What does it take to be OK with not being OK?

I read Is it really OK not to be OK yesterday and I’ve been thinking about it ever since.  I’m working on a podcast series about beliefs and how they shape our thoughts and actions so I  find myself wondering about the beliefs that surround “negative” emotions or being “not OK”. What are those beliefs? Where have they come from? How well are they serving us?

These aren’t questions I’m able to answer in a single blog – not when I’ve got half an hour while the kids watch Saturday morning TV! (Though, I doubt they’re questions I could answer completely even if I had all the time in the world)

What do we mean when we talk about not being ok? If I’m not ok, does it say something about me or my situation? Are my emotions the cause or merely a symptom of a problem? Are my emotions a problem at all or are they valuable clues I could use to better effect? These are questions we’d all answer differently, depending on our beliefs.

We seem to be totally ok with negative emotions in situations where they feel “justified” and, for the most part, we seem to cope with those fairly well. Death, illness and disaster can unite people in their grief and there’s something quite positive about the sense of belonging one can experience in a group going through something big together. But what happens when you’ve been sad for too long or your too sad? What happens when you can’t let go? What happens when you feel differently than others?

I wonder whether part of the difficulty we have in working out how to be OK with not being OK is that we still divide emotions into two camps – positive and negative, OK and not OK. Then we have to force ourselves to believe that negative emotions are ok but really, deep down, they’re emotions we don’t want to come into contact with and when we do, we naturally make efforts to dispense with them as quickly as possible.

For my money, if we’re going to be ok with not being ok, we have to change our underlying beliefs about emotions – maybe instead of “it’s ok not to be ok” we say “all emotions are ok” or even “All emotions have something to say. Listen.”

That has been one of the fundamental lessons I’ve had to learn in my aspirations to have a “Big Happy Life”. It isn’t always happy and that’s part of what makes the happy times happy. They have to differentiate from something in order to be experienced fully. I’m not always happy, nor would I wish to be. I learn about myself every time the dark times loom and every time I descend into them.

This week was one of my most challenging. I don’t have words to describe the emotions I felt. I’m still trying to process them. All I can tell you is that an important figure in my daughter’s life shared some information with me about how she sees me and it triggered feelings in me that I associate with childhood but can’t quite grasp or link to concrete memories. This is exactly the kind of thing that could have sparked months of depression for me but one of the lessons of Big Happy Life is to accept all that comes my way and open myself up to what my emotions are telling me. This time, instead of descending into darkness, I am writing, thinking, talking, making sense of what these emotions have to say.

In truth, I’m quite enjoying the process because I’ve wondered for a long time about some of my challenges around failure and lack of confidence and I think this situation has handed me a key to unlock some of that. It’s quite exciting!

So now I’m out of time and my children’s eyes will turn square if I don’t get them away from the TV and get active. I’m going to need to revisit this topic as there are so many additional layers and levels to consider but in the meantime, I’d love to know your thoughts.


Mental Health Time Management

I think I may have just discovered something very important about how I live my life.

I’m a person who rarely stops. I don’t have time to waste. As a result, my life currently contains all of these things:

  1. Stained clothes. I don’t wear them because it’s too much of a faff to soak them.
  2. Creased clothes. I don’t wear them because I can’t be bothered to iron them.
  3. Coats piled on the playroom sofa. Why put them away? We’ll only have to get them back out again tomorrow.
  4. Books piled up next to my bed. I’ve started all of them and finished none of them.
  5. Kitchen counters with clean items I haven’t packed away. See 3.
  6. Dead plants in the garden. It’s such a lot of work to care for plants
  7. Dead plants in the house. See 6.
  8. A cluttered work desk. Well I haven’t finished with this stuff. See 3.
  9. 14 unread text messages.
  10. 364 unread emails
  11. 2 school forms I haven’t yet taken the time to read

There’s more but you get the gist.

This morning something potentially life changing occurred to me. I care about all of these things but force myself to ignore them in favour of whatever work task or blog idea is whirring in my mind (ironically, this morning it is this blog!)

There has also been something of a snowball effect. My buzzing, whirring mind is ON. All. The. Time.  I don’t go for walks or runs without listening to podcasts or audiobooks. I don’t listen to music or read for pleasure anymore. I hardly sing anymore – something I used to love doing. I make more mistakes, forget more, feel more disappointed with myself and have to apologise to people a lot more for messing them about.

I’ve been telling myself that I’m prioritising but I’m clearly not prioritising my mental health. I’m ignoring more and more. I’m switching pace less and less and I’m getting stuck in thoughts that go round and round.

Today I remembered something I read about that I think might help.

Paired Tasks

Pairing tasks is not multitasking. It involves using one task to take a break from another task. It’s a way of giving your brain a break from a particular type of thinking. It allows you to change speed and change focus.  It’s actually a time management tool not a mental health tool. The idea is that, even when your brain is tired, you can keep going and get things done, but I think it has great capacity to contribute positively to mental health.

Here’s an example of how it works. You write a blog and then sweep the floor, water the plants or iron a shirt – any task that isn’t about language, communication or words. Phoning friends, texting or emailing would not be appropriate tasks because they require the same type of thinking as the blog requires – you need language and have to think about how you’re communicating so there’s no brain rest there.

It occurs to me that pairing tasks has three advantages – firstly, if the theory is correct, I’ll be more efficient. I’ll handle those 11 things and end up with clearer cupboards, clothes in better condition, clear surfaces in the kitchen, a sofa I can actually sit on, up to date school paperwork, friends who know I value them and an email inbox I can actually stomach looking at.

Which leads me to the second advantage – I’ll have more mental energy because I won’t be using so much of it to ignore things or pretend I don’t care about things.

That feeds into the third advantage – if I learn to change pace, shift focus and value tasks other than those currently associated with whatever my mind is whirring about, I might achieve greater balance. I might even learn to relax!

It seems to me this idea is a brilliant time management tool with the capacity to offer fantastic mental health advantages.

A side note

I’m on day 9 of my 66 days of meditation. I haven’t yet developed the ability to calm my mind and focus for any longer than a few seconds during meditation but the intervals seem to be getting longer.

The pairing tasks revelation came to me shortly after this morning’s meditation. Coincidence? Or might my mind subconscious mind have found a way to share an important insight about a pattern that’s affecting me but that I have been ignoring?

I guess time will tell.