Yes You Can!
Have you ever woken up of a day when your first thought was, “I just can’t”? Maybe you had a hard day the day before or found yourself struggling through a difficult week or month. Maybe you had stayed up too late the night before and just didn’t feel rested. Maybe a loved one was ill and you were extra tired with the added responsibilities or felt like you had nothing left in the tank to give. Maybe you just felt like it would be too hard to do all the things that needed doing in the coming day. Maybe dealing with yet another day of lockdown or loosening restrictions and all the new stuff that comes along with that felt too much.
Well, a few weeks back, I had that day. I woke up and my first thought was ‘I just can’t.’ I don’t actually recall the specifics of what was going on at the time. I could have been in the middle of a busy week. I could have had things on my never-ending list of things to do that I just didn’t want to do or didn’t like doing. It could have been that I had to go to the grocery store and couldn’t face dealing with the masks, the hand sanitizer or the decision-making about what else I could get when I couldn’t find whatever it was in the store that I needed but wasn’t there that day. I don’t actually think the reason I woke up feeling that way matters. It wasn’t the first time it’s happened to me, and I’ll put money on the fact that it won’t be the last time it happens to me. But there I was, struggling with the day before I even got out of bed.
With a big sigh and what felt like a gargantuan effort, I got out of bed. ‘Today might be the day I don’t make the bed,’ I thought to myself. ‘Och, it’ll only take a few minutes. Just do it,’ came the reply in my head. So I did, and soon enough, the bed was made. The morning continued like that, the inner dialogue ever-present, each movement and moment requiring some decision about whether or not I had to do this and such a thing today. Shower? Ok. Getting dressed? Uh huh. Breakfast? A banana or something as effortless as that. Coffee? Well, that’s never a question. Generally speaking, my morning routine is a given. It is flexible depending on how much time I feel I have, but it usually gets done with minimum thought and effort. Not this day. They have an expression here: walking through treacle. And that’s what going about my morning routine felt like on this day. Everything was an effort. What I would have given to get back into bed and pull the covers over my head. Lots of sighs, lots of battles inside my head and just generally feeling blech.
Yet something about this day was different. I was quite conscious of how I felt and boy did I not like it. But maybe because the effort of fighting it was just going to be too much this day, I decided very early on not to fight it. This day, I was just going to let myself feel this blech, whether I liked it or not. So I got out of bed, showered, got dressed, ate something for breakfast. None of those things made me feel better or hopeful or like maybe I could. But I didn’t have to feel that way; not this day. This day I was allowed to believe and feel like I just couldn’t. I was going to wade through this treacle until I couldn’t move any more and at that point, I would surrender.
I sighed my way through the day, doing whatever it was I determined was going to be ‘just enough’ for that day. Did I eat 3 square meals? Probably not. Did I eat 3 times that day? I think so – and I’m sure one of the meals would have included the oven and chips because that was the easiest option. Did I do my yoga? Not on the mat, but I’m sure I would have considered doing a yoga nidra or at the very least a body scan; anything I could do lying down. Again, I don’t remember the specifics. Whether I did or did not take the time out isn’t what I remember about that day. What I remember is making a conscious choice to allow myself the option of doing nothing with no consequence. No beating myself up for whatever didn’t get accomplished. No beating myself up for not doing things that I knew were good for me. Not this day. Getting angry, even at myself, would just take too much energy.
I did make it through to the end of the day, one sigh and one step at a time. I remember writing in my one-sentence journal that night that I was grateful I had shown up. Had it been a great day? Doubt it. Had I gotten to the end of it in one piece? Seemed like it. One small step at a time, focusing only on what was just in front of me, I was finally allowed to put the day behind me.
The next day, feeling a bit better and more myself, I found myself reflecting on the day before in my morning pages: “Although yesterday I felt like I just couldn’t, I did. And it was ok. Not brilliant, not horrible. But not bad, and probably, in hindsight, actually quite good.” I wrote. “There’s real power in welcoming emotions in, even the shitty ones. I’m wondering if the trick is just that – allowing and not needing to be scared or frustrated that those feelings are here again.”
That isn’t really rocket science and I’m sure I’m not the first one to suggest that it’s helpful to sit with our feelings. In fact, I know many others have suggested that very thing – and have based counselling theories on that premise. But even for those in the know, it can be really hard to do, especially for yourself. What it comes down to, for me, at this point in my life, is that it can be really important to change our stories about what the feelings mean. Waking up feeling like you ‘just can’t’ feels quite shitty. And scary. And like most people, you probably don’t want to feel shitty and scared. But when we fight those feelings, deny them, or pretend like they aren’t there, they tend to linger, hanging around gaining strength and power through our very resistance.
What I found that day when I didn’t fight that feeling that I just couldn’t and when I took that day one step at a time was that I actually could – and did. Was it my most productive day? Absolutely not. Did it increase pressure on the days to come because there was more to do? Possibly. Yet here I am a few weeks later and I’m ok. Those days when feel like you just can’t? Those days you actually can. Maybe not in the way you envisioned. Those may not feel like great days, but you get to the end and, all being well, you wake up the next day and try again.
Feelings are funny little things that can come and go unexpectedly and sometimes with no rhyme or reason. That’s partly why there’s really no use in fighting – or being afraid of – them. They arrive – and then we tell ourselves how horrible it is that they are here. We tell ourselves these feelings will never go away. We tell ourselves there is something wrong with us because we have those negative feelings. It’s that, those stories, that give power to our feelings. Though we may think those things, those things aren’t necessarily true. Maybe we don’t need to buy into every thought we have about our crappy feelings; maybe we can find a way to sit with them, allow them to be here for a bit and not beat ourselves up for feeling crap. Because these feelings come to us all. Even those we think have the perfect lives. In fact, it probably comes to them even more than us.
So if you ever wake up feeling like you just can’t, maybe you actually can. Maybe you can take each moment of the day one step at a time. Maybe you can cut yourself some slack for not being on your A game. And if you do that, maybe you’ll make it through to the end of the day and be able to try again the next day. But remember this – no matter how hard that day was, you actually made it through. When you felt like you just couldn’t, remember that you actually did. Yes, you can, even on those days when you feel like you can’t. You may not do it in the way you want to, but you do it. And one day we may all realise that is enough.