Saturday, January 17, 2015

Acknowledging Feelings Is Not Giving In

Post Soundtrack:  Talk, by Coldplay

Since the start of the new year, I've been struggling with something.  While others were making resolutions to eat better, exercise more, whatever, I was making my own pact with myself.  I'm realizing now that it wasn't really a conscious thing.  It was an instinctive coping mechanism, I suppose, a way of attempting to protect myself and my emotional health.  The problem with making a secret pact with myself is that I was holding myself rigidly to it and it was making me distressed without quite knowing why.

It took talking things over with my husband to realize what I was doing to myself.  I had determined that with the upcoming year stretching out before me, I would keep a positive outlook on my Lupus and general health.  That doesn't sound too damaging, now does it?  However, there is one key aspect of this that makes it completely unreasonable.  I was enforcing this on myself at all times, regardless of my actual feelings.

Sure, there are plenty of people out there, some of whom have gone through similar or worse circumstances, who will encourage people like me to buck up, to stay positive, to put a smile on, to man up, to not let it get me down... and while all of this advice is well meant and generally a good idea, its fatal flaw is something that generally is not addressed in public society.

Being sick stinks.

I don't care how up-beat and cheerful you are, if you are chronically sick or suffering a disease, you have emotions that crop up that simply must be dealt with.  It is essential to our mental health that we admit how unpleasant and horrible our situations are.  Anger, frustration, depression, despair, unhappiness, feeling defeated... these are all natural emotional responses to facing being sick for the rest of your life, however long that might be.  To pretend that they can be brushed aside in favor of a more positive attitude is to invite deeper depression and a lasting sense of hopelessness that can only have a negative impact on our health, even if the outward indications are that we successfully are keeping a good attitude.

Something that is vital to understand is that acknowledging that we have these negative feelings, allowing ourselves to take some time and space to feel them, is not by any means an indicator that we are giving in to our sickness and giving up.  I have noticed that those around me who also suffer from life-long problems sometimes tend to rail against being sick, refusing to do things to take care of themselves because they don't want to be seen as sick, don't want to define themselves as sick.  While I completely understand this perspective, my recent revelation of how I was struggling leads me to think that this attitude of defiance can be more harmful than helpful.  If our idea of fighting a disease means we don't take measures to care for ourselves (sitting down when we are tired or weak, accepting helpful devices that will ease life and make us more active, talking to the doctor about something that might be important or involved with our disease, etc.), then perhaps it is time that we redefine how it is we fight back.  Depriving ourselves of useful, helpful things is no way to defy our sickness.  Depriving ourselves of emotional validity is also not the way to find balance and good emotional health while our physical health wavers.

Please understand, I am not suggesting that being sick gives us the right and reason to wallow in negative feelings.  Allowing ourselves to feel these things is different than submerging ourselves in them.  Everything in moderation, even unhappy emotions.  They have a place in our healing, in our learning to deal with our changing circumstances.  Tears are not an indication of weakness, merely an outward sign of the inward struggle.  Are we not entitled to that struggle?  Have we not earned the right to shake our fist at whatever disease plagues us?  We must allow ourselves these moments of darkness, allow it to seep from us in tears, in words, in clinging tight to the ones we love, so that when we are done we can wipe our eyes, take a deep breath, raise our heads, and feel emptied of those negative things.  It makes us able to face the physical struggle once more, helping us to find the strength to keep going.

So here I sit, having realized I am doing myself no favors by refusing to feel upset that my stretch of minimal pain seems to have come to an end.  I am a little angry that I couldn't stay on the upswing.  I feel despair at looking at a new year that is going to be a constant rollercoaster ride of ups and downs.  But I have only acknowledged that I have these feelings.  I haven't yet let them out.  It's a tricky business, finding the right trigger, the right moment, the right pressure point where it does me the most good to release it all in a torrent of bitter tears.  But it will come, if I let it, and it will cleanse me for a time of all the darkness that I've been suppressing.  For now, I share with all of you my thoughts on my own predicament, one that I see others facing as well.  I hope it helps someone, somehow.

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