On Feeling Your Feelings

This has been a weird few weeks. I haven’t been able to post about my usual stuff. It all either seems to trite, or too close still. I usually only write about things from the retrospective.

But I want to get real with you guys.

When I started this whole thing, my goal was to show ALL aspects of health– not just fitness and food. My goal was to be raw and open and honest. So here we are.

I’m getting off an anti-depressant that I’ve been on for the last year and a half. It feels weird. It feels scary. It feels terrible at times.

Although I’ve been increasingly open about my depression, I’ve been reluctant to talk about medication. I’m not sure why. I guess because there is nothing trendy or sexy or aesthetic about medication. Oh– you mean there isn’t just an adaptogenic mushroom powder you buy in a jar made of solid gold and blend into your coffee every morning that makes you shit rainbows and rain kittens? 

That would be cool…

I am going to embrace my salty jaded attitude for a moment so bear with me. Because the wellness community is often haywire with recommendations (and I’m guilty of it as well) for problems that either don’t exist, that we don’t see the whole picture of, or that simply can’t be solved with superfoods and smoothie bowls.*

I’ve often talked about how I can’t self-care my way out of mental illness, which basically summarizes both my decision to get on, and get off medication.

Just like there are problems far more complex than “Oh you should just stop eating sugar” or “Drink the tears of virgin unicorns” — there are problems far more complex than taking a prescription as well.

I have to admit– I get salty about it.

I often can’t help but lament how much easier life would be if I could just take a medication that would actually make me less depressed. Medication could be synonymous with superfoods, supplements, a specific yoga practice, pranayama, relationships, activities– anything. These are all things I have, at one point, expected might “fix me”. None of them, including medication, ever have or ever will.**

This might be old news to people but I’m a wee sprout who wants to share every part of this journey. As much as I had intuitively known that the only way to get better was to do work, I had also always resisted the notion of anything that resembles emotional labor. I mean, name one thing that sounds more arduous than emotional labor. I can’t.

There is no solution for feelings. 

We just have to feel them. 

And lord almighty, there is nothing I have a greater love-hate relationship with than feelings.

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This all started when I gave up coffee. Which is as weird of starting point as any.

I realized that I was covering up symptoms of emotional anxiety with constant physical anxiety. It was unsettling, at best. It is truly my style to continue doing something until I hit a wall where I realize I cannot anymore. I did it with school. I did it with relationships. I did it with drugs. I did it with caffeine.

As illogical as it is to say out loud, this is my line of reasoning:

The quicker I go through it, the faster it will be over. 

This mantra has unconsciously driven almost all of my behaviors for the last decade, if not more. It is built into my personality. I like a quick and painful approach.

I was using caffeine to super charge my emotional laboring process. There was nothing I loved more than drinking coffee, sitting down for a marathon writing/creating session that went into the wee hours of the morning and then collapsing into bed feeling 110% empty, like a phone that had miraculously performed for three hours on 1% battery before finally shutting down.

That empty feeling was nice, because I felt like I had finally reached the bottom of my feelings.

The most apt metaphor I have ever used to describe my depression is thinking of it like a well. I keep expecting that one day, if I scoop out enough feelings, I will eventually reach the bottom. I keep thinking that once I just get it all out, feel ALL the things that I told myself I wasn’t allowed to feel or didn’t know how to feel or was too young to understand what the feeling was… then it would all be out and I could just be happy.

This probably isn’t the case.

And while there is absolutely something to be said for feeling your feelings– you also can’t force them out. And oh god do I hate things that you just have to wait for.

So many of my behaviors, including a caffeine addiction (and even running or working out at times) were an attempt to just get it all out as fast as possible and reach that nirvana-like state of emptiness and depletion that I conflated with contentment.

I need to feel my feelings.

But I also need to let those feelings happen and admit that it could very well take an entire lifetime to process. There is no bottom. No end goal. No graduation. I can’t force a turbo state of emotional processing in order for it to be over sooner. Damnit.

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Almost none of this has to do with my decision to get off of medication, except that, once I had given up my final vice– I realized that it wasn’t actually doing anything for me. I was still seeing just as many symptoms of depression as I was before I got on it. While my husband insists that I am at least marginally more functional that I was before, I insist that my depression is too cyclical to actually know. It comes and goes, often with no warning or explanation. Nothing I have ever done has made it any better or worse. It goes away. But it always comes back.

We had been seeing the “going away” part of it as the medication working at least half of the time, but I was beginning to have my doubts.

My psychiatrist told me that the only way to know was to get off it and see if I feel any different, which is only the third scariest thing a psychiatrist has ever said to me. (Note that, every time a psychiatrist has ever said anything that scared me, it was a prelude to an incredibly positive life changing decision, so there’s that…)

The conclusion that he and I came up with is that I am either biochemically depressed and sometimes I cope with it better than others, or I’m not biochemically depressed and sometimes I cope with it worse than others.

Oh good, I thought, the nice easy answer I’ve been searching for. 

I asked him how I could possibly know the difference, and he gave me exactly the answer I was looking for: by drinking more unicorn tears and taking capsules of only the most rare of all the herbs that you have to take a two hour boat ride to some island in the middle of the ocean to find–

I WISH! 

He told me that I had to do the damn work.

Not exactly in those words– but that was essentially the gist of it.

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I found a new therapist. One that listens. One that doesn’t over-simplify. One that I actually look forward to going to. There are plants in her office and Kandinsky on her wall and I get that nice womb-like feeling I am always desperately longing for when I am sitting on her couch.

Which is nice until I have to open my mouth and say words and talk about my feelings.

Then she tells me some things and I go back out into the world and attempt to do the real work, which is putting the fruits of that ever painful emotional labor into action. Some weeks it goes better than others. I think this is how therapy is ideally intended to work.

It has been eye opening to say the least.

This is the part where I feel obligated to share with you some kind of proverbial wisdom and make you think I am some sort of sagely shaman queen or the reincarnation of Yoda but I don’t have any of that for you.

I am still in the middle of it, and that is exactly why I chose to overshare all of this right now rather than ten years from now. I likely won’t have reached Yoda status in ten years anyhow, and like everything else this is a process. I’ll probably never be done with it so if I were to wait until I was “past it” to share my experience, this blog wouldn’t exist and my words would stay festering in my head.

So here’s where I’m at right now. It’s messy as hell and that is just the nature of it. I’m learning to be alright with this.

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*don’t let me lead you to believe that these things are total woo woo though. I love a good smoothie bowl, am all about my superfoods, and have many herbs that I have found helpful for various situations. But I also know that these things are not a cure for anything, depression included. I know that many things can help, and am open to most of those things. But I also know that despite my wishes, there is not one thing other than deep emotional labor that is actually going to make me better. 

**that isn’t to say that medication isn’t a great tool for many people. Know that this is, in NO WAY an attempt to guide other people in their decision to be on medication or not be on medication. I am supportive of both paths, as long as you feel like that’s what is right for you. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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