How to Have Feelings

I don’t know about you, but America’s education system did not prepare me for real life. Emotions? Those aren’t mentioned in physical education or Spanish I. I spent my adolescence with a brick wall between my mind and my heart – I was emotionally ignorant. While I did just earn a college degree, what I actually learned during the past four years was how to feel. And I didn’t learn this in school.

You know how when you’re really happy, you physically go a little nuts? Whether you shout or dance or grab someone near you and shake them with joy, you move. Emotional energy has to move out of the body. Negative energy is no different from positive in this way. My reflex is to shut down and isolate myself, only to find that I’m more upset than ever and am burning with angst or something, but I have no clue what it is or why it’s happening.

I used to be so embarrassed that I had feelings. I saw it as a weakness, something to get rid of quietly. Movies show people acting out of raw emotions without thinking things through, without taking the time to feel before making decisions. Feeling and movement go hand in hand for me – they both clear my head. Whether it’s a run or boxing or lifting weights or yoga – when my body is busy, my heart can feel and my mind can think.

A good cry is scientifically proven to be the most efficient way to move the emotional energy out, but that doesn’t always come easy. Often, it comes on the heels of exercise. When I have something pent up inside, I find myself shedding tears as I’m punching a bag or breathing on my yoga mat. Then I finish my yoga, and I turn on the shower and let hot water run over me while I sob in the fetal position. It’s so cathartic, and it’s nothing to be ashamed of.

I began with boxing. I’d been hurt by a lot of people [including myself] and didn’t know what to do with that, so I punched out my aggression. It’s okay to be pissed off, as long as you’re taking it out in a healthy way, a way that doesn’t hurt anyone else.

Yoga, in many ways, saves me every day. Breathing air into all parts of the body, letting it circulate, it’s the freshness of spring cleaning every time you practice. It’s entirely free because it’s all over Youtube, and you can do it in the privacy of your own home, so no one cares if you look funny or if you fart, because you will. And the acceptance, the calm that comes with it makes you okay with that.

Movement, getting in touch with my body, has served as one of the most effective tools of recovery for me. Finally feeling all the emotions that I’d pushed down with food or alcohol or whatever else has been purifying. It’s helped me dig out all the skeletons in my closet, and now they are all happily cremated and serving as fertilizer to the new growth in my soul. And, really, I don’t think any of that would have been possible without physically getting my feelings out of my body. Once they’re out, they lose their power, and you’re able to analyze them with a clear mind, to work through the causes instead of acting out of the effects. And, like every other form of self-care, it’s so worth it.

What do you think? How do you get your feels out?

signature

Processing Grief [For Katie]

Three years ago, one of my closest friends died in a car accident. Needless to say, I was unprepared. What 19-year-old know how to deal with loss? Really, what human knows how to deal with loss until they’re in the throes of it? I learned by living through it, by grieving, and I started by falling flat on my face. I let myself get lost in grief, in depression. Because I didn’t know how. Because two weeks after she died, my other friends were asking why I was still wearing black and listening to so much Linkin Park and John Mayer. What could I say? They didn’t know any better, of course, but I became embarrassed, ashamed, even, of these emotions that seemed so impermissible. So, naturally, I repressed and avoided and acted out and dealt as well as I knew how, which mostly, apart from a lot of boxing and bike riding, meant not dealing at all.

Grief is nothing to be ashamed of. It takes time to process – three years later and I’m finding new bits of the experience all the time. If you’re grieving, if you lose someone, know that it’s okay to not be okay. It’s okay to be sad, angry, confused. It’s okay for that to last a while. It’s also okay if it doesn’t. Feel what you feel. Don’t try to mold it into anyone’s expectations or tidy it up in five easy steps. It’s a messy, unpredictable beast, and that’s okay. Allow yourself the experience of grief. Let it be what it is.

It will pass. Not completely – but the shroud of darkness with thin out into wispy clouds that come and go. The person you lost is gone – that won’t change. As time goes on you realize that you lost more than the person you knew – you lost the person you would have known. I lost the friend I would have called the first time I fell in love, the one whose 21st birthday would have been a wild weekend getaway, the one I would have known and grown with for years, blossoming the way that only our friendship could have. And there are continually new bits of that loss to discover and accept and feel.

And three years later, I see that the mourning process forms a narrative unto itself. Memories of my grief nearly equal the memories I have left of her. The place she holds in my heart will never shrink – it will always glow and remain, sweetly untouched. But it can’t grow. I can’t make new memories with her. But I can’t stop myself from making new memories altogether, from living, from growing and changing into a woman she never even met and wondering about who she would have become. I remember her as I live, and as new memories expand my heart, filling it with more joys and more sorrows, gradually dwarfing that bright, constant space that she holds.

The text along the inside of my arm is 9/3/2013 in lower case, cursive Roman numerals - the day Katie died.

The text along the inside of my arm is 9/3/2013 in lower case, cursive Roman numerals – the day Katie died.

She’s the story behind one of my tattoos, the bridge that unites me with my friend who lost her mom, the reason it’s still difficult for me to really listen to country music, the reason I smile anytime I see a girl in cowboy boots and jean shorts, the person I sometimes imagine conversations with, the reason I can’t help but cry on September 3rd and December 22nd, and that still, bright light in my heart that will never go out. And so much more.

