So I don’t much like my writing lately; the last few posts have felt clumsy and stilted and the normal ease has been missing both during the actual writing and in the finished product. I know why, at least partially—I’ve been feeling really self-conscious about it, which, of course, makes things that are normally routine and easy feel awkward. I’ve also been worried about who might be reading, which makes me even more self-conscious. Thus I kind of want to hit a massive Delete button and get rid of a huge chunk of posts. But I won’t, because that would be silly, and anyway perhaps the stilted posts will make others look better by comparison. Perhaps.
I received some rather disappointing news this morning that’s had me feeling, well, rather disappointed. It wasn’t a surprise; I’ve had my suspicions for a while and I think I’ve been reacting to this eventuality (even the Guatemala plans could be seen as a bit of a pre-emptive strike, though not entirely, and I do think I’m acting more under a prompting than an emotional response). In short, I’m grieving. I just want to crawl under the covers and shut my eyes for a while.
I’m quite acquainted with sadness; there’s something even comforting about it (as the song* goes). But I was really fighting it up until a few days ago. I’ve always been someone with strong emotions—people who feel things this strongly but aren’t as afraid of behaving badly as I am tend to break things when they’re angry (HULK SMASH!) and stop eating for weeks at a time** when they’re sad and go totally manic when they’re happy. I’ve never felt that I had the right to inconvenience other people by doing any of these things and I’ve frequently lamented my lack of an even-tempered disposition. I even went so far as to wish I hadn’t any emotions at all; I felt the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous described me perfectly when it says “We were having trouble with personal relationships, we couldn’t control our emotional natures, we were a prey to misery and depression, we couldn’t make a living, we had a feeling of uselessness, we were full of fear, we were unhappy, we couldn’t seem to be of real help to other people.” This is me, I thought; emotions = bad. Strong emotions = very bad.
Thus it was surprising and comforting a few days ago when I was discussing this with a close friend and mentor and she told me I’d misunderstood the Big Book. “It’s not about not having emotions,” she said; “it’s about not being destructive.” It’s OK to be so elated when Peter Sagal says he loves me that I go a little berserk in my kitchen or so upset when I injure myself by slamming into the side mirror of a parked car that I burst into hysterical tears (something I desperately wanted to do but felt it would be stupid, or at best out of proportion). It’s OK to feel angry and hurl pillows at the couch as hard as I can when a horrible and abusive person hurts someone I love (actually, I didn’t do this—but I did drop a few F-bombs that day, two of which were in front of nice Mormons). It’s not OK to go completely crazy and slash someone’s paintings after a breakup (which thing I have even come close to doing; I’ve never even sent a nasty [though entirely justified] e-mail). There’s a difference between controlling an emotional nature and repressing emotions entirely.
Which is good, because emotions can’t be repressed entirely. “Bad blood will out,” says the idiom, and so will feelings. I’ve read about people who wake up with fingernail marks embedded into palms from clenching hands into fists during times of extreme stress; I’ve experienced white-hot rage completely out of all proportion to the event when my headphone wire gets caught on a drawer handle, yanking the headphones out of my phone during the most important part of the podcast (as if I can’t just plug back in and rewind, for pity’s sake). (Yes, I know that threading the wire down one’s shirt largely removes this problem, but I don’t always do it, obviously.) When I react that strongly to a minor irritation, I need to figure out what’s really going on.
Which thing I already knew, of course. I’m self-aware enough for that. But I didn’t know it was OK to first feel and then express feelings, even negative ones—that in fact that’s the only healthy way to deal with whatever underlying issue is plaguing me. I don’t have to sit and feel frustration mounting to anger with myself that I’m sad or angry or even happy because I think I should be “mature” enough to handle every situation with calm serenity, and try in vain not to feel what I’m feeling. This is really a new idea for me and not feeling guilty for having emotions is going to take some practice.*** For now, I can be glad that I have the time and latitude to think about this—something I’m well aware that far too few people can enjoy.
*I’ve actually never heard this song; a friend quoted the “I miss the comfort in being sad” line to me many years ago and I felt an instant connection to it, but I’ve never bothered to look up or listen to the song itself. I kind of don’t want to in case I don’t like it.
**OK, so maybe I have done this, and a few years ago lost 22 pounds in three months. I owe my current small-ish size to this particular ordeal. Thanks, Personal Trauma Weight Loss Program!
***I know that I frequently express strong emotions here on my weblog and in Facebook posts, personal interactions, et cetera. But I also tend to feel afterward that I really could have been a bit more reserved and I worry about overreacting. Thus my internal and external selves aren’t necessarily aligned completely, which is uncomfortable, to say the least.