Chicago — I think there’s a moment in most people’s life when they realize they’ve been unknowingly stuck in an unhealthy pattern. I’ve had no shortage of such moments and some of them have been more clear when I think about how I’m showing up to work at those times.
How you show up can be a pretty good wellness indicator, especially if you normally get some sense of fulfillment from the work you do. I know trouble is lingering when I find myself coming to work lethargic, uninspired and unmotivated, attributes that inevitably translate to my performance, how social I am with my team members and how much effort I bring to the table for tasks that day.
For some, such conditions make heading to work dreadful, impacting their ability to show up on time or at all. As someone who always likes to be on time and frequently reports to work an hour in advance, that isn’t a problem. But despite my physical presence, my mind and heart remain elsewhere whenever I’m in such a cycle.
It’s not always spawned by something I’m going through. Yes, sometimes my lack of performance comes as a result of fatigue from taking care of my three-month-old daughter at night. Sometimes it comes as I’ve mourned the loss of a loved one, the loss of my life before becoming a parent, while empathizing with struggles my wife faces or when realizing that the grocery money is running out. Other times my work-related funk starts in ways that are less profound — a rainy, gloomy day, a crazy driver who recklessly zooms past me at an intersection, not eating the breakfast I wanted, having to stop and get gas or seeing a fun weekend come to an end.
However, a lot of times there’s no clear reason for the start of such sadness and it somehow penetrates a morning or a week that went considerably well. When that happens, I find that the gloominess is a lot more stubborn and unnoticeable. It’s hard to fight something that you can’t even recognize or put a name to. So, begins the unhealthy pattern, one that sees you finding unhelpful ways to cope with feelings you don’t understand. Some of those unhelpful ways include not talking about it, isolating yourself, self-medicating with drugs, alcohol or fast foods and more — all of which can dig a deeper hole of despair. The hole continues to subtly widen and next thing you know, you wake up with a deep sense that something is off and has been for a while. The posture I take toward the things on my schedule that day is often a signal that it’s time to do something about it.
We can’t always control how we feel or how we start feeling that way but we can control how we respond. When I feel myself slipping into an emotional quandary, I try to counter it with healthy things, even if I can’t identify a concrete cause for a dilemma. I try to focus more on the gym, eating healthy and getting enough sleep at night. It doesn’t always work out but I try to never give up on choosing those things over the unhelpful ones.
Noah Johnson (he/him/his) is a Chicago-based journalist. Follow him on Twitter: @noahwritestoo.
Edited by NaTyshca Pickett