LANGUISHING: Finding Our Way in the Dark

Fortunately, my little critter artifacts usually get along very well together.


(6 minute read)

It’s not just you. We’re all feeling little (or a lot) out of it these days. I came across the new diagnosis for this a few days ago, as I wrote about my own lost-at-sea feelings here.

This New York Times article explains this “middle child” of emotional health, between depression and joy, as “languishing”. (I was relieved to read this is a ‘thing’, and I hope it helps you, too.)

The problem is, it always does feel like it’s just us. Social media can help us stay connected even during pandemics and shut-downs. But it can also portray “everyone else” as having their sh** together, when we don’t.

I’ve shared my own experience getting through this in my last few blog posts. And I admit, after writing about them, I did feel better. For awhile.

Tiny steps forward in the studio, ala Garfield’s 10 days of 10% effort, which equals 100%.

One day, or ten days…It’s ALL good!

I committed to making one….ONE….new artifact a day. And shared it on Instagram/Facebook.

Realizing deadlines can inspire action, but reading about deadlines doesn’t.

Realizing some problems have very simple answers.

Realizing small acts of kindness and appreciation, which led to others engaging this way, helped, too.

Yet every day, I still go to bed exhausted, and wake up just as if I haven’t slept at all. My dreams are about trying to solve insurmountable problems, striving to achieve one step forward, without success.

What’s up with that?? How do I get back to my happy place? And who even cares if I do???

Welp, turns out there are even more ways to feel better than I thought!

First, while reading similar articles on emotional health, I realized one of my standard practices is considered the easiest, and the best: A gratitude list. Sometimes I’m just not feelin’ it. But when I make myself take ten minutes to list ten things I’m grateful for, no matter how hard it seems, it doesn’t take long to recognize the things that are actually going well for me: Having a loving, supporting partner. Having a studio to go to. Having a home. Access to physical therapy for pain and discomfort. I could go on….

Simply recognizing what’s good in our life doesn’t “fix” the bad. But it can shine a little light at our feet so we can take one tiny step forward, in the dark. (Now I can’t find this quote by Ann Lamott from her book, BIRD BY BIRD, but here are some others that are just as great!)

Second, my second favorite advice columnist (after Captain Awkward), Carolyn Hax , responded to a letter writer who said they can’t tell if their relationship with their partner is still based on love, or if it’s become merely “transactional”. We tend to think it’s one or the other right? Either things are great, or things are “meh”. Hax said that hitting such points can happen. But in the end, we can simply decide to choose love.

Choose love.

Yes, our ancient lizard brain tends to see the world in black-or-white, good-or-bad, happy-or-sad, etc. Human nature. Hax reminds me that we always have the power of our choices. We can be overwhelmed by everything that’s wrong with the world, and we can choose to be a force for good in it. We can seethe with anger and resentment, and we can choose not to act on it. We can have compassion for someone, and we can still set good boundaries.

For some reason, in spite of my exhaustion, my sad, hopeless thoughts, my “meh” outlook, I realized I can choose love. (I feel a little better already.)

Last, the Tokyo Olympic Games. My husband is an avid fan. Me, not so much. But I’ve learned a lot this year from this world event. So many firsts, so much empowerment, so many surprises. And so much controversy.

Simone Biles drew sympathy, compassion, and support for her own recognition of the “twisties” (aka, “the yips”), those moments when our brains disconnect, muscle memory fails, and our greatest efforts can turn into embarassing flops, or even horrifying injuries. (LINK? I was going to link to a horrible injury in a competition a few years ago, but it was TOO horrible. We don’t need that right now!) It took courage for her to take that stand of standing down when she knew it wouldn’t serve her, nor her team.

She also faced a vicious backlash of scorn and insults, being called lazy, cowardly, etc.

In an incredible article in the Washington Post recently, Kate Courtney, world champion mountain biker, shares her own experience with bombing at the Olympics this year. The self-doubt and ensuing criticism was devastating, it was humiliating, and it crushed her. She says,

At the Olympics, in particular, uncertainty and loss become visible and visceral. The challenge is clear, the emotions raw, and the outcome broadcast for the world to see. It takes courage for athletes to offer up true, heartfelt participation, knowing that very few will leave triumphant. And when the battle is over, those fallen competitors do not need to be kicked–they need to be carried. They need to be allowed to rest for just a moment and mend their broken hearts, so they can continue to bravely share their gifts with the world…. (Emphasis is mine.)

Her last paragraph speaks volumes to me today:

This is not the story I hoped to be writing about my Olympic Games. Like many others, I was searching for a sign that we could return to everything just as it was before the pandemic. But as I navigate my challenges around this experience, I am reminded that there are seasons of struggle and seasons of triumph–and that you don’t always get to choose when you jump from one to the next. Sometimes, you need help to keep going until the leaves change color. Exhaustion is not evidence of a lack of courage, but of its abundance. To deny the struggle is to deny the very thing that allows us to triumph in the end.

