I’m intensely emotional. It’s the driving force behind my writing and my art and my love of people. That I feel so much defines me, but also causes me great strife.
Unlike a young child, as adults we’re expected to avoid expressing our emotions in their raw and unfiltered format. I can’t sit down in the street and throw a tantrum, I can’t cry when my ice lolly falls on the floor and I can’t just stamp my foot and shout if I’m asked to lay the table. Rapunzel says this is probably for the best as us adults don’t repair as well as children do.
Instead, as a sensible adult I have to find something else I can do with my emotion. A typical response is to numb. I do this with a cup of tea or a piece of cake for the immediate temporary emotions. I use travel and change to numb the fear of not belonging. I use being busy as a way to numb the fears of not being productive or having some great lack of achievements.
Alcohol, drugs, exercise, smoking, food, social media etc. All these things can be used as numbing agents. There are many more. Everyone has their own selection which they fall back on to make the pain a little less invasive.
Numbing though makes you boring. Passion, love and excitement dissipate when you numb. It’s harder to be joyous, to break into song or skip in the street. Certainly when I unchain a numbing practice from my life, let loose the tears and remember to laugh despite it all, I’m more likely to turn away from thinking ‘me, me, me’ and recognize that I’m not actually alone at all.
I can’t allow my emotions to make me too impulsive either. I can’t just snatch what I want without regard for what other people feel. If used right then emotions give me a way into empathy. I can harness my imagination to construct someone else’s shoes and feel my way into my best guess of their life without assuming that I understand them at all.
There are times though that you can’t afford to be your current overriding emotion. Yesterday, I really wanted to cry, but instead I needed to play the role of the dragon in the legend of Sant Jordi (Saint George). This involved being stabbed to death with a sword (child’s recorder) by the gallant Sant Jordi (small girl) riding his noble steed (rocking horse). I roared in pain, writhed in agony and rolled over dead to the sound of giggling.
Somehow, in such moments, you have to hold everything together. Knowing one’s life is falling apart, but postponing the reaction.
Bottling up emotions though isn’t the answer either. If things seem so bad you can’t talk about them, you’ve probably bottled up your self-worth and left an empty gaping hole of shame in its place. If you want to make a quick impact on your well-being, then take one of these things that you don’t want to talk about and share it with someone.
I’m prone to bottling things up. I can feel the father nodding as he reads this. It’s a natural instinct to hide everything to myself, but such actions I know eventually causes me greater pain. My technique to solve this is to tell a couple of friends at the point when I recognize that I’m hurting. Not necessarily to tell them details or try and reason out the situation, but to say, I’m hurting, I might need to talk later, will you be around. Are you willing to listen?
I schedule Skype calls or people to visit in that initial blow when I’m still in shock. I know that later I’ll need someone to be accountable to, someone who asks, ‘so how are you doing’ and most people are too polite to delve past my weak smile saying I’m fine.
There are people who are better at sharing things than others. This morning I heard a deeply personal story. It was one that is probably hard to tell, for the characters of the story are still being analysed. It’s a fountain of uncertainty that sends attacks of doubt and confusion. Another person might have struggled with the content, but the teller spoke out boldly and courageously.
It inspired me to tell a tale of my own, through some tears. Both of us felt a little less alone afterwards, and both of us were enriched by another perspective.
I cried. Feeling comfortable to cry to this friend means a lot. I can’t just cry to anyone.
Sadly, not everyone sees crying as healthy and normal. A certain person, whom I love very very much, but who sometimes lacks some emotional vocabulary, once told me quite insistently, “Stop with that crying.” What she meant was ‘Catherine, you need to broaden your perspective’. I needed her to understand that I wasn’t crying at the trigger but at the bigger picture, and she didn’t. Sadly I wasn’t capable of articulating myself. She walked out the room. I kept sobbing, now even more uncontrollably than before. I remember that incident very clearly. It was about football.
Tears are a common part of my emotional vocabulary. If I’m crying I’m probably being extremely honest about what I think I feel. I’m also unlikely to be making any sense. At such points I am not a reliable narrator of my own state of mine. I’m seeing it at its very worse and being overwhelmed by feeling too much all at once. The emotions are often conflicting. I lose all rationality and become fixated on whatever it is that I see as the magical antidote to my pain.
After the football crying incident, I barely ever cried. Then I had my heartbroken and I barely ever wasn’t crying. Then I pulled myself together. Life went on. Tears were intermittent. Now my life’s in a pickle again. Things are a bit rough and tears come whenever I have to confront certain realities I don’t wish to. I no longer cry alone. I no longer judge myself for crying either. Or anyone else.
Sobs happen, but they don’t suffice for most of my emotional struggles. To survive on the battlefield of my emotions involves talking, writing and art. To succeed and be happy I find takes doses of meditation, regular exercise, eating sensibly and talking about war wounds and battle scars much more often than most people seem comfortable with.
It’s taken me some time to realize that this is me. All these strategies are what I need, but it isn’t necessarily what other people need. Why I am charged with so much emotion I have no idea. It’s an unbeatable force. I do what I want when I want to because fighting against such an energy is exhausting. I write prolifically when I’m driven by emotion. And, I make crazy pieces of art at one in the morning when I am caught in something I just cannot not be.
Other people put much more weight on rationality and predicting results. Dreading the worst they fear to trust. There are choices made and decisions taken. Sometimes I wish I could take the reins in this way. Then I see the outcomes of such control and I wonder if maybe that’s not what I’d want at all. It would be being someone I’m not.
If I stopped spiralling out of control whenever I was hurt, sobbing and talking for hours, often repeating myself over and over again, writing rants and essays to try and get an empathic response, filling diaries, painting with my hands whilst seated on the floor, I wouldn’t be being me. It might be ugly, but this mess is me.
So is the melodramatic dragon slayed by Sant Jordi with a recorder.