Small Life, Slow Life: Stuck in the Waiting Room (aka How to Get Yourself out of a Funk)

Yep, those are my feet! I went to the beach this weekend because I’ve been moody and blue, and that good dose of Vitamin D and freezing cold SoCal waves were just the trick!

It’s my goal to be totally transparent (a word often thrown around carelessly, but I mean it) here – so here goes: I’ve been in a major funk for the last week. I’m no stranger to the occasional funk, but this one is hanging out a little longer than I’m used to, so I jumped into some detective work.

There are a number of things going on – new job, weird hours, lack of routine, low funds – that have me feeling a little down. Anchor-less. Normally a driven-type with a strong sense of purpose, I can feel a little lost in the face of change. That being said, I still couldn’t understand why I was waking up feeling so blah.

Yes – living a smaller, slower life comes with funky thoughts and feelings sometimes! You may generally find that you’re happier, but none of us is immune to feeling blue on occasion. My friend put these kinds of moods perfectly to me several years ago. He said, “It’s like I’m in the waiting room. The doctor hasn’t called my name yet. I’ve read all the magazines and I hate what’s on TV in there. I don’t like being in the waiting room. I don’t know what’s coming next, or when my name will be called. It’s really frustrating, but I try to look at it like my time there has purpose. I know it’ll come to an end eventually.”

Funks are like this. It’s like we’re in a period of endless waiting. We might feel restless or agitated. Where we want to go might elude us for a bit.

When I’m in a funk with no apparent cause, there are a number of questions I ask myself, usually via my paper journal. There are also some basic healing actions I take to encourage myself out of it. It takes time, but I’m pretty good at this by now. I thought that since I’m in the midst of a funk right now, these questions and actions could be helpful to you.

Here are my tried-and-true steps to diagnosing, working with, and gently coming out of a blue period.

Step 1: Via paper journal or password-protected blog, ask yourself what’s wrong. Don’t be surprised if the first, second, and ninetieth answer you get is “I don’t know.” That certainly came up for me many times. Watch for the voice that says, “Nothing’s wrong – I’m fine!” It’s so common to say “I’m fine” as a blanket-phrase to ward off pesky attention, but it’s often the first indicator that something is wrong.

That being said, for many of you, what’s wrong may pop up right away. Don’t shun yourself for being negative; really try to listen to what your body is telling you. It may say things like: You know what’s wrong. I hate my job. I’m lonely. I’m broke. I’m bored. So-and-so really hurt my feelings. I don’t have any free time. I hate this, that and the other thing. 

Your emotions may be charged simply because you haven’t been listening. What tends to happen is that the less we listen, the louder our inner voice gets. By the time you finally check in, it may be screaming.

Step 2: Get it all out, in writing. Friends/family/lovers who listen are great, but I find there’s often a degree of self-censorship I exhibit with them, because I want to still be seen as okay/lovable/not totally insane. For that reason, I always retreat to my journal in times of stress, because I can say everything I need to say there.

Here’s what my entry sounded like yesterday: “I feel kind of empty. The exact life I wanted showed up and now I don’t know what the heck to do with it. Nothing seems wrong on the surface, but something is weird underneath. I kind of feel like I’m underwater in an exhibit – I can see people on the other side of the glass, but I can’t seem to get to them. My routine feels off. Something is brewing, and I’m not sure what it is.”

Say whatever you need to say. This is not the time to do a gratitude list to get your mind off what’s wrong. This is the time to say all the things you want about your boss/boyfriend/currently crummy life situation. Write until you’re exhausted and your hand is cramping. Wring it all out. Don’t worry about how negative or awful you sound. You’re detoxifying. And if you’ve ever done a food detox program, then you know the kind of foul sh*t that come out. Your mind needs the same thing.

Step 3: Practice a little loving kindness. Fair warning – this will be the LAST thing you want to do! You’ll want to wallow, withdraw, throw stones at people who walk by your house or loudly curse at anyone who texts you too often. You’ll want to eat three chocolate bars, smoke cigarettes, drink martinis at 11am and watch really bad 80’s movies. Some of those things may be fine (besides the ones that hurt yourself and others), but for the most part, you need to give yourself a little love, even though you may have the urge to be destructive instead.

Here’s what I did – blew off plans and went to the beach with my girlfriends. Indulged with a pedicure. Drove around at night listening to loud music. Sat in a cafe and read Atlas Shrugged  instead of organizing my car. Did slow yoga on a Sunday morning. Drove to my parents’ house so I could play with the dogs for a little while. Watched Teen Wolf with my sister.

