It’s strange how when we open up to our emotions, thoughts and experiences, we start to notice others in a similar situation to us. Like once we are aware of and acknowledge it, there is a magnified attention to others experiencing similar things. Recently I found myself in a funk. A sticky, muddy place where I felt stuck and miserable. It wasn’t until I really noticed I was experiencing this that I started to notice others were having, or have had similar periods of “stuckness”, and that it was in fact quite a common place to be. A whole bunch of people hanging out in a park together, but in separate funky mud puddles.
A colloquial definition of a funk would be “a feeling of not moving forward or heading towards a goal of sorts, and kind of just stagnating”. It may sound and even LOOK like depression, but generally the symptoms are not the same, while it may definitively coincide with depression for some. So it would seem that finding yourself in a funk is normal. If it’s so common, why didn’t I know about them; why didn’t anyone write about them in the big manual of life? Yeah, I know, what manual?!
The reality is that these ruts ARE normal, and it’s OK to be stuck. Life can be a tornado sometimes; it throws us around, it throws things at us (sometimes big, sometimes small), and then there is the beautiful, calm eye of the storm that is hard to find and never stays around for long. In saying that, a tornado could also be a really fun ride if we manage to notice all the fantastic and enjoyable things along the way.
I guess the root of the problem is that we have societal pressures reigning down on us that we need to be OK all the time. But how can we achieve this when we are stuck in this figurative tornado? There is an unspoken expectation that we need to be in a constant state of ‘happy’ all the time. We have social media memes saying “just push through it” and “smile and it will be ok”, with the general undertone of don’t bother showing up with ‘negative emotions’ (as we can’t deal with it). Sometimes ‘just smiling’ doesn’t get us through those feelings of disappointment in ourselves, or when a complete lack of motivation hits. These heavier sentiments tend to stick around longer than what a day of smiling can cure.
There seems to be a societal avoidance of ‘negative emotions’ like sadness, disappointment, anger, and fear that make it damn hard for us to experience all the different things we need to, to live balanced lives. I’m not saying we need to be in these states all the time, but they serve us for different things and help us figure ourselves out. A little while back (when I was in said funk) I bumped into a friend at a café, and the normal casualties and greeting occurred.
Them: “How have you been?”
Me: (in a not-so-perky tone) “Yeah ok I guess”
Them: (eyebrows raised in slight shock and confusion) “Have you and your partner split up??” In other words, they immediately jumped to the worst possible scenario that could happen to make me unhappy, because people should be ok all the time, right? So I went on to explain why I was down and stuck. But sometimes, people don’t really want to hear that. (And no, my partner and I didn’t split up!)
So we are under immense pressures to keep our ‘bad’ emotions at bay, even pushed down into a state of non-existence. It’s so constraining and quite ridiculous really. Personally, I think it is a large factor contributing to our increasing mental health prevalence.
Let’s come back to the tornado that is life. We constantly have demands on us to be making decisions, staying ‘healthy’, contributing to the world, reaching age-appropriate life goals (like getting a good job, then maybe a house, then hopefully a partner, or vice versa). It’s when life becomes a daily bombardment of commitments that continue to fill up and up causing us to spill over the edge, and our sanity gets compromised.
So why are people getting to the point where we spill over the edges, flip out, burnout, or get completely stuck?? We have never been taught how to cope properly. Another thing that needs to go in life’s manual! Ending up at these places seems to be a combination of not living in-line with our values (what’s really meaningful for us), and not having a buffer against stress when that tornado hits levels 4 and 5.
SO HOW TO GET THROUGH THAT FUNK?
Mindfulness is that buffer against stress. It makes everything bearable when the glass keeps filling up and up. It actually brings the level down, and it never quite reaches the top because you can deal with it. Bringing a mindfulness practice into your life allows you to be a bit of a superhuman in most areas of life. When you have an anchor (like the breath) in your chaotic life, you can park ship when it gets stormy. You are able to notice what thoughts are controlling you (like “I can’t do that because I will definitely fail”) and you can disengage with them, because it’s just a thought. It’s literally a random neuron firing in your brain and it thinks it can bully and control you just like that??
Your thoughts may still be there, but at the end of the day, you are totally aware of them! You acknowledge them, but you don’t give them the time of day and you can choose to act differently if you wish. That brings me to my next point, which is deciding how you actually want to act in the world. Not ‘act’ like a dramatic façade, but how do you want behave, communicate, respond and BE in the world.
Upon reflection of my own experience, I was stagnating because I wasn’t living in a way that was important to me. I didn’t feel like I was contributing to my wellbeing or my future in a way that was meaningful or nourishing. This is interesting because I wasn’t doing anything UNHEALTHY or detrimental to my health or wellbeing, it was more a lack of meaning and purpose in my life that was keeping me stuck. I discovered that meaning-based living can have a huge impact on our lives. In fact, it’s usually those people that are working towards their values in an active and constant way that report to be the happiest overall.
There is so much to be said about doing what’s really important to you. You might say “Yeah sure, I’m working in a good job, have a good income, good family (or these things most of the time); I’m doing just fine”. If you think about it for a bit longer though, you might notice that some of those things you think are important are in fact important to your parents, close friends, or society in general. We take on the values of our friends, family and society and go with the flow without really stopping to think if it’s what we REALLY want.
Have you ever fantasised about randomly opening up a cake shop, or being a yoga instructor in Bali, or travelling for the rest of your life? But you have then written the idea off as silly because you need to have a stable job and family by age 35? Maybe give in to those fantasies a bit more, look deep into them and see what is so inspiring about them. Maybe it’s freedom, maybe independence, solitude, humility, or adventure? These are all values. When we think about our ideal lives and what REALLY nourishes us as individuals, it tends to let us know what we value in life.
Some people go through their whole lives not thinking about what they value and what they really want. If you find yourself in a sticky funk, that’s ok. We do end up there and that’s fine. Rest, recover, and evaluate. Allow yourself to crawl along for a while, cut yourself some slack, and know that you’re ok in the mud. However, somewhere along the way we need to acknowledge that something has to change to either get out of the funk or to stop ourselves from falling into mud puddles in the first place.
If you’re in a stagnating place right now, maybe you can take some time to think about what you want to achieve as a person. Consider this one thing: How do you want your loved ones to describe you at your eulogy? This will give you an idea of what kind of person you are striving to be, what’s important for you, and what you really value.