Getting through the lows — R Voice

Getting through the lows

Shaimaa Doma
Shaimaa Doma Member Posts: 6 ✭✭✭
edited October 2021 in Self-care & Wellbeing

I remembered this comic from the Facebook page "Incidental Comics", that resonated with me.

Being at such a low point, it is hard to reach out, when It feels like there's nothing anybody can do or say to get me out of this hole I'm in. But after withdrawing for a while, this felt like the right place to let this out.

I'm trying to find a solution to a problem only I can (and have to) solve, and it's making me feel stuck and question the very reason I'm here, pursuing a long-term goal on my own, while others working in the industry just get chunks of work to tick off every couple of days. I'm sure there are going to be better days, but I'm tired of this roller-coaster ride. I'm not asking to remain at a high, just not to fall into this pit over and over and over again.

But at times like this, it's a relief to see my current state so accurately expressed in a cartoon. Maybe my attempts and struggles to get out are counterproductive. Maybe all I have to do is roll up in a ball (mentally) and wait for it to pass.

What do you do to get through your lows, when affirmative or motivational talk seems too positive?


  • Raj sundaram
    Raj sundaram Member Posts: 322 ✭✭✭✭
    edited May 2021

    Dear @Shaimaa Doma ...

    Thank you for sharing this with us. And for being open about your roller coaster ride.

    I'd like to thank you for putting your experience into words with so much nuance! Wish I had the talent to...when I was in my dark dark hole of my specific circumstances...🙂

    All I could do was cry myself to sleep...for years. 🙂

    Several things... can be hard to reach out. You have reached out to this a way. Even though you have posted this after your withdrawal and as re-emergence (?). That said....even if you reach out it can be hard to get an appropriate response. I didn't... because wrong people, wrong time, wrong place. Reaching out broadly to maximize your chances of getting a helpful response might be one way..

    I kinda disagree with "only you can find a solution...". In hindsight ...while no one can find a solution for you all the time, sometimes (many times... actually) people can help you in your finding the path.

    Sometimes, people can chip in and help see things in a new light. And that might help you find the solution by "yourself".

    The fact is all our thoughts, actions, motivations, demotivations have a definite external component.

    So...while finding the solution for your problems, it might be helpful to open yourself, unless you have to protect yourself because you happen to be in an unhelpful environment...this also can happen. Sometimes, some need space and individuals to problem solve...or simply rest....this is more so for introverts for whom interactions can be draining.

    (This is why in a way "laziness", procrastination and clinical depression are often survival mechanisms...people cocoon and rest. It's not the rest we choose consciously...alas.)

    About you wondering "why am I here, what the hell am I doing....", I think we all...most reasonable and intelligent people...go through what I'd like to call "birth pangs" of making sense of and accepting what we want, what we get, what we can and can't control. This process of doubt, getting lost, and introspection is vital to grow as a human and a scientist...

    However this needs to be "controlled combustion". Not a raging fire that is going to burn down the forest! This is far as you have a support net, some free time to stuff you like, some empathy, a pair of ears that listens and responds humanely...

    I understand you have a long term goal. The fact is life is unpredictable. Goals change. We change. Sometimes, things don't work out. And I think it is very important to come to a point of being accepting, staying curious, open...while sticking to your value set.

    Going against popular self-help "you can control everything if you follow this or that formula"....having tried out everything from affirmations to opinion is no one can train themselves into acceptance (in the Buddhist sense...acceptance is not folding and giving up). It will be contrived, even if one tries to train. This is an organic process. Life forges like a, me, all of us in this direction, inevitably. (some gems of wisdom...amidst lots of laughter...highly recommend his other commencement speeches too, just to see the trajectory of how an intelligent human has wisened over years..🙂)

    Positive affirmations don't work. Sorry to break the spell.

    Rational...questioning humans are not robots to be programmed. That's not how the human brain works. Telling yourself lies again and again about a world of unicorns and rainbows in the present or future, while living in hell or a world of not unicorns and rainbows is not just naiveness, it is untruth, worse dangerous. I for one don't like lies. I am also not into wishful thinking.

    Besides, the "negative" emotions are tuned by serve a good purpose. Of course, it is hard to see that when we as "advanced" societies think that anything but happy is disordered (and hence a DSM manual thick enough to stop a bullet), at the same time stripping away everything essential for a less dramatic life (good air, good water, meaningful deep human relationships and having a tribe to bank on in times of hardship, time for leisure, doing nothing, etc...)

    In any my limited life experience, I found (the hard way) that working on the basis of reality and truth...however hard and complex that may be leads to at least an honourable...real sense of peace within. Even in a storm, even through terrible pain.

