Are You Numbing Out to Joy?
Here’s to another failed attempt to get people excited about a free workshop or event you spent hours preparing! My anxiety is through the roof, my energy levels down, and the only thing that keeps me from falling into a pit of depression is my lotus pose. My body aches with every jump Cheryl wants me to do at the gym and my eyelids can barely stay open. I read today that “rest is productive”, but as I lay my head down, I am overcome by guilt for sleeping in the middle of the day when my business isn’t “thriving”– I haven't earned it.
So, in an attempt to be useful I open my email. As I thumb through yet another perfectly drafted sales letter, with perfect CTAs, and perfect layout and perfect pictures and obviously perfect everything, my throat tightens, a gag as my lungs scream for air. Breathe, Yvonne. I call my coach and she asks her favorite question: “What does anxiety need, angel?” And I want to scream– clients, damnit. People who care. A sales page that converts. An Instagram account with 10K followers. A social media manager who takes care of all that online stuff. Instead I say… more joy.
“I CAN’T CATCH MY BREATH”
Is the honeymoon phase of my new venture over? Is joy even possible in entrepreneurship? What is joy? What does it mean to have joy? What does it feel like?
These questions have been on my mind for weeks as I experience what I feel must be the opposite. I can’t catch a breath. My anxiety is back. My jaw hurts constantly. My breathing is shallow and my mood is meh at best. To make matters more intense, I’ve recently decided to stop drinking alcohol and as such, I can no longer numb out or in my case, drown my feelings. I have to feel them… all of them.
As I turn to my journal in an attempt to get to the bottom of this, I wonder: “Why is it so hard for me to just enjoy?”, “When have I ever truly felt joy?”, and, “How long have I been numbing out to joy?”
I can recall a few joyful moments that really stand out. Like that day I went for a walk around the Vancouver seawall, feeling the sun on my face, breathing the salty air– I was overcome by so much joy, I cried tears of happiness. Then there was that day in Tarifa, Spain, where I experienced pure freedom walking along a never-ending beach with Africa on the horizon, wind in my hair and sand between my toes.
Looking back further, and into my childhood, joy becomes a little harder to find. I didn’t have an unhappy childhood, but the overall economic and social climate of communist Germany can be summed up with one word: grey. No joke! If you were one of the lucky ones to travel from West to East Germany, you could physically see where thriving, vibrant Germany ended and grey (polluted) Germany began.
My grandparents were still processing their trauma from war, Mom and Dad were always working hard, building a house, tending to the garden and animals and constant gathering of basic necessities. My teachers had very strict and serious qualities about them, rewarding discipline, praising hard work, and enforcing strict punishments for non-conformists.
Joy did not live in east Germany. If we laughed too much, it was a sign that we weren’t taking “life” seriously. My report card literally says: “Yvonne is a very disciplined and hardworking student.” Is it surprising, then, that I approach my life and work with the same seriousness and discipline I learned so long ago?
JOY vs HAPPINESS
So what is joy, and is there a difference between joy and happiness? One of my favorite authors, Danielle LaPorte, distinguishes joy and happiness like this:
“Happiness is like rising bubbles and inevitably fleeting. Happiness is the ten seconds that you enjoy a taste of delicious buttery cream. Happiness cannot occupy the same space as anger or sadness. Happiness is transitory. Joy is like oxygen. You need it to stay alive. Joy is the fiber of your soul and drives every core desire you have. It’s the stuff of your very essence. And since your soul can never be annihilated your access to joy never vanishes.”
Joy to me means waking up in the morning excited for another day. This doesn’t mean living a perfect life full of rainbows and unicorns. Shit’s going to happen, of course. But because joy drives my core desires, it can co-exist even in times of sadness, anger or difficulty. When joy is present, the obstacles and challenges I face don’t stop me from being excited… in fact, they make me creative. They make me grow. When joy is present, I see everything in its light, and it extends outwards to other people I’m with. It’s powerful, it’s magical, and it’s bigger than me.
When things get tough it’s a familiar feeling for me. I recognize it. I know what comes next. It’s predictable. My brain makes the association back to an experience I’ve had and instead of getting swallowed by despair, stuck in victimization, or numbing out joy, my body and soul remind me that I can choose– freedom. There’s no separation between light and dark. One cannot exist without the other. It’s my interpretation of one being bad and the other being good that has me stuck in the mud.
Joy isn’t something that happens to you. Joy is within you!
Joy is the essence in both my life and my business. Joy is what drives my desires. It’s what encouraged me to trade in my heels for my backpack. It’s what makes me leap into the unknown, every time. When I exude joy, people are attracted to my energy like moths to a flame. When I am in my joy and speak my vision, people get me. They feel me.
When joy is absent from my life (work), everything feels as heavy as lead. Getting out of bed in the morning becomes more and more difficult. My breathing becomes so shallow my chest hurts. The urge to numb out or distract myself heightens.
If you’re in a dark place, and joy is elusive (or feels completely gone), go back to your meditation cushion. Your joy is the light that illuminates your path. It’s what got you into entrepreneurship in the first place. Remember that feeling you had when you stepped into the unknown, the deep knowing that you wanted more– and that you were committing to your dreams, for real? That ball of fire burning inside you was your joy. You’ve experienced it and you can return to it.
What does your reactive voice tell you to do? You’ll notice it’s probably the same line over and over again… because it’s telling you the easy way out, the fastest and simplest way to end the discomfort. Your lack of joy is a sign that you’re off track. Sure, you can mend the discomfort and “pull yourself together”. You can wake up early, apply for jobs that don’t inspire you, and work out your body until it’s sore and exhausted. You can mask it with food and drink, or with endless inconsequential tasks.
Or, you can listen. You can open the door to the feelings, good, bad, and ugly, without judging them, and offer them some comfort. Your feelings are bugging you because they have something to say, and it might not be as bad as you think. Maybe they’re encouraging you to re-evaluate something that isn’t working, get creative, or address an issue you’ve been putting off. Maybe they’re requesting that you slow the f*** down, reminding you that you’re not a machine, and that you’ve been denying yourself some of the very things that bring you joy.
The urge to give up and do something else is a misinterpretation of what your lack of joy is trying to convey. Your joy is your light, and it’s still lighting the way for you. It’s not your joy that has disappeared, but you who has wandered off and must find your way back. Instead of taking effort to go find our joy, we spend so much time and energy trying to fashion a new light out of whatever is around us.
What are your sources of joy, and are you experiencing them? Are you experiencing them, but feeling guilty about it? Instead of allowing your reactive self to drive your actions, sit and breathe for a bit. You will find your way back to joy if you take the time to listen deeply and give yourself what you need. That might mean putting things aside for a bit. It might mean being quiet, turning down social engagements, and letting your body soften. You haven’t broken down, you’ve simply jumped tracks. Feel what you need to feel.
My coach always reminds me to look at what is trying to emerge. I think it’s important to recognize that from a lack of joy comes clarity and growth, if you allow it to happen. From a lack of joy emerges… You. A brighter you, a clearer you, a version of yourself you recognize as authentic and true. Because what brings you back to your joy, your light, is growth. No mud, not lotus.