individual moments of restlessness

Posted on June 26th, 2013

Kay Redfield Jamison is a psychologist and sufferer of bipolar disorder who wrote An Unquiet Mind, a book I read many years ago when my rough trots were more prevalent than my smooth.

Image by Arne Olav

Image by Arne Olav

This observation from her book has always stood out and I returned to it recently:

I long ago abandoned the notion of a life without storms, or a world without dry and killing seasons. Life is too complicated, too constantly changing, to be anything but what it is. And I am, by nature, too mercurial to be anything but deeply wary of the grave unnaturalness involved in any attempt to exert too much control over essentially uncontrollable forces. There will always be propelling, disturbing elements, and they will be there until…the watch is taken from the wrist. It is, at the end of the day, the individual moments of restlessness, of bleakness, of strong persuasions and maddened enthusiasms, that inform one’s life, change the nature and direction of one’s work, and give final meaning and color to one’s loves and friendships.

It’s all OK, you know. The storms and bleakness and madness count for something. The restlessness will lead to something. These parts of life are not to be constantly derided, moved on from. Once I get over this rough trot, then life will start.No. They’re part of it all and it’s all happening now.. There is no run-up. No dress rehearsal.

And: it is the “individual moments” that count. The uniqueness of our particular bleaknesses and little madnesses are special and colourful. They can either make you feel dreadfully alone and unhinged, or unique and special. It can be a choice to view your individual moments with bemused compassion and intrigue. Daily, I try to smile at my little moments.

Please feel free to share a quote or adage or thing that resonates for you when you feel dreadfully alone in the bleakness…chances are it will strike a chord for me and others here.

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  • Gabriella

    Wow! This has really struck a raw nerve with me. My little saying that I say to myself when I feel overwhelmed by a task, “you dont need to see the whole staircase, just the first step”. I think someone famous said that and always gets me out of the doldrums!


  • Nat Saville

    wow, my mind was just blown…I often live my life ‘just getting through’ things…I guess I need to read this book…thank you, that was unexpected and quite needed.


  • Elizabeth

    There is a really interesting line in MIlan Kundera’s ‘Identity’, from the protagonist French woman who visits the grave of her son (who passed when he was quite young).
    Very French fatalist in style, but essentially she says that she says that she is grateful for his death, after many years of suffering because of it. Grateful because of who it has made her and allowed her to achieve.
    I like to think about that some times…the shit just is, and it will be, and it doesn’t get any less shit because you don’t want it to have dropped right at your feet. And sometimes it’s really heartbreakingly, debilitatingly shit. And that’s okay because the path you had to take because the one you wanted to take was obstructed by shit, WILL change you, and you WILL grow from it.
    Kind of hard to get the head around, but has struck a chord with me since reading it.


  • cc

    If I’m having a low point and regretting the past or a decision I’ve made, I remember a good piece of advice I once read: ‘you made the best decision for YOU at that point in time’. It reminds me that I need to be kinder to myself 🙂


    Aphroditea Reply:

    you inspired me to share this little gem – how to make a graceful comeback when you’ve made a mistake – serendipitously it popped into my inbox not long after I read Sarah’s post.

    For your lovely words “It reminds me that I need to be kinder to myself”…thank you. In times of bleakness Sarah, your beautiful spirit definitely counts for something x


  • Jes

    Image by mugley:

    Arne Olav just grafted the dog’s head on and neglected to give credit as required by the CC licence the photo was used under.


  • Brad

    I liked your post. I think that when you say at the end “Daily, I try to smile at my little moments” you are stepping outside those negative or repetitive thoughts (of past problems or imagined futures) and ‘watching the thinker’. Observing these thoughts without judging them is a practice suggested by Eckhart Tolle in his book “The Power of Now” as something that can help free an individual from the constraints of thinking about the past and future and move towards living in the present moment.


  • ” It can be a choice to view your individual moments with bemused compassion and intrigue. Daily, I try to smile at my little moments.”

    WOW. I smiled with my liver as I read the last passage. Very elegantly said. Most eloquent as always, Sarah. Thank you for sharing your wisdom.



  • Anonymous

    Hi Sarah

    I wonder whether you have any comments/advice on binge eating disorder. Did your studies at IIN cover this?


    Alice Reply:

    Hi Anonymous.

