How are you doing?

Do you ever feel like the answer to that question could just as easily be “not fine” as it could be “fine,” and that some days, the answer changes from hour-to-hour?

I wrote an email to a wise and caring friend some time ago and said this:

“Sometimes I think I don’t know how I’m doing! I feel like I’m doing OK, and am getting on with life reasonably well, but then something minor upsets or bugs me in a way that it wouldn’t normally and I wonder if I’m not really coping. Is that a thing?”

She wrote back with two gifts – one was the assurance that “That is TOTALLY a thing” (capital letters required, evidence plentifully supplied) and the other was the words I needed to begin to articulate how I am. So, for those of you who are feeling overwhelmed and unsure what to make of your fine/not fine emotions, let me pass on the gift to you.

Fine/Not Fine: The Description

Fine/Not Fine is that strange emotional state that you experience when you feel pushed to the limits of your coping capacity even though things are not otherwise horribly bad. When you feel this way, you can feel sincerely fine one minute and feel like crawling into bed and giving up the next. It can be caused by good things as well as bad things – sometimes good things still demand an awful lot of us. You might also feel confused, wondering whether you really are coping or not, but then honestly, some days, you’re just too battle weary to think about it.

I know the feeling, my friend. You’re not alone.

Fine/Not Fine: The Diagnosis

The picture I’m going to share today to diagonse feeling fine/not fine didn’t resonate with me immediately, but after a few weeks of processing it and letting it sink in it helped me feel a lot less like I was going crazy! I hope it helps you too. Whether you are feeling this way now, have done so in the past, or do so in the future, I want to leave you with this important takeaway: you’re not going crazy!

2016-05-11 Fine Not Fine

Image by Pixabay user digitalphotolinds

Picture a thermometer which can measure heat from below the freezing point right up to – let’s say 150°C. This particular thermometer measures how close you are to your maximum capacity (physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually), and on this thermometer, 100°C represents your “boiling point.” Your boiling point is the point at which you are highly likely to meltdown in some way. It may be getting a nasty cold bug, it may be yelling at your kids, it may be making really poor decisions impulsively, or it may be simply crying unexpectedly (which, by the way, is an excellent, God-given form of meltdown in my opinion!).

Do note that “boiling point” is not the same as “burnout point” which is higher on this scale – let’s say at 150°C. At burnout point, you become unable to function any more. You get seriously physically ill, or you have some form of nervous breakdown, and you end up having to take drastic steps in your day-to-day life to recover. When you’re anywhere near “burnout point,” for whatever reason, you are categorically “not fine.”

When you’re approaching your boiling point, though, you are fine – sort of. Everything you have going on in your life you can manage – it is within your capacity – just. You can even feel amazing on a good day, but you probably also feel pretty overwhelmed sometimes and you’re getting really (dangerously!) close to being “not fine.”

Every demand in life adds heat to your capacity thermometer – good and bad alike. Some of the demands are from wonderful things – a dream job, a much-longed for child, a big move to a new exciting city, a leadership position, or a high-profile opportunity, for example. Some of the demands are from far less wonderful things – a difficult boss, a worryingly sick friend, a family drama, a toxic colleague, a suffocating budget, chronic pain, a struggling business, or a really tough decision, for instance. Many demands fall somewhere in between – the laundry needs doing, the emails need replying to, decisions need made, the paperwork needs filing, the food needs cooking, the dentist needs booking and the bills need paying. Some things demand our time and attention, whereas others such as emotional and physical pain, use up our energy even though they are not “to-do list” items. Whatever your particular tapestry of emotional and mental demands, the point is that each of these things, to varying extents, pushes your capacity thermometer higher up the scale.

Ideally in life, we want to be living with some buffer between how “hot” we are and our “boiling point.” The goal is not to be as cool as possible – we each have the capacity to meet some demands, and life is more purposeful and exciting when we use that capacity. In fact, being fairly high up the scale can be exciting and energising, as long as there is still enough buffer to deal with the unexpected and unpredictable demands that inevitably come one’s way.

The problem – and the fine/not fine/I-might-be-going-crazy feeling – comes when we find ourselves living permanently in the upper 90°Cs. A 1°C demand is no big deal when you’re hanging out at 75°C, and it isn’t even noticeable if you’re only at a 60°C but when someone asks you to do a 1°C demand and you are already at 98°C you’re likely to feel incredibly violated – how dare they ask you to use half of your remaining capacity for this insignificant thing?!

When you’re living close to your boiling point, a 1°C demand can easily tip you over the edge. And when something goes even slightly wrong, you just don’t have the capacity to deal with it. This is how you can go from feeling superhero-esque to unable to cope in seconds.

You’re Not Going Crazy

I wanted to share this idea with you because it really helped me to articulate how I was doing to myself and also, when I needed to, to others. I knew at the time that I wasn’t burning out and I knew that things in life were pretty much OK, but I also knew that I wasn’t completely OK myself and it really helped me to understand why.

Does it resonate with you at all? If not, bear it in mind in case you ever need it! Or sit with it for a while and see if it helps you make sense of how you’re feeling. Maybe it won’t, but for me it helped me find the particular words I needed to express how I was feeling – and that was the first step towards finding solutions.

If you can relate to what I just described, I just wanted to let you know that you’re not alone – and you’re not going crazy! It’s perfectly normal to feel fragile when life has taken you close to the boiling point. Be gentle with yourself, and don’t judge yourself for either the mini-meltdowns or for the decisions you make to avoid them. Things are going to get better!

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Featured image by Pixabay user RyanMcGuire.