One of the most powerful visuals I remember from when I was young was the choice and consequence stick. It was a thick wooden dowel that said ‘choice’ on one side and ‘consequence’ on the other. The idea was that while you could choose whatever choice you wanted, you couldn’t choose the consequence that came with it. They were connected, and you were stuck.
For a long time I thought this way about feelings and actions too. Whenever I felt a certain way, I couldn’t really control too much of the action that was attached to it. On particularly depressed days, or burned out days, or days where my head was filled with fog, work wasn’t going to get done. It just wasn’t going to happen.
For a long time that was true - when I did not understand what I was feeling or what to do about it. I genuinely had no option but to be a slave to my feelings. Instead of practicing self-care that was supportive and helpful, I did what I call toxic-self care, where I was so consumed with making myself feel better and giving excuses that no good ever came from it. I had to make myself feel better before I could do anything else - I had to go from one end of the stick to the other.
The idea of overcoming emotions is not a new one, but it still relies on the idea that you have to overcome your feelings and work through them before you can get back to normal life. In my experience you’re always going to be feeling - there’s always going to be something new that you’re experiencing, there’s always going to be something to overcome. The best way that I’ve found to get out of the constant toxic self-care loop is to break the stick.
Over years of therapy I learned techniques of how to separate how I feel from my energy and productivity. I learned how to break the stick.
When we go around keeping our feelings in one hand, and our actions in another, it keeps one from suffocating the other. It’s much harder to get overwhelmed and pushed into a depressive state from external forces, and it’s much harder to let intense feelings get in the way of being a person. You’ll still have to work and you’ll still have to work through your feelings, and some days will give you sticks that are made of very strong wood, but I’ve found that breaking the stick and getting rid of the idea that you have to feel good to do anything else makes life a whole lot more fulfilling.