Everything You're Feeling is Okay
Do you ever feel so whittled down by negative messages that you are hanging onto sanity by a sliver?
I do— and I’m also aware that a lot of those messages come from inside me. Don’t get me wrong, negative stuff comes from outside me, too, oodles of it. My ON/OFF valve has been under construction lately to better filter out the external crud, and boy is it helping. The edge in my voice has softened, as has the edge in my thoughts. It’s given me the opportunity to remember that those hurtful outside voices are trilling the pain of those who possess them.
Pain behind the anger
Pain. It’s one big thing everybody has in common. I tend to forget that, and I’m grateful to have it get in my face from time to time. I know my own anger is a red flag that something is wrong, and that something is usually pain inflicted by some kind of injustice. An insensitive remark, a callous attitude expressed in anger by someone else. But, because things are said in anger, I tend to hot-potato them away and only feel the injury. I don’t hear that person’s pain behind the anger, nor their fear.
Instead of going off on myself for being a self-absorbed, self-pitying egotist (there’s nothing wrong with being those things), I’ve decided to make a list of thoughts that allow all the feelings I’ve had, those that are roiling within me now, and those that will well up tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow.
It’s okay to feel afraid
Starting with the onset of MS, I’ve gotten a lot of practice feeling terrified of this thing and what will become of me after it’s gotten its claws into my CNS for a while. Whenever my symptoms take a turn, I try to respond to my fear by taking care of myself and reaching out to my doctors. I don’t do it soon enough, though, but I’m working on it. My goal is for fear and worry to trigger my inner nurturer.
It’s okay to feel irritated/angry/enraged
Not only is it a flag for pain and fear, it can be a sign of healthy self-esteem. Most of what I work on involves its expression rather than the feeling itself. My upbringing allowed permission to feel and express anger, so I’m not at all inhibited. How I express it will always involve action and reaction, though, so I ask myself how I want that to go and then try to act accordingly. Easier said than done, of course. It ain’t easy being a hot head.
It’s okay to feel down and out
Kind of like feeling anger, it’s flagging a problem that needs my attention. I try to split myself into nurturing parent and hurting child and then have my nurturer help the child feel better by listening to her with a non-judgmental, sympathetic ear. Whether she’s bored, hurt, worried, or not quite sure what’s troubling her, the simple act of good listening can help shift those troubling thoughts to a calmer plane by giving her a safe place to express them.
It’s okay to feel nothing
Huh? No, I’m serious. In fact, I love being in this particular space. I only wish I could inhabit it more often. It’s like taking a little vacation from my amygdala, that way station in the brain that drives me batty with emotion. I don’t meditate, but plenty of people do and claim that it provides a similar peace. I do drink, however, but that doesn’t really provide a nothing space, at least, not the way I drink. It calms my thoughts and puts me to sleep. Feeling nothing is largely a mystery to me still, as I’m not sure how I got there when I am there and I haven’t yet figured out how to duplicate the process. This is my favorite space since it frees me up to be intellectually productive. Writing is an intellectual process greatly hindered by emotion. So naturally, I have an investment in feeling nothing more often.
Living with chronic illness puts a magnifying glass over all these emotions, often driving me to distraction. But going over my checklist can be soothing and centering. All I can do is keep trying.
Does your employer provide workplace accommodations due to your MS?