Do you ever just feel blah?
You know that feeling, right? It’s the temporary feeling that nothing is distinctly wrong, and yet something, maybe almost everything, is vaguely dissatisfying. It may be a sunny spring day at the park with your healthy, happy children, and you still feel a little gray.
The Blahs are different from depression. Depression lasts. In the middle of depression, you can’t always see the possibility of getting to the other side. It can be crippling.
The Blahs are mostly just annoying. But they’re real just the same. And, if you’re in a relationship, they can be tough to navigate.
As you might guess, the Blahs are familiar terrain for me. I’ve been feeling that way a little this week, for no good reason, really. Thinking about this mostly-sourceless sense of grayness has made me realize all that Cliff and I have learned about going through the Blahs together. Here’s what I’ve learned about responding to the Blahs:
1. I own my emotions, not his.
Cliff and I did premarital counseling with a professional counselor (something I highly recommend). About three minutes into the first session, the counselor diagnosed a significant challenge of our relationship: we often try to own (and then fix) each other’s emotions. So when Cliff has a Blah sort of day, my tendency is to do three things: 1) Take it personally, assuming that I’m somehow the cause of the Blahness; 2) Try to fix it by improving the circumstances around us (Let’s have your favorite pizza for supper!); 3) When this fails, take on his emotion as my own so that I start to feel gray too.
Note to self: Stop doing that. Ten years of marriage has taught me that this isn’t productive.
2. Make one attempt at making things better. Then leave me alone.
This is a parenting trick Cliff has been using on the kids lately: Say Sam wakes up in a grumpy mood. Cliff attempts some tickling and maybe a silly walk from the bathroom to the kitchen table. He might remind Sam that it’s not too late to start the day over: we are a family that offers second chances. And third.
If Sam refuses to improve his mood, then we let him sit in it. Sometimes we ask him to go to his room until he’s ready to be polite. Other times we just fix him breakfast and ignore the sulking. Either way, we don’t give him extra attention: it probably own’t fix the mood, and it certainly won’t improve ours.
This is how I want to be treated too. If you see I’m in the Blahs, feel free to tell a funny story from your workday, or share something interesting you learned on NPR. But if it doesn’t work, then probably I just need some time alone. Help me find a way to get it.
3. The Blahs are Temporary, But They Sometimes Point to Something Bigger
One day of the Blahs is no big deal. One year might be depression. And somewhere in between one day and one year, the Blahs are a clue that my mind is going through some shift.
Sometimes I can I recognize Blah-repetition in myself or Cliff, and with a little probing I can pinpoint the underlying thoughts. Over the course of our marriage, reoccurring Blahs have pointed to dissatisfaction with specific jobs, frustrations with parenting, realizations of aging, a desire to be more physically fit, and hopes for a more supportive community. I’m learning to see the Blahs not just as annoying temporary moods, but as my subconscious’s internal warning system that we’re about to face a change.
None of this means I actually appreciate the Blahs – I can’t decide if it’s more annoying to have the Blahs or to be married to someone who has them – but I am at least learning how to navigate them. And it only took 10 years to get this far.
PS: If you think you might have actual depression, please seek professional help. In Chicago, consider the Cornerstone Counseling Center.
Photo credit: JoePenna via Flickr.