The Feeling of Feelings

Acknowledging one’s emotions is an important part of the process of recovery from mental illness. A lot of people never really develop very well emotionally, and I was no different; from an early age I put a lot of energy into distancing myself from what I was feeling, and in later life that came back to bite me, and hard.

One of the interesting things I have found, though, is that each emotion for me seems to have an associated physical sensation. It’s taken a a fair amount of time to really pinpoint them all, which is odd, considering that we are feeling some degree of emotion virtually all the time. But I think some of them don’t really register until we feel an emotion strongly, and I would think that these particular feelings could vary from person to person.

For me, one of the ones I have felt to a fair degree recently has been a feeling of fear or panic. This isn’t something I have mentioned before, but my neighbors, over the past several weeks, have been prone to loud, seemingly violent, fights. I hear them through my ceiling; yelling and screaming and slamming of things into the floor, and at first I found it annoying, but as it grew more frequent, I began to wonder if it was something like domestic abuse. I eventually had to call the police on them, and now every time I hear them I fear that it will be something bad, or that somehow I will get involved. This fear manifests itself as a tightness in my chest, my heart beating really strongly, and a little out of sync; it makes it feel like blood is rushing through my head.

Anxiety is much easier to express; anxiety can be set off by a lot of things, but hearing from anything involving a new job is almost certain to set it off. I have it sometimes when talking with friends who are having rough times; I don’t want to say the wrong thing, but I also want to be a helpful and supportive friend, and that can be a tough road to navigate. It feels like butterflies in my stomach; the easiest way I can describe it is that feeling you get on a rollercoaster when climbing up the first big incline, that feeling of apprehension – is this really a good idea?

Guilt is one I am familiar with, largely because while Is pent so long worrying about the lies I was telling to everyone around me during the worst periods of my depression. Guilt just made me feel sick to my stomach, like I needed to throw up, even when there was nothing in my stomach. Oddly, it didn’t ever make me any less hungry, and it only ever actually made me throw up once, but it really spent a lot of time working its unpleasant magic on me.

Anger is pretty easy; I sometimes find myself going straight to anger in traffic when something crazy happens – which is not unusual in Houston traffic, sadly. It only happens when I drive alone, too, which is strange. Anger is just a burning needs to do something immediate, often violent; I tend to satisfy this by saying or yelling quite an interesting array of things at my fellow drivers, warranted or not. I try not to make rude gestures where they can see me, or hit anything, because I don’t want to engender similar anger, but the yelling kind of feels good to get out.

Sadness is probably the one I have the most intense experience with, considering my depression. I haven’t felt a whole lot of it lately – at least, not to the extent of my worst depressions, or anywhere near that – but I have had moments of disappointment, like being turned down for a job or reprimanded by a manager, that remind me. It’s oppressive; it makes me feel tired, so tired I don’t want to move, or work, or do anything but maybe eat or sleep. It makes me lose interest in things, to just want to sit, sleep, withdraw from the world. It’s dangerous, and can be very insidious, and so I have to watch out for it often.

Joy is the emotion I haven’t had a lot of experience with – well, not until October or so. It was when I first realized I had feelings for Calla, and found out she had feelings for me, as well. My heart almost popped out of my chest, and when I was around her it still felt like that. When I was trying to describe how I felt to her, I used something similar to the rollercoaster description I used above – except for with her, it wasn’t the anxiety of the climb, but the feeling you get right at the apex of the climb – the flash of terror, but then the realization that you’re about to do something awesome.

That covers the five biggies – fear, guilt, anger, sadness, and joy, with anxiety as a bonus. So, how do emotions feel physically when they manifest for you? What kinds of sensations do they create? Think about it, then think about how often you’re feeling each; it can be a sobering conclusion.

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3 comments on “The Feeling of Feelings

  1. Laurel says:

    Ok, I must briefly vocalize, if that’s allowed on a blog. Yours is the only blog I’ve read and maybe there blog etiquette? So I had what is now told to me to start a new job at mdacc on Monday, a wk after being told. So you mention that as an example. I speculate that the reason why I am continuously up at like 3 and 4 am, too tired to use dbt coping skills:) thank god for laurel, my cat for her compassion and stability. Then I honestly can’t even think about that- I figure I show up and what goes on will go on. And I’ll handle it step by step- and the people I interviewed with I felt great about and fair and straightforward and direct. But the bigger issue right this second is trying to get everything logistically changed and done in my life (all of the sudden ok with little notice with the nice plan I had to take a couple days off of my current job to unwind a bit. Kinda out the window. But as they say prioritize and odat and omat. And breathe and I will get thru the steps. My overall point is that I’m overwhelmed – anxiety? Apparently .

  2. Laurel says:

    But the main thing I wanted to comment on is your hugely important point about noticing correlations between body sensations and feelings. That has been the very topic of dbt skills class lately as it applied to self soothing and mindfulness and other dbt skills.?It’s remarkable and really helpful to you that you can do that and so helpful psychologically being awake and aware of these bodily sensations. I wish I could do that better, and it’s something I definitely need to work on. It is another indication we get that something is going on with us – being self-aware that without with we are missing data, key data we can use to make ourselves feel better when in distress. So I wanted to applaud you that you have developed that skill, and furthermore really appreciate your bringing it up on the blog cause I think it’s something that isn’t often mentioned but is an important topic for those in recovery.

  3. Laurel says:

    Just curious, why is your blog always on eastern time?

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