Some people are like sunny San Diego, where it’s 82 degrees and sunny every day, where you can wear shorts and a t-shirt 300 days out of the year. These people are even-keeled. Upbeat. Unshakably positive. Sometimes, annoying.
Some people are dour, cloudy and grey. Like Seattle. Home of the grunge flannel shirt — a garment well suited for Seattle’s average temperature: 51.9 degrees.
But I’m like San Francisco, the town I call home, where the weather (and one’s outfit) changes nine times a day, where microclimates can create a sartorial conundrum: on an afternoon of cross-town errands, should I bring a light jacket, a sweater tied around my waste? A backpack with a windbreaker? All of the above? Without proper planning, you will shvitz in the sunny Mission, and an hour later, you will shiver once Karl the Fog plows past the Twin Peaks and engulfs the eastern half of the city.
This is where I choose to live. And this matches nicely the sartorial/emotional reality of my own unpredictable moodiness. Certainly, I’ve experienced being “in a funk.” And I’ve known depression in my day. But moodiness is different. Moodiness is going through Tom Waits’ “Emotional Weather Report” all in the span of afternoon:
We are talking about late night and early morning low clouds
With a chance of fog, chance of showers into the afternoon
With variable high cloudiness and gusty winds…
For the areas including the western region of my mental health.
I’m learning when to fight against my moodiness, but more importantly, when to accommodate, when to shield others from it, when to adapt.
For example, when I go to see live music, I go alone; at the Fillmore Theater, why should I drag friends and loved ones through my emotional microclimates? My impatience with the opening act, my annoyance about the lines for the bar, the restroom, my fixation on my inevitable exhaustion at work, tomorrow. Then, a brief reprieve as the first song of the night begins: sunny bonhomie, and I want to hug every stranger around me. Until some guy bumps me as I sway, eyes closed during my favorite song, when I return to my misanthropy.
Exactly. I call that fun. And I’ll gladly excuse you from dealing with it.
Or maybe you relate to this. Maybe, like me, you are moody.
Obviously, everyone experiences emotional weather patterns, but moody people experience them profoundly and frequently, and it’s part of who we are. For that matter, I wouldn’t have it otherwise.
I believe there is a correlation between moodiness and sensitivity, and sensitivity is a requirement for compassion and for deep connection. I once complained about my moodiness to a mentor who knew me very well, and in response, he suggested that our attention falls into two categories: (with that, he raised his hands and wiggled them, palm out) — when we are oriented outwards, paying attention to everything that happens around us (and then he reversed his hands) and when we are oriented inwards, focusing on what’s happening inside.
He told me that some of my problems come from being just a little too much of both. For moody people, this can make any experience a tumultuous one. A concert is more than a visual/auditory experience, it’s an emotional panoply. It also means that the people in our lives feel seen and heard by us, and they know that when they share themselves with us, we are hearing them. And we are. Loud and freakin’ clear.
I think this is part of what makes me successful as a teacher; I can see and hear the needs of my students, and meanwhile, I have a strong intuition of what to say or do (or what not to say or do). It also means that I experience extreme emotion in response to my successes and failures: when a class goes well, I dance down the hallways afterwards like Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins. On the other hand, when a class bombs, I need to be scraped off the floor with a giant spatula.
For a moody person, a day of work involves emotional microclimates. It’s part of why I’m so tired at the end of the day. But like the denizens of San Francisco, who have mastered the art of layering their clothing, moody people have skills and strategies to adapt to their ever-changing inner weather patterns.
Being moody means inevitable feelings of setback and disappointment. There will be fog. Around 4:30pm, the cold, wet damp will descend and you will hardly believe that you sought out the shade just an hour earlier. There is no way around this. However, successful moody people learn resilience – the ability to push through fog and rain, even though there is no sign of improved weather conditions in sight. Says Resilience: Hard-Won Wisdom for Living a Better Life, “You cannot bounce back from hardship. You can only move through it.” True also of moods.
San Franciscans throw on a scarf, add a few sweaters, and go out for ice cream. Likewise, learning to push through moods can prepare us to move through real-life difficulties. We can become attuned to how temporal the weather, our moods, and our life conditions are.
I can go from cloud-nine to rain clouds in minutes. When I am disappointed, I am heart broken. But I mend quickly.
Years ago, upon conveying to me a piece of potentially troubling professional news, a colleague told me I was the last person he’d ever want to subject to disappointment and also the first person he’d expect to adapt to it.
Anyone who is both moody and successful has had two challenges in life: dealing with the shit that life deals us, and dealing with the shit that goes on inside of us. We become, as a result, highly adaptive to challenging circumstances – but boy, will we complain about them.
True. Trust me, I’ll let you know how much I resent that something is forcing me to become a better person.
That said, adapting is my jam. While the uninitiated tourist will be spooked by morning fog and head out for the day coated in thick wool, we moody San Franciscans know that the sun will come out. Not tomorrow. Probably in about forty-five minutes.
That’s why I love sweater vests. They’re a strategy for adapting to fluctuations in temperature throughout the day.
Besides my wardrobe full of actual sweater vests, I have a wardrobe full of “emotional sweater vests,” strategies for adapting to my rapidly changing moods. I have learned when to ask for space (for 15 minutes, right when I get home from work). I have learned when and how to distract myself (retail therapy: the reason why I have so many sweater vests). How to process via journaling, meditation, therapy. I put on running shoes and I huff up and down San Francisco’s famous hills. To some, they are a nuisance. To me, they are a way of keeping my emotions in check.
But here’s the trick: don’t nag the moody person in your life to bring out the adaptive layers. Rather, invoke them, invite them by complimenting them: “I love how you look in that brown sweater. I love how you sometimes let go of your preference for a table by the window so I won’t sit by the door and freeze my ass off. It’s so sexy when you put things in perspective and let me choose the movie.”
Then, sit back and watch how elegantly we adapt.