Grieve if you need to, even if you don’t know why  you need to. Cry, or listen to sad music or watch The Notebook for the twentieth time. Throw darts at a photo of your least favorite politician, yell into a pillow, or throw a tennis ball as hard as you can against the wall. It’s fine. Numbness is often a sign that you’ve got emotions all built up – release them in whatever way you need to. If this fails, then…

Step 4: A treat may be in order. I’m not a big fan of spending money to improve my mood, but there are times when a little pick-you-up may be just what the doctor ordered. In my case, when I saw the new lululemon top hit shelves yesterday, I bought it. It’s black, cute, comfy and perfect for lounging around or doing yoga. I’ll wear it for years. Did it fix anything? No. Did I feel a little better? Yes.

You don’t have to buy a treat – there’s also blowing off an obligation in order to take some “you” time. If you have paid sick time, that’s what it’s there for! Take a day off and go to the park. See a movie that no one else wants to see with you. Pick a bunch of wildflowers and arrange them messily in a vase on the table. Sink deep into a novel you’ve wanted to read forever. Have a little (!) dark chocolate, or an ice cream cone. This isn’t permission to overindulge and make yourself feel worse! This is the time to be a little bit more gentle with yourself. A serving of frozen yogurt can soothe your frazzled mind. An entire bag of chips can make you hate yourself. Know the difference.

And if after all that, you’re still  feeling moody…

Step 5: Out yourself. I’m a withdraw type, so the second something goes wrong, poof!  I’ll disappear from everyone’s lives. This used to really worry my friends and family, so I’m trying to get better. As I get older, I find it useful to out myself. “Hey,” I might say via text message, “I’m not ignoring you at all – just going through a little bit of a funk and I feel like being more quiet than normal.” Or I might say, “I hope you know I love you, I just seem to be struggling with a vague feeling of yuck  lately – I’ll be back soon.”

I’m always surprised by how in tune my peeps actually are with me, and they can take anything personally (as do I), so make sure you give them a heads-up when you want to withdraw for a bit. Try not to be annoyed when they’re concerned. It’s their job. You’d do the same for them. That said, you have the right to set boundaries when you’re processing something. Until…

Step 6: It’s time to get on with it, already. Talk to people, eat better and move your arse. In a funk? Give yourself a week to get over it. After that, you’re playing your own tiny violin, my friend, and it’s time to talk about what’s wrong. Think about when you threw tantrums as a kid – your parents let you get it out, until it was time to suck it up and move on.

I make no secret of the fact that I go to therapy and have been since the Fukushima earthquake rocked my world. You don’t have to talk to someone professionally, as long as you have a person in your life with whom you can air it all out. Taking a week to yourself is totally fine, but after that, you may have gotten yourself into the kind of knot that takes two people to dissemble. At some point, you need to pick up the pieces and move forward before your funk morphs into actual depression.

When it’s time to move on, I re-open my Kickass Stuff I Like in My Life journal and start making lists of what I have to be thankful for. I make time with friends again, even if I feel a little resistance. I try to answer their questions and address their loving concerns without sounding like a total brat. I spend more time outdoors. I get off the couch and get back into exercising, even if it’s just a little. I eat better.

Did you know that most of your serotonin is made in your intestines? Yup. When you eat chocolate bars/gummy bears/white bread/soy junk, your guts get all clogged up trying to break that stuff down and filter it the hell out of your body. So when you’re trying to get past feeling blue, eating clean, wild-caught/grass-fed unprocessed foods is the way to go. You may think a sugar fix is going to pick you up, but it’s actually high quality meat and veggies that will get your digestion back in order and your happy chemicals back in check. Exercise is also proven to boost endorphins, so add in resistance training, yoga and cardio a few times a week for an instant mood lift.

If you still find that you’re not yourself, repeat the steps outlined above. The point we want to stress here is love. You can’t hate yourself out of something, sweetie.

I will say this – I always find that my time in the waiting room is rewarded with even more growth and happiness than I imagined possible. I realized this tracking my blue periods in my old paper journals. A week or two (or four) later, I’d always come back to report, “Wow – I was so depressed a few weeks ago – if only I’d known that this super-happy-amazing time in my life was just around the corner!”

My awesome therapist put it like this – think of spring on a farm. There are rows and rows of empty fields. There might be a few things growing, but it really looks like depressing brown emptiness (ahem – like poop). Give it two weeks, and suddenly, everything is in bloom – green and flowering and magical. You might feel empty, but there’s growth going on under the surface. Give it time, love.

How do you get yourself out of a funk?

5 thoughts on “Small Life, Slow Life: Stuck in the Waiting Room (aka How to Get Yourself out of a Funk)

  1. Pingback: Small Life, Slow Life: Happy Friday! {Photos + Links I Love!} « small life, slow life

  2. Pingback: Small Life, Slow Life: What Happens When I Get Caught in the Big Life, Fast Life « small life, slow life

  3. Pingback: Small Life, Slow Life: What Parts of Yourself Have You Abandoned? « small life, slow life

  4. I just commented on another post — and I know this is older now — but wow, I feel like you are me! Hehe – you handle upsets with such grace. I love it! I can’t wait to dive into all your posts.

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