Who has not had a Discouragement Day?  It can be marked by the desire to lie in bed, sleep, drink alcohol, take drugs, buy things, eat things that you think will be comforting, in short, engaging in ways to evade or trick the discouragement into unbeing. But what is discouragement?  If you take apart the word itself, it is dis-courage-ment.  Say…what’s that “courage” doing in there?

According to The Shorter Oxford Dictionary, the Latin “dis-” means “two ways, in two” in the sense of “apart, asunder”.  So, apart or asunder starts it off.  Let’s take a look at the last part, “-ment”: “the act of defining or of making”.  So, discouragement means “apart from courage making”.  What, then, does courage have to do with the feeling we get when we’re discouraged?  I will hazard a guess that it is the absence, possibly temporary, of the courage necessary to live in hope, to change with the vagueries of life, to “roll with it”, whatever life delivers.  

This 2015 winter in Montreal (and elsewhere) has been capricious and frigid. It can be disheartening (there’s that dis- again) when, day after day, you have to pile on the layers only to get any exposed skin blown off by a cutting wind as you step out your door. Or, if you are a bit farther south, like my friends in Connecticut and Massachusetts, just as soon as you got your car/walkway cleared, another winter gift of 18″ (that’s 46 cm in Canuck and elsewhere in the world) of snow arrives at your doorstep. How about when you are either overwhelmed or underwhelmed with work, who shows up? Discouragement.

OK, so what do you do with that formidable visitor?  I don’t know about you, but when I am feeling discouraged, the last thing, and I mean the VERY LAST thing, I want is for someone to cheer me up, “try to put it in perspective”, or some such. It actually makes me angry and that is unhelpful, especially on top of the already paralyzing discouragement. In my life, distraction for distraction’s sake is not a plan. So what do I do?

I do things that are productive, very attentively, while noticing how they make me feel. I stop doing them if I notice that they are causing anxiety (after having a good, gently curious look at that anxiety, though) and look for other ways to direct my feelings. I see where I can take a courageous step, however small, with that energy. Getting tedious tasks out of the way is often helpful for me. I have delayed in doing them because they are not appealing, so finding the courage to do them, however, menial or banal they are, often offers a counter to the “dis-“. I may also find another way to “sit with” my feelings and just make some space for them. I look to poetry or music that expresses my feelings back to me so I can look at them. I notice the many things for which I am grateful. And I let that old Discouragement just be.

What is most important, though, is what I DON’T do with it. I don’t pretend I’m OK. I don’t try to distract myself from it with idle activities. I don’t start to think about ALL the things that are discouraging me in the moment. I don’t try to fight, deny, or overcome it. It is as real (or unreal), and as mine, as any other emotion or feeling.  And once I begin to accept it, it begins to lose power and retreat on its own.  But often, not without having left me with something powerful and good in its wake.