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How I Pulled Myself out of A Gigantic Rabbit Hole of Sadness

How I Pulled Myself out of A Gigantic Rabbit Hole of Sadness

Note: This article deals with temporary sadness that comes as a result of an event, not a serious condition such as clinical depression. The following tips helped me immensely, but they may or may not work for you. I am not qualified to give mental health advice.

For the past three weeks, I haven’t been in the best headspace.

A few days after returning home from vacation, it hit me that my relationship really was over, and that my time in college and in Florida was coming to an end. I’d like to say that I handle change well, but in this case I didn’t. I freaked the fuck out.

When the panic subsided, I was left with a feeling of sadness and loneliness that seemed like it would last forever. For a few awful days, it seemed like all I was doing was lying in bed, literally crying over things I couldn’t control. That gave way to a miserable apathy — I wasn’t actively “sad” anymore, but I stopped caring about things that had previously made up my world.

Life knocked on my door and said I was missing the party, and I told it to fuck off. I didn’t want to do work. I didn’t want to study self-improvement. I didn’t want to write, or shoot photos. I didn’t want to talk to anybody.

For someone who was used to being on the go all the time and finding joy in having a full schedule, this was terrifying. I was letting my life slip away. None of my usual methods of feeling better were working — not Stoicism, not throwing myself into my projects, not hanging out with friends.

Intellectually, I knew I had a choice about how I felt. Intellectually, I knew that my perceptions were the only thing that were keeping me from moving forward. Intellectually, I had a bright future ahead of me and should keep moving forward. Somehow, though, I couldn’t intellect my way out of this situation.

However, I am a problem-solver at heart. There’s nothing I hate more than not doing something about a situation. I realized that, if I wanted to be back up and moving again, I would have to take care of my emotional health before anything else.

So I gave myself permission to be sad. It’s okay to feel like shit. Right now, we don’t have to worry about your other work. The only goal is to feel better, I repeated to myself whenever I started to panic that my work was slipping. I cut down on things that I could take a break from — like blogging — and took the time to just let myself be.

It ultimately took three weeks from when I first started feeling sad to the time I finally began to enjoy myself again. I didn’t immediately feel better; this was a three-week process and I used all of these methods over and over again.

I timeboxed my wallowing

The world doesn’t revolve around me; there was still work that I couldn’t push off my plate. The thing about being ridiculously down in the dumps was that I wanted to stay there — I felt resistance every time I was about to start work, even though I knew that working would make me feel better. And then the work would go painfully slowly, because the sadness would still be there like an annoying younger sibling in the background, begging for my attention.

I mitigated this by timeboxing my wallowing — that is, saying to myself, “Okay, I give myself twenty more minutes to mope, and then I’m going to work on my thesis for an hour.” Five minutes before I had to do work, I would get myself into a work mindset — I reminded myself of why I was doing this work, and how my sadness was temporary, but the progress I was making was forever. I would read motivational articles if I had to. And then it was off to the races. Once the allocated time was up, I absolutely refused to wallow any more.

At first, the work would be painful. Most of the time, my mind would still be distracted, but each time it wanted to pull me away, I would firmly bring it back to the task at hand, kind of like what people do during meditation. Eventually, after enough reprimanding and guidance, my mind would fall into the Zone.

I read fiction as escapism

I love to read. To me, other people’s lives have always been fascinating — especially if they’re not exactly real. In elementary, middle, and high school, my mom would take me to the library each week, where I’d fill a giant tote bag to the brim with novels of all different genres. I’m talking 10+ books here. By the end of the week, I’d have read through all of them, no matter how thick they were. (I often skipped recess and after-school activities to read, which obviously made me super popular with all the other kids. I regret nothing.)

When I got to college, I declared a double major and spent most of my time doing classwork and extracurricular activities, and those long afternoons with books became a distant memory. If I did read, it was nonfiction or self-help.

But here I was now, moping around. Even in this state, the last thing I wanted to do was mindlessly watch Netflix and waste my days away. If I had to indulge in passive escapism, I was going to do it my way, goddammit. I started browsing the Amazon Kindle library and the book selection at Target (which are really good, if you haven’t checked them out yet).

And, wow. This was probably one of the best things I’d done for my mental health in a long time. I indulged in fiction like I imagine others indulge in large tubs of Ben & Jerry’s. I binge-read whenever I wasn’t working or letting myself feel sad.

