When You Can Barely Keep Your Head Above Water

Man

Photo: Noah Busch

Sometimes you try and you try, but all you get for your troubles is falling face-first into the dirt. I remember the first time I had felt hopeless. I was six years into my hairdressing career when I realised I didn’t want to have six-day workweeks anymore.

But change didn’t come easy. I had no other skills, and back then, job-search portals were few and far in between, seeing as to how the first iPhone hadn’t even launched yet.

Then I felt it again when I took another two years to study accounting, thinking it would give me a leg up in the corporate world. I graduated from college at the age of 28 or so, and all I had to show for it was the slew of rejections that came along with each job application.

At this rate, I even expect this feeling to resurface every few years or so, because we never truly figure shit out, do we?

The thing is, I can never get used to the feeling of staring down an obstacle, especially now that I’ve come face to face with it once more.

Hello darkness my old friend

The human condition involves going through the highs and the lows of life. None of us are special, and we’re all subject to the challenges life sees fit to throw at us.

And as much I enjoy writing inspirational articles, I do admit that I tend to falter once in a while. I talk big game about overcoming your flaws and grinding through the grimy process, but there are moments when I can’t even bring myself to water the plants or do the laundry.

This is one such moment. After sticking to a solid diet, a regular exercise schedule, and a rather ‘adult’ schedule of getting stuff done, I now find myself standing before my old friends: doubt, pessimism, fear, and doom.

That’s it. They just decided to show up. It’s not like I get a WhatsApp message notifying me that they’d be around for the weekend. I just end up forgoing my schedule that I’ve worked years to build, and end up looking for something to take me out of my own head, mainly alcohol.

Then I spiral out of control for a few weeks and there’s nothing I can do about it. So much for ‘you still have the power to choose how you want to act, despite how you feel’, a motto of mine that’s much easier said than done.

It’s not 1+1=2

I wish life was as simple as video games. In games, there is no doubt what you should do. Visit this town, get some quests. Kill the bad guy, get your reward.

In real life, however, just because you take all the right steps doesn’t mean you get the rewards. You could very well play life by the book and still come out of it with nothing but a participation trophy.

Sometimes I go through an emotionally-rough spell and that’s when I curse the gods. “Haven’t I done enough?” I would say. “Don’t I deserve to feel emotionally normal?”

And my journal would attest to my efforts. It would be months of not drinking any alcohol, getting enough rest, staying on top of work, yet at the end of said timeline, I would sometimes feel much worse than before I began.

I wish I could say that my novel’s upcoming release date has got me stoked, but I don’t feel any different. I’m in a happy relationship, my loved ones are doing well, and I am a rather healthy individual. Yet something still feels off.

Watching sunsets, meditating, and doing yoga has done little for my state of happiness as well. Where, then, do I have the power to control my feelings? Just how can I take the action I need to stop feeling this way?

Sometimes you gotta learn to live with it

Maybe I’m going about this the wrong way. Maybe it’s not finding a way to remove the pain. Maybe it’s about learning to exist alongside the challenges that come my way. Maybe all my pain comes from the futility of trying to find a solution to my pain, when I should actually find out how to best live with it.

In fact, wasn’t it Bukowski who said “What matters most is how well you walk through the fire”? Look back far enough and you’ll find similar quotes, like the one Buddha dropped: “Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.”

So does that give me an excuse to write this sorry excuse for a blog post this week? Does that grant me the permission to sleep in, like I’ve been doing these past few days? Is that a justifiable reason for pushing all my chores aside and not taking care of myself?

I really don’t know, to be honest. But at least I’m adhering to my once-a-week blogging schedule, and I guess that counts as a win.

And maybe I am feeling a little alone right now, but you know what? Maybe someone in the future will be able to relate, and in that sense, maybe my pain won’t seem like such a bad thing after all.

88 thoughts on “When You Can Barely Keep Your Head Above Water

  1. Who knew: You’re human. Me, I like to be reminded that it’s okay to not be okay once in a while. Can’t stand those who say they are “happy” all the time, because that’s a lie.

    • Oh yeah. Sometimes it’s just expectations that annoy me more than the actual emotions (e.g. shouldn’t I be happy?).