So grief is really a continual process of acceptance. One of allowing yourself to feel all the things you don’t want to feel because sometimes you really don’t want to believe that the person you lost is gone. But just because they can’t live any longer doesn’t mean you shouldn’t. Thinking of my friend motivates me to live more fully than ever, to do the things she never could, to treasure the time that I’ve been given. Because not everyone gets as much as you and I have. And really, even though all this is so damn hard sometimes, I’m lucky I got to know her at all, just as you’re lucky to have known someone you lost. I’m lucky that I’m one of the people who holds her light in my heart. And we’re lucky that we get to carry their lights with us, and that we get to keep living.

signature

Easing Anxiety

Anxiety has become something of a buzzword, a catchall for freaking out. It manifests differently for everyone, and sometimes people blame their wild overreactions on it. I’m not one to say if they’re blowing the situation out of proportion or not – anxiety is real if you’re experiencing it. And it can feel overpowering.

Crowds like this one give me the jitters. Listening to my anxiety, I avoid them or involve myself carefully.

Crowds like this one give me the jitters. Listening to my anxiety, I avoid them or involve myself carefully.

Sometimes I feel fragile, brittle, fractured, like a pane of glass that’s just been shot but hasn’t fallen yet. Cracked in all directions, waiting only for a breeze, a breath, a look to clatter to the ground in a hundred little shards. I can be very sensitive to energies, and often it gets so overwhelming that I have to step away, breathe, just take a moment. This is one way that anxiety manifests for me. That feeling of fragility, accompanied by irrational fears that I’m losing control, spinning out of orbit, about to explode – that I can’t. Whatever it might be, sometimes the situation can overtake my rationale. And that’s a scary place to be.

Here’s how I deal with it –

  1. Take a minute. Step back, pause, breathe. I had my first anxiety attack a couple years ago, at lunch with my mother – for whatever reason we were talking about marriage and all of a sudden my heart started pounding out of my chest and all I could do was shake my head and repeatedly croak, “I don’t want to get married.” Looking back, I think I was scared of the intense vulnerability that comes with such a close bond. At that point in my life, I fought self-loathing on the daily and had barely taken the time to get to know and accept myself, so thinking about someone else loving me seemed impossibly catastrophic. Luckily my mom is no stranger to anxiety, and she coached me through it – feet flat on the floor, sit up straight, hands on the chair, breathe. Calm your body down, then gain enough distance to look at the issue with your wits about you. Because usually – not always, but often – it happens for a reason.
  1. Explore/Analyze. Getting to the root of the issue clears the way for potential solutions. It’s easy to brush it off and say that anxiety just happens for no good reason – sometimes it does. And it’s not always for a good Social anxiety usually comes from insecurity, and who wants to dig into that bed of thorns? It’s difficult, but necessary, like sucking the venom out of a spider bite. I’m mathematically minded, which is part of the reason I was emotionally stunted for most of my adolescence. Emotions seemed a weakness – irrational and ridiculous and overly feminine. I prided myself on being logical, reasonable, pragmatic – practically Vulcan. Upon realizing that my emotions could no longer go suppressed, I found that I could use my logical skills to explore my emotional world. Stepping back in a moment allows my mind to run emotions through the system – what am I feeling? Why? I dissect my feelings. And in doing this, I make sense of them. This leads to greater awareness and healing, especially because – utilizing your reasonable side – you can generally talk yourself down from any feelings that attempt to carry you off into the land of irrationality. Logic can keep you grounded in the real world, while still allowing you to be emotional.
  1. Being emotional is not a bad thing. Learning how to feel has taken more strength than white knuckling it through bad times or turning to substances to feel better or just to feel something. It’s difficult, and I respect people who are in touch with their emotions. I know the work it takes, and I’ve also learned just how worthwhile it is. It’s as if half of my soul was dead, and, in exploring my emotions, I’ve come back to life. Feeling has never come easy to me because each emotion registers at such a high intensity. Often bodily discomfort precedes emotional – I call this emotional constipation. Just as I chew fennel seeds and take coconut oil to keep my digestive system happy, I exercise and write in order to feel. If I didn’t actively work for my emotions, I’d regress to a place of suppression/constipation – I know it’s icky, but so is having a lifetime’s worth of backed up feelings. It helps that I hate being uncomfortable.
  1. Get Comfortable. I get anxious when I’m uncomfortable, and I’m rarely uncomfortable for no reason at all. As a kid I’d freak out if my shirt was itchy, and that hasn’t changed much. Style is important to me because I like to be comfortable in what I wear. This type of anxiety manifests as feeling weak – the fragility returns, and every act of the world around me feels like a bullet in my brittle glass bones. Since I can’t control the world around me, I take special care with all the things I can control. Any level of physical discomfort can be averted, whether it takes changing clothes, going outside, laying down, going for a run. Whatever it might be – I get anxious when I have a stomach ache – investigating why is crucial. If I don’t take special care in times of unavoidable discomfort, I’ll slip further and further down until I’m buried in a pit of depression. But that doesn’t have to happen. It just takes focused awareness – vigilance.

So – next time you get anxious – stop. Breathe. Investigate. Feel. And find a way to get comfortable. Those steps might seem monumental now, but with practice it does become a little easier. Stay mindful – you’ve got this.

signature