There are many unpleasant feelings that are very regular visitors to any chronic illness sufferer. For example frustration and disappointment that today you’re not feeling well enough to do what you planned to do. Or that you thought you’d been doing well recently, but not today. Or sadness at being reminded of the things in your life that you’ve lost. These sorts of situations crop up often and are impossible to avoid completely. Because they are such regular visitors it’s important to befriend the feelings that come with them, if not they will take over and make your life a misery. Befriending them isn’t about denying them; they are going to crop up. If you pretend that they don’t exist they’ll just build up inside you and burst out at inopportune moments. Befriending them is about accepting them and getting comfortable with them. It’s about letting them be themselves and do their own thing.
To some, befriending an unpleasant feeling might sound a bit like wallowing, but in fact it’s the opposite. Wallowing results from rejecting or resisting a feeling. We only get stuck with a feeling of frustration when we pay attention to the injustice of it, to the fact that we don’t want these circumstances and that we don’t want to feel like this. Similarly the sadness of loss will always dissipate unless we hold on to it with the feeling that it’s just not fair; that it’s not right that we lost what we lost, that we don’t want to let go.
When we befriend a feeling, acknowledge it and set it free, we also set ourselves free to choose to do the best thing for ourselves. Yesterday I was visited by my familiar friend frustration. I woke up feeling very below baseline. When I realised that my brain fog was at a level that I was incapable of making a decision about what I would have for breakfast, it occurred to me that there was no way I’d be able to do any writing. Cue frustration and disappointment. I had two things I was hoping to get done and once again my condition was preventing me from doing them. So I said hello frustration and disappointment, here you are again! I welcome you in this moment, your visit is very normal and natural in these circumstances. But if you don’t mind I’m just going to get on with making myself as comfortable as possible and doing what I need to do to give myself the best chance of feeling better tomorrow. The good friends that they are, they respected my wishes and left me in peace! Sometimes they will hang around a bit a keep me company, but as long as I accept them and respect them they do the same to me. Once acknowledged they know they don’t need to hang around indefinitely.
If you’re struggling to relate to this, if it seems that your unpleasant emotions have a sadistic wish to control you, consider how much you reject and resist them. Can you offer yourself compassionate acceptance for feeling that thing in that situation? Can you embrace them fully as a totally understandable response to what you are going through? If not, it may be that your feelings are reminding you of another hurt that you haven’t yet healed and you may have to work on acknowledging and accepting that old hurt first.
The act of befriending can take a while. It will be more painful at first whilst the unpleasant feeling asserts itself and make sure you really are willing to accepting it fully for all that it is. But once it becomes familiar with your acceptance it will be much happier to leave you be, as soon as you have acknowledged it as an understandable response to the situation you are experiencing in that moment.
Befriending an unpleasant feeling really does allow it to come and go freely. You may not be able to avoid the situations which invite its presence but you can make sure that its visits are fleeting.