Wednesday 15 January 2020

Flatness and Disinclination

This article began as a fourteen minute audio clip recorded on my way into work. The recording is a bit rambling in places but I’m starting there because that’s how I was feeling that day. Flat. I’ve edited for clarity and added some other relevant material. You can listen to the recording here on our YouTube channel.

Good morning. I wanted to see if I could capture a little of how I’ve been feeling since some time yesterday. It’s what I tend to call “flat.” That’s verbal shorthand for a sense of feeling fairly low. Not actively low or depressed; it’s more like the absence of any specific emotion than the presence of a negative one, if that makes sense.

Over the past year or so I’ve noticed it occurring every now and again. It doesn’t usually last more than a day or so and it doesn’t impact me severely if I don’t engage with it too much. If I do engage with it, or if something happens to exacerbate things, it has the potential to take me bit lower but when it first occurs it’s more of an absence of emotion than anything else.

I’m not on any form of medication but if I was starting on something new and watching out for side effects I’d say I feel mildly zoned out. I’m not quite responding emotionally to what’s going on around me as I usually would. Dinner not ready? No worries. Favourite tv show cancelled? Whatever. Friend changed our plans at the last moment? Fine. I don’t mean not feeling annoyed or upset in a positive calm way. I mean not feeling anything.

I’ve wanted to explore this sense of flatness for a while now. One reason I haven’t is that when I’m this way I don’t feel inclined to do anything as positive as trying to explore it too much. I’m hoping an audio recording can help me get past that block.

And there’s an interesting play on words – not feeling inclined to do things – because one meaning of incline is a slope or gradient. An upward incline might be a path rising in potential like climbing a mountain, or less positively as an uphill struggle. You might see a down slope as taking you somewhere you don’t want to go. In a more positive or even exciting way it might suggest things opening up for you, the way ahead getting easier, going with the flow downstream or downhill. The ups and downs might be gentle or have all the fear and excitement of a roller coaster. But when I’m this way I’m disinclined, with no particular ups and no particular downs. Flat.

It’s worth saying that there’s nothing specific going wrong in my life right now. Nothing “bad” has happened. All of my key friendships and relationships are good and strong and solid. Relationship issues can trigger me but that’s not the case. I could broaden it out a little and find a few things going on which probably have contributed to how I’m feeling but I don’t want to go into those right now. I’m not looking for explanations or causes here, I’m hoping to capture a little of how it feels and what I need when it happens.

When I get like this I tend to withdraw a little both on social media and from conversations and chats with people generally. I just can’t be doing with it. But I will reach out to a few people who are likely to get it, or at least be okay with me feeling like this. Those people, those friendships, are so important to me. I can say, “You know what, I’m feeling kind of flat today.” And maybe they will offer to explore it with me if I’d like to but they’re okay with that being how I feel right now. They don’t need to prise it apart or try to fix it like some other people would.

It helps that they recognize these feelings come and go for me. As long as I don’t do anything to send me any deeper the flatness will pass and something else will come along and I’ll move on. It’s also important for me to realize and accept there’s nothing inherently bad or wrong. I don’t have to force my way through or take steps to get myself out of it. In fact, periods of flatness can give space for introspection and to gather myself together.

I do tend to have a few negative feelings about these periods of flatness. The main one is that I’m not being a good friend if I’m unable to be there for other people. As I said I tend to withdraw a little. It’s what I need to do for myself but it has the knock-on effect that I’m not there for people I might normally be engaging with. I need to get my head around the dilemma because I like being there for people. I value friends who are there for me when I need it and who I can be there for when they need it. I had a good example of that yesterday with one friend. We had a good chat in the morning where I helped her explore a few things that were going on for her. Later in the day I wasn’t feeling great and she helped me unpack that a little. That mutuality is really important to me.

It’s extraordinarily valuable to me that I have several people – I’m not going to embarrass myself or them by naming or even counting them – who I know I can go to. I trust them and I trust myself with them. These are the people I know I’m safe with, that I can be vulnerable with if I’m feeling under the weather or something’s going on for me.

So one positive aspect of this flatness is it’s a learning experience. I’m learning to recognize what’s going on for me and who I need around me to offer a hand to hold while I gather myself and move forward. I’m also learning about where I need to be a little bit more aware of my boundaries. I’m not being disrespectful to those people or those friendships that are not helpful at such times; I’m focusing on what I need.

I’m not sure whether I’ll share this as an audio recording or whether I’ll use it as the basis of a written piece. I have wanted to blog around this subject of flatness for ages. It’s something that that comes up for me from time to time and I think it might resonate with other people. I haven’t managed to do that yet so I’ll review this audio and see if it feels like it would be of value to others. If so I might use it as the jumping-off point for writing something a little more structured about flatness and disinclination.

I’m going to leave it there. If you’re still there, thank you!

Bye for now.


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