    I have a lot of experience with binge eating. If you’re trying to stay afloat on that tsunami (and I’m going to assume that you are) can I just say…. you are not alone and I totally get how you feel (if that is what you are feeling!) (and it’s okay to feel however you’re feeling if you get what I’m saying…)

    PEFT/Mindfulness therapies + meditation are the anchors in my little life. They have really helped me.

    I find my binge eating spirals and takes over when I’m not listening to what my heart wants/begs for/keeps me up at night for……

    Yesterday I went to the funeral of a 21 year old boy and I felt that tug that comes at my heart every so often, that life is too precious, too short, too fragile, like a piece of tissue paper, to spend it wandering alone the prison of binge eating… and I became determined yet again, to walk out of that prison, even if I have to remind myself ten thousand times a day to get up and walk.

    if you’re asking sarah for comments/advice on binge eating for some other reason then i am sorry to have assumed that you were asking for yourself!!

    I hope you are being kind to yourself, Anonymous. xxxxx Alice


    Sarah Reply:

    I’ve battled for 15 years with what could only be labelled an eating disorder.
    What a waste of life.
    We must be kinder to ourselves and we must live in the moment, feel our feelings, ( not eat them) even if they are shit, sometimes the whole “think positive ” thing just doesn’t work, be in the moment,’s the only thing that matters, once I realised this, only about a month ago mind you, after countless self help books etc etc…I just got it and I’ve stopped overheating, stopped obssesing about things,instead of feeling things, started living and I’m just happy!
    I feel free.

    Yes it’s a self help book, no it’s not about god,but is a little spiritual
    , cant recommend enough:
    Women,food & god by Geneen Roth


    Lee Reply:

    Geneen Roth also wrote “When food is love” .

    I too battle with eating my feelings! I have put on so much weight, and being the apple shape I am it has gone straight to my stomach. I look like I am pregnant! I am also a 40 year old woman with no partner and so I also happen to be going through the process of trying to grieve over the likelihood of not experiencing pregnancy. Strangely I have started to embrace the look of being pregnant. I often rub my stomach with a sense of what might have been… And, I gladly accept the seat on public transport when offered to me! So, I am in that vicious circle of eat, regret, hunger to feel something and then eat again – oh so frustrating. It is certainly about living in the moment though, I just can’t quite get there yet. I need a good cry… but I have difficulty giving in to it – I may need to watch ‘Marley and me’!

    Anonymous Reply:

    Thank you Alice, Sarah and Lee for your honest responses. I was so fearful to even ask the question. I am so very over myself and this disorder.

  • Stormageddon

    I like this. Especially “they can either make you feel dreadfully alone and unhinged, or unique and special.” I find, usually both. Maybe one, then the other, depending on the time of day.

    You must be so kind and gentle with yourself. Especially if you are mad. The world is horribly unkind to made people, it will ridicule you and mock you and make you feel unworthy of even existing. And once it has successfully driven you to suicide, it might decide you were actually a genius all along and sell your paintings for millions of dollars like they did with Van Gogh. And what of those of us who don’t even have an extraordinary artistic capability to fall back on and reassure us? We’d be really screwed then.

    No, we must be kind to ourselves. My yoga teacher frequently uses the Sanskrit word “ahimsa,” which means non-violence, but she says one must start a mindset of non-violence by using it first towards ourselves. We must be kind and loving and accepting and not violent to our own hearts first, and then we can work towards being non-violent with each other.

    Much love Sarah. Hope you’re travelling well
    Mia xx


  • I have been thinking a lot about this recently too…. wondering which of my moods is the “real” me. But I’m learning to recognise that the ups and downs are a part of me, and a part of who I am, for better or worse. It can be difficult to accept the way my head works at certain times, but no amount of being angry about it is going to fix it. Will definitely seek out this book!


  • ren

    This is a beautiful post by Stephen Fry on this very thing



    Stormageddon Reply:

    This made me cry, thank you Ren.

    Especially – “It’s not that I want a sexual partner, a long-term partner, someone to share a bed and a snuggle on the sofa with – although perhaps I do and in the past I have had and it has been joyful. But the fact is I value my privacy too. It’s a lose-lose matter. I don’t want to be alone, but I want to be left alone.” YES. That very thing.

    I didn’t realize Mr Fry and I are on the same combination of medications. I would encourage anyone contemplating suicide to seek help, it truly can be found, you don’t have to fight it all on your own. I only wish I had his bravery, courage and wit when speaking about mental illness. He is a truly remarkable man and I dearly hope he sticks around, for our sake as well as his.



