I am therefore I feel.
If Descartes philosophy on existence was, “I think therefore I am”, my experience has been much more in the flavor of ‘I am therefore I feel’.
I am a highly emotional and sensitive person. For most of my life, I thought this was a bad thing. I was told over and over again as a child that I was too sensitive and I needed thicker skin. So I tried to grow some thicker skin. I pushed all my feelings deep down and covered them up.
In the end, all my thick skin did was to trap a whole lot of junk inside. Junk that boiled over and out at the most inopportune times. Or was scrawled across the pages of my journals where no one would see it.
As I look at this page, I am thrown back 20 years to the girl who wrote it. The ellipsis came not out of a lack of feelings but rather an overwhelming awareness of them. They were an indecipherable and indescribable mass that I didn’t have the vocabulary to give shape to–so I used dots.
There is problem with dots, thick skin, and denying my feelings. These things deny who I am. If we come back to the question of existence, feeling is part of my existence.
I would argue it is part of all of our existence, even if we are wired to differing levels of sensitivity. Just as I have learned not to be frustrated or upset by others lack of sensitivity, I am learning not to be ashamed by my overabundance of sensitivity. It is through my sensitivity that I am able to do many great and wonderful things. When I cut myself off from that, I am trying to live a full life with a blindfold over my face. It doesn’t really work.
Now I recognize there is a time and a place to process feelings. I also recognize that oftentimes I was unable to control my behavior as a result of my feelings. I seemed to have an invisible switch. Once it flipped, it sent me spiraling out of control into Feelingsville. It’s a place very similar to Whoville with more Grinch like outbursts and less cute button nosed Whos. I have had to learn how to control my behavior when my feelings are overwhelming. This is a lifelong journey.
I was lucky to have parents who set boundaries for me, tried to teach me there is a time and place for feelings, not all feelings are true, and that sometimes I needed to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. They started the process.
As an adult I have come to realize that not all people are safe to share your feelings with. So while its important to find a healthy way to work through your feelings, it is just as important to be mindful of who you are sharing with. This is a concept that Brene Brown talks about beautifully in her interview with Tim Ferris.
And I am still learning new ways to try and manage the manic behavior which can be triggered by too many feelings. It’s one of the symptoms of my depression; anxiety and mood swings that have no basis in reality, but feel real.
I had a particularly bad episode a week ago. I described my mental state using an alternative term for guano. It was one of the worst I have had in a long time. In the evening, as I was trying to process and disembark the mania train, I started asking myself what I would do next time. How would I handle it better?
Stop. Drop. Roll.
Yes, I am aware that I am commandeering this from every fire department everywhere. But it is catchy and easy to remember, so hopefully it will be a way to douse the flames of mental mania.
There are three steps:
Stop – Stop and ask yourself if the thoughts you are having are honoring, helpful, or honest.
Drop – If the answer to any of the questions above is no, drop whatever it is you’re doing.
Roll – Roll yourself up in the presence of God. Ask Him to come near, meditate, listen to worship music, read scripture. If you’re a fidgeter, do something with your hands like doodle or fold paper. The most important part is that you don’t do anything that requires a specific outcome. Just be still and know that He is God. Stay in your roll as long as it takes to feel peaceful.
I haven’t had to use this method yet, but I will be hanging the words somewhere in my home to remind me when I need it.
Because there are still days, at 33, when I feel…