We’re fine, we say, and then ignore our blah feelings
One of the questions that keeps coming up for me as I work with and get to know local care providers is why some people refuse to seek help for their mental health, no matter how much they’re struggling.
The Help & Hope South Coast team has shared several theories with me for why that is and, while all of them ring true, it’s never felt like the whole picture.
People don’t seek help because their cultural pride and sense of self-sufficiency prevents them from appearing weak.
They don’t seek help because they fear the labels and stigma that come with mental health diagnoses and can be so hard to shake; and,
They don’t seek help because they fear getting lost in the system and no longer having control over their lives.
Yes, yes, and yes; each is true for some.
But I can’t help but think there’s more to the problem.
Yesterday I read this New York Times column by Adam Grant, a management and psychology professor. I had been digging into the Time’s April 15 story about recent suicide numbers and got distracted by this headline, ‘There’s a Name for the Blah You’re Feeling: It’s Called Languishing.’
I clicked because blah really sums up what I’ve been feeling lately. Not bad, just not excited about my life.
Grant uses the term languishing to describe the gray area that falls between depression and mental well-being. He cites the work of sociologist Corey Keyes who first used the term, defining it as “the void between depression and flourishing — the absence of well-being.”
According to Grant, languishing “dulls your motivation, disrupts your ability to focus, and triples the odds that you’ll cut back on work.”
The column is fascinating, but here’s the line that pinned me to the page:
“When you can’t see your own suffering, you don’t seek help or even do much to help yourself.”
Grant references Keyes in describing why languishing can keep people from seeking help. “Part of the danger,” he says, “is that when you’re languishing, you might not notice the dulling of delight or the dwindling of drive. You don’t catch yourself slipping slowly into solitude; you’re indifferent to your indifference.”
That’s the piece that’s been missing for me. People who aren’t depressed but yet have lost their real sense of well-being without really noticing the difference in their lives. They’re indifferent to their indifference.
Things are fine, they tell friends and family. They’re great, they say, without noticing the lack of real happiness in their lives or the loss of drive to do the things they love.
Grant doesn’t offer a set of tips for moving out of this state, but he does suggest that the ability to name it is a first step to creating a better response to it. Naming the feeling, he said, “could help to defog our vision, giving us a clearer window into what had been a blurry experience.”
He also recommends trying to create a state of flow - that feeling of immersion in a meaningful challenge - as an antidote to languishing, starting with small challenges.
“One of the clearest paths to flow is a just-manageable difficulty: a challenge that stretches your skills and heightens your resolve,” Grant writes.
It’s good advice. Having a name for this way of feeling helps us identify it when it happens. Otherwise we risk not even noticing when we need help.