Ok, I am taking a break from depression. Here’s a random topic that is not horribly and soul-crushingly sad.
Emotions have a very strong control over me. I have always been a very emotional person, whether or not I recognize or follow those emotions. I remember being told that ‘I wore my heart on my sleeve’ when I like 6 and I was so confused by what that meant. I still don’t get or like that phrase, but I have heard it many other times since then.
I used to cry – a lot – about anything and everything. That’s a hard thing for me to admit as an ‘adult-ish’ man, but hey, none of you know who I really am. I got made fun a lot in school for crying, which ironically, made me cry even more. I think about 8th grade was when I decided I would just stop feeling my emotions altogether and then I would stop getting made fun of by the other kids. My master plan was to just ignore everything and everyone, I would do nothing except go to school and then go home. No more ‘friends’, no more fun, no more sadness. Just pure blissful robotic-like life. It worked for about two weeks and then I went into a deep depression that lasted for a few years. Turns out, emotions are supposed to be felt. I have yet to find a perfect solution for dealing with them though.
I see emotions almost like a water hose without there is no knob to turn it on or off, it just flows out according to some random design. I can try to put my finger over the end of the hose and direct the flow of emotions in one direction. Things are great when that works. But frequently the flow of water is too strong for that. The emotions are flowing out too fast, and the only thing I can do is just try to hold on to it and not get washed away by the flow.
There are days when I wake up and I can tell that I will have no control over my emotions that day. Those days are really difficult. It is very hard, if not impossible, to be a ‘responsible adult’ on those days. Those are the days that I wake up and scream at my cereal because it’s too loud falling into the bowl, or I drop a cup and then get so mad that I smash three more cups because I feel like a monster who must destroy the world around me. Those are the days when I wake up and feel that there is no reason for me to exist, and that no one would even notice if I were to disappear suddenly.
I don’t think that other people have days like that, because they always seem to be so calm and constant. Everyone else manages to present the same face and personality day after day, and it makes me sick. How do other people do that? Why can’t I do that?
I know, rationally, that other people don’t really feel the exact same way every day. But it sure seems that way, and there is a huge gap between knowing something and believing something. I can know that I am not alone in my suffering because other people have gone through similar things, but that doesn’t mean that I believe it. Knowing something doesn’t change very much.
For me, the best solution I have found for dealing with this is to think of it in terms of fairness. Fairness and justice are hugely important to me because that is the way the world should work. People should all be treated the same, and people should be treated the way that you want to be treated. That just makes sense in the most fundamental way.
So if I am feeling really angry, it is not fair for me to treat others that way. If I treat them with anger, they are going to treat me with anger and I don’t like that. Therefore, I don’t treat them with anger. If I am feeling sad, then it is not fair for me to spread that sadness to others, so I don’t. It’s great when you can turn complex emotional scenarios into simplified formulas and equations.
I also apply this to work. If I am at work, then I am being paid to do some function. It is not fair for me to allow emotions to get in the way of that, because then I am not doing my job well. Doing my job well, or pride, is another hugely important concept to me. I have always believed that old saying “If you are going to do something, do it well.” Or as my mom used to tell me, “Don’t half-ass something!” I always imagined that the alternative was to ‘whole-ass’ something, which sounds like a weird and unsanitary bedroom routine. Same thing, that one just makes fundamental sense as a way of living. I don’t understand why everyone doesn’t follow that advice.
Now it’s easy to say that you control emotions and don’t change how you treat others, but incredibly hard to do. I still struggle with this. Someone once told me that they felt like ‘a slave to their emotions’, and I think that is a perfect way of describing the relationship. It often does feel like the emotions are the master and tell me where to go and what to do. I hate being told what to do, and I think that is the only reason I could break that relationship and gain control over them. I cannot tolerate anything being in control of me, except for me. I am fiercely independent.
The best thing that I have found to help this is to treat the emotions like a problem and solve it. Most emotions are caused because something doesn’t match what I want or expect to happen. So I try to figure out the source of that disconnect, and then fix it (if possible). It works fairly well. I don’t know if it is fully healthy advice to view emotions as problems, but it is an effective way.
For example, just a few days ago I hit some bad traffic on the way home and instead of my usual calm yelling, I lost it and screamed until my voice was gone and kept screaming till it hurt too badly to scream. Luckily, I was alone and in my car, so no one else was really bothered by my reaction. That reaction seemed a little intense, so I started to think about why I felt so angry all of the sudden. The first thing I noticed was that I was in fact angry about a lot of things. I thought over the last few hours and days and weeks, and I started to keep a list of all the things that had made me angry. The list got too long to remember. And I had spent almost all of my time around other people, so I had not had the chance to vent my anger because that is not fair to do to other people. So that anger had stayed inside of me until it exploded out in a ‘safer’ environment. I thought over the list of things that had made me angry, and almost all of them were in the past. They were mostly things that had already happened, and although not ideal, I had gotten through them. So I let them go. There is not any point in holding on to things from the past, because they just weigh you down. Like Pumbaa said “You gotta put your past behind you.” I always take advice from talking warthogs, but I don’t need to take advice from little hornbills for a start. (For those of you playing along at home, that was a reference to “I Just Can’t Wait to be King” from the Lion King. Seriously, do I have to keep explaining all of these references?)(Yes, I do, because I want people to appreciate my witty commentary!)
I apply this same method to anything that I can detect myself feeling. If I am tired, I think back to how I slept and then plan to take a nap when I can. If I am sad, I try to find what is making me sad and change that.
It can be challenging to do this process at first, but it gets easier with more practice. This is pretty much the only tool that I have found for dealing with emotions, so it has to work. Sometimes, it takes a few days of thinking to solve some emotions. Sometimes, the emotion can’t be solved. Those are the really rough ones, you just have to adapt to those I guess. I usually rage against the machine for a while and try to fix them until I give up.
PS: Here is an adorable fox picture. Because foxes are the best creatures, and I believe a lack of foxes (and donuts) is a leading cause of all the problems in our world.