What to do when you feel awful

No matter how good you become at managing your pain, no matter how much work you put into loving your life, there will probably come a time when you feel absolutely awful and nothing you do lightens your mood. You have a major flare-up, or two or three, and all of life feels dark, hostile, and meaningless. It really does feel that this is the end, that all you have to look forward to is more awfulness, anger, fear, rage, despair, and/or depression, until you die. That’s the story, anyway!

So, what do you do? How should you spend your time when you are in the depths of darkness? When you feel absolutely hopeless and your face is a grimace of pain and anger and hurt and you feel like destroying the whole world, or maybe just yourself?

In these difficult times, I keep turning to two things: Saying yes to what is happening, and being kind to myself. Let me unpack these a bit.

Saying yes. Say yes to whatever is happening right now: anger, fear, rage, pain, resistance, or whatever you may be feeling. Yes, in this moment, your life feels overwhelming. So let it overwhelm you. I find it helps to actually say it aloud: YES! I feel horrible. YES! There is a tremendous pain in my back. YES! I hate this. Saying yes can help remove a layer of resistance that makes the awfulness feel more awful than it actually is. It points to a basic truth about suffering: that anything you resist will make you suffer, and anything you accept will set you free. It doesn’t matter what’s coming up, how ugly or wrong or painful or unacceptable it seems. What matters is your relationship with it. So if you’ve been saying NO, try out a YES. See what happens.

Being kind. I have found so much power in the intention to be kind to myself. I often don’t feel like being kind, but even just remembering that I value kindness can begin to open the door to feeling loved. My most frequent prayer is, “God, help me remember my intention to love myself no matter what, to be kind to myself no matter what, to respect myself no matter what.” Yes, it’s repetitive, but I need reminding, because as soon as I start to feet bad, kindness is the first thing I forget. The key to kindness is just doing it, or even just wanting to do it, regardless of how it makes you feel. Sometimes kindness might make you feel sick or empty. Sometimes it may open up into a deep sense of being loved. Either way, holding onto the intention will eventually have an effect. Love is a muscle that gets stronger slowly.

When you’re feeling awful, remembering these two things might not make you feel better (although sometimes it might!). But it can give you some ballast to hold you steady while the storm is raging.

Good luck!

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