  • This was a beautiful post Sarah, one that strongly resonates with me. I have lived a life filled with the most extraordinary of adventures, the highest peaks, achievements and experiences most only dream of. But I have also had the lowest lows, sinking in the pits I fear I have no chance of climbing my way out of. Richness and poverty. Exhilaration of life, and the call, closeness, and surroundings of death. For me, every day is a step in the journey, every second of life, every experience, makes me who I am. No regrets, and faith in what is meant to be will be. I am unique: my tarnished scuffs and scratches are as much of who I am as my prized, shiny sections. And I am finally able to believe that my decisions are always right for me in that moment, and all of those moments combined equals the sum of me.


  • Loren

    What I find so interesting about these low points that I’m sure all of us encounter ..perhaps some more than others, is that they feel so hideously lonely sometimes. Whereas…if we spoke about these times with more openess and honesty, as you do Sarah, we’d realise it’s these moments that could also bring us closer others. But we keep hold these hard times so close to our chests..battling on and ‘saving face’.

    I stumbed across this song during one of my recent smaller storms, and listening the words I felt my soul soar.
    We are not as alone as our storms would have us think….
    It lifts me up ..every single time..


  • Vicki

    This too shall pass…in the good times and bad.


    Kelly Reply:

    Vicki, this is my favourite saying, my father has terminal bone cancer…many highs and lows and we say this to each other every day!


    Ange Reply:

    Yes, so true Vicki this is my saying also, a simple reminder that life goes on and today’s deep low may be followed by tomorrow’s better tidings. All part of the journey. At times during my twenties when I was pursuing a career path so in opposition to my true nature I would stare in the mirror each morning with the words ‘ today is going to be a better day than yesterday’ and in time, it was.


  • Kaiel

    When I’m feeling terribly, terribly unsure, uncertain, lost, I remember this quote

    It’s like driving a car at night. You never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.

    E. L. Doctorow


  • That book has been sitting on my bookshelf untouched for ages, and now you’ve inspired me to pick it up and read it. Thank you.


  • Wow, so many wonderful quotes.

    Mine isn’t really that interesting, something I read in a Haruki Murakami memoir:

    “Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.”

    It’s a running manthra, but it works everywhere, I think.


  • Waiting for life to start after the sticky bits – oh, yes, I’ve missed out on so much doing the push/pull thing; grasping onto ‘good’ and running from discomfort. I was anywhere but HERE. Having a wake up call with my health, with nowhere to run, was a good thing. It showed me that the tight spaces just want to be felt – compressing us until we have no choice. Now I literally allow myself to feel the discomfort, in my body [tight chest, cold hands, shallow breathing, whatever]. That allows for it, then it seems to go anyway. I feel a lot, and it’s added a depth I’d never imagined existed.


    Debra Reply:

    Oh God yeah, Lucie, I’ve recently discovered the “allow your feelings” thing, even feelings of I can’t breath and I’m going to die! All need to be allowed so you can relax, and can take things much further, feel much deeper, not resisting anymore, and yes, then the feelings slip away. Thanks for sharing.


  • Alina

    This restlessness feeling has been a huge part of my anxiety. There were moments where I felt I had so much energy I could concur the world, but always at the wrong time. Thinking of where I could be, what I should be doing exhausted me and left me drilling myself into a deep well of annoyance. I have climbed out since. Looking back down the well is quite funny, yes. But now: let’s pull some of those buckets of energy up and drink it! Or have a child fall down into it because there were no barriers. Ha ha ha.


  • Alina

    Restlessness? Restless…


  • Cait

    I tend to say this and it soothes me during these sorts of times,

    “Everything is always working out for me.” And for you too.


    CMM Reply:

    I’m going to start doing that too! Thank you, Cait! 🙂


  • Sylvia

    Such beautiful sharing. Thanks Sarah for making the space for people to talk about our feelings of madness. It’s generally just not allowed, and so therefore we paper it over with platitudes and “forcing ourselves” to have a good time, enjoy the day, be upbeat.

