This past week, I felt things. Like, I really, finally felt things. They were real feelings, not forced, and came without judgment. It’s been longer than I want to admit since I have experienced any emotion without it being tainted by anxious judgment.
I have written many columns about how to stay sane in the face of fear. I have talked extensively about self-care and coping skills. I know my way around a troubled inner landscape, and I have fought tooth and nail for my peace. But what I haven’t done — at first because of illness, and more recently because of ego — is let myself feel my dang feelings.
Several months ago, when my therapist posited that I judge my bad feelings rather than accepting them, it felt like an accusation. Judge feelings? Who, me? That’s crazy. I have bad feelings all the time. But guess what? If someone’s helpful suggestion feels like an accusation, it’s probably because it’s true.
I spent three years journaling good things about each day and refusing to document the bad ones. Positivity and gratitude journaling did help me cultivate a more positive mindset, but it’s not an accurate reflection of my life. Refusing to acknowledge the bad things I go through isn’t exactly a sign of balanced emotional health. Heck, I’ve written two posts since the pandemic started about silver linings and positive coping skills. Not once have I talked about how hard this is, and how bad I feel sometimes.
My therapist’s suggestion lingered in my mind. I thought about it every day but wasn’t sure I believed it or knew how to work on changing it. I tried to be cognizant of when I reached for a coping skill or a distraction. I’ve tried to stop myself from picking up my phone when I feel anxious. I have several apps that I use for stress relief, but I wanted to see what would happen if I just sat there and felt crappy instead of occupying my mind with Tetris or journaling, or worse, social media and news. Unsurprisingly, I felt bad. It isn’t fun to not suppress my bad feelings.
When I reached out to other columnists to help me write a post about coping skills, I was expecting familiar suggestions. Things like, “Exercise, go for a walk, talk with a friend, take up a hobby, do a craft, journal, read books, listen to music” — all things I could’ve written myself. I was a bit surprised when the very first response was, “Lying down on the ground and looking up to the sky. Breathing deeply and letting myself feel vulnerable. If tears come, they come. We need to feel these things.”
Many columnists echoed those sentiments. It reminded me that my main coping skills involve busying myself to the point of distraction from the discomfort of bad feelings.
Then, two weeks ago, Brad Dell — a columnist for Cystic Fibrosis News Today, a lung transplant recipient, and the director of the columns department at BioNews Services — wrote a column about realizing that the biggest and most convincing lie he ever told is “I’m fine.” He wrote about subconscious fear and grief manifesting in nightmares, mood swings, and lack of focus. He offered ways to process difficult emotions and anxiety, none of which are built on a foundation of denial or emotional suppression. He also happens to be the person who posted that response to my request for coping skills.
I have been practicing some of his suggestions as well as continuing my work of fighting my instincts in moments of weakness. This pandemic has affected my burgeoning small business, canceled our long-awaited wedding reception, postponed our move to Hawaii, and caused my mental illness symptoms to surge. It’s made me fear for my parents and friends who are at risk of severe illness, and heavy-hearted for those on the front lines and suffering losses. I know others have it way worse. I know there is still so much to be thankful for.
But this sucks. I’m sad and frustrated. I feel lost and purposeless some days. And that’s OK.
Even though sitting with my bad feelings is unpleasant, I am learning that it is not an act of weakness. Actually, I feel stronger for being honest with myself about my feelings and not forcing them away. Working through things as they come —even if I don’t always understand where they are coming from — is much better than hovering on the brink of a crisis.
So this week, I’m not going to try to help you cope. I’m inviting you to feel bad with me. I give you permission. If you struggle with this, too, you might find feeling bad to be just what the doctor ordered to help you feel better.
Note: Pulmonary Fibrosis News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Pulmonary Fibrosis News or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to pulmonary fibrosis.
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