As I read more articles about successful artists in our area, the major sales others have made from our open studio tours, even scrolling through Instagram and Pinterest and seeing the jaw-droppingly beautiful work of others that my own work will never achieve…

I realize my own struggles are simply mine. They aren’t created by others, they can’t be solved by others. I can only sit with them, sit with uncertainty, until Clarity makes her presence known. (Words of wisdom from a wise woman friend, Sheri Gaynor.)

We all matter, in big ways and small, in great acts of courage and in tiny acts of kindness.

We all have the power of our choices, to hide our gifts or share them with the world, to choose love over resentment, resilience over despair, to embrace our broken selves because it shows us how truly human we all are. Perfection doesn’t make us a better human, but compassion–for ourselves, and for others–does.

To all the people who reached out to me over the last few weeks, who sent me their own acts of kindness, purchased my work, gave me words of love and encouragement, thank you from the bottom of my heart!

If you have your own work-arounds for getting back to your happy place., please share in the comments! What works for you might be just what works for someone else.

And if someone shared this with you, and you found it useful, you can either follow my blog (upper right corner), or sign up for my email newsletter (at the top of my website home page) for more random (but free!) advice.







Author: Luann Udell

I find it just as important to write about my art as to make it. I am fascinated by stories. You can tell when people are speaking their truth--their eyes light up, their voices become strong, their entire body posture becomes powerful and upright. I love it when people get to this place in their work, their relationships, their art. As I work from this powerful place in MY heart, I share this process with others--so they have a strong place to stand, too. Because the world needs our beautiful art. All of it we can make, as fast as we can! Whether it's a bowl, a painting, a song, a garden, a story, if it makes our world a better place, we need to do everything in our power to get it out there.

10 thoughts on “LANGUISHING: Finding Our Way in the Dark”

  1. Douglas Adams said, “I love the sound that deadlines make as they go whizzing by.” Sometimes we just have to look on deadlines more as guidelines. With my own work, I suddenly found myself overwhelmed. Working on two group anthologies this year, each with a launch deadline, and when we went into lockdown, my plans to sit with individual authors who needed help — gone. I had to try to work with them over the phone. Then I found one of them can’t use the phone, her hearing aid had broken. We fund a way to work around, and thanks to the lockdown I had uninterrupted time to focus on things, a little piece at a time.

    I just sent that anthology to the printer. It’s now out of my hands.

    Anthology no 2 – during quiet moments, while my authors were working on their own piece, I worked on those. And about half that anthology is now locked in.

    Launch for anthology no 1 was cancelled due to lockdown continuing. Launch for anthology 2 is on hold. Two deadlines that became guidelines.

    I found that taking the time out, stepping back, meant that what I finally completed was less rushed, was (I think) a much better job. No last-minute changes, no panic.

    That said, I do enjoy reading about other people’s deadlines. They do make me look around and think, “Is there anything I could be working on too?”


    1. I’d say you are doing it right! Working with…well, what works for you and your clients, slowing down when it made sense, and being aware of what works for YOU. Thank you for your insights, I always enjoy them! ❤️


  2. Happy places are overrated. I know, they are nice. Trying to be there all the time is exhausting though. I have found in my journey that looking at what I AM feeling…irritation? Sadness? Overwhelm? Even languishing? Is super important. These “bad” emotions are a legitimate part of the human experience. Each feeling or emotion we have has messages once we learn to listen to them. The struggle to NOT have the feelings that want, even demand to arise is exhausting.

    I learned a lot about this in the book: “The Language of Emotions: What Your Feelings Are Trying to Tell You : by Karla McLaren”. Her plain talk writing gave me a door of insight that often helps me when I am struggling to understand why a particular emotion is coming up for me. Mary Shutan’s Body Deva work and other materials has also been invaluable.

    Gratitude is good, but what we do with the emotion we “don’t want” is as important, at least it has been in my journey. I am learning to embrace all those uncomfortable emotions and that has helped me to grow immensely. I offer this idea to you. I have learned so much from you, and this might be something I can give in return?

