s something that takes practice though, lots of practice and discomfort. I would have been perfectly content to stay in my internal bubble of self-deprecation, comparison, and feeling like shit, but internally I knew that there is much greater work that I am called to do, and my self-deprecation, shame, and comparison all stand in the way of that work. So I had to pull up my bootstraps and fight it.
You can fight it too. If you’re stuck, maybe give the steps I took a try. No pressure, but it might be worth exploring.
Tried and True Steps to De-funking:
Ask yourself why you are back into your old thought pattern. What triggered it? What is going on that you feel out of control of?
Make a list of what is going right in your life right now. If you’re having trouble thinking of something, it could be as simple as “I’m going for a walk outside a few times a week.” Start small. It doesn’t have to be, “I made partner in my law firm.” If you did- great! List it, but if you got showered and dressed today, and that’s a change for you- write that.
Reach out. Let someone you know and trust know that you aren’t feeling like yourself, and actually let them be there for you. You don’t have to carry all of this weight on your own. If you feel like there isn’t anyone in your life who could help, find a therapist to support you through this time. Having someone understanding and compassionate help you get through a tough time can be more helpful than you know.
I purposefully try not to share too many personal stories on this site, because it is not meant to be a tool for catharsis. This site is designed to be of help or encouragement for you. So, thank you for letting me share something personal, and in turn, I hope the steps I took to get out of my funk may be helpful to you should you find yourself in a funk.