Updated: Jun 22, 2022
I was recently unpacking some old boxes from a move I made several months ago and I came upon a plaque that used to hang in my office…. It is simply the word “THRIVE.”
I stared at this plaque and thought to myself… wouldn’t that be a nice way to live everyday? What would it look like to thrive- to flourish- to experience complete well being in the midst of the unthinkable craziness of a world bereft with the unprecedented calamity that we are all living through? What would it mean for myself, my family, my community, my friends and neighbors to all be thriving at this time of increasing dissonance and global suffering?
Over the past 12 years, my husband had been very ill from an incurable, untreatable neurodegenerative disease. He was slowly getting sicker and more debilitated from an agonizing disease that he died from on December 26, 2020. I remember about 2-3 years into the worsening of the disease’s progression thinking- I’m not sure I have the stamina and emotional energy to press forward to what I knew was ultimately coming and would take his life. It seemed insurmountable the amount of suffering that not only he was going to face, but our family would be called to endure as we walked along side of him in the slow erasure of our very normal lives.
Many times over those years, I felt periods of joyless, aimless, stagnated emptiness. I was not depressed- I was completely functional and totally able to maintain the myriad of responsibilities and challenges that were apart of my daily life but I certainly was not thriving or living with any sense of hope and inner contentment. There was just this kind of underlying emotional malaise and a sense of resignation that was always the ogre in the corner overshadowing any sense of joy and hope beyond the obligatory demands of each day.
There is a new mental health term that describes this condition with great clarity as the pandemic wears on and we are all getting very weary of its effects on our normalcy- it is called “LANGUISHING.” There was a recent update to an article in the NY Times that caught my attention regarding this new phenomena and I listened to the TED Talk by best selling author and organizational psychologist Adam Grant. If you haven’t heard it, give yourself the gift of bearing witness to, if you are anything like me, what you are most likely experiencing to some degree on a daily basis.
The article states that Languishing is described as “ a sense of stagnation and emptiness. It feels as if you’re muddling through your days, looking at your life through a foggy windshield. And it might be the dominant emotion of 2021.” I would wager to say, it could be the dominant emotion of 2022 as well, without addressing this new mental health challenge head on.
When I talk with others, the dominant theme I hear is one of weariness. We are all tired- very tired- of covid and it’s never ending cycle of disruptions, work and family stresses and the continually changing evolution of fear based and tragic bad news. As my husbands illness progressed, there was never a day where there was good news regarding the disease’s progression. Basically today was the best day he was going to have before the disease took something else from him that left him slightly more debilitated. We would try to plaster a smile on our faces and muddle through “quasi normal” but it was slowly robbing him and my family of our ability to experience deep profound joy.
One of the antidotes to languishing that has proven extremely valuable is finding one’s “flow.” Flow is “a state of mind where an individual is completely immersed or engaged in an activity. Because you’re so focused on the activity, you may lose your awareness of time. Flow often occurs when you’re doing something that you enjoy and also provides a challenge or opportunity to learn something new. Research shows that the release of the brain chemical dopamine can increase during flow, which can make people feel greater enjoyment and energy.”
I knew this early on in my husbands disease without having a specific name for it. I realized that I had to find life-giving activities that were fun, replenishing and stimulating to my senses. I had to be able to get lost in time doing what I loved without being distracted by the tyranny of the myriad of urgent tasks at hand in his caregiving. So, I began to find my flow in stealing minutes of time- not hours, not days, not weeks- but small moments of time each day that would bring a lightness and aliveness to my other wise barren and ordinary days.
I found creative ways to experience happiness, even in the midst of living with Covid and his lingering unending disease. I had to think outside of the box- nothing was normal- and if I didn’t find ways to steal joy throughout my day- languishing would declare victory over my life.
In the early days of helping with his morning care before he was unable to do anything for himself, if I was sitting waiting for him to put his socks on or shave, I would watch little snippets of comedians that I love on You Tube or Instagram just to get a little jolt of funny. This would be mixed in with my caregiving routines that could take hours. I didn’t have the commodity of uninterrupted time, like when my 4 children were little and I never had a moment to myself. It had to be quick and light-hearted- something that would allow me to get sidetracked from the emotional brevity of starting out the day with all the stress.
My kids would send me texts, videos, and funny snippets of what we refer to as “Gorman humor.” It’s stupid stuff that makes our family laugh and we all totally get it. I would intentionally call my “funny friends” that make me laugh and lighten me up in ways I couldn’t do for myself. Hanging out and laughing with my grandchildren would always transport me to another dimension outside of time and space where we would engage in pretend play or a fun kid activity that was nothing but pure enjoyment and pleasure. We had wonderful friends that would come over with dinner and we’d have a fun game night…. cards, board games, watching a funny movie.
I tried to LOL every day at some point- not just a light chuckle- but a good old fashioned belly laugh. Sometimes it was in between the tears and solemness of our deteriorating life as we knew it, but it was always available and a welcome relief when I connected with it. I intentionally got into the flow of aligning myself with balancing out the sadness and despair with lightness and aliveness. I knew that if I was to run the marathon intact and whole, then I had to find equanimity. Whatever was hard, was balanced with something easy. Whatever was discouraging, was balanced out with something positive. Whatever was hopeless, was balanced out with something meaningful. Whatever was depressing, was balanced out with something lighthearted.
Some days, especially in the end of his disease journey, it felt like the scales would tip to the dark side- that there weren’t enough snippets of joy that were as accessible. I realized that on those days, I had to up my will and intention to notice, to see and to align with what was available to counter-act the despair. I can tell you, it worked.
I flowed in the river of unknowingness, mystery, and uncertainty for many, many years. I never knew what the day would hold, what would be required of me, what challenges I would be expected to navigate. Yet, every day I would find some small part of me that I didn’t know existed… stamina, fortitude, strength, courage, endurance. They were all in the flow of the river of my life waiting for me to recognize and celebrate. Small snippets of peace, joy, hope and laughter were just as available each day as were languishing in the river of the drudgery of life’s challenges.
What I have learned is that each day is filled with tiny snippets of the potential and possibility for meaning, purpose and forward momentum. It is fully accessible and available in small delicious bite size pieces. I invite you to take some baby steps…go ahead….jump in the river and let your flow go. Your life is waiting to flourish.
Grant, Adam. “There’s a Name for the Blah You’re Feeling: It’s Called Languishing.” The New York Times, April 19, 2021,
Young, Robin and Serena McMahon. “Living But Not Flourishing: The Pandemic-Fueled Feeling Know as Languishing.” wbur.org., May 4, 2021,