      Thanks so much for your support and for stopping by. I truly appreciate it!

    • I’m just thankful that people have found it relatable so far, because I was worried I was sounding a bit whiny there. Thanks so much for stopping by and adding your support!

  2. I’m trying to wipe the image of you doing yoga out of my head. Truly, I still get nightmares about those yoga classes where I just can’t do some sort of flamingo stretching position.
    Regardless, though, I truly love posts like the one you’ve just handed out. How you morph your words, so simply yet resulting in deep and meaningful writing.
    Very true, everything you said. We’re not all great, all the time. Sometimes I fell terrible (and no, it’s often not because I’ve devoured an XXL chocolate bar and got nauseous) and it’s okay.
    I can relate to most of what you said. Thanks for sharing!

    • Hahaha, I had a phase. I had a gym membership but the only thing I enjoyed doing were the group classes (as an introvert too! Who’d have thought), so spin and yoga. But yeah, it’s not as simple as I had thought.

      Thanks so much for your kind words. It really makes me feel warm to read comments like these!

  3. Stuart. Thank you for sharing such a raw and tender piece of yourself. You said none of us is special. I’d like to counter that and say that each of us is special. Including you. We are all unique and have a reason for being. Addictions like alcohol are a physical manifestation of an emotional or psychiatric challenge. Have you seen a doctor? I know that sounds trite and I don’t mean it like that but it certainly sounds like some depression is happening.
    Go easy on yourself. You deserve a break too. Good for you for sticking to your blog. Excellent. Please continue. ((hugs)) from Canada.

    • I did actually see someone, but we didn’t jive, so I’ve reverted to dealing with things on my own. On the plus side though, I’m feeling much better than the days leading up to this post, so there’s that.

      Thanks so much for stopping by and dropping meaningful comments as always, Faye! I appreciate it.

      • Hey Stuart. The fact that you’re open and honest about how you’re feeling says a lot and make me not worry about you as much. Though it may not be solved I think you’ll deal with it. You’re strong. Talk soon.

  4. I really identify with this. Like I can be working, married, talking to my family, going to the gym – all these things that look like happiness and success from the outside, but on the inside, it’s just a completely different story. I honestly wish I had a better answer for how to get out of it.
    Wishing you strength, resilience, and happiness.

    • Oh yeah. Sometimes I think I’m on a roll, but I end up just feeling real crappy sometimes, and I think the fact that I beat myself up over it makes things even worse. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts. It means a lot that you identify with it!

  5. I can totally relate to this feeling, especially in relation to career. I used to feel so envious of people that seemed to pick the right degree, the right grad program then gave stayed in the same area being able to work their way up with efficiency rather than my own meandering path. I think those people are pretty rare though, and I’ve never regretted leaving a role I’m not enjoying any more for one that I’m hoping to get more from.

    • Oh yeah. I too have never regretted making that leap at a chance for a better life, no matter how much of a mistake things turn out to be sometimes.

      Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts. I truly appreciate this!

  6. When I got the notification about your new post (this one), I read it all and before I did anything else…all I wanted to do was to reply to your post.

    First of all, this is not a ‘sorry excuse’.
    I am not one to judge because I don’t personally know you very well, and it has only been less than a year since I found out you online…but myself, I didn’t post anything for a few days.
    It is not like I did not post because I didn’t want to…and I don’t see it as a ‘block’.

    When I post something, I would somehow be led to find…that ‘trigger’, which would lead me into The Flow where all the words would come right out through me…to post something…and it doesn’t matter what others would criticize (if they would), because somehow, I would have the knowing and the feeling that the post is done and it is in the way that it should be…and I have no regret afterwards. It does feel like the postings that I do is like ‘work’, but I do it.

    Usually when I don’t post for more than a few days, it is because of a transition that I am going through.
    The only obstacle that I have to face regularly these days…is ‘doubt’ because when it comes to me, there is no thought of ‘self-doubt’, but just a feeling…or something very silent.

