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.


Guilt and Shame

Guilt and shame are two concepts that, while closely related, don’t actually mean the same thing. Weird, I know. I mean, they’re spelled so similarly.Well, not really, but the two do kind of run together in my head, and have for a long time. They were touched on some at Menninger, but the way they were used they seemed almost interchangeable. It took me a while to realize that the two were different, and, more importantly, that their differences could be very crucial.

I mentioned the other day that I was reading Brene Brown‘s newest book, Daring Greatly. I finished it the other night, and I have to say that her book was the first one to explain the differences between guilt and shame in a way that actually made sense to me. Guilt, as a concept, is tied closely to action. Your actions are what make you guilt – when you feel that something you have done is wrong, like lying to a friend or stealing from a family member, then you feel guilty.

Shame is a whole ‘nother monster altogether. If guilt is the minor leagues, then shame is the majors. Guilt has to do something really big to get called up. Shame is worse than guilt, because while guilt is just feeling that your actions are bad, shame is feeling that you – as a person – are bad. When you lie, and get that little voice in your head saying “You’re a terrible person,” you’re feeling shame. When someone tells you that you’re worthless, or helpless, or something along those lines, they shaming you. They aren’t telling you that what you do is wrong – they are saying that you, as a person, are wrong, bad, or just messed up.

Shame is much harder on a person than guilt, because while fixing one’s actions, and thus averting guilt, can be relatively easy, changing how you see yourself to avoid feeling shame is much harder. And so trying to live in a world where same is not the first avenue people go to when they try to punish you is a good thing. Daring Greatly goes into how our society works on shame, in the workplace and in the family, and Brene Brown talks about how to change those things. They certainly don’t seem easy – we can only go as far as we’re comfortable with, after all – but after reading what she had to say, I think it’s worth reading for a lot of people. In particular, the posters here have some pretty good messages.


Shame, Shame, I Know Your Name

Not a whole lot new to report in my life at the moment. Christmas just keeps getting closer, but I’ve done most of my shopping – aside from a few people in the Houston area who seem reluctant to give me gift ideas and don’t believe me when I say I’ll get a gift that will amuse me. I still don’t have any decorations, but that’s alright by me, since work is about a gallon of Christmas in a half-gallon container. Christmas tree, Christmas lights, Christmas decorations, Christmas music (including Rod Stewart doing Christmas songs, ugh), the works – they’re pretty well stocked up on Christmas.

I’ve gotten to talk with some people I haven’t really spoken to in a while – several months, at least – and talking to them, both of us have noticed a pretty big change. One friend asked if it felt nice to just live, and I said it did – something I would never have said a year ago.I just wish I know what the big change was, or how it came to pass. I mean, it’s good to be feeling better, for the first time in a long while, but it is also frustrating that I don’t really have any words of wisdom for others, or any way to really pass on what I have learned that has helped me so much – because I’m not really sure what ti was that did so much for me.

It’s always painful for me to not be able to help those I care about. The people I form connections with aren’t a large group, but they are very important to me, and I want to help them if I can. But My experiences are fairly limited; while I’ve spent a lot of time with people with addiction, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, borderline personality disorder, PTSD…the list goes on… my only personal experience is with depression. So I can empathize with my friends, and I can try to help them work through things, process them, but I can’t ever truly know what they’re feeling. That’s frustrating; and, even though I know ti shouldn’t, it makes me feel guilty that I can’t help. 

Guilt and shame are two things that I have trouble differentiating; as this article puts it, guilt can be defined as ‘a feeling of responsibility or remorse for some offense, crime, wrong, etc., whether real or imagined’, while shame can be defined as ‘the painful feeling arising from the consciousness of something dishonorable, improper, ridiculous, etc., done by oneself or another’. The two seem very similar to me, though. When I feel responsible or remorseful for something bad, I also feel a near-painful sense of dishonor and failure, like I could have done better or I haven’t done enough. So while I can avoid falling into depression along with a depressed or suicidal friend, I always feel like there is more I could be doing to help, and when I can’t help I feel guilty and ashamed. This isn’t unusual for me; I feel guilty for not offering to carry a friend’s tray at meals at Menninger while she was on crutches, and that was eight months ago. Right now I feel ashamed that I can’t help a friend struggling with addiction-related issues because I don’t have any experience in the area. There’s not really anything I can do about it, but it’s what I feel.

It won’t stop me from my recovery, but it is something that I feel, often. It’s not depressing, and isn’t leading me to relapse – if anything, it probably motivates me. But it’s a difficult thing to deal with, because most of the time I’m not even sure how to describe what I’m feeling.

Guilt Trip

One of the worst things about being in a suicidal mood was how hard it was to connect with other people. I had some great friends, friends who I could always ask for help, but I was so convinced that I was a burden that I didn’t want to burden them any further. I felt guilty asking them for any kind of help because I already felt so indebted to them that I thought it would be impossible to ever pay them back. My mind was in such a bad place that I never thought about why my friends were my friends, and I assumed it was a relationship where only I was in debt to them.

Guilt was a terrible part of being seriously depressed. I felt like asking anyone to do anything was too much of an imposition. It started out small, but it got worse as my depression got worse. At first I had trouble just asking salespeople to do things – things that, basically, were parts of their jobs. Eventually, though, it was so bad that I couldn’t even bear to ask the people closest to me for help of any kind. Because I felt like such a burden, like everyone would be disappointed if I asked for help of any kind, I felt the need to lie to everyone around me to keep them believing that I was OK. If they knew how bad I felt, I thought they would be even more disappointed, and I couldn’t stand that thought.

I had trouble remembering that friendship was a voluntary relationship. People are friends with each other because they want to be (and family members are close to other family members because they want to be, but for the purposes of this post I’ll be focusing on friends). My friends worried about me not because they were obligated to, but because they thought I was worth worrying about. It was their choice, and if they felt I was a burden, they would say so and they would probably stop being my friends. It’s part of being a friend that you help each other out, during bad times as well as good.

People who care about you can be disappointed in you, but they also care, and they worry about you because they want to, not because they have to. I can’t make my friends worry about me, much like my friends can’t make me worry about them – it’s a choice we make, We are friends voluntarily. And sometimes there are things that we can’t handle alone, and we can use the help that friends provide. Those are the times we should not only not feel afraid to ask for help, but we should actively look to do it – because that is part of what friends are for. There’s no reason to feel guilty about asking our friends for assistance when things are hard for us, because I’m sure they’d rather help us out than have us wallow in guilt and shame.