czech for ice cream

Depression and emotions

Some years ago, I started to have phases where I didn’t feel anything. It was really weird because it was new to me. It felt wrong and left me with no motivation to do anything. Emotions are my motivator. Why should I do anything when I neither like nor dislike any of the possible outcomes?

Now, several years later, I am learning to feel again. That sounds really strange. Fact is, I cannot really control whether I feel anything. It usually depends on how stressed I am and some other factors. And even when I feel something, it’s rare that it has the intensity and rich facets my emotions used to have.
Like I said: no emotions, no motivation. I also struggle to remember days (and months, and years :/) when I didn’t feel a lot. And well, you don’t feel good. So I’m trying to get my feelings back.

Step one was the realization that I should feel my feelings.
All of this sounds really strange if feelings are an integral part of your life. But as long as I’ve been depressed, my motivator haven been my thoughts. I am over-thinking and analyzing everything. I am trying to think my way into feeling better. That’s really difficult. And, you know, also not really healthy after some point.
But the sentence “feel your feelings” really helped me because not feeling anything was a sign, I realized, that I was suppressing feelings. – This makes sense, as my numbness started when I felt really really trapped and desperate while still living with my parents. I couldn’t get out so I had to turn my feelings off or I wouldn’t have been able to deal with the awfulness of the situation and the fact that the people who created the awfulness were people, who were supposed to care for me.

So what did “feel your feelings” do for me?
It opened a pit of despair, fear and sadness. – Okay, I know, this does not really sound like you want to go through that. For me it meant, beside some other things, that I felt scared for two straight days without knowing the source. I also cried repeatedly for a long time because I realized just how much I felt left alone and without support from my mother. I was angry and just really sad and infuriated that I didn’t have parents, who were supportive and caring. Instead they were self-absorbed and full of so much fear they didn’t think about anyone else.
At the time, I didn’t know when it would end. But not facing these feelings hadn’t worked so I might as well face them?
As I said, I cried repeatedly and the last time I did, it felt like I would again and again because everything was SO fucked up. But. I didn’t. Turns out, I had grieved enough. (At least concerning this particular topic.)

Feeling these strong feelings did have positive effects. I noticed that the symptoms I had due to stress got at least a bit better. It opened the possibility for me to feel nice feelings that don’t hurt. (Sometimes.) It stopped some of the thought cycles because they were no longer fed by these emotions that desperately tried to come out. And the numbness went away, at least a little bit. You cannot suppress difficult feelings and keep the nice ones.
You can only suppress all the emotions or feel all the emotions. There isn’t really much in between.

I will write about the more nuanced approach I follow now another time. But I want to say one more thing: Feelings are not your enemy, even if they make you feel like shit (like, I dunno, grief and fear). They help you navigate your surrounding in a save way (fear) and help you stay emotionally (and in concequence also physically) healthy (grief). It can be really hard to let them be, but there always is a way through and the way through is what you need to take to get to the other side, feeling better.

Quotes 1

HarrietJ on fugitivus (always trigger warning for sexualized violence for her blog, but not in these quotes):

Strangers, friends, acquaintances, anybody who hears that you have an estranged family member will tell you to forgive and forget. They will tell you that family is wonderful and really more meaningful than whatever you’re going through. Also, bonus round, but WHEN YOU GET OLDER YOU’LL UNDERSTAND, double bonus round, BUT BY THEN THEY’LL BE DEAD AND YOU’LL REGRET IT.
What people are telling you when they have this round-up toy spiel is what they are capable of. They are not capable of cutting off their family. They are not capable of imagining a life without forgiveness. They are not capable, perhaps, of imagining your life.
It’s just them, the way they prefer to live. You live differently. The only thing is, you probably don’t go around accosting strangers and advising them to cut off their family, and if they don’t, they’ll grow old and regret all their years wasted placating and living in fear.