    Things like ‘self-loathing’, I am completely against that and the worst experience that I remember…is when a centre…a place of ‘certain teaching’ wanted to teach everyone about the effects of ‘thinking positive about yourself’ versus ‘thinking negative about yourself’.
    They were teaching it in a way of…something practical so everyone could experience it themselves, but every individual is different…and mine was deep, that the example of ‘hating myself’ even…I experienced myself physically choking.
    Of course I did share my experience with them, but I then vowed not to do like that ever again, even if it is to be an example…to show something to others.

    Here…are my words to you…from The Depths of My Heart:
    Hi, Stuart,
    This is me…saying hi
    for the sake of friendship;
    Ya know, we all tend to ask ‘why’
    for various reasons
    and we could always somehow relate to each other
    but for me…I remind myself that we are all specifically unique
    because internally, externally, our past, present, circle, and environment all together
    bring out a totally different life as a whole
    and even our way of life and our methods of dealing with everything
    show who and what we are;
    It is stated somewhere that we all will go far
    but not stated how…because we will pave that way ourselves;
    Your post shows one part of your journey
    and I want to be a part it…As A Form of Light;
    As A Person who won’t just click ‘Like’ and stay silently.

    Love, Kindness, and Light,
    Joker Green

    • Wow, you’ve always been one for poetry, and appreciate you even creating one for the purpose of this comment. Thanks so much for the support and thoughtful words!

      I have to admit, I felt way shittier when I wrote this post (I draft few days in advance) than I do today, but comments like yours do help in that regard as well. Thanks for this!

  7. I have been feeling the exact same…. Losing focus and lacking motivation to do the things that kept me on positive ground…. I’m trying to push forward, I know you will too!

  8. This post hit home so close on so many levels. When I fall into such cycles, I tend to binge (watch, eat, read, whatever) just to forget the reality, which is self-destructive, to be honest. It is always on and off, so yeah, it’s not really disappearing anytime soon, perhaps ever. So, the only way to deal with it is to deal with it in a way so that we can keep it in check. I at times try to put down the experience in words, journals, or blogs. It’s kinda like throwing up my thoughts out of my system that makes me feel lighter, I personally have a hard time expressing myself so being able to put my experience in words makes me feel organized just a little bit more. Also, I tend to make lists and try to follow them to declutter my thoughts. As you once said, action begets action. So, a little push is a huge catalyst for walking a mile. Of course, it’s never easy. Maybe Bukowski is right about this. My personal take on this is something like this: Ease comes with hardship. The more you are productive walking through this hardship, the more you’ll feel at ease (following and ticking my so-called list for myself, lol). Each people has a different way of figuring it out, I hope you’ve got yours. Thank you so much for this post and have a great day!

    • What Bukowski used to do was to hole himself up in a room for weeks to drink, and according to him, that helped him find his equilibrium. Of course, we shouldn’t do that, because that’s just destructive, but it’s interesting seeing how other people deal with it.

      I’m grateful that you took the time to drop this comment. It’s great to not feel alone, which you definitely helped in. I’m honoured that it struck a chord with you enough to share. Thanks again! I appreciate you!

  9. As Jessie J sings, “it’s okay not to be okay.” I get how it can feel, especially when people tell you ‘other people have it worse’ and it just makes you feel doubly terrible like what is wrong with me why do i feel this way lol. But at the end of the day, I try to take it as a ‘this too shall pass thing” (works for me most of the time, you might have a different approach :)) It probably won’t go away, but it’ll get better. And like you said, we all have to find a way to learn to live with it.

    Hope you feel better soon!

    • Am definitely feeling much better these days (I draft in advance, so all this crappiness actually took place last week), but I’m definitely feeling a boost from all the support such as your comment. Thanks so much for the well wishes, Eris!

  10. Stuart, anytime I see a post from you in my inbox, I know it’s going to be something meaningful, funny, or helpful. Your writing style is so compelling; sometimes it feels like we’re actually talking in person.
    Like this thing you said (sorry; I mean this thing you wrote): “I now find myself standing before my old friends: doubt, pessimism, fear, and doom. That’s it. They just decided to show up.”
    That straightforward thought expresses something probably every human has experienced, but putting it into words is not everyone’s gift. It totally is yours. Because that’s exactly how it feels.
    I think by inviting others into your story you are actually showing love.
    Everything passes away except faith, hope, and love. And love is the greatest.
    Your old friends are all cowards– all talk, all smoke and mirrors. Get them into the ring with faith, hope, and love, and they will tap out. ;-)

    • Wow. What a top-tier comment. You’ve definitely put up one of the most thoughtful comments of all time, and I really appreciate your kind words, as you see the things I typically neglect to see myself. Thanks again so much for stopping by!

