What I’ve Learned: Emotions

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I am still trying to work out what it means to be “crazy” and what are just normal reactions to life. I think I grew up with this very specific idea of what life should look like, we should only have emotional reactions to extreme things. We should be sad when someone dies or we should laugh when it is called for but “pointless” emotion was not encouraged, it was looked a sign of imbalance. Control was admired, the idea of holding yourself away from it was really what I looked for. I’m realizing that I don’t actually know what “normal” emotional ebbs and flows are, I don’t even know if that’s a useful categorization.

I still lash out some when I have a bad day. Lashing out is probably misleading, it’s more of a latching on. I want to cling, I want to be told everything is okay, I need to talk and be told that I am not nuts, even if I absolutely do not believe the few people in my life who are privy to this. Still, hearing it helps. I am getting better at minimizing the impact, I am getting better at self-soothing. But not nearly as much as I’d like. But I’m wondering if I’m focusing in the wrong place. I’ve spent so much time focused on how I shouldn’t feel bad, on how nothing is wrong, on how I’m being “crazy.” Crazy is my default word for bad feelings. It’s probably a word I should banish from my vocabulary for my health but that’s not project for today.

What if it was okay? What if it was okay that I just had days where I felt really sad and upset and awful? And that sucked, because it always really sucks, but what if accepting it changed the way I engaged with it? What if it stopped being a value judgment? Because this is where I feel like I always hit the wall, is that this thing happens, these feelings come, and I feel like they are proof of something, they are evidence of me as a bad person or me as a stuck person or… you know. Fill in the blank. I can do worse. But what if it’s not a matter of value at all? I’ve been told my entire life that it is, that my emotional responses make me a certain kind of person, a certain kind of woman. Not just by my family but by society, media, culture. And there are things about the ways that I respond to those feelings that I want to change because I think they’re not healthy for me or the people around me, certainly not long term. But what if the feelings themselves were okay?

No one wants to feel shitty. I would prefer a different chemical make-up where I was not on medication, one that was slightly less high strung, one that, even on medication, did not occasionally have days of just fog and depressed exhaustion. But those days are just days. One, maybe two. It used to be weeks or even months. Sometimes I get very sad or upset and there will be a day where I just cry pretty much all day, and the next day I will probably be pretty numb and exhausted. That makes sense. They may not be ideal, but they make sense.

I have been working really hard to try to notice some of the rhythms of my body. When am I hungry, when does my attention run out, when am I tired? I’ve noticed these things definitely do have rhythms and cycles, that I feel better when I listen to them. None of them are right or wrong, they’re just there. Perhaps my emotions are the same way. Particularly when I am under pressure from school, from transitions, from any number of things, that might sometimes trigger a day where I am just sad, where I am just overwhelmed. When the inciting incidents in Ferguson happened I read blogs and news links for hours and ended up in a sobbing heap on the bed, completely overwhelmed by everything that was happening and how totally helpless I felt in the face of everything. It took a few days to regain equilibrium.

What if the ideal isn’t perfect calm? What if there isn’t particularly an ideal at all, except to be healthy and engaging with whatever comes up in the kindest way possible for myself and for those around me? The truth is that I have no idea what a normal emotional baseline is for other people. I still judge most of those things off of my parents, who are two terrible sets of baselines. Maybe it’s time to figure out my own and be willing to move forward from there.

I don’t know if I’ve learned this yet, which may be against the spirit of the series, but I’m working on it and I’m putting it out there for the world to see so I don’t just log it and forget it. Baby steps.

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