    On the same note: I'd urge you to look up toxic positivity. I believe that positivism has been taken out of context, sold as self help...and that has only led to many becoming less empathetic and less mutually supportive humans, spurring a DIY hyperindividualism that is making us lonely and act in self sabotaging ways as human individuals and communities.

    (I always recommend Adam Curtis's...century of the self for this...)

    Answering your actual question: What do I do through my lows?

    I have learnt to try to accept reality, the contradictions and tradeoffs of our world...internal and external, the possibilities as well as limitations. It can be painful. But we can do things to mitigate that pain. Friends, family, yoga, painting, music...your guitar, pets, whatever else....mitigate the pain.

    Ps. "while others working in the industry just get chunks of work to tick off every couple of days."

    Often some very good, and meaningful for the real world work gets done in the industry. Ticking off few days of work fits into the big picture of making an actual product that people are going to use in one way or another. Many industries (even if it is to make profit) have a solid long term strategy...which I might hazard to say...universities lack. Both have advantages and disadvantages.

    Of course, there are caveats to being a cog in the wheel. But that cog is important. There are occupational hazards to being a cog.

    Existentialism...mucking in troughs and finding a gem one day, if that day ever comes.... is one of the occupational hazards of work. In some ways.

    But...there are many middle ways, side routes, exit strategies. Many ways to think and constructively contribute in science/research.

    If you'd like to expound on your specific circumstances (your goal, what's the obstacle, etc.)...may be we all can think together and find a way that may (or may not 😉) work. 🙂

    Not sure if all this is relevant to your post. Hope some of it is. And hope a lot of it doesn't sound like mumbo jumbo.

    Ps2. Welcome to life. 🙂

    PS3. Also, not everything has to make sense. Not everything in life happens for a reason...most of it is a story we construct to "feel in control or feel it makes sense..."

    Confronting, realising, acknowledging and trying to accept this also goes a long way.

  • Soumi Paul
    Soumi Paul Member Posts: 162 ✭✭✭✭

    I am an emotionally expressive person so, I spit out whatever emotions arise in me. When it is about low feelings, I go with the flow if I feel like crying. Then, I usually express emotions through paintings. It helps to heal somewhat.

    Communication is the key to thriving! 😊

  • Shaimaa Doma
    Shaimaa Doma Member Posts: 6 ✭✭✭

    Thank you so much, @Raj sundaram , for your wise and insightful response. I'm touched that you took the time and put so much thought into it. 🌼 There are several passages that I've reread and will have to put some more thought into. It certainly isn't mumbo jumbo to me. 😉

    I also appreciate your offer to think about a solution together, but it's just an error in my code which I have to find. I'm basing a whole paper on the functionality of my program, just to notice, with half of the paper already written, that it's not doing what it should, and there's immense time pressure to finish this publication soon. You're right though that self-isolation at work isn't helpful in this regard, for maybe a colleague could have an idea on how to look for the issue differently. I realized today that, while trying to keep my free-time activities running in the past weeks, work struggles have become a burdensome one-person task - until the volcano erupted. Because I usually don't expect people to understand, or even If they do, to not strike me with a positivity portion and then accuse me of not wanting to feel better.

    "The fact is life is unpredictable. Goals change. We change. Sometimes, things don't work out. And I think it is very important to come to a point of being accepting, staying curious, open...while sticking to your value set." - I find this a bit scary to think about. Sure, our current goals have evolved from our past ones, so maybe we were meant to go through this development. But seeing how much we wanted things and worked hard towards them, just to "change our minds" sometime later, makes me unsure about whether I really want what I think I do. Maybe this is another thing where acceptance is needed, to trust and follow along the path that might make no sense but is the best "educated decision" we can make with our current mindset, as naive as it may seem, in retrospect ...

  • Lidia Lins
    Lidia Lins Member Posts: 48 ✭✭✭

    Hi @Shaimaa Doma , there are a lot of "positive vibes" going on, which somehow affect us in a different way.

    We feel we have this need to be and feel positive all the time, that we are doing something wrong if that's not the case.

    It is important to validate what you are feeling, if it's either good or bad. Life is not about rainbows, it is about our experiences, which can feel good or bad. The most important is to pay attention to how you feel, how you are reacting to the situation, and investigate if you could react otherwise. We can sometimes not change what's going on in our lives, we can change the way we react to them. And reacting in a different way than we would like also takes time. Being gentle and kind to yourself can really help.