  11. I wish you the best, Stuart, as you work your way through this. I think it is good that you have your blog as a release and a constant. I have also found the WordPress community to be a wonderful one to be part of…

  12. I’m sorry you are experiencing this but I’m sending lots of positivity your way and I hope you feel better soon. I struggle with anxiety and depression and some days are just tougher than others. Don’t feel pressured to always be upbeat and write a post every week- write what you feel even if it’s not something super positive or upbeat. And of course all of us in the WP community are always here for you if you ever need to talks!

    • Aww, this was such a warm post. I must admit, I didn’t expect all the support (including your amazing one), and it did actually help me get over the fact that this week’s post was nothing but a whine fest. Thanks so much for this. I appreciate it!

  13. Sorry to hear you’re feeling this way. I think depression is always a thing that comes around from time to time, more or less often depending on the person, and is never really cured. I think the best we can hope for is to develop ways of thinking and coping that help us ride the wave until it goes back out to sea. For me, I learned to get sick of it and all that it entails. So when it comes around and lets itself in, I know it’s only visiting, not moving in, because I’m simply sick of it and don’t want to go through the whole process of it again. I know what’s gonna happen if I give in and I’ve come too far to throw it all away. So I just hang out with it until it leaves. I know you feel like you wrote a throwaway post but really it isn’t, it’s honesty, and that’s worth a lot, just as much as anything else. Don’t feel like a fraud because you write inspirational content even though you feel like crap. If anything I think feeling bad can produce some of the best inspirational content because you know where you want to be and are writing the map of how to get there. You’re self-aware of how you’re feeling and that’s half the battle. Hope you feel better. PS stay away from the bottle.

    • Super thoughtful post as usual, Hetty. I’m feeling much better now, and yeah, I’m also blessed enough to be driven by fear of my impostor syndrome, so that’s enough to drive me out of bed and to work, which actually does help me find my centre.

      I too have been trying to learn how to hang out with my feelings instead of ignoring or pushing them away. Maybe I can come to terms with unwanted visitors dropping by once in a while (which reflects my disdain for unwanted visitors in real life).

      I totally appreciate your kind words, Hetty, and they’ve definitely helped me feel better. Thanks for stopping by once again!

  14. Stuart, I feel you man! You’re not alone. Trust me. It’s the lot assigned to all creatives. And you’re definitely a creative, so take heart. And when the resistance gets too much, go read Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art. Or just binge on Netflix. No shame. No guilt. No judgment. You’ll get to where you’re meant to. I’m sure of it!

  15. Hang in there, buddy. I’m sure you’re gonna get through this soon!
    It’s good that you have this blog as an outlet for your emotions, and feel free to write whatever you feel like writing. If it becomes too much to handle, then its take 100% okay to take a break and relax. We all need it at some point, right?

  16. This is very relatable, so thanks for being vulnerable! It’s good to set an example of honesty – even having good habits and mantras will not keep us from having times of sadness, unhappiness, or suffering – it’s human. But I do count it as a win for you to have kept up with your weekly blog post in spite of that! And even if you didn’t, that would be ok too.

    • Aww, I really appreciate you taking the time to type out this thoughtful comment. And I’m not good with expressing feelings in real life so I feel that having a blog does help balance things out a little. Thanks for your support, Ruth!

  17. I’m right there with you. When someone tells you “I could have written this,” then you have done a good thing despite, or maybe using, your low points. I feel the same about alcohol. I feel better and do better without it but then things creep up even though life is great. Thank you for this.

  18. I think we have these moments. I used to feel so guilty about it until I heard a very prominent speaker Steven Furtick say, “Do you think I always feel like getting up here to preach…if I only did this when I felt like it, you’d only hear from me like three or four times a year.” I felt so relieved. I can still love something and not always feel like doing it…

    • Oh yeah. I think that pretty much sums up my life. The reason why I do some things is because I have obligations, and if I were to do things based on my feelings, I’d barely get anything done.