There sure are a lot of how-tos out there – but do they teach you how to fail? It is an essential part of everything you do. Because everything you do can go wrong. I, for example, did not learn how to fail. The only thing I know how to do is trying very hard for perfection and feeling like a failure when I don’t achieve it. Fortunately, it’s become less bad because when you reach for perfection? You are practically failing. all. the. time. But even though it has gotten better for me, I still don’t see many options apart from: doing something correctly. It doesn’t occur to me that I could do it half-assed, or wrong, or *gasp* not at all.
So this post is one step in the right direction because I’m writing about failing without knowing how to fail – so I must inevitably fail at this post! Great, right?

Let’s see what I can come up with … forgiveness. One major part of being able to fuck up in peace is forgiving yourself. Forgiving is quite hard for me. But it’s necessary to tell my self that it’s okay when I’m stressed. It’s okay when I’m too tired to work and it’s okay when I don’t really know what to do with myself today. It’s also okay, if I don’t understand a task right away, it’s okay to ask and it’s okay to have to ask again.

What I struggle with is people seeing me not being perfect. When I look at that statement, it’s a little bit ridiculous. I mean, who cares how I perform? People may notice I am looking kind of awkward or that I don’t really know what I’m doing, but it doesn’t make them feel particularly bad. And if it would make them feel bad that wouldn’t be my responsibility. But here comes the twist: when you are a child and your parents are disappointed in you (or don’t react to you in any way), you can’t just tell yourself that those are their feelings. You are dependent on them and dependent on their approval and, in a perfect world, you would get all the time you need to learn, when you grow up, that you are separate from them and can survive on your own. Well, that’s not what happened to me so I’m trying as best I can to learn to be okay with me. And to be okay with the emotions of shame or guilt or disappointment that come up when I don’t get something right. And to reassure myself, despite these emotions, that everything’s okay.

We also don’t have a culture that’s particularly fond of failing. We like to see success stories, people overcoming struggles and being happy in the end. I certainly want to see myself happy, but this is not a movie. And that means I have to accept I won’t have an ideal learning curve that never falters. I have to get my expectations straight. If I keep really high expectations up all the time, I’m setting myself up for failure. I’m actively hurting myself. Because it’s just not nice to go “You obviously have to try harder.”, when someone fails. Sometimes you really have to readjust your expectations.

So in the end, be kind to yourself. Adjust your expectations. Set yourself reasonable goals. And always acknowledge how far you’ve come and how much effort you’ve invested.

Mind full of stuff

Now that the time of the year where I have a lot to do starts again, I find it hard to stop thinking about what I still have to do. My mind can go round and round thinking about exams, planning my future, completing exercises and so on and so forth. It’s really tiring and at the same time, I get so overwhelmed by the amount of tasks that I will do a lot to procrastinate. Fortunately right now, this stuff isn’t useless either, but when it gets more stressful it would be neat to be able to focus.
One strategy is to use (well, I don’t use it, but I write them down elsewhere). But in the long run, I’d like to get a firm grip on what’s necessary, what I should keep in mind, what I can let go and especially how much I should work.
Are there any good strategies you use?

Strategy: working

I have a hard time not working too much at once/really taking breaks. I always feel like I could (when I’m not depressed) or should (when I’m depressed) do more. I also don’t manage to choose reasonable times for breaks (they are usually too short/I end up doing something anyway.) So I have a new idea: when I prepare something for uni/do paperwork or anything that’s definitely not free time, I’ll write down how long I have been working on it. This way, at the end of the day, I can look back and have a more realistic view on what I’ve actually achieved. Hopefully, it will also help reduce my anxiety of not doing EVERYTHING NOW and help with taking breaks because I deserve them.

Or something. One particular comment thread over at Captain Awkward’s has been especially helpful, so I’ll just link the comments here. The question was how you develop thicker skin.

