What do you do when you’re unhappy?

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” —Viktor Frankl

I am not unhappy as of this writing. Maybe a teensy bit frustrated, but it’s a transitory feeling that can be traced directly to the bottom of my right foot where there is something hurting from our vacation. Most definitely annoying, but not even close to first world problems.

This morning I got up early and went to the gym. I figured it might not be that busy before 10 a.m. on a Saturday morning AND a holiday weekend. I was mostly right, although I expect it was about as busy at it is most Saturday mornings. And as luck would have it, trainer J was also there doing his workout. These trainer people must have a sixth sense, because every time I wander in at an odd hour believing our pathways will not cross he’s there. Ugh. Last thing I want is to be struggling through something new and have him stumble across me and feel compelled to correct his awkward student before she develops yet another bad habit.

Still, there are worse things in life. I find my social anxiety about the gym in particular makes going there a make myself do it level of activity. Seeing a friendly face is only bad because it was unexpected, and I can overcome it. What disturbed me more was when one of the other trainers working in the same area suddenly turned up the music for a 3-person group she was working with. When my already loud music blaring in my headphones has to be turned up to overcome the speakers in the room, distraction is a mild word to use describe the atmosphere. I ended up cutting my workout short and even forgot to put away a piece of equipment I had been using (which probably disturbs me even more than anything else about the whole day).

But before all that, I had been pondering a conversation with a very unhappy friend. Life is difficult right now – her marriage is crumbling, she is underemployed, and her youngest child is struggling with addiction. For anyone, this is a lot to handle all at once. She has started counseling, but anyone who has been through it knows (1) it’s hard, and (2) relief is not necessarily immediate. The financial stress of that care is also a factor, unfortunately.

Like so many of us, she is an emotional eater and confessed to gaining nearly 60 lbs. in the last year. This only adds to her unhappiness and overall health stress, being that she was well over 200 lbs. (at 5’5″ tall) to begin with. Her distress is palatable, and it seems all I could do was listen to her vent and cry and wish I had some magic to make her feel better.

I started this post on Saturday (above) and finished and posted it on Sunday (below).

The conversation brought so many personal, private thoughts and feelings back to my immediate reality. It affects me when people close to me hurt in such real ways, and I so want to be able to offer some measure of comfort or peace. Even just convincing reassurance that things will get better, because it is my firm belief things always do get better. There seems a time and a place for happy talk, though, and this was not the conversation for it. This was the time for doing the best listening available to stop her bleeding pain. Only I went away feeling vastly under equipped to do anything except listen.

My habits when I have been unhappy have been to overeat bad foods and when single, seek out the wrong types of company. I know precisely what type of person is very bad for me and seem to be drawn to them moth-to-flame, and resistance is futile in that state of mind. Through the years I have learned some methods for coping in healthier ways, and I continue pressing forward with seeking out new behaviors to substitute for others. I still eat bad food – I have a running list of comfort foods that should be permanently banished from my diet as useless, harmful products – and seem perpetually vulnerable to it when I am feeling emotionally vulnerable or frustrated or upset.

I wish to be better about my own behavioral responses to distress and unhappiness. From firsthand experience I know it is not easy to modify a lifetime of bad habits and make better choices in our lowest moments. We just have to keep trying.

Like yesterday’s gym experience, a very low-level distress. I came home and did a lot of the floor exercises I did not complete and followed up with several sets of other things J has taught me. Eating poorly was not much of an option in that I have had no appetite the past week or so, a strange side effect of cutting out all snacking, sticking to 3 meals daily, and working at gaining physical strength. I also had snappish interaction with M and found myself wishing he would STFU and leave me in peace to my own pursuits – completely unfair, but I try to be real about who I am, even the less pleasant parts.

I will keep trying, and I have to accept I will not always succeed perfectly. Unfortunately unhappiness happens. I only hope to choose wisely when faced with the choice yet again.

8 thoughts on “What do you do when you’re unhappy?

  1. I wish I knew the answer; I have struggled with this question for most of my adult life and tried everything I can possibly think of. Emotional eating is my go-to and I’m miserable in my very overweight body. I have started counseling again in a last-ditch effort to feel better, but as you say it is hard at first.

    • Kaye, I completely understand the cycle you feel so stuck in, and my heart goes out to you. My best advice (which I try hard to take myself) is to be kind to yourself as you struggle through it. Through my lifetime I have been through various counseling and other therapies and know the help and coping solutions they offer can help. But it’s hard. I’m currently working out weekly with a personal trainer, trying to learn physical training skills to reshape my body and in the process reawaken coping skills I learned previously to reshape my attitude and my mind. It’s a lot of work, but you can do it.

  2. Eat and spend money – my two “go-to” self destructive behaviors when i am unhappy. Neither really fills the hole – and in the end make me more unhappy. I am learning that there is no bargaining either – buy one thing or eat just these chips – I will eat or shop myself physically ill. So I keep trying and sometimes just wallow – but w/o eating/shopping – just let myself feel sad/unhappy. There were a few times on this vacation when the temptation was overwhelming (a visit with a friend was very difficult – they were unsupportive of my work and my new exercise – and dealing with that made me extremely upset – especially since one of the things they did was try to tempt me to eat treats even when I said no). I wasn’t perfect by any means – but you are right -we must be kind to ourselves – and others – and know that we can keep going even if we revert to the bad habits occasionally.

    On a lighter note I had my first post vacation workout – trainer D didn’t take much pity on me (ok none) – but I am glad I did exercise when I was away or it would have been so much worse!

    • Friends and sabotage is an awful thing to cope with, and I am so sorry you had to cope with that while on vacation. Still, I’m extraordinarily proud of you for standing your ground and keeping the faith while away. It’s hard – I was pretty darn imperfect with both diet and exercise while we were in Seattle – but it’s impossible to describe how peaceful and relieved I was to be back on Thursday and working out with J again. I was also frustrated – those bear planks are so HARD and I felt like a complete loser – but I did try and know I am making progress, albeit slow, infinitely tiny little increments forward. If only I can overcome my social phobia about going to the gym and quietly doing my workouts without be hyper-aware of everyone around me life would be simpler.
      You would have been disappointed if trainer D was not his usual self with an appropriate level of tough love for you on return.

  3. I sleep and drink and smoke. When things have been very bad for me, I could barely climb out of bed to go to work. When things are bad but not that bad, I tend to get very crabby and a bitch to be around. My husband gently calls me on it but it can be a very nasty cycle.

    • I completely understand the nasty cycle of crabby and bitchy. My poor husband has to cope with toxic levels of snark from me from time to time, which leads to fights I don’t want to have if he would just let it be until I get over it. Ah well. After this long together I suppose our patterns of behavior are pretty well set.

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