    And I love the blue critters! That shade of blue is just wonderful. Bear is smiling at the camera! Best, Carla

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Carla, YES, I am embracing everything you said here today. Powerful words, and I’m gonna definitely check out that Language of Emotions book you’ve recommended. I agree, taking the time to understand what’s really in our hearts, and being gentle with ourselves is key. The gratitude exercise just helps me stay centered, and helps me understand better what’s hard to see in dark places. All of it is good, even the dark places, all of it helps us grow and evolve as human beings. Thank you for “giving back”
      today, I appreciate it! ❤️


  3. If I can fill one sketchbook page a day, no matter what it is: a drawing, a color combination I saw, thoughts about a word, stick figures, a pattern, anything. After doing this for a few days (or weeks), I find myself thinking about art and following those thoughts to the studio. Whether I spend 15 minutes or 3 hours in there doesn’t matter. The important thing is keeping that part of yourself alive, feeding that spark. For me, this is a gentle, compassionate way to direct my focus without the pressure of results.
    Take good care of you, Luann.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Another excellent insight from you, thank you! YES, trying to take on too much, especially when we’re already overwhelmed, can make things worse. Tiny little steps and small actions can help us (gently) move forward again. Love it!


  4. “ Exhaustion is not evidence of a lack of courage, but of its abundance. To deny the struggle is to deny the very thing that allows us to triumph in the end.”

    Oh, Luann. That resonates with me, too.

    I don’t think I can say I’ve ever truly battled with actual depression, but I can identify with the languishing part. I feel like I have been stuck in that particular limbo from time to time, and especially so these past several years. I lost track of my “voice” if that makes any sense. Like I couldn’t find it in the din of not only other artistic voices around me, but I couldn’t hear it because of even my own internal doubts and thoughts telling me what it “should be.” It felt sometimes like I was so close, grasping at what I thought was it, only to have it dissipate quickly and my creative well run dry.

    We moved to a new home last year and I was at once very excited to have the opportunity for a new and bigger creative space for my studio. But through the Winter and Spring when there were some set backs in construction, I was surprised to hear myself think “whatever. Maybe I should just throw in the towel anyway. If I was really any good, it wouldn’t be such a struggle.”

    I didn’t decide to quit at that point, but I definitely coasted.

    I don’t have an answer about what I did that finally seemed to switch me off the languishing train tracks. I did a couple of online workshops. Neither of which were even really aligned with my jewelry style. I began working on a memory quilt for my step-father who passed away. (I never quilted before this year – and this is my first art quilt!) And I have been really turning up the heat on my martial arts training in preparation for my first black belt test next month. And I read a LOT of your blogs and newsletters. I had been making a lot of cave art inspired pieces before I came across your work, and my brain said that’s what I was meant to do and Lucy was my muse. But something was still off because I was struggling so hard to make anything. It was too cerebral; it wasn’t coming from my gut.

    Then out of the blue I woke up one morning with the jewelry ideas just flowing like Niagara Falls. I had been trying to force myself to pull from the earliest roots of human creativity, but my particular inspiration is tuned to more recent roots – folk art and mid century mod to be exact. You know what? It may have been the mask-making and quilting that finally brought it into focus for me after all. Suddenly everything seemed to fall into sync so easily.

    I’m still exhausted and a little overwhelmed. But I feel this manic urge to create like a mad woman – like I’m desperate to create before the muse leaves again. The time constraints of my day job and life don’t allow it, though. So I will have to just have to pace myself.

    Anyway – all of that to say that I think you are actually on the right path to regain your mojo. And that the urgency we feel when trying to reconnect with it is a construct of our own making. It’s still there waiting. We will get there when we get there. And all the worry and side-ventures we occupy ourselves with along the way will inform us and our art in ways we can’t yet appreciate. But that will only make our art stronger. Struggle is the ingredient that distinguishes art from mere decoration. Heidi Kingman

    Sent from my iPhone



    1. Heidi, first, apologies for not approving this, it few under my radar. But I found you today, and I’m so glad I did! Your story, and your insights, are powerful ones, proving that we are truly not alone, in our setbacks, our self-doubt, nor even our creative journey through life. And when we DO feel alone, that we are DOING IT WRONG, and that everybody else is doing it right, we can feel even more alone. THANK YOU for the courage to share your own thoughts, detours, and the stunningly beautiful clarity you’ve reached, by not giving up on making, but finding your own unique path forward. If you have a blog, or a Facebook page, or an email newsletter, I hope you will share this with your audience, too. If you found your way home in the dark, that is a true hero’s journey. And if it lifted MY heart today, it will lift the hearts of others, too. Big big hugs to you!


  5. I have many favorites among your columns, Luann, but it will take an awful lot for this one to be bumped from the top of the favorites pile. So much wisdom here. This especially is hitting home: “I realize my own struggles are simply mine. They aren’t created by others, they can’t be solved by others. I can only sit with them, sit with uncertainty, until Clarity makes her presence known.” And to know you are writing this with physical pain or at least discomfort as your body heals makes it all the more amazing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Laurie, your kind words mean so much to me! And this is proof, that when we simply share our truth, what helps us get through, what is important to us, in our creative work and our life, there is always…ALWAYS…someone who is helped by it. THANK YOU for letting me know today, your comments are powerful!

      Liked by 1 person

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