Number one.
Number two.
Number three.
Number four, which goes like this

From one diminutive and often-condescended-to person to another, my favourite jerk-deflection technique is to just raise my eyebrows and stare at the person for a moment. I’ve learned this is a particularly effective way to leverage your aura of quiet mystery into making the person extremely uncomfortable. And personally, I find it a lot easier than actually saying something cutting, but maybe that’s just me.

Number five, which offers these gems

6) I decided my self-esteem was not transitory and dependent upon the whims of others. This includes my subordinates and my supervisors. I do treat everyone with the same respect.
7) I have a strong system of beliefs that I do not compromise. Those beliefs are more important to me than being popular or well-liked. Peer pressure does not work on me. You want to call me a prude because I don’t want to talk about threesomes at work? I can live with that. Maybe the world needs more prudes. You want me to clock you in and out? Sorry, I don’t commit fraud for co-workers. Find another stooge. I have a quick temper and enough righteous indignation to inspire caution in others. [Note: this last bit may not actually be very good advice].
9) Even though I have a well-developed filter, I have a voice and I use it. I have some prepared comebacks that I deploy when needed. My responses if someone calls me a bitch: “You have no idea” or “So glad you noticed!” I engage the Death Stare and then follow it with a big friendly smile. [Note: this is usually with a random stranger and is usually in a public space, like the mall parking lot at Christmas].

and a classic that is not to be forgotten by number six

When someone says something hurtful and mean, I stop, blink, and say these wonderful words:

“I’m sorry. What did you say?”

Life in progress

There is this good old problem that, when I feel good for once, I think, “From now on, it will be like this forever.” Nope, it won’t. But I really like to believe it. In order to change this, because like this, disappointment is inevitable and self-blaming is likely to follow, I try to accept that I just am a certain way.
I still have this concept of “being normal” in my head an it doesn’t help a bit. There is no “normal”. There is just a huuuuge range of personalities, bodies, habits, mental states and so on. So now, I try to keep in mind that I am special. I am special in the sense that I, like everyone else, need certain accommodations to help me live my life in a satisfying way. If I don’t eat and sleep regularly, I feel bad. If I don’t manage to control my perfectionism, I am mentally (and physically) running myself into the ground. If I don’t get enough sunlight and exercise, I get even more depressed. All of these accommodations are necessary because I am me. Even if they change, they will be replaced with other necessities and it’s fine. Selfcare is fine stuff. No need to apologize for being your own authentic self.

You know, when I was younger I had a phase where I started to realize that I was really miserable and would need a lot of changes in my life to be able to feel better. I looked for books and on-line material that could help me on my journey and I came across suggestions that didn’t make sense to me at that time. They didn’t help me because I wasn’t in a place where I could do anything about them.–When you’ve tried to become (emotionally) healthier and happier, you may know these moments when you finally can relate to other people’s explanations and experiences that you couldn’t relate to before.
One of these suggestions was to “love yourself”. I knew from the books I should love myself, but I had no fucking clue how to do that. Instead, all I felt was a giant void in my chest that needed filling with attention and appreciation by others. You probably can imagine that this way of living isn’t sustainable and so I could only be successful with this for certain periods of time. You just can’t use people that way for your emotional well-being and you shouldn’t. It will make everyone cranky at best and desperate at worst.

So NOW, for the people out there who are at a stage where they actually don’t get what “loving yourself” could mean, I will explain to you what it means to me/I think about it. I certainly haven’t fully managed it yet, but at least I am in a place where I can proceed with determination and confidence to get where I want to go.

“Love yourself” seems to be a rather strange demand. I mean, either you love someone, including yourself, or you don’t. But, like in relationships, it really is a process. Or at least, when you want to “suceed” at loving yourself, you should see it as a process. Because you want to go from not loving yourself/not knowing what the hell this is supposed to mean (now) to loving yourself (preferably soon), right? A process. Got that.

