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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.


How to fail

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.

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.

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.

Yeah, okay, feel

I almost forgot I have to feel my feelings. But I tend to assume that I’ll always feel well when I feel well at one moment. That’s why I was confused today because I wasn’t happy. I have been working hard for the last weeks to clear my head and create a healthy daily routine. It worked. I felt better. But the last four days were strange. I didn’t sleep well and I felt numb all day. This afternoon, I came up with a word: sadness. Maybe there was still sadness inside of me that wanted to be felt. Or something else entirely? Anger? Frustration? So I let it out. I felt scared and lonely and sad. And I also felt a tiny bit like myself.

So keep in mind: no nice feelings without feelings which require work.