Saturday, April 29, 2023

The Grind Part 20 – When You Don’t Know Why



Picture this: Something is wrong…You feel anxiety and depression increasing lately, but you cannot assign it to a specific stressor. Your feelings are increasingly uncomfortable and difficult. What is making it worse is that you are not sure what is really bothering you. Maybe you can identify several things that could be triggers, but it is not clear in your mind what the real deal is. This state of not knowing why you feel this way may even be making you feel even more anxious and depressed.


Have you ever felt this way? Sometimes our mind wants a direct answer to our struggles and problems as if a puzzle piece is missing and we need to just identify the missing piece and then put everything back into place. As if this will suddenly make everything all okay at once. Unfortunately, when living with chronic mental health or substance use issues (or both) sometimes we may feel this way. So, if you find yourself grinding through life in this way, then here are some thoughts of things to do especially when you don’t really know what exactly is going on and what you should do to make it better.


Not everyone will be able to identify with what is being described here. However, there are certain people who will know exactly what this phenomenon feels like. Either way, when reviewing this information, try to take away what you believe will be helpful to you mentally. Below are some thoughts to consider for recovery and positive change in difficult situations:


Review and discuss the following points:


·       Knowing why a problem is happening can be helpful in solving that problem. However, it is not necessary to know the cause for you to start to get better. For example, if someone breaks their arm, it can be helpful for the doctor to know how and why the arm was broken, but it is not necessary for the doctor to know that in order to fix it and put it in a cast for the arm to heal.



·       Sometimes mental health just “flares up” similar to other health conditions. Compare depression, for instance, with a physical back problem. Sometimes someone with a bad back will be sore from doing too much physically the day before but there are other times their back may hurt for no identifiable reason (aka a sudden flare up of back pain). The same is true of mental health issues like depression. Sometimes a clearly identifiable event or situation can trigger a depressive episode and sometimes it may feel like there is no specific reason for a depressive “flare up”, just like the bad back example. For substance use issues this can also happen with cravings that seem to come up without a clearly understood trigger. Direct causes at times can be hard to identify.



·       Part of living with long-lasting or chronic mental illness or substance use issues involves learning to keep moving forward during unexpected challenging episodes. The issues we face may slow us down, but we can do a lot to keep unexpected challenging life situations to stop us from making progress. Sometimes we may bend without letting ourselves break.



·       Acceptance is key. Learning to accept that if you have mental illness or substance use issue may be easier on some days will be than others. There may be good phases and not so good ones. Accepting the fact that the change process has ups and downs can prevent discouragement and disappointment. It may be helpful to accept the fact that challenging episodes come up in life once in a while and sometimes even unexpectedly.


Coping Skills and Strategies for When We Don’t Understand “Why” We May be Struggling:


Partialize to avoid being overwhelmed: When mental health or substance use cravings flare up unexpectedly, then enhance your focus on taking life one day at a time, or even one hour at a time if needed.

·       Ask yourself – How will I get through this day? This hour? Etc.…. What do you say to yourself?



Stick with your coping routine as best you can: There may be a temptation to “take days off” from our positive routine when we are struggling but that can be a huge mistake.

·       What is your routine? What are at least three things that help you maintain during difficult times? (For example, exercise, talking with positive people, reading, etc.)









Upgrade your support over isolation – We may need to force ourselves to reach out when we do not feel like it during challenges. Isolating can make things much worse and using supports can be the difference maker – Who are three people you can reach out to for support, advice or just to vent or talk things out?





Consider professional help. Counselors can help and at times the struggle may need medication or a medication adjustment. Some signs that consulting a helping professional is needed:

ð      Appetite and sleep impacted. Weight loss or gain can be a sign help is needed as well as insomnia or hypersomnia (sleeping too much) Fatigue and severe loss of energy can also be signs.

ð      Prolonged feelings of “emptiness” or significant loss of motivation and drive. Lowered self esteem or persistent negative thoughts that are difficult to cope with or control.

ð      Thoughts of not wanting to live any more or urges to hurt self or others. Dangerous risk taking or compromising safety. Aggression, suicidal thoughts, or self-harm

ð      Persistent difficulty with competing daily tasks like going to work, taking care of chores, paying bills, etc. Overall level of functioning is decreasing due to current condition.

ð      Consistent urges to isolate, detach, and disconnect from our support group and social routines.

ð      Difficulties managing feelings, thinking, moods (perhaps with mood swings or anger outbursts), irritability, loss of purpose or focus, and an overall persistent sense of instability, restlessness, or insecurity.

ð      Feeling unsafe, unpredictable, or out of control due to our condition

Finally, when we are experiencing a challenging phase and we don’t understand why, make sure to reconsider our sources of strength, courage, and motivation. What works?

What helps you to keep going during challenging times?











Finally, the most important thing during times like these is to keep going. Accept that these difficult stages sometimes do happen, as life has its ups and downs, but do not give up or give in. Even when we cannot figure out why something is happening or what exactly is wrong, we can make a conscious decision to use what we have available or whatever is within our reach to survive and thrive despite unexpected challenges.

Discuss final takeaways from this exercise: 

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