letting the feeling be a feeling

Good morning, writers. The sun has just pushed, a thick orange plum, over the lip of the Oakland hills. Maybe we’ll warm up a little now. How is the day where you are? What is your morning bringing you?

Today, I am caught on the line, deep in the struggle of trying to pull myself out of a depression. What do you do on the days when you are feeling bad about yourself? How do you treat yourself on the days when the triggers have overridden your coping mechanisms and you slip out of normal functioning for awhile? Do you allow yourself to fall apart a little (or a lot)? Or do you try to stuff everything into the shopping bags you carry around labelled Normal Functioning Adult! and pretend like everything’s fine?

On the days when I get caught in the difficult voices, when my skin feels too sensitive to everything, when all the noises are too loud and the tears live just at the surface of my throat, my initial instinct is always to try and figure it out. This is how the inside interrogation begins: What’s going on, Jen?  — never mind that the voice can sound remarkably like my stepfather’s; now I’m the one keeping me late from school or up without sleep, asking the questions. What’s going on with you? Why are you so upset? When are you going to pull yourself together? I go back through the previous days, recounting my actions and behaviors, trying to pinpoint the moment when everything came apart again, the moment when the clock turned over to 0 and my body broke open to depression again. It’s rare that I can find a single exchange or interaction or trigger point — but that doesn’t stop the inside interrogator from looking, and in trying to escape from the interrogation, I sink deeper and deeper into an inside cave.

The rational parts of me do their best at these times: I remind myself that it’s a feeling, and that feelings are always in motion. There will be another feeling that comes along soon. Depression doesn’t let that message in easy, though, does it? Depression throws a bag over your senses and says, This is how it’s always been and how it always will be. Depression makes it as hard as possible for the self-care voices to get in. Depression is selfish and wants you all for itself. Depression doesn’t ask for much — just that you sit on the couch with your tears and bag of Cheetos and terrible television and beat yourself up for not being out there conquering the world. It wants you to then look at yourself from above and tell yourself how ridiculous and self-indulgent you are — are you crying about that again? When are you going to move on? The voice of depression is rarely kind. We are often meaner to ourselves than anyone else possibly could be.

Trying to “figure it out” is often not the most helpful thing for me to do when I’m feeling this way, though it can take me days to remember that. The inside voices that are demanding an explanation are the same ones that are telling me I’m a failure and a fraud. Among the things I can do for myself on these days are: 1) talking to people about how I’m really feeling, and 2) letting myself feel exactly what I feel. Questioning, interrogating, resisting or critiquing a feeling is rarely useful for me — and yet I have to learn that lesson over and over again. Fortunately, as someone who lives with depression and sorrow, I keep getting opportunities to practice.

Some days are bad days. Some days we are triggered, or angry, or sad, or depressed — or all of the above. We’re not supposed to talk about feeling this way, especially if we work in any sort of helping profession. We’re supposed to have our shit together all the time. But the fact is that we don’t. No one does. Some days are hard. Some days we are lost in the long sorrow that we carry through and into this life. Some days we are devastated by everything all over again, and the walls we have casually built to contain our grief come crumbling down, and we can feel it. We can feel the parts we haven’t mourned or assimilated or processed yet. We can do a little more of the persistent work of survival.

Sometimes I can write into these feelings; sometimes I am not able to — I have to wait until they have abated a bit. Being without words to explain or organize or make sense of a feeling or experience can be quite scary; that’s how I process the world. But there are feelings that just want to be felt, feelings that just ask me to live into them. Yikes. Over and over, life gives me the opportunity to try again: Just feel it, Jen. You’re ok exactly as you are. Let yourself be.

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What would it mean to trust your struggle, as the image above reads? How do you take care of you when you’re hurting or triggered or lost? What do loneliness and depression mean for you, or for your character? Can you give yourself twenty minutes today to write into any of these questions — not to get it all worked out, but just to be present to and with your experience?

Thank you for the ways you are spacious with others when they are hurting — and thank you for the ways you are learning to be spacious with yourself, learning to allow others to be present even when you are feeling the most messy. Thank you, of course, for your words.

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