GOODTHING: No, it’s not a joke. Mum is dead. Mum is dead. And Hopeful, she’s dead too. And her friend Sunshine, she’s dead. And Eliza. And quite a few other people are dead.
KEZZIA: Why are you saying this? You can’t say things like that, grinning like an idiot.
I sat down with my new therapist. The topic of the conversation: emotional avoidance and emotional regulation. Apparently emotional avoidance makes emotional regulation difficult, if not impossible.
Therapist: In order to control your negative emotions, you need to face and process them. You can’t just ignore them and focus on the good emotions.
Me: Why not?
Therapist: That’s just not how humans generally work. You can’t just push down your negative emotions and hope they disappear. They won’t. Paradoxically, if you want to be able to control your emotions, you have to be able to deal with them.
I have no problem expressing anger. In fact, if I shut down my other emotions (such as sadness, nervousness, fear, etc) long enough, the emotions eventually convert into anger. This anger, even if it is directed outwardly (for example, at the current American political landscape), often gets redirected inwardly. So even if an outside source makes me angry, I am more likely to want to harm myself than anyone else. This inability to deal with emotions combined with my tendency to want to harm myself is what drove me to therapy in the first place.
In September 2017, I found myself at the top of an eight-story mall parking garage. I was looking down trying to decide whether I wanted to jump or not. I had been on a downward slide for months. The triggering event however, was literally a five second clip from a documentary in which a former CIA director justified killing children in order to wipe out a terrorist target. The way the former director talked about it, and the nonchalant look on the faces of my professors and peers sent me over the edge. I was in class with people who either directed or responded to situations that often directly or indirectly result in the deaths of innocent people. Some of the younger students were hoping to find themselves in such a position one day. But instead of getting angry at the documentary, at my classmates or at my professors, I turned that anger inward. I told myself, “fuck a world where this happens” but my actions said, “fuck me for not being able to do anything about it.” Clearly, I didn’t jump. An eight story building is pretty high. My therapist pointed out that if I had jumped, chances are I would be dead. But for some reason I didn’t jump. I decided to try and get help one more time. What stopped me? I’m not sure, a mixture of fear that I would survive the jump and be gravely injured, a fear that it would hurt if I died, and a bit of a naïve hope that maybe I could make a positive difference in the issues I care about if I only stayed alive long enough to do so.
For the past few weeks, my therapist has been trying to discuss the importance of me being able to process my emotions in the moment without shutting them down. In fact, the reason I am blogging again is because I admitted that this blog was the only healthy outlet for expressing my emotions. So of course, I do find it a bit funny that the first episode I am writing about now that I am back to blogging is one about emotions. In this episode, humans programmed the vardies to make sure that humans were always happy. But the problem is, that despite how much we try to delude ourselves into believing otherwise, life hurts. We feel pain, grief, depression, jealousy, anger. We hurt ourselves and we hurt other people. We live in a world where those in power have no qualms about benefiting the rich, neglecting the poor, and droning children. Relationships suffer and end. People die.
DOCTOR: No one had ever died here before this lady. The Vardies, they’d never heard of grief before. This place is all about hope and the future, and happiness. No one ever thought about the opposite. The Vardies didn’t know what to do with it. They identified grief as the enemy of happiness and everyone who was experiencing grief as a problem, as
My inability to face my emotions, far from making me happy or giving me strength, has created a cycle of destruction that is difficult to break free from. I am acting like my own damn internal Vardy. Any emotion that I perceive to be a sign of weakness or that is uncomfortable (except in my case, for anger), I try to eliminate or at least ignore. The problem is, that trying to narrow my range of emotions to those that I think are acceptable is slowing destroying me. Even as I write this blog post, there is a resistance within myself; trying to prevent me from fully experiencing and acknowledging the emotions that writing this stirs within me.
Emotions hurt. They can be unpleasant. Acknowledging them means dealing with the underlying issues that give rise to them and that in and of itself is a difficult process. I don’t want to deal with my chronic feelings of loneliness and emptiness. I don’t want to deal with how growing up in an emotionally abusive home impacts me. I don’t want to acknowledge how my research, which I love so much, also inspires feelings of helplessness and sorrow. I don’t want to acknowledge that I’m scared about the future. I am scared that everything I’ve worked so hard for will be destroyed. I’m scared that more people will die because of the policies of politicians drunk on power.
DOCTOR: Once, long ago, a fisherman caught a magic haddock. The haddock offered the fisherman three wishes in return for its life. The fisherman said, “I’d like my son to come home from the war, and a hundred pieces of gold.” The problem is magic haddock, like robots, don’t think like people. The fisherman’s son came home from the war in a coffin and the King sent a hundred gold pieces in recognition of his heroic death. The fisherman had one wish left. What do you think he wished for? Some people say he should have wished for an infinite series of wishes, but if your city proves anything, it is that granting all your wishes is not a good idea.
I wish I didn’t feel as deeply as I do. I wish I could handpick which emotions I get to experience and discard the other ones. But I can’t. whether I like it or not, part of being a healthy human is being able to experience a range of human emotions and properly process them. Those who are unable too are often diagnosed with serious mental illnesses. I don’t know what the answer is or how to get better. I do know that there isn’t a magic haddock who can grant my wish of limiting or even eliminating my emotions. That’s probably a good thing.