Ugh, I’m having such a resistance to writing. It’s not writer’s block – I have plenty to write about – it’s about the desire to avoid feeling emotions.
I recently had to put my dog down. She had an aggressive nasal tumour which was too far along to treat. She was my soulmate. I was with her more than anyone else in my life. I’ve loved all the pets I’ve had but there was something special about Ciara. She adored people. When we went for a walk, she would stare at every person, no matter how far away, until they acknowledged her. When she heard someone at the door she would choose a toy to bring to them. It wouldn’t necessarily be the first one she saw – she would check out a few different ones, until she found the perfect one to share.
I feel such an absence in the house; being at the cottage without her is even tougher.
Her loss is hitting me hard and is causing me to be emotional. Yuck, patooey, I spit on you emotions!
I’ve struggled with my emotional side my whole life. I’m logical, cold, brusque. I deal with facts. I analyze and find solutions. I don’t have time to feel. Or at least that’s what I tell myself when I realize that certain bodily sensations are a communication about the current environment.
The problem with these communications is that they can’t be ignored indefinitely. They need to be felt, interpreted as an emotion and dealt with. Sure, you can stuff them down for a while but at some point they will be expressed. If not expressed in a healthy way they will be felt in maladaptive ways, such as chronic physical illness or mental illness. My inability to deal with emotions has lead to depression and anxiety.
Once I’d been laid low by depression I started learning about emotions. My intent was actually to research how I could evolve past them to operate solely on logic. Turns out it can’t be done.
I read the book “How Emotions are Made” by Prof. Lisa Feldman Barrett PhD. In this book she proposes the theory of constructed emotion (I won’t explain it here because a search will provide a better description than I can share). I am so fascinated by this theory. I like the thought that we are taught by our culture how to interpret certain physiological processes. This makes me feel so empowered. I can choose what a racing heart and nervous stomach mean. Are these sensations a warning of immediate danger? If they are, I know that my survival instinct will guide me to safety. If there is no immediate danger these sensations are how I experience anxiety. Anxiety is extremely uncomfortable but I know it will pass. When I experience many bouts of anxiety this is a sign that something is not right in my world.
This education in emotions has made my life much more rewarding. Emotions are not these horrible things to be ignored. They are my interpretation of the sensations in my body. These sensations are a signal of what is occurring in my surroundings. What a beautiful system!
Now when someone cuts me off in traffic I understand why my heart starts to race, why my face flushes, why my breathing becomes quicker. I recognize these physical sensations as anger, caused by the fear that I’m being ignored: “How the hell did he not see my car!!”. Once I’ve recognized my emotion I get to choose my reaction. I could maintain my anger by speeding up and tailgating the jerk or I can calm the anger by taking deep breaths and consciously relaxing my muscles. It’s my choice!
As I’ve been on this journey of learning about emotions, I’ve experienced one that is unfamiliar to me: happiness. I’ve had happy moments throughout my life but in general I was too busy being logical and hyper-vigilant to be able to relax into joy. Recognizing and maintaining joy is a great benefit to accepting my emotions. Sometimes when I’m feeling sad or am stuck in anxiety I question whether I’d give up joy in order to not feel sad or anxious. I’m still working my way through that teeter-totter.
One thing I will always appreciate about emotions is they provide fodder for my mind and my writing. Tell me about your thoughts on emotions: too emotional, too emotionless, just right? Would you give up the highs if it meant avoiding the lows?