What Happens When You Start Feeling Empty?

I guess it can happen when you least expect it.

At the end of a very productive week, after sweeping through almost everything on my to do list and checking it all off, and getting a crazy amount accomplished and even feeling quite together and on top of things, I started to feel empty inside.

I wouldn’t usually write about things like this, because I don’t know if hearing about emptiness is helpful to people. Also, I’m usually an extremely positive and driven person, so it’s kind of hard to talk about feeling suddenly empty in the middle of an upswing for no determinable reason.

However, I was thinking that if I’m feeling this way now, I’m sure there are others who are feeling this way too, and maybe it’ll help to talk about it.

Emptiness is a weird feeling, and completely annoying, because when you try to shake it, it only clings on harder. It came upon me this week after meditating almost every day, and feeling pretty good about things, so it was pretty random seeming. I guess it can come from anywhere at any time. It just felt hard to feel, if that makes any sense. It was hard to feel grateful and hard to feel peaceful for sure.

I woke up in the middle of the night last night with the empty feeling slathered all over me, like an unsettling grey cloud. It led to almost immediate fear thoughts about how even when I’m on top of things and feeling quite good, I can still feel this horrible lack. Just writing about this now kind of brings the fear thoughts back. Since I don’t exactly know the answer to how to proceed with feelings like this, I will only state some theories I have:

  • Feelings of emptiness come and go. There’s probably something I should pay attention to, instead of just pushing the feelings away.
  • Although I’m afraid of the feeling of emptiness, or not being able to feel peace and gratefulness, I think I’m afraid because I feel like no matter how hard I work, my feelings might not always be peaceful, and I can’t accept that.
  • I need to accept that my feelings won’t always be peaceful, and that sometimes I will feel empty and afraid. I won’t always feel this way, but it doesn’t help to pretend that I never feel this way.
  • The empty feelings and fear feelings that pass through me don’t define who I am.
  • Those same “bad” feelings (which I’m going to take the “bad” label away from now) can be present even while I forge ahead with my life. Their presence doesn’t need to set me back, though I always feel that if I feel empty and fearful, it must mean I’ve backtracked.

This has a lot to do with what I wrote about in the post It Hurts, So What? Sometimes I’m afraid to do something because I know it will hurt. For example, in that post I talked about being afraid to speak up because I knew the outcome probably would be painful anyway…but I needed to speak up. And I did, and it was very painful..but that was okay. Because so what? Sometimes things will be painful. It’s uncomfortable but it’s alright.

So perhaps I’m relearning the lesson of ‘It hurts. So what?” again and again. It’s okay to be afraid of the empty feeling, at the same time that it’s okay to be afraid of being afraid. It’s not a about being ‘beyond’ those feelings. It’s about letting them happen..because so what? Those feelings aren’t who I am.

Here are some articles I read about the empty feeling that made me feel a bit better and a bit less alone:

The Real Cause of Inner Emptiness (And What to Do About It- http://www.huffingtonpost.com/margaret-paul-phd/inner-emptiness_b_869421.html

‘I Feel Empty’: How to Overcome Feelings of Emptiness- http://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/i-feel-empty-how-to-overcome-feelings-of-emptiness-1112145

Allowing things to

arise: http://www.buddhanet.net/4noble19.htm

Hope this helps someone out there. Remember, feel free to reach out to us if you feel sad or empty. You’re not alone!


Do You Journal? The Surprising Health Benefits

I’ll admit it – I always thought ‘journaling’ was kind of cheesy and ineffective. I imagined that if I did journal regularly, I’d have lots of entries beginning with “Dear Diary…” and going on to detail boring day-to-day exploits including the pizza I consumed and which Netflix show I watched that night.  I have journaled occasionally, and I have several books filled with my entries dating back to junior high school. Most of these entries are about boys – the boys I liked, the boys I dated and why those boys I dated were being so damn hard-to-decipher. Since I’ve been in a serious long-term relationship, I haven’t journaled as much. In fact, the current notebook I use has entries that date back to 2008, so clearly I haven’t been journaling much. But I do experience a lot of day-to-day anxiety about things in my life: my career, friendships, moving to a new city – all good subjects to journal about.