  • Soumi Paul
    Soumi Paul Member Posts: 162 ✭✭✭✭

    True that, @Lidia Lins. It is really to change reactions because the brain is so used to this usual pattern of reacting. But my tries are on. 🤞

    Communication is the key to thriving! 😊

  • Raj sundaram
    Raj sundaram Member Posts: 322 ✭✭✭✭

    Dear @Shaimaa Doma :

    Code error, code not working, paper half written, and needs to be done by X days!! 🤯 Of course, your emotions in the current situation of pressure absolutely make sense...

    The specific issue of error in your code....I'm not well-versed in this...but..

    Hear there are many q and a/ support groups online (like stackoverflow?) for stem coders. Perhaps, trying a suitable platform for your specific issue could help? Of course, asking your colleagues is a good first try and the easiest thing to try...hope this works. Within your timelines!

    "Because I usually don't expect people to understand, or even If they do, to not strike me with a positivity portion and then accuse me of not wanting to feel better."🙂

    This is something that I completely empathize.

    After all, this happened during my dark years (struggling to simply stay alive - kind of dark) 100% of the time with 99.999% of the people. I stopped short of becoming misanthropic. 🤣 I have met plenty who spout "cheer up" (paraphrasing) as lipservice, without genuine care, and you are to just flick on the switch of rainbow fountain...if you don't, you get blamed or ignored or both🤣...)

    I think you are now in a better place because you have wisened to know that having expectations from people is a recipe for disappointment. 🤣

    But I think it usually serves to have this Eeyore outlook in a more nuanced way. I don't expect people to understand or respond like a normal empathetic human.

    But why let the opportunity slide when you do meet the unicorn of a human capable of giving a normal empathetic response or even support? It's rare, but happens, so I just keep my eyes, mind, heart open and observant for such people. 🙂 Besides, it keeps my misanthropy in check (or not?). 🤣 

    "I find this a bit scary to think about. .....But seeing how much we wanted things and worked hard towards them, just to "change our minds" sometime later, makes me unsure about whether I really want what I think I do."

    Welcome once again to life. It IS scary. But I think adding curiosity and openness can help manage the fear. A secret..we are all scared.🤣Just that some are good at self deception and /or in acting like not being scared. Bravery is doing something despite fear, after all. 🙂

    People changing minds. I see this happen in two ways. People who have treated what they do like a game, a puzzle, an object of interest, not really emotionally invested. They kinda lose interest in the toy, and pick up a new toy. Not to say that they don't work hard. But that's just part of playing with the toy. Have seen very intelligent and successful people who threw it all away and started something completely new. Because, "meh! this toy is boring. That one seems interesting." 🤣

    For others (like me), we have goals and visions and we give it our mind, bodies and souls...then external factors go awry.

    In such circumstances we don't "change our minds". We HAVE to "change our minds" to survive. Go forward.

    In my case, sort of extreme, it completely went wrong to take away not just the effort, but health, people I once trusted, my own sense of self, my entire worldview. The only way left was to leave behind all the insane effort, emotional investment, swallow the bitter pill of loss and humiliation (among other things), and rebuild from ashes. Which takes double the amount of effort and then double that because the person is wounded and vulnerable, physically, mentally emotionally, etc. etc.. But's possible and had to do it, no other choice. I was forced to change. 🙂Now, my goals are quite different. And I'm now wiser about pursuing goals, emotional and effort investment.

    From experience I find it is very important to develop a long term core value set like your lighthouse......but stay open and curious. It's ok to want something, it's ok to work hard for it, it's ok to question whether you really want what you want.

    This last thing... extremely important. I suggest you do give it some thought. You needn't act or make decisions yet on those thoughts. But asking yourself whether you really want what you want inevitably leads to the ultimate question of why you want what you want. I believe if you find a solid deep answer to this question that your conscience 100% accepts, you are set possibly for life. And if your why is a "meh", according to your conscience better to start thinking about a goal with a better why.

    Once the why is strong, sensible and rooted, the hows become secondary. Setbacks and failures hurt and sting but don't derail you. You find ways to sail through the scary unpredictableness and changes that life brings. And you'll survive, even thrive with resilience in any amount of suffering.

    Good luck!🙂

  • Justine Whitaker
    Justine Whitaker Member Posts: 1

    I tend to wear my emotions on my sleeve, especially compared to my colleagues. I'm slowly working on changing the culture at my institution, or at least in my department. I hope that eventually it will be a more supportive working environment. But, I've found some things that help me. As an emotional person who is also a scientist, I don't respond well to many "solutions" for going through low patches. However, I do respond well to cognitive behavioral therapy, stoicism and the techniques outlined in the book Loving What Is.