    Just heard a PHENOMENAL song by Indigenous hip hop artists the Last Kinection called “Millions of People” which says,

    Millions of people are feeling the way I feel. / I probably don’t call enough / Do I call enough? It feels like I’m not tall enough / Or win enough, or thin enough, like I don’t go to the gym enough / Or walk enough, or talk enough, eat with a knife and fork enough / Or eat enough, or sleep enough, I don’t go down to the beach enough / Work enough, rehearse enough, don’t get no money in my purse enough / Or hurt enough, or curse enough, how do I balance all this stuff? / Or think enough, or think too much, I’m smoking and drinking too much / Or pray enough, or say enough, I don’t have productive days enough / Read the bible enough, suicidal enough, I don’t even recycle enough / I’m not me enough, I don’t see enough, I don’t get no time with me enough / I don’t write enough, I’m not white enough, I don’t get everything right enough / Or kick back enough, I’m not black enough, I don’t got nobody’s back enough / I’m not man enough, or plan enough, I don’t do all that I can enough / I don’t bring enough, or sing enough, go out on a limb enough / I don’t cry enough, or lie enough, I don’t ask everyone why enough / etc etc

    There’s such a pull in our society to be happy, right and more than we are.

    My saying is from John Diamond, first husband of Nigella Lawson, during the lead up to his death from throat cancer:
    “You aren’t happy? Yes you are: this, here, now, is what happiness is. Enjoy it.”


  • “First of all accept yourself”


  • John

    Wonderful post, Sarah, and excellent comments all. I agree with “This too shall pass.” It’s my mantra and it (whatever ‘it’ is) always does pass, whether it’s good or bad. A couple of song lyrics were mentioned and two that stand out to me are Harry Chapin’s “Greyhound” in which he sings “…it’s got to be the going, not the getting there that’s good” and Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile” in its entirety.


  • Steph

    I love this. I used to weather terrible storms of ups and downs. I cherished the ups, which made me feel creative and special, but the downs were dark, dark, long and lonely. Oddly enough, without medication (which I always resisted), I’ve gradually found more even ground. I was surprised last week by two bleak days, having not had any such days in a several years. Come to think of it, I don’t generally have the extreme highs that I used to have, either, which is interesting. I can’t tell you what has changed, but I can say that I have become even more of an observer than I ever was. I kind of consider my life as a bit of an experiment and the failed experiments teach at least as much as the triumphantly successful ones.

    Just thinking about this made me think of a Virginia Woolf quote that I have in my wall, but about a different subject altogether. She was writing about her diary: “What sort of diary should I like mine to be? Something loose-knit and yet not slovenly, so elastic that it will embrace anything, solemn, slight or beautiful, that comes into my mind. I should like it to resemble some deep old desk or capacious hold-all, in which one flings a mass of odds and ends without looking them through…The main requisite, I think, on reading my old volumes is not to play the part of a censor, but to write as the mood comes or of anything whatever; since I was curious to find how I went for things put in haphazard and found the significance to lie where I never saw it at the time.”

    I guess what really stands out to me is the critical importance of not being a censor of one’s own experience, which is the point of what you’ve quoted.


  • Sasha Heywood

    While on exchange in Denmark I had one very emotional moment of feeling isolated from struggling to learn the language. My beautiful host father Kurt said to me, ‘Sasha, how do you eat an elephant?’ I just blinked at him and tried to decipher this obviously complex and insightful riddle when he just shrugged and said to me: ‘One bite at a time.’

    One bite at a time. Funny how those five reassuring little words have stayed with me for seven years. When tasks or relationships or just good ol’ life overwhelms I remember how to conquer my elephants.

    Og jeg elsker at snakke dansk. Og spiser ry brød.


    Ms Jane Reply:

    I love that!!


  • CMM

    “For a long time it seemed to me that life was about to begin—real life. But there was always some obstacle in the way, something to be gotten through first, some unfinished business, time to still be served, a debt to be paid. Then life would begin. At last it dawned on me that these obstacles were my life.” —Fr. Alfred D’Souza


  • clare

    I’ve recently discovered Joseph Campbell. He has some wonderful insights…

    Out of perfection
    Nothing can be made.

    What we are really living for
    Is the experience of life,
    Both the pain and the pleasure.

    The warrior’s approach
    Is to say “yes” to life.
    “Yea” to it all.


  • Ms Jane

    Nothing is permanent. I say this over and over to myself when the shits hitting the fan, take deep breaths and just keep going!


  • Anna

    Excellent article, Sarah. Just what I needed. No need to fight the stuff that is out of our control and time to roll with the punches a bit.
    As always, loving your blog!


  • Shelle

    My favourite quote is…Sometimes it’s okay if the only thing you did today was breathe.
    I used this to get through my partners deployment and my depression.


