Last night, I went and saw Captain America: The Winter Soldier after work. It was something I had planned to do for most of the week since I worked last week to watch the rest of the movies in the franchise, and I really enjoyed the movie. As my nights go, it was one of the better ones: I got out and did something I wanted to spend my time on, felt like it was worth my time, and should have come home feeling quite pleased about how adult I am and other such nonsense. The key word in that last sentence was should.
Instead I came home full of The Emotions, and I’m sitting down today to try and unpack everything a bit more. It wasn’t until this morning that I even realized what I was feeling, which says quite a lot about the complexity of the emotion and how much it ate at my mind overnight.
The reason I was in the throes of emotionally-infested waters was that as I left the theater, I realized my former roommate, her new roommate, and their neighbor had all gone out for a brief night of unplanned but rousing camaraderie. At this point, I’d like to think it was the fact that my only three friends in the city went out “without me” that got me feeling all FOMO. I immediately went into FOMO recovery mode, which is to say I felt lots of things, talked too much about it, listened to some music really loudly and walked most of the way home.
(The quotes in the above paragraph, and any that follow, indicate my perception, which is to say the lie that my brain is telling me.)
Okay, so my coping strategies aren’t half bad–after a year in London, I finally have ways of dealing with the fact that I feel like I am missing out. But that’s not right, is it? Because normally when I call an emotion out, I feel better. When I say to myself, hey this is just FOMO and you know what to do with that feeling, I do the things and I feel better. This morning, and this post, are an indication that I don’t feel better. It took until this morning to realize that the reason I didn’t feel better wasn’t that my strategies didn’t work; I don’t feel better because I didn’t call out the right emotion.
In what is still considered pop psychology, FOMO (feeling of missing out) sits squarely on the anxiety spectrum, based out of misperceptions that things are going on which are infinitely better than the current situation we find ourselves in. For those of us with them, our anxiety brains amplify and distort the thoughts about what fun others are having until we’re so miserable where we are that we can’t enjoy the life we currently have. This happened to me a lot in London last year, when people were out “having a good time,” (to be fair, they often were having a good time) and I spent much of the year miserable about how my own life was still so depressing. I worked really hard in the last few months of my time in London to let it go, to enjoy whatever I was doing as I was doing it, everyone else be damned. It was then I learned the only cure for FOMO: YOLO (oh yes, I went there). Embracing the current moment, losing oneself in it, is the only thing that makes FOMO better, because it proves that where you are is the best place for you. Reassurance seeking (asking others if it’s fun, if you should go, if you’re missing anything awesome) only feeds the anxiety; proving false the hypothesis that you can’t have fun doing your own thing actually reduces the anxiety.
What I felt last night was not FOMO. What I felt last night was a genuine sense of
feeling left missing out, not a misperception of missing something. I was not purposefully excluded from the social encounter, and I missed what happened because of other plans–I wasn’t just sitting at home watching a movie, I paid the hard-earned money to go sit in the theater and have that experience. Even more so, I loved the experience. I had no idea I was missing out when I was in the theater, I wasn’t plagued with anxiety about it in the moment, and my in-recovery anxiety brain was totally absorbed in the awesome action scenes I was watching.
I did not have FOMO; I just missed out on something else fun that happened too.
When I said that to myself this morning, it was empowering. I had found the emotion: mild regret. Regret I hadn’t been available to go do that thing, but not regret that I had been doing something I wanted to do. Life is about choices, compromises, and an acceptance that with 7 BILLION people in the world, there’s probably other fun things I’d like to do in addition to what I’m currently doing (heck, the whole city of London is something I’d rather be doing). But, I have my life here, full of things I like. Spending too much time in that space of regret is a recipe for certain unhappiness.
I’m allowed to feel my emotions for their time and their place, but not for so long that they interfere with what is happening next. It’s time to get back to YOLO.
(Photo credit for featured image: http://positivechick.com/)