Friday, 19 December 2008

Managing Our Ups and Downs

Moods are strange things. Driven as much by thought as emotion, and by biology as well as psychology, they can easily feel bigger than we are. They come. They seem to lift our spirits or lower them. And usually they go again as a different mood takes their place.

Some lucky people are genuinely stable in their moods. If pushed too far, they may be ratty, sharp or anxious, but generally speaking they can rely on feeling pretty positive about life, and - as significantly - the people around them can also rely on them being pleasant and easy to be around.

That kind of optimistic stability is a gift to be treasured because there are also many people whose default moods are considerably less sunny. They are not people who are clinically depressed, necessarily, but they live with an inner flatness and absence of pleasure, or a low-grade constant irritability, that significantly colours how they see the world and everyone around them.

Many people come to view this kind of existence as normal and, in a way, they are right. It is normal for them, and the energy it takes to think about change can feel far out of reach. Yet change is needed, in part because a low mood can slip lower, but also because the person living this bleak existence is never doing so alone.

Moods are highly contagious. We step into a room and pick up at once if someone is feeling down. They don't need to talk. Moods "leak" into the atmosphere and, for better or worse, affect everyone around.

Over the past few weeks, several of my friends have spoken to me about the helplessness they feel living or working with someone who is chronically low. One woman described her colleague as "low-grade depressed, like a battery that is not quite flat but not really turning over either". What make the situation worse, in her view, is that he seems incapable of taking action, either because he has become so used to how he is or because whatever he's tried in the past has had little effect.

When it is a beloved partner, parent or child who is struck in the world of grey, those feelings of helplessness can be harder to bear - and more contagious still. Yet people in this situation often find themselves facing some kind of taboo on tough and truthful talking.

We don't want to add to the sufferer's pain, so we bury our own. It becomes easy to lose touch with our own reality and needs, even when that adds to the sum of suffering and doesn't reduce it.

In his book Listening to Prozac, Peter Kramer comments on how some people with chronic low or flat mood came to feel their most fundamental sense of "self" had been restored when medication and therapy worked effectively. What struck Kramer was that while his patients had in most cases not previously known a lively and optimistic adult self, something within them eagerly claimed it.

Medication and therapy are not for everyone but, intelligently used, they can make a powerful difference; I know they did for me, after the break up of my marriage.

What can also make a difference is to choose to engage far more intensely and energetically than usual with other people, ideas, events, nature and the myriad physical aspects of life that can both stimulate and heal us - even and especially when it's not instantly rewarding or is the last thing you feel like doing.

Putting choice and action ahead of feelings is critical here. It may be true that we can't choose our moods, but we can certainly choose how we will live them out and how we will respond to other people's.

Life is tough at times but it is also precious, every minute of it! Losing sight of that is tragic. It is precisely when throwing ourselves more completely into life seems counter-intuitive or plain impossible that it is most urgently needed - restoring and renewing sufferers and supporter alike.

Joseph - September 2008 - In a pensive mood

Joseph - September 2008 - Happy Mood


Meow said...

Namaste Peggy,

While I was reading your post,I was smiling to myself all through because I too am quite affected by my own mood & of those around me.

I must say a big thank you for the following lines in your post which are absolutely brilliant:

"Putting choice and action ahead of feelings is critical here. It may be true that we can't choose our moods, but we can certainly choose how we will live them out and how we will respond to other people's."

We definitely need to make a choice- if we want to handle our/other's mood or let the mood handle us instead & then take appropriate action.

Great post..


Meow said...

And by the way, Joseph looks soooo cute in both his moods.. Adorable little angel!!

McMGrad89 said...

I find that I can tell what my mood is by my posts and whether I can have a comical view of my situation or a whiny view...I am slowly working my way out of the whiny into the comical again - partly due to my health going on the upswing, partly because I know I have two weeks off of school. :-) Thanks for sharing.

Caroline said...

I am very affected by moods (my own and others!). My moods used to rule my life and I am trying not to let them take over. It's not that I don't want to "feel"...but I am so very sensitive! After reading A New Earth, it really changed my perspective. I find myself to be more objective and perceptive, rather than judgmental.

avtcoach said...

This post really hits on something very important to me. I had a period in my life when I was one of those "low" people. I did do something about it and when it was "over" I committed to watching for the signs in myself when I am reflecting that "low" mood. I make an effort to reflect back a light as much as I can, it does seem to effect others around me! Thank you, I am going to link my readers to this post so appropriate to the holiday!

avtcoach said...

You and Jen posted on something so important I am linking them on my post today. Thank you for the reminder!

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Lance said...

Hi Peggy,
"Life is tough at times but it is also precious, every minute of it!" - I love this line. This moment in time, we'll never have it again. It IS up to us how we use all the moments of our life. We can choose, we have a choice - always - if nothing else, how to respond. Our moods certainly can play a part, and our moods will not always be the same, and can be affected by others. I'm surprised at how writing, here on the Internet, for the whole world to see - has helped me to understand "me" better. And this has been powerful in really understanding any mood shifts I have, and how they affect me.

Great stuff Peggy. I think, especially, as we approach Christmas - and while generally this is a good mood time, it's also important to remember that for some, this is a difficult time of year...

Fly Girl said...

How right you are! Our moods are so contagious. It's amazing how we affect other people simply by the way we are. While it's so nice to be greeted with smiles and upbeat personalities, I think people are often hiding their sadness. For that reason, I try to just be myself. Some days are yellow, some days are blue, some days are gray and black, too. (A feeble reference to "My Many Colored Days.")

I always enjoy your music. You're a pro at keeping it new!

Take care!

imbeingheldhostage said...

Great post! I came from AVTcoach's place...

jenx67 said...

Hi Peggy and Merry CHristmas! I'm just now catching up on my blog reading!!! This is a terrific post. It sounds so cliche, but attitude really is everything. I hate it when I let someone's sour mood affect me. I really try to avoid letting that happen, but sometimes, I still let it creep in.

Chapter Forty said...

Love this post of yours Peggy, particularly the term about how moods can "leak' into a room. So true.