In addition to distracting me for a few hours, these books gave me a sense of perspective. Fiction may not be “real”, per se, but the feelings and situations described in them often are or could be. Reading stories about others in similar or worse situations than myself made me realize how good I had it, and brought about a sense of gratefulness rather than misery. [1]

I treated myself as a friend would/journaled regularly

If a friend had come to me and described what they were feeling, I wouldn’t give them shit about how they weren’t being productive and how being sad wasn’t helping — I would first help them feel better, and then focus on getting to the root cause and solving the problem. I realized that looking at myself through the eyes of someone else helped me a) get out of my own head about my shit, and b) approach my condition in a more objective manner.

I bought a new pack of gel pens that smoothly glided across the page, took my ass to a scenic spot where I could concentrate, and got to writing in my journal. A lot. I wrote about what I was feeling, strategies I could use to stop feeling that way, ideas I had about the future … whatever was on my mind at the moment. I wrote in the first, second, and third person. I gave advice to myself. I gave myself pep talks like I was my own life coach.

It sounds really dorky, but it worked, and going back and reading those entries still makes me smile.

I got into spirituality

I was raised in an athiest household, where religion and spirituality were dismissed as a way for people to justify not taking control of their lives. As a result, I was highly skeptical of anything that looked even remotely woo-woo — the Universe? Higher powers? Energy and vibrations? Yeah, no. I was a rational being, and I refused to indulge in any of it.

One day, I was browsing the book section at Target and I noticed that there was one copy of The Alchemist left. I’ve heard a lot of good things about this book over the years, and it had been on the reading list for my 52 Weeks of Momentum course. Why not? I thought, and picked it up.

I wouldn’t say that this book totally changed my life, but it changed my perspective and beliefs about a lot of things, which is pretty much the same thing, no? Spirituality and certain practices have been around for a lot longer than modern science and psychology has, and I’m a big believer in doing whatever works. Maybe these people were onto something.

I still largely pick and choose what I believe in, but I started having an open mind to different ideas. I’m currently working my way through this list of books in no particular order (right now, I’m reading The Four Agreements, and I have to stop at least twice on every page to write quotes in my journal. It’s some powerful stuff!). If something is too out there for me, I take the time to think it over. If I still don’t agree with the idea, I simply disregard it.

Having an open mind to spirituality and other “alternative” healing practices played a huge role in making me feel better. I would probably still be sad right now if not for these concepts.

I ate healthy foods and slept early

To be honest — during this time, when it came to staying healthy, the last thing I wanted to do was take care of myself. I wanted to drink unlimited Icees and stuff myself with cookies and stay up until 4 AM reading Internet conspiracies. However, I’d begun to eat healthy, and had stuck to a 10:30 PM sleep/5 AM wake up schedule for the entire second semester. I refused to sink the ship I had worked so hard to build, no matter how bad I felt about myself.

I made it easy — I simply made it a rule that I had to go to bed at 10:30 PM, like my mom had made me do when I was a kid. I was a little bit more lenient with myself in the morning, but I still had to get up before 8 AM. When it came to eating healthy, I allowed myself one unhealthy non-soda [2] drink every other day, and bought a tray of cookies that I shared with my roommates. I indulged, but I did so in a very controlled manner, and I was able to stay physically healthy through this time.

Conclusion

The past three weeks were not a happy time of my life; it was the one dark period of the year that took me almost completely by surprise. However, I’m really grateful that it happened, and even more grateful that I was able to snap out of it. I am now a lot more in touch with myself and can see even more clearly why self-care is so important. I like myself a hell of a lot more than I did before this happened.

Sometimes, saying “sadness is temporary” and rationalizing your way out doesn’t work. It can be super scary (as it was for me) if you’re used to solving your problems a certain way. If you don’t feel up to par for whatever reason, remember that it’s okay to prioritize emotional health. Once you feel up to a task, that’s when you can be truly effective. ♚

Notes

[1] Studies show that reading does improve shitty moods, no matter how severe: it reduce subjects’ stress levels by 68%.

[2] I cut soda from my diet completely, and refused to let myself regress at all in this department. By “unhealthy” drinks, I mean Icees, Slurpees, alcoholic beverages, et cetera. They’re just as bad as — if not worse than — soda, but I’m a stubborn-ass motherfucker about specific things, and sticking to my no-soda diet is one of those things.

View Comments (2)
  • Thanks for the good read, Mimi. I too have just started the rise from the perceived ashes of an ended relationship. (As you know ?) Thanks for your perspective. Keep writing

    • @ Kevin — Solidarity with you during this time! It sucks … but honestly, I’ve never objectively felt better in my life. I had no idea what “emotional health” really meant before I was forced to confront my feelings, and now I don’t have to be afraid of them anymore. It’s pretty awesome. Hope you’re doing well!

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