I’m having one of those days where I’m just full up to my eyebrows with feelings, and I don’t know what to do with them. They’re all rough and pointy, and they stick out uncomfortably here and there, and they distract me from getting work done. I’ll be working on a spec, and then a feeling will poke me – “Hey, you’re fat. You should feel shame.” or “You asked for what you need to write this section two weeks ago but you still don’t have it. Anger, anger!” or “Maybe somebody said something to you in chat. How exciting!” And those feelings will set off other feelings, and then all those jagged feelings are moving around, bouncing and poking and sliding and scraping, and it takes ten minutes to settle my heart and mind enough to try to work again. It is overwhelming. It’s so overwhelming that I stood in my kitchen last night thinking, oh, so this is what a mid-life crisis feels like. Good to know.
It’s easier to deal with when I’m sitting at my desk working on a document. It’s so much worse when what I’m doing is relating with other people, like in a meeting. When I’m with other people, the risk is that one of those feelings will hear something triggering, and I will get emotional reflux that is spewed all around me. When that happens, it can be frustrating or hurtful or angering for other people, and it’s usually embarrassing and shameful for me. Sometimes I don’t even realize it has happened until it’s too late, and everyone is sitting in that awful, uncomfortable silence, and I wish I could shrink to the floor and disappear.
I don’t know what I’m supposed to do with all of these feelings. I mean, is there a nice lever that will let me flush my feelings, like you’d flush a toilet? They won’t let me ignore them, and they interfere with everything. Am I supposed to put them into a nice, orderly line, hang up a “The Conscious Mind is In” sign, and greet each one in turn? And once I’ve cleared up that backlog, how do I keep them from piling up again?
My suspicion is that my life doesn’t have enough time that is quiet and reflective. The reason behind this is probably that these feelings aren’t all pleasant and fun, so I don’t want to have to engage with them. Frustration and anger and shame are scary, and so I would rather stick my fingers in my ears and sing the I can’t hear you song than listen to them.
Of course, it’s much more subtle than that. I remember when I had my first bout of severe depression in the late 90s, when I would play Minesweeper for hours, trying to ignore the awful feelings with pure logic and intellect. I do the same thing today, even if it isn’t Minesweeper. It might be companionably watching TV with my partner, or it might be decompressing with an hour of Civilization, or it might even be the assigned reading for my spiritual direction course. There are always things I could be doing (should be doing?, ask some of the voices in my mind) that look more enticing than having an honest conversation with The Bitch or The Coward or The Total Embarrassment.
Well. So I guess what I will do is hang up a “Now Serving” sign and a “Take a Ticket” machine. And I will try to spend about an hour in quiet each day, having a conversation with the next feeling in line, trying mostly to listen to it and understand what it is saying to me.
Because this is affecting my relationships at work, well, in every part of my life. It is damaging people I care about, people I respect, people I admire. And if I don’t figure this all out soon, I’m going to end up erupting like a volcano, spewing flames and lava and ash all around me, then collapsing in emptiness and shame. At least the apologies will be less difficult and painful if I start doing the work on my own, than if I let the volcano blow.
A wise friend of mine once told me this important law:
People only change when they want to bad enough or when they hurt bad enough.
Unfortunately, it has a corollary:
People only want to change bad enough when they hurt bad enough.
Okay, Holy Spirit – I hurt bad enough. I’ll get to work tonight. Dammit.