    Raj said in his first post: I have learnt to try to accept reality, the contradictions and tradeoffs of our world...internal and external, the possibilities as well as limitations. It can be painful. But we can do things to mitigate that pain. Friends, family, yoga, painting, music...your guitar, pets, whatever else....mitigate the pain.

    This is a tenet of the philosophy I am working towards. All three of the methods I listed above aim to accept reality. It is often our fighting against reality that gives us the most anguish. If we experience a loss, we can be angry and sad, but accepting that loss and moving forward is the only way to experience peace. I'm not saying that you don't allow yourself to feel angry or sad, but allowing those emotions to hang around too long, allowing them to take precedence over our own happiness isn't the way toward peace. And, I think that peace is the ultimate goal. Striving to be happy all the time is exhausting. Most of the time, I just want to feel quiet inside.

    This gets more complicated when we are talking about lows that seem to come along without a trigger or stimulus. Luckily, I have a very understanding husband who is helping me to work through some of this. Just last night he helped me break through some of my anger to understand that I was feeling emotionally depleted from managing my students' stress all semester.

    For me, I need to feel like I personally am working towards becoming more resilient. I need to test the techniques out for myself and see what works, and what doesn't. I'm building a toolkit of ways to help myself out of these ruts that seem to come along so regularly in my life. Quite often, I feel very alone in this endeavor since most people in both my personal and professional life seem to favor venting or never talking about what they are struggling with (or oscillating between the two). While I do believe that doing the work for myself is extremely important for me to find my own way to resilience, it would be nice to have a group of like-minded people who chat about their experiences and what has worked/not worked for them.

    P.S. I'm not anti-venting. I think sometimes venting leads to understanding what you're really feeling. But, I also think it can become very toxic and prevent people from moving forward, especially if venting gives a person a rush. It's easy to become addicted to that feeling and to think that the exhaustion you feel after a vent session is an improvement to the anger, fear or sadness you felt prior. However, again, I do think that to move past it, you have to do some work that won't feel so great (see Loving What Is worksheet). My husband can attest to the fact that being on the receiving end of venting can become a very unhealthy environment.

  • chris leonard
    chris leonard Member, Administrator, Moderator Posts: 156 admin

    Hi Justine - thanks for your very thoughtful & insightful post. I think it is fair to say that everyone has their own ways of coping with stress and lows that seem to have no obvious trigger. However I am intrigued by your personal toolkit; as you say they each seem to encourage an acceptance of the external environment. If this works for you, that's great - I just wonder, is there a point where it's necessary to not accept your external environment? Real change (personal and institutional) seems to me to require a sense of injustice and a fighting spirit to make things 'right'.

    Again, not levelling comments at you, rather I am intrigued about the philosophy of Stoicism and the limits to its usefulness to society - particularly societies which seem to be unbalanced and unfair.

  • Raj sundaram
    Raj sundaram Member Posts: 322 ✭✭✭✭
    edited May 2021

    @chris leonard - couldnt have put this better myself. Guess we both come from the Adam Curtis perspective a bit. I have certain issues with self-improvement/self-help/self-management techniques in general advising stoicism/acceptance. Because in the wider culture - stoicism and acceptance seems to be taken a bit out of context to be used as a tool to silence rather than to actually see the reality of ourselves and our circumstances (both interconnected) - and improve both ourselves AND the circumstances/environment (both are interconnected).

    It touches me personally, because at multiple points of time I have witnessed "I recommend stoicism/acceptance" used as a strategy by people with power to shrug their responsibilities and even gaslight those with lesser power with "up to you, you have the power, you have the choice", "No one can hurt another person, unless they allow the hurt to happen", "You always have the choice to react to any situation - is this your reaction?", etc. And stoic responses translated to "grin and bear" from those with lesser power leading to worsening of power-imbalances.

    That said - acceptance (as in seeing reality for what is - however hard it may be without slipping to wishlists/denial/delusion) can still be combined with justice and fairness. In an ideal world, people facing unfairness of the unbearable sort would exercise their choice to remain rational and composed (choose to react "appropriately"), and fight injustice (appropriately)....irrespective of any and all extenuating external circumstances. Alas - a lot of us are more vulnerable and fragile than that.

    Of course - this is not a comment on @Justine Whitaker's position - which is a deeply personal one for inner peace...

  • Adaora Anyichie - Odis
    Adaora Anyichie - Odis Member Posts: 111 ✭✭✭

    Get a Mentor, it helped me last year during the pandemic.