We all experience emotions- this is a given. You go about each and every day experiencing emotions such as happiness, fear, anger, and sadness.
And then, there are feelings- feelings of excitement, guilt, shame, ambivalence, loneliness, joy, and excitement…the list goes on.
Have you ever noticed that there is a large negative connotation surrounding certain, what I will call, “dirty” emotions? I call them “dirty,” as we often will feel discomfort, shame, or guilt when they arise. We have grown up in a society where showing anger, sadness, and fear, gets those around us whispering and talking, thus leaving us with hurtful labels.
For some of us, we have grown up watching those closest to us-whether it be our parents, extended family, teachers, or coaches- either showcase these emotions, or hide them. We learn very early on which emotions are “okay” to show, and which aren’t. For some people, anger is unacceptable to show. For others, it’s sadness or fear.
What if everyone knew that we ALL feel these emotions? Even more so… that it is NORMAL to feel anger… its normal to be sad… and its normal to be fearful.
I can confess! I thought it was wrong to show anything but happiness. Even if deep down I felt really upset, or angry, I continued to pretend everything was fine. I grew up with people frequently commenting on how I always had a smile on my face, and noting that they had never seen me get upset! When people asked me how I was, my typical response was “I’m great!”
As I continued to grow up, and move my way through my teenage years, the identity as the “perfect girl” in the “perfect family” only deepened. I became so focused on keeping busy- what I have now realized was the beginning of learning to numb myself. I was practicing various sports for around 40 hours a week, in addition to being an active member of school clubs, and working towards the completion of my piano examinations in the Royal Conservatory of Music.
Puberty and hormones, the stress of achieving “perfect” grades, wanting to be popular and have everyone like me, starting to have crushes on boys, and beginning to enter the party scene… At this time, I was in an extremely vulnerable place in High School, where your emotions are constantly flip-flopping. You can only imagine, I felt like I couldn’t say or show how I truly felt inside.
I felt like I had to keep up this “perfect” demeanor.
Everything was fine.
I could handle it.
I spent years burying how I truly felt. I continued to wear a smile on my face, and pretend like everything was A-OK.
I began to feel uncomfortable with all of these feelings and emotions arising inside of me.There were times I felt like a balloon that was about to pop. The more feelings and emotions that I would sense creeping in, the more I would try and numb myself.
This is where my Eating Disorder really took control. I was soon off at university, and had the freedom to do what I want, exercise as I wanted, and eat/restrict what I wanted to. It wasn’t long until people became concerned of my health and well being. Regardless how concerned they were, I continued to say “I’m fine!” I have learned over time, that I was numbing. I didn’t want to feel… I thought it was wrong to feel… I was embarrassed to feel!
It actually wasn’t until I was in the third month of being in a residential treatment center for my Eating Disorder, that I began feeling again.
I remember the beginning months, sitting in the main room at the treatment center with a few girls and the health care workers. They were all laughing over something that apparently, was hilarious. I remember feeling so embarrassed… I couldn’t laugh. I desperately wanted to laugh! It began to upset me. WHY couldn’t I laugh? Why was I not finding this joke incredibly humorous? Is something wrong with me?
You see, after a lengthy period of starving yourself, your body begins to decline, and is unable to biologically function, as it would like to. My body began to stop producing hormones. I had no energy, and no “zest” for life. I was a walking zombie.
As I began to be nourished properly, and gained weight, things started to work again. I was no longer numb. And let me tell you… feeling again…was SCARY.
To be quite honest, this is a large reason why I spent the next 2 years constantly in and out of Hospitals and programs. I would be admitted, a sick, malnourished, numb and lifeless girl; Then, I would be discharged- a healthier, weight restored girl with the additional stress of feeling so many emotions that I didn’t want to feel.
I didn’t like it. I didn’t like it one bit. I didn’t like to feel. So back I went, running towards my Eating Disorder, desperately begging it to numb me again.
I am learning day-by-day that it is imperative to allow yourself to feel emotions. It is okay to laugh and be full of happiness! It is EQUALLY okay to be angry, and upset about things. I have to continue to be careful these days- I notice that thoughts of resorting back to Eating Disorder behaviors creep in when I am feeling angry, or anxious. I constantly need to check in with myself.
“ What am I feeling? Am I angry? Why am I angry? What is underneath this anger?”
I no longer am trying to numb; in fact, I am trying to do the opposite! I am becoming more and more aware of how I am feeling, and noticing how these feelings and emotions affect me. I will continue to be on this journey of learning how to experience, and regulate these emotions for quite some time. Yes- numbing may seem like the “easier route.” After all, it is what I did for over a decade.
If you find yourself in the struggle of feeling like it is wrong to showcase your emotions, or how you really feel inside, know that it is OKAY to do so. It has taken a lot of practice, talking it out, writing, and trying out healthy coping mechanisms to get to where I am.
And I still have a long way to go.
What I do know is that I am human.
And that I am allowed to be happy!
But I am also allowed to be Angry, Sad, or Anxious.
YOU ARE TOO!