My blog, The Life Of Sue, is where I come to write, which is usually fun and sometimes therapeutic. Today my writing turned out to be therapeutic as I wrote my thoughts about emotions in the hope that I could understand and put into perspective how I feel about certain aspects of my life – without being judged.
Here I go….
No one escapes the full range of emotions that takes each of us on a roller coaster ride of joy, sadness, anger, fear, trust, distrust, surprise and anticipation. The thoughts and feelings that come with these emotions are sometimes fleeting and at other times they linger, just beneath the surface, ready for a trigger to bring them to the surface.
Emotions can also be a physical experience as we internalise what’s going on, feeling the pain or that drug-like euphoria that an emotion can induce. I have experienced happiness that’s made me smile until my cheeks hurt, and my whole body has felt like flying or bursting with the pure joy of a happy event. I’ve also felt numb with the sadness of grief, and my chest and stomach have felt stabbing pain of disappointment.
Now, aged in my fifties, I’ve noticed that neither age nor experience has made identifying my own emotions any easier. Recognising negative emotions is often something done in hindsight, because dealing with my physical feelings and responding to the situation at hand is so painful and thought provoking. Maybe it’s the same for everyone?
Emotions are usually transient because life doesn’t have a pause button that lets us bathe in the sunlight of a good feeling. My sixteen year old self enjoyed the rush of excitement as I left school early to earn a wage in the public service. I rode out the tinge of fear as I stepped into every new workplace in every new town the army moved my ex-husband and I to live. The swelling pride of success was a welcome sensation when I worked somewhere long enough to get promoted – and again when I went to university in my late thirties and scored high distinctions bringing me to the realisation that I might actually be smart enough to pull off this ‘educated woman’ thing. All of these feelings came – I felt them – they left.
Negative emotions aren’t so transient and live inside us, seeping out like a hidden, pinhole-sized leak seeps water out of a swimming pool. Negative emotions can whack you by surprise and live under the surface of your skin as an unwelcome visitor – sometimes for years after the negative event has passed. Fear, sadness or disappointment can brew inside me – like the slow cooker that I once set and forgot, ruining the contents – and before I know it the contents of my life are slowly being ruined by my simmering negative emotions. This isn’t special – we’re all the same.
Like the slow cooker, everything on the outside looks fine; but in actual fact everything on the inside is not… and I’m usually completely unaware that anything is even cooking inside of me. And who knows whether making myself consciously aware of my feelings would even be of benefit? Somehow negative emotions feel pretty safe locked away where they can’t roll on hurting me or popping up like a tsunami of tears for no apparent reason. Surely it’s better to just accept that bad stuff happens, shove it down and move along?
There’s just one glitch to the shove-it-down attitude. In the past I’ve found myself crying without knowing why and, over time, I came to notice a pattern to my occasional bouts of unexplained crying. I mean, when a movie or real life situation involves people moving away to a distant town, a death, saying goodbye or just the end of an era I find myself crying more than anyone else in the room and often I’m the only person crying. It’s unnerving and embarrassing as people look surprised and worried about me. My unexpected outbursts of tears actually started when the army moved my ex husband and I from house to house – away from my family at first – then away from my great job, new friends and neighbours to start all over again.
My “moving house” emotion actually covered a range of negative emotions that surfaced each time the army told us to move house. The sadness of saying goodbye, mourning the death of a familiar routine, and feeling like I’d been slapped down as the end of another era passed, leaving a sense of disappointment as I was forced to start all over again with a new neighbourhood, job, routine and friends. This all felt like a cruel groundhog day. These emotions were only compounded and intensified when I had my miscarriages and said goodbye to my unborns, goodbye to the expected date of delivery and I started all over again. Most people’s lives have many, many sad goodbyes and my tears were on auto pilot.
Being able to predict situations that might bring on tears obviously meant I could take steps to avoid the tears. I mean, crying in public only prompts people to ask questions and there’s no answer that anyone could possibly understand. At a funeral of somebody I hardly knew I cried just as hard as their immediate family – that was embarrassing. Experimenting with mindfulness, deep breathing and meditation before facing an emotion that evoked those tears didn’t help. They came up from somewhere deep inside me and I never had any control over the duration or intensity of those tears.
These deep, scary tears only slowed when his army service ended and I settled in my own little house because I was able to settle and heal. Nobody would tell me to leave. Some situations are best avoided, such as funerals, goodbye parties and people in their early pregnancies so it’s been a long time since I’ve had a sudden bout of unexpected public crying – but today it happened. Unexpected. All consuming. A little scary and quite confusing. But there it was – the lid was off my slow cooker…
Today’s unexpected crying popped up when I was driving to the primary school where I teach, to tell the principal that I wouldn’t be returning to work. Tears began streaming down my face as I neared the car park entrance and, instead of turning in, my car drove itself past the gate and home again. I sobbed all the way home.
My mind raced, mostly asking why I felt this way when I’m not moving house, nobody has died, I’m not starting all over again and it’s not the end of an era. How did I feel?
Feelings of disappointment, tinged with some anger and just a little bit of fear came through and I felt sure it was anger at the muscular dystrophy that’s been slightly annoying and little bit limiting for my whole life for now controlling my life. It’s unbelievable that I can no longer get through much of a physical day without feeling like I’ll fall down; I can’t get my kayak onto the roof of the car – let alone paddle it at the beach, I can’t ride my bike if there’s a slight breeze or little incline/hill, and I no longer go on long walks or deep water swims.
Being honest with myself is still difficult, too, because the above paragraph is general rubbish. The truth is that getting milk from the furthest end of the supermarket is difficult, holding my arms up to dry my hair means I can’t hold them up again (or reach up, or carry anything) for a day or two. Hell, even sitting in a car tires my muscles! Surely, these are the truths that would make anybody disappointed, angry and fearful.
But there’s no room in my slow cooker to add anger, disappointment and fear to the existing “moving house” simmer, so I go to my reliable strategy of rationalising.
It’s not like I’m a tragic case. Looking back, my past is filled with every physical thing I ever wanted to achieve: bike riding, kayaking, water skiing, scuba diving, hiking and general swimming in the pool and ocean. There’s a huge sense of gratitude and relief that I managed to fit all that in before getting to this stage.
Water sports, high grades in university and teaching children has been a fabulous past and I’m only just taking my first steps into my unknown future and adjusting gracefully as I go along. I’m saying goodbye to so much yet I’m grateful for the chance I’ve had to bite all of those apples. I’ve achieved so much in my life that this new way of living is surely achievable.
It’s obvious now my tears were indeed related to my ‘moving house’ tears. I’m actually being forced to move again at a time I had planned (and thought) that I’d set my life up to exactly what I wanted. This is exactly like being told to stop what I’m doing and start again. My pride in being independent, productive, appreciated, respected and wanted has been interrupted by my body telling me to leave all that behind and start again.
Writing has brought me to the realisation that this is just a flare up of my “moving house” emotion as I say goodbye to my job, financial stability, the kids, my colleagues, my hopes…. yep… there I go again… a cry baby.
I think I’ll actually be okay now that I understand.