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In Defence of Instability

I had my first session with a life coach on November 11th. It's a Remembrance Day I'll never forget. It's the day I realized that my narrow definition of "stability" and my vain attempts to sustain it have been contributing to my instability for years.

By the end of our session, my life coach told me that the block I'm facing is about my struggle to achieve stability and authenticity simultaneously. I've been feeling torn between the two (and achieving neither) for decades, as though they were mutually exclusive.

I'm pretty clear about what achieving "authenticity" in my life would look like. (The Coles Notes version is less blazers and more swearing.) However, since that life coaching session, I've been questioning what achieving "stability" actually means. I even looked "stable" up in the dictionary. The various definitions confirmed that I am indeed unstable, but they also prompted me to reconsider what "stable" would look like for me.


As it stands, it's hard to find much about myself or my life that is textbook "stable." The Oxford Canadian Dictionary seems to agree:

stable adj. 1 firmly fixed or established; not easily adjusted, destroyed, disturbed or altered.

I'm easily adjusted, destroyed, disturbed and altered. (Otherwise known as sensitive.)

2 a firm, resolute; not wavering or fickle.

I'm fickle as heck. And I struggle to be resolute. I can't hold down New Year's resolutions to save my life.

b mentally and emotionally sound; sane and sensible.

I'm pretty sure I've never been called "sensible."

3 Chem. (of a compound) not readily decomposing.

I decompose at the very hint of rejection.

4 Physics (of an isotope) not subject to radioactive decay.

See my response to definition #3.

5 in a stable medical condition after an injury, operation, etc.

I've never recovered from my mental health condition, if "recovered" means I don't have depression or anxiety anymore.

Does being in stable mental/emotional condition mean that the emotional injuries have ceased and the operation is over? What if the emotional injuries continue and the operation is ongoing? What if I never stopped opening myself up, trying to fix what isn't working? How could a stable condition ever begin when I'm still on the operating table?


It isn't always comfortable to be unstable. But is it necessarily "bad" to be unstable?

Maybe being unstable is a prerequisite when you're trying to figure yourself out. Maybe a level of instability is required for change and growth. Maybe instability is inevitable when you're living in the chaos of the unknown self, trying to find the light in the lonely darkness.

Maybe instability with intention is more stable than I thought.

Here's what the dictionary has to say about it:

unstable adj. 1 not stable. 2 changeable. 3 showing a tendency to sudden mental or emotional changes. 4 (of weather, an air mass, etc.) likely to produce precipitation.

All me.

But isn't this all connected to things like empathy and sensitivity? Isn't that a good thing?

And what about that part of the definition that says "likely to produce precipitation"? Not to put too fine a point on it...but maybe sensitivity to change and feeling things deeply opens you up to the precipitation of tears. And maybe tears can lead to stability in the end, if they're tears of mourning or grieving or letting things go.

Here's what I think:

unstable + inauthentic = vulnerable


unstable + authentic = leveraging vulnerability as strength

Let's call it authentic stability - arrived at by the lengthy and messy process of making friends with your vulnerabilities instead of sweeping them under the carpet. I think I've been putting up the "front" of stability while crumbling inside for a long time. It's a survival mechanism.

I'm pretty good at it. At least, I was. Until I wasn't.

That's what's called breakdown and burnout.

Instead of forcing myself to continue to live in a state of unstable stability, I'm digging deep inside to find and express my true self - my stably unstable self. Because, guess what: my authentic self is unstable. It's owning that fact that will help me arrive at authentic stability.

the only constant is change

I need to stop living like I think my inner instability (i.e., changeability, sensitivity, empathy, vulnerability) will stop, and I need to stop beating myself up when it doesn't. I need to roll with the punches of the constant change inside me and accept it as the internal chaos that is my birthright for having been born so damn...well, unstable.

The more I can accept my stably unstable self, the more that acceptance will bring me inner peace. And isn't inner peace amidst instability the most authentic stability of all?

- M.B.

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