The Icky Feelings Flu: Lessons in the Mess

Words. They are my go-to. I use them for everything. They are my comfort, my peace offering, my most thoughtful gift, my band-aid, my distraction tactic, and words are my sword.

Just ask those who know me best. I can use words—and I can wield them far more damaging than most might pummel with fists.

So…it should be no surprise that when I felt I’d been wronged (several weeks ago), I took to words to express my frustration. I drew my weapons, brandishing satire and stabbing with snark.

And while I was doing it, well…it felt good. Justice, I told myself, was being done. I’m no shrinking violet. I more than proved as much. And, after all, turn-about is fair play, right?

Not necessarily.

Like most knee-jerk emotional responses, my  feelings of smug superiority didn’t last. They were quickly replaced with regret, embarrassment, and what I like to call, the icky feelings flu.

I messed up, and WOW do I hate it when I mess up. It feels sooooooo bloody awful. That knots in your stomach, hot all over, yet shivering ickyness you know is most certainly not the flu. Eww.

With some perspective, courtesy of awkward conversations post-word-wielding, I realized my reaction was ill-advised, unprofessional, and worst of all, compromising to both my own character and a particular establishment I hold near and dear.

Ugh. The icky feelings flu is the worst.

Except…it isn’t.

What would be worse is not realizing those yuck feelings are important.

They are the reinforcement that I can and should do better. That while I made a bad decision, I am not, by default, a bad person.

There are bad people, friends. There is a distinct difference between people who make bad decisions and bad people.

Bad people don’t suffer the icky feelings flu. They don’t experience meaningful regret. Being apathetic to the destruction bad choices wreak on their own integrity and morality, and how detrimental their mess ups can be to those they respect, care for, and/or love is exactly what makes them “bad”, or rather, a better word might be toxic.

I try really hard to avoid spending time with toxic people. I also try really hard not to be a toxic person.

This is not to say I don’t screw up. I do…more than I’d like to admit. We. All. Mess. Up.

It’s the work after the mess up that makes the difference—the choice to embrace the screw up and the icky feelings flu, own it, and do what I can to right it, learn from the mistake, and make the choice to try to make myself better because of it.

This is rarely, arguably never, easy. Like physical illness, it takes time to “get right’ and if/when I do finally heal, I am often (although, not always) stronger—less likely to fall victim to the same strain of nastiness in the future.

Getting the flu sucks. Contracting the icky feelings flu is, in my opinion, far worse. However, they both force me to push pause. Either because my body requires time to heal, or because my heart requires it to recover. And they both have silver linings.

In the case of illness, the silver lining is often renewed feelings of gratitude for things like modern health care, sick-leave, and loved ones who bring me soup. In the case of the icky-feelings flu, sometimes the only silver lining is finding the lessons in the mess.

I don’t sell those tough lessons short.

They are often the most powerful kind of medicine.