When I sat down to write this piece earlier, I quickly entered a state of great inner turmoil. Part of me wanted so badly to type a piece revolving around a particular three words, whilst another part of seemed hell-bent on getting me to abandon that plan at any cost.
What were those three particular words?
“I feel stressed.”
Because I could feel your eye-roll coming off the screen. I could hear “You? What have you got to be stressed about?” as you read this. And I could sense your future unwillingness to engage with someone so out of touch with reality that he thinks whatever he’s going through can be accurately labelled “stress.”
And believe me, I can see your point, even if the above reactions were occuring entirely within my mind. Because let’s get real – what do I have to be stressed about? I don’t have kids. I don’t have a dangerous job, or a difficult job, or a job I detest. I like my wife. I like my family. I like my friends. Other than ADHD, I don’t have any health concerns. And if we’re talking about an easy ride through life, I was born white. Enough said.
So that was my conundrum earlier. I wanted to be frank and open about how you can feel a certain way sometimes, and you can experience great shame in even admitting it, because some part of you thinks you don’t deserve that feeling. And ironically, my shame about feeling stressed was so great that I could barely get myself to type the words because… I didn’t think I had the right to. All I could think about was how compared to the vast majority of the people on the planet, I’m doing fine. On paper, at least, I’ve got it made.
After a while, as these things so often do, the answer bonked me over the head like an anvil: Who gives a shit what you’re allowed to feel? When it comes to feelings, there is only one objective truth – the feeling itself.
Some people process their feelings beautifully – they feel things, they see each feeling with curious eyes as a kind of a colourful tourist on their territory, and they let them freely come and freely go, without too much of a fuss.
I am not one of those people. I am a represser.
I don’t know where and I don’t know when, but I know I picked up at some point in my life – the incredibly destructive idea that in every situation there is a right and wrong way to feel. Consequently, if I happen to feel the “right” way about something, I sigh a breath of relief – I’ve been let off the hook. But if I feel the “wrong” way – a way my mind says is inappropriate, or undeserved, or inexplicable – I experience this enormous inner turmoil.
And then I have two options: pretend to feel the “right” way, or risk the fallout from admitting to feeling the “wrong” way.
In the end, I decided that instead of writing about my temporary feelings of stress, I would use them to illustrate a bigger point – how your mind might be making your life a hell of a lot more difficult (and stressful, ironically!) by labelling certain feelings as “right” and “wrong.” There is no right and wrong when it comes to feelings.
I’m not a psychologist. I don’t know exactly what we hope to gain from repressing our feelings – we must hope to gain something, else we wouldn’t do it – but my best guess is that we are simply trying to protect ourselves from harm. Leaping into the unknown is always a risk, and admitting to a feeling our minds are not comfortable with yet feels like a huge risk.
But what I keep telling myself is that no matter how uncomfortable it might be to admit to feeling something “wrong”, it is nothing compared to chronic pain of repression.
So no matter what you think you should or shouldn’t feel, admit what you do feel, if only to yourself. I’m trying very hard to do this, and whilst every step hurts whilst I’m taking it, I’m a tiny bit lighter afterwards.