  • Jolien

    Wow I haven’t even read all of these comments (so many!) but what I have read has helped me today. Today I got the results of an exam…I failed for the 4th time and was really hoping I passed it, long story, but I was hanging out for a pass. It was reaffirming to read your article Sarah and some of other people’s advice.

    One nice visual I like to think of, from a guided meditation: your mind is like the sky and your thoughts coming in and out are like the weather. No matter how bad the weather, the sky has room for it i.e. no matter how crap you feel, how overwhelming that feeling is, how badly it seems to consume you…you have room for it, it will pass, there is still a clear sky somewhere above it


  • I have this wonderful little reminder stuck to my monitor:

    “There are some days when you feel awful. And there are some days that seem awful. Moan, complain and ‘stay awful’ or turn awful into ‘awe-full’….you choose.
    Be awe full. And look out on life with amazement and wonder. Then you’ll enrich and be enriched.”
    Thanks to Brahma Kumaris Raja Yoga for this gem of inspiration


  • Sarah

    Timely post. I’m having one of those days. I have learned to lean into these moments, sit with them, inquire what they might be about and send love to them. I know now they are a part of me, of life and I expect of everyone’s life. I have come to welcome them knowing they are teaching me, as they stop me in my tracks and demand my attention.

    Along this vein I believe we must own our darkness to choose our light.

    x eilish


    Andy Reply:

    Very true 🙂


  • Americanika

    I love reading all these comments. And I love this post.

    When times are tough, my mantra is a Buddhist saying:

    The obstacle is the path.

    It helps.


  • Maureen

    Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass. It is about learning to dance in the rain


    Andy Reply:

    yep, I really like that one 🙂


  • “Whenever you think or you believe or you know, you’re a lot of other people: but the moment you feel, you’re nobody-but-yourself.”
    ― E.E. Cummings


  • Something I like to remind myself of every so often is that wherever I am physically or emotionally is where I meant to be, just go with it, don’t fight it, be kind to yourself and you will surface again when the time is right – this place where you are right now, the universe has circled on a map for you 🙂


  • Trevor Otto

    The Key to Life = ‘An Open Heart’ ,from being grateful for the smallest thing to embracing another human ! It’s the 4th Chakra connecting our higher and lower energies.The irony is although we passively crave this state of Love we are able to actively access it at almost any time through ‘an Open Heart’ And in this state it is very,very hard for Fear or Bleakness to enter,

    Peas, Laugh and Hippieness to All,


  • Emma

    Thank you Sarah. You have given me the greatest gift, the realisation that so many others feel as I do. You have created such a beautiful community for people to support each other through ‘life’, in all its messiness. I love that I no longer feel alone with my wobbly mind and I love that I am beginning to really love and APPRECIATE my life, as it is, RIGHT NOW! My mantra used to be “it will all be over soon” but now, I think I will be getting my inspiration for living from all the beautiful ideas posted above. I don’t want life to be over, I want to live in the moment, feel each moment, now matter how hard it is. Thank you for helping me realise this. Xxx


  • This above all, to thine own self be true.

    Just do your best, do it with conviction, do it because you think it’s right. Do it because you couldn’t look yourself in the mirror otherwise. Then let it go.


  • I believe the trials and tribulations of our lives help us in our marching forward, and although hard to cope with at the time, develops character and enable us to appreciate all of our good times. When i’m struggling, i make myself stand in front of the mirror and say “one day at a time”


  • Anthony

    My life is one that is lived in the rapids, and somehow I don’t get washed away. I and my business somehow manage to keep a float. When all is said and done, I wouldn’t want it any other way. This is me, this is who I am, they can take it or leave it I say. In my times of troubles, I do feel alone, and once a wise owl said, though you may feel alone, if you look back you will see other foot prints with yours.


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  • Jeanne

    Beautifully written! Our difficulties become our gifts. We always climb a ladder of knowledge which each experience and that knowledge is priceless for growing.

    Thanks for sharing


  • Lauren

    Hi Sarah!
    You put things in such easy, real terms, just as if we’re having a conversation over a cuppa. Thank you for having the guts to share these personal things that relate to so many of us, and that we often keep secret out of shame and feelings of weakness. We all want to present to the world as formidable and strong, but by revealing our vulnerabilities we can truly connect and make a difference to each others lives.
    I have ordered ‘An Unquiet Mind’ and can’t wait to read it and see what else I can learn.
    Again, thank you.