To Living Life with Feelings: An Experiment
It's no secret, I'm not a feelings guy. When people express their emotions in front of me, especially overtly lovey and definitely when tears are involved, my entire body tenses up and I get that weird feeling in my throat that makes me feel like I'm about to yack. My pores open, I'm instantly radiating heat and I start scanning for the quickest exit — literal or figurative. My friends, family and I joke about me being emotionless — and collectively pity my future child(ren).
I vaguely remember being full of emotions as a child, and I don't quite know when that switch happened — though, I think Rae and I scraped the surface of that container in therapy this week. For as long as I can clearly remember, when something would happen, especially something I felt was negative, I would immediately throw it into a box, and stack it in my mental closet. My phrase around things like this, and especially around what I felt were "extreme" emotions has long been, "Who has the time?" I didn't see the value in expressing (and actually processing) these feelings, which allowed me to perfect this wall-building skill.
Now, this isn't to say that I don't feel, because I definitely do. I experience feelings, I've just gotten good at suppressing the less fun ones. Except rage — there's no hope of taming that beast, especially with the drivers in Washington. ho-ly. shit. These folks make the worst drivers in the Bay Area seem like Mario Andretti. (No offense, Washingtonians) Anyway — this "skill" that I've developed, was put into overdrive when my ex and I broke up nearly six years ago. I made a silent vow to myself, in that moment, that I wouldn't let anyone make me feel that type of pain again. And, through therapy, I've learned that I took that ability to detach emotionally, keeping feelings (and people) at arms length, and applied it to other areas of my life that needed "shoring up."
Do not pass go, do not collect $200
Now that I've begun this work with Rae, and started opening up and taking stock of these boxes in my mental closet, I can recognize just how often I subconsciously said to myself, "Well this worked in this instance, so I'll replicate it here, and here, and here, too. Looking at these boxes now, I see so many shoddy patch jobs and bandaids on these often important and impactful moments. The anxiety that stemmed from those eye-opening therapy sessions, let me tell you... It's as if I saw for the first time, the dozens, or possibly even hundreds of times that I didn't experience something when I should have, becuase I saw what I thought was an emotional avalanche coming my way and immediately jetpacked the hell out of Dodge.
My romantic relationships have definitely been tarnished from this, as have my relationships with family, friends, colleagues and other people I've met along the way. There have been numerous occasions where I thought I could get over it, grow out of it, or move forward in some way. I figured that eventually, something would come along that would break through my walls like Miley on her wrecking ball, and I'd finally stop landing on the "Proceed to jail" space in the Monopoly game of my life. Turns out, that wrecking ball wasn't an experience, or another person. As it happens, the white horse in this story, is me.
I drink (Diet pepsi) and I know things
Game of Thrones reference because it's late, I'm exhausted and I miss Mr. Snow, desperately. 😏 In all seriousness, I know that I may be a little preachy about therapy this week, but I honestly can't put what its done for me into words that will do it enough justice. My eyes are open, and just as clearly as I can see the good and bad of the outside world, I can see into my own soul. Every week, we dig a little deeper and deeper into the five W's of that mental closet — and work through the uncomfortable and awkward bits together to find the revelations such as this.
The moral of this very sad handwritten book, is to urge you, if you have a coping mechanism like mine, to fling the gates of that wall open. I don't have all the answers, and I don't know your situation. Only you know the inner-workings, and only you know what's truly best. But, if I were a betting man, which — that I am — I'd be willing to put money on you feeling better if you opened yourself up to some of these feelings you've worked hard to "protect" yourself from.
Understand that this isn't an overnight solution, much like anything of importance. I've been working on opening up for over two months, which is probably the tiniest blip on the timeline, but progress — even incremental — feels amazing. With each session, even as more work to do floods out of the woodwork, I find myself more motivated to continue the journey of self-improvement for my physical and mental health. Our walls won't come down in a night, a week, or maybe even a year — but if we open the door and invite change in, and really work at it, we'll quickly begin to see beyond the bricks at the world that's out there.
I'll probably never be a touchy-feely, let me tell you all about my feelings, or literally cry on your shoulder guy, but that's just not me. And honestly, that makes me feel SO good. I'm seeing such progress in myself, in being able to feel a little more, process and vocalize these emotions, but it's comforting knowing that I'm still me. It's as if, all this time, feeling would make me weak, or somehow change me at my core, when, in fact, I'm just improving bits and pieces here and there to become a better version of myself. Knowing that, through this work I'm doing for my own mental health and wellbeing, I'm giving my relationships with the people currently surrounding me, and the people in my future (including a very special someone) a better chance at being deeper, stronger and more true, feels electric, and so, so right.