There's a comfort knowing a feeling will end. Exploring the full range of emotions
Thank you for the overwhelming amount of responses to my call out for topics you’d like to see covered on She Does This! I can’t wait to work through them and truly appreciated the ambition and faith some of you have in me to suggest I write about such classics as Harry Potter and Vampires. And while I won’t be dabbling in the world of those mythical creatures, I will be exploring something far more mythical and unrealistic today - constant happiness.
Ever since we were teeny tiny little humans, if we were sad, someone would say to us “what can I do to make you feel better?” From a young age, we were subconsciously programmed to not be okay with negative feelings, and to instead find a way to feel better as soon as possible. Now don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with someone wanting to help, or trying to provide comfort or support. However, a vital part of the human experience that was certainly never instilled in me, is the need to allow yourself to feel a range of emotions.
And actually quite necessary to feel this range of emotions.
There's such a strong connection between feelings other than happiness, and weakness. That being anything other than happy is a failure. I know for me personally, when something unpleasant would come to mind, it would set off alarm bells in the brain to SHUT IT DOWN. I always imagine a little dude up there running the place. He’s just hanging out at a desk. Normal day at the office. Filing the paperwork of the day. Until all of the sudden, a big red light starts flashing, the siren goes off, warning that emotional volatility is approaching. He leaps out of his chair. His co-workers pour into the brain room from god knows where and all of the sudden they’re forming a little human barricade, blocking the door, desperate to keep the idea of anything less that happy out.
I truly didn’t know that it was okay and normal to feel sad from time to time. The idea of feeling some sort of mental discomfort was foreign and quite frankly terrifying. I didn’t know how to process that and didn’t have the ability to comprehend that you could feel that way and that the world wouldn’t end. That the feelings would pass and you would feel better again. I was so scared of sitting in that unease.I didn’t have the skills to navigate a fluctuating emotional state and was convinced that anything other than being happy and #grateful was some sort of failing.
Whether it’s sadness. Anger. Disappointment. Frustration. Fear. Rejection. Whatever the emotion. It needs to be felt. It sucks, but sometimes you do just gotta feel the feels. It takes great courage to feel like crap, to be scared, to be devastated, and face that head on, knowing that it will pass and you will come out the other side. Many people will spend their whole life avoiding having to confront these emotional realities, be it though keeping busy and never having to slow down and process things, or through drinking/drugs/food/sex or any kind of avoidance technique, all of which have varied affects on ones life, ranging from very little, to like me, incredibly destructive and detrimental.
The idea that being in touch with your emotions or being an “emotional” person is associated with being weak, is so dumb and ill informed. It takes John Wick level bravery to face your pain, let it sit with you, and try and learn something from it. To learn healthy coping mechanisms that allow you to be able to accept these feelings for what they are, not try and numb or avoid them, and also not make them something bigger than they need to be.
A discovery I made was that I excelled in the field of catastrophising. I would win the OSCAR for Best Performance in a small issue that then gets blown out of proportion and then also reminds you of all the other things in your life that you are dissatisfied with and NOW I am also the winner of the OSCAR for Best Writing of a future full of ALL the issues that I cannot control and ALL problems I don’t have solutions for and NOW I have won the OSCAR for Best Sound as the sad, depressing playlist on my phone is activated and further exacerbates the gloom and heaviness in my soul. Quite quickly things have escalated. One small thought and feeling has been allowed to grow like a virus, spreading rapidly across all of the other connected negative thought pathways in my brain, until it has contaminated my whole head. One thing has been allowed to become a catastrophe.
At this point, it’s very hard to not be overwhelmed by the sheer amount of thoughts, let alone their content. It’s all consuming now you’re being asked to address every issue in your life at once, not just that one thing that originally reared its head. I’m not a scientist, so the exact math on this might be out, but a feeling supposedly only lasts for around 3 minutes. The elongated pain and hurt then comes from what we then add on to it, be it other memories, future worries ect so the actual feeling itself, when isolated, is fleeting. Learning to let that one feeling in, sit with in, not exacerbate it more than necessary, and then move on from it, is hugely important!
If someone throws one basketball at me, I feel pretty confident that I would be able to catch it. If someone threw 100 basketballs at me at once, I’d have many questions for them as to why they’d do such a thing, and also I wouldn’t catch a single one. Same goes here. Don’t throw 100 basketballs at your brain and think it is going to happily sort and assess them (or catch them) all at once. Don’t let yourself catastrophise and make an already challenging task of processing feelings harder. Accept the feeling for what it is and don’t let it open the floodgates to everything else. There's a real peace or comfort that comes with knowing that a feeling will end.
I still absolutely have times where things come up that feel overwhelming, all encompassing, painful, exhausting, how many different words should I use here to explain a feeling I’m sure you can all relate to. I liken this experience to rocks into a backpack. If a few bad thoughts or feelings pop up and I accept them for what they are, it’s okay. There are only a few rocks in the backpack, it’s not too heavy to carry and I can work at removing them one by one to lighten my load. But if I allow myself to catastrophise, all of the sudden the backpack is overflowing with rocks and I am crumpling under the weight. I can't move while I try and work at emptying out what has essentially become Stonehenge in the backpack. I am stuck under the weight of it all and paralyzed by the volume and heaviness. And there are so many rocks to get out, it seems insurmountable and impossible to start.
So the ideal scenario is to not let things get so catastrophic and keep my backpack light and svelte. But that isn’t always possible and if it does happen to fill up all the way to the top, thankfully now I know that even the biggest rocks can somehow get lifted. This analogy is getting a little clunky and seems hard to get out of, but I’m going to try because I like the backpack thing and think it is a helpful visual aid.
Whether it is simply through time (and the rock is eroded ha success!) or through reaching out and talking it through with another person (someone helps carry the backpack! More analogy success!) Or allowing yourself to wail and cry in your bathtub and express the devastation so it leaves your body (anthropomorphic rocks in a bathtub?!), the fact of knowing the pain will be over is hugely comforting and reassuring. That the backpack will empty, regardless of how full of geologic materials it may be. I can now allow that pain to come in, sit with it, accept it, and know it will leave again.
I am now confident enough to say “well today is just one of THOSE kind of days”. I’m going to feel flat, or tired, or sad, or whatever, and thats okay for today. Some days are about big achievements, pursuing your dreams, conquering the world. And others days are going to be more about just putting one foot in front of the other and getting to the end, knowing you get to go to sleep and tomorrow is a new day.
Flat days don’t stress me out anymore, I just accept them as a natural part of being alive. And really bad times don’t destroy me either. The intense feeling that feels impossible or never ending, does end. It’s about being kind to yourself in the times stuff like this pops up for you mentally. Nurturing yourself through that experience, not exacerbating it, or expecting the unobtainable emotional experience of total happiness all the time.
If we think we should be in a state of bliss 24/7, we are setting ourselves up for a massive fall. Take the pressure off being perfectly happy all the time and you wont feel like you’re letting yourself down. You need to know what it is to feel sad, in order to have a comparison point for what feeling happy is. Joy is only joy having known the absence of joy.
Surviving the full range of emotions and entire spectrum of a life, well that is some Harry Potter level wizardry if I’ve ever seen it.