      So there are the pros and cons to that.

      Thanks so much for your insightful comment. I appreciate it!

  19. Thank you for sharing this. I’m new to WP and blogging and stumbled across you while familiarising myself with navigation. I’m glad I did and will be subscribing.

    I enjoyed the reminder “suffering is optional”, and think you’re exactly right, sometimes I think we all need to take a break from walking the tightrope of being our best selves, and probably what we need to do is accept and even enjoy that time, rather than try to define or fix it.

    Thanks again

    • I totally appreciate you subscribing and taking the time to browse the site. Love your comment too.

      Yeah, accepting and enjoying the moment is probably what we all should be doing, but it’s much harder in practice I’ve found.

      Btw, just a heads up, I can’t seem to visit your site that’s in your profile, maybe a broken link or something?

      • Thanks for pointing that out Stuart, I hope I’ve found the problem but it’s still linking to the wrong address from my previous comment, so wonder if an old comment maintains the old link. I’ll test it on this one when I’ve posted. Then will keep trying if not.

        Today I decided to acknowledge and embrace my funk today, decided to take myself out for a walk in the sunshine, rather than try and push through. I definitely felt better afterwards.

      • It works now!

        In some ways, you did push through, in that you went for a walk instead of moping at home. I need to follow your footsteps (ha) and do the same when I feel the funk.

        Great to know that you’re feeling better!

  20. It would be nice if there was an app that warned us before our inner demons showed up. It always feels like those dark moments pop up out of nowhere, sometimes without even any obvious explanation. And I think you’re right about giving yourself a little leeway to imperfectly continue on. After all, we only add to those feelings if we beat ourselves up for not performing at maximum constantly.

    • Lol yeah. Sometimes it does feel exactly like when I’m reading a book on a sunny day, then the rainclouds roll in, and I only realise how dark it is when it gets too dark to read, and I look up and think ‘Whoa, that’s dark’.

      These bad feels can feel exactly like that.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts, and I’m glad that you can relate!

  21. “In real life, however, just because you take all the right steps doesn’t mean you get the rewards.”

    I feel like this is what it all boils down to. We like to think (and many areas of society insists) that you simply have to do X thing and everything will be great. But life (even outside of our emotions) isn’t that clean-cut and logical. There will be bad days (or even weeks or longer). And pretending that it’s completely avoidable is silly. Life doesn’t work like that.

    And for anyone who disagrees… well, congrats on being an exception.

    • Oh yeah. While we try to make the most out of our lives, we should take into account that just because we dedicate all our free time to pursuing our goals, doesn’t mean we’re entitled to a happy ending.

      The trick is knowing what you’ll be happy doing, even if things don’t work out. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  22. Baby steps Stuart, Baby steps! When I start feeling down and out about myself, I think of my eldest son who passed a year ago tomorrow at age 59, or my kid brother who has been dealing with Parkinson’s disease for years now. What does this tell me? Time to pull myself up by my bootstraps and face another day with a more positive attitude. Things could be a lot worse! As my mother used to say “And this to shall pass!” Good post.

  23. You wrote “this shabby blog post.” Nope. It’s the one I identify with most. It reverberates. What you describe occurs cyclically in my life as well. I’ve lived through it for decades and know it will pass and also return. And ebb again. Not much helps. Just the passage of time and new experiences and demands laid down over the present. You’re a great writer. I always look forward to your posts. Lida

    • Wow, that’s a mighty fine comment you’ve left here, Lida. I really appreciate you taking the time to post such a well thought-out comment. It’s great to know that I’m not alone, and that’s exactly what you made me feel today :)

      Thanks once more and do drop by again anytime!

  24. These times always come when we least expect it…the one thing that will keep you going is what you’ve faced before and overcomed… when these days come…I like it to see it this way…that one can’t be made whole until they’re broken…..keep going…you got this staurt and thanks for sharing this

    • What a great message! Am loving your quote in that people can’t be made whole until they’re broken. It does put things in perspective indeed. Thanks so much for stopping by!

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