So. Loving yourself means actively trying to be nice to yourself.
Do you have a supportive inner monologue or are you scolding yourself without empathy when you do something wrong? I for example thought, I was really nice to myself. Then I realized that I am making fun of myself (in my head) when I am embarrassed. And it’s not in a good-natured sympathetic way, but rather unkind teasing.
Can you nurture yourself? That means, when you are sad about something, can you sit with it, be sad and have empathy for yourself instead of telling yourself you should get over it/suck it up or pushing the feeling away because you feel you are not strong enough to come through at the other side?
When you have achieved something (and we are not talking big “important” achievements here, but eating something, when you are depressed or finishing a small task of work etc.) can you give yourself credit for that?
And so on and so forth. Being your best inner cheerleader, respecting your boundaries, being forgiving with yourself, kind to yourself and not hard on you. That is what loving yourself means.

For other explanations, here are some comments over at Captain Awkward that try to describe loving yourself. (The thread is full of whiny dude/letter writer who can’t get over himself, so be prepared.)
Let’s have a look at zweisatz’s, staranise’s, solecism’s and JenniferP’s comments.

I am the one to decide

A really interesting recent realization of mine: I can decide, like, everything! Only now that I’ve developed this point of view, I realize that I hadn’t thought so before. You just assume that you are the boss in your own life, that you get to decide what your identity is, what you are working for, which kind of relationships you want to have, but I discovered that deep inside, I didn’t believe it. I always had this feeling of being controlled, of having to listen to orders by … society? what my parents told me?, lingering in the back of my mind. (Probably a lot of it is still there, but I hope to evict it soon.) It really opens a new perspective on my life because a lot of feeling helpless probably stemmed from the fact that I in deed didn’t feel like everything was in my hands. Well, I still don’t, but this slight shift in perspective does change how I see myself and my opportunities in this world.

[Trigger warning: adultism – emotional neglect of a child]

So. In her latest article Captain Awkward wrote this:

5) My good friends are training their 5-month old to sleep and to comfort himself if he wakes. So they ignore his cries at night (unless they go on for a certain duration and intensity = more than 10 minutes, a sharp upset cry vs. a “Hey, come hang out with me” cry) so that he’ll learn to soothe himself.

This made me uncomfortable. No, this made me anxious and sad. Babies need their parents to comfort them. When he stops crying, it will be a sign that he has learned that no one will come to comfort him. It won’t be a sign that he can “comfort himself”. Babies cannot do that because for their emotional–not only for their physical–well-being they depend on their parents. He will feel scared and incredibely lonely and, depending on his development, get attachment issues. Well, so I found this scary, but there are the comments.

Anathema Device comments

Sorry if this is too off-topic but the thought of a five month old baby being “sleep trained” is causing me some anxiety.

JenniferP/Captain Awkward:

Wow. That’s really your anxiety to manage, because yeah, it’s really, really, really off topic. The parents, kid, etc. are fine and happy, they are using a method suggested by their pediatrician, and their parenting choices aren’t really up for general judgment and discussion.

And later Captain Awkward says (among other stuff)

BOUNDARIES. This is a boundary. Don’t cross it again.

And then there is Kathleen

Anathema Device, I’m sorry the idea of sleep training a five month old causes anxiety. The idea of five months with no more that two hours of consecutive sleep causes me anxiety too. But that’s another letter, no doubt.

Wow, just NO. It sucks to not get enough sleep. For a long long long time. Guess what sucks more? Feeling like you are going to die. I am not exaggerating here, that’s how it works because babies litteraly cannot survive without their parents taking care.

All of this is just a huge stinking pile of adultism and adult privilege. Yes you can and have to criticize parenting choices when they are harming the goddamn child. It’s not “theirs”. It’s its own, but if anyone choses to take care of a child they should damn well do it.

As well as Captain Awkward’s refusal/reluctance to insert trigger warnings into her posts this reaction shows me I should overthink reading this site. At least proceed with caution.