Ask this, and see your world in a better way

 African-American man thinking about mental health

Do you ever feel uncomfortable?

Not physically uncomfortable — but mentally and emotionally uncomfortable?

Do you feel that you’re on edge, that the slightest thing might set you off?

But you can’t quite identify what that thing is — or why you feel that way in the first place?

Or maybe you are in a foul mood? The kind of mood that pushes others away when all you want is for them to draw near and ask you what’s wrong?

Emotions are misshapen, much like the descriptions we try to apply to them.

Feelings can’t be easily described, so society gives you terms that are supposed to do the trick.

Words like “happy” and “sad.

These are words that are too simple to be of any use.

But they are the words that society gives you.

The mass media provides you with images and videos that tell you to be happy or sad. But if you don’t fit into that binary, then where does that leave you?

Well, where does it?

It leaves you for grasping for language when you don’t have it to begin with.

It’s not your fault.

The world tries to make people fit into neat categories.

If you’re not a winner, you’re a loser.

If you’re not happy at work, you’re sad and unfulfilled.

If you’re not working as hard as you can, then you’re not working hard enough.

Where’s the middle ground?

Where’s the gray area?

I propose a revolutionary idea: I believe we need to be asking more questions.

Like this one, to be precise:

What is this feeling?

When you ask yourself this question, you create space between you and what you are feeling.

You become the person who is feeling something.

That seems safer, doesn’t it?

More relaxed?

Good, it should feel that way.

American society thinks you need to know who you are and what you are at all times.

We define people by their job titles, for crying out loud.

“Here’s my friend Nick. He’s an engineer.”

That’s nice. But what does Nick think about when he is not at work?

Does he consider his work his defining attribute?

What are Nick’s hopes and dreams?

Are they the same ones he had when he was a kid?

When you don’t ask yourself questions, you don’t search for answers.

And so you accept whatever you are told to believe and to feel.

We need nuance. We need more space in our lives to wonder and to ask ourselves questions.

If you don’t examine what you believe and who you are, how will you know if you are heading in the right direction?

You may fall down this hole I’m about to describe.

You’ll keep going, keep pushing, until you get into an extreme state

Doing anything too much without pausing to think is going to produce an extreme state, which will lead to extreme thoughts and feelings.

This has happened to me. I’m sure it has happened to you at some point.

Consider one American past-time: being a workaholic.

It’s a source of pride in this country. It doesn’t matter if you are busy or appear busy — it’s all the same thing.

It doesn’t matter what you are busy doing.

The important thing is to occupy all your waking hours with work.

This can lead you to do so much work all the time that there is no time to think.

Such an abundance of work that you learn to yearn for the weekend, and for the holidays, and for the socially prescribed times when you can relax.

Does this sound like you?

It doesn’t have to be that way.

You can put yourself first.

You can trust your instincts.

When you were a kid, you likely did that all the time.

If you felt like doing something, you just did it. Not because you were forced to do it, but because you were genuinely curious about it.

But now it’s work, work, work.

Being busy without questioning anything — without questioning the meaning of it all.

If you do this for too long, for too much at once, it becomes impossible to bear.

The body can only handle so much.

But stopping to ask why is refreshing.

It’s a long drink of water after an hour out in the sun.

Asking yourself questions gives you a chance to better know who you are and what you’re made of.

And real courage comes from asking questions

It is not courageous to do what everyone else is doing.

It is courageous to ask yourself how you’re feeling.

Be kind to yourself. If you can learn to stop once in a while and ask yourself how you are doing, you’ll realize a few things.

1. You’ll find that you’ll get to know yourself better.

2. You’ll develop awareness about the situations that are good for your mental and emotional health and situations that are detrimental to your health.

3. You’ll notice which relationships sap your energy instead of lifting you up.

4. You’ll identify opportunities to be proactive with your time rather than reactive.

5. And you’ll find that your emotional vocabulary grows.

When you ask “What is this feeling?” you will have more than just “happy” or “sad” to respond with.

You might have “annoyed” or “anxious” or “disappointed” or, even, “disgruntled.”

You might also have “exhilarated” or “intrigued” or “nostalgic.”

Who knows?

But the only way you won’t know is if you don’t give yourself permission to slow down.

To ask the important questions.

So, who are you?

What are you feeling?

When is the last time you asked yourself that?

It might be exactly how society, your family, your coworkers, and your friends say that you’re feeling.

But then again, your answer might surprise you.

 

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Jordan BrownComment