After reading this article, Writing Your Way to Happiness, in the NY Times, I really felt like it was time I journaled more. The article was the “most emailed article” on the NY Times website for about a week, so clearly people are excited about this research. Basically, the gist of the study is that if you write about your problems, you can more easily tackle them, which leads to better overall health. Essentially, the study is saying that if you write about your problems, you can more easily “edit” the problems in your life.

Here’s a quote from the article that encapsulates the study well:

Much of the work on expressive writing has been led by James Pennebaker, a psychology professor at the University of Texas. In one of his experiments, college students were asked to write for 15 minutes a day about an important personal issue or superficial topics. Afterward, the students who wrote about personal issues had fewer illnesses and visits to the student health center.

“The idea here is getting people to come to terms with who they are, where they want to go,” said Dr. Pennebaker. “I think of expressive writing as a life course correction.” – Tara Parker-Pope

Maybe there’s something about purging your thoughts onto paper that helps. Like a mental detox. Or maybe it’s being able to get a new perspective on your problems that helps you make more effective choices.

Phone a Friend

Phone a Friend

“Have you meditated today? Maybe that would help.”

“I DID meditate, actually. Twice, Jane! I meditated twice already!”

It’s a rare day I meditate twice in a row, especially before noon, but the other day it felt necessary. I woke up in an anxious and out of sorts mood. Ironically, I’d been having a great week. I’d been writing a ton, seeing lots of friends and family, had been off from work for awhile, had run 10 miles the day before, and was blazing through my to do list.

I should be able to calm myself down now that I’m in my thirties, I kept repeating to myself- I should have it together by now- I’m a frigging adult! All my days should be happy and bright! After all, I meditate these days. I’m in the flow of love, dammit!!

But it didn’t matter. It wasn’t enough. Nothing was enough.

So I called Jane- my trusty co-blogger and best friend- and talked it out. I went through all the reasons I felt anxious…most of which were silly and repetitive. It actually took a lot of digging to get to the reasons- at first I was like I have no idea why I’m anxious..why the hell am I anxious???

But then things started to become clear as I talked.

Do you want me to make you feel better about any of your anxious days and actually list some of the dumb things that were upsetting me? A little schadenfreude for ya? 😉 Ok, for you I will.

  • I was upset that someone asked me to choose a new restaurant and I couldn’t think of one..not the perfect one, anyway. This made me anxious. (I told you…so ridiculous!)
  • I felt like I didn’t meditate ENOUGH…or that I couldn’t absorb my meditations. (Ahh, whyyy??)
  • I felt like there was still so much I. Had. To. Doooo. (And my lists included crazy long items like ‘find your real passion’, ‘go after new sources of income,’ ‘complete hours of online marketing classes,’ ‘discover meaning of life’, etc (okay, maybe not exactly that last one…)
  • I felt like my days off were passing me by and I kept getting sucked into Google and Facebook vortexes (ahh, this STILL upsets me now, haha..)

But when I called Jane and just talked on and on (even when it was repetitive), I started to feel better. I calmed down a bit.

Even though none of the things on my crazy to do list had gotten done while I was talking, and Jane had heard it all before, it just helped to talk.

And it helped to have someone just listening. Happily. Patiently. Again. And again. And again.

Thank you, Jane.

Do you have friends like that? Or maybe a family member? A coworker? Or even a therapist?

I try hard to be that kind of friend. Because I really think it’s everything to be heard when you’re feeling anxious..or even when you just want to talk about nothing. Even if- ESPECIALLY IF- you feel like you’re being repetitive. Or ridiculous.

There are going to be those crazy weird days, even if most days are good…even if you’re a spiritual, flow of love optimist. It’s the way of the world!

So phone a friend when it happens. Talk it out. It may actually make your day better.

  • This is probably not the phone you'd want to use, though.
    This is probably not the phone you’d want to use, though.
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