Sheesh, that's honest...

How to handle the kind of painful emotions that had me wailing on the floor this week

Happiness & Fulfilment

On Monday I cried more than I thought was possible for one human face.

My nose was sand paper raw from all the toilet paper I used up (I only ever realise I need to own tissues when I’m far too much of a mess to present myself in at a supermarket).

There are some things (believe it or not!) that are too private to share in my blogs, so I won’t be explaining the tears, suffice it to say that 10 swimming pools could have been filled had I had the entrepreneurialism to turn my wallowing into a lucrative enterprise.

I had no idea that I had so much water in me,

and indeed, I no longer do. They say that the body is made up of 70% water, I believe I’m now down to 10%. I’m going to shrivel into a little dried raisin. Like someone that never moisturises. Like me!

Having cried and wailed my face off on the floor for a fairly solid 24 hours,

I woke up on Tuesday morning feeling suspicious of my emotions.

I peered out from under the covers and waited for the dread to hit me.

But nothing seemed to arrive. I felt almost completely fine.

Nothing had changed in my external world,

the thing that made me wail on Monday has not changed.

I made my way into the day with hesitation, expecting the tears to resurface any minute, but even when explaining the cry-worthy situation to many friends as I’ve done over the past few days, no tears came, and I’ve continued to feel fine for the rest of the week. Quite good even.

I think I exhausted a decade’s worth of crying supplies from my eyes, so I’ve run out, possibly temporarily, possibly forever.

We’ll see how it lasts,

but this is not the first time that something like this has happened,

I’m wondering if this is my new norm.

Last time I experienced a big emotional drama in the form of being broken up with (which by the way is not what happened on Monday), I cried my eyes out for two days, then the third day I felt remarkably fine, and I continued to shock myself with how fine I felt from then on!

I definitely still had waves of sadness come and go over the next few months, but unlike breakups in the past,

I didn’t get caught up in unhelpful ruminating in my mind for much longer than the first few days.

At least, not for long periods of time that affected my long term moods.

Somehow, through practicing mindfulness for the last few years, I’ve come to a point where I can allow emotions to run rampant through me, then when I exhaust my emotions, I move rapidly towards accepting the situation, no matter how pissed off or upset my mind wants to be. I come to terms with and move on from negative life events a whole heap sooner that I used to be able to.

That’s not to say I love the situation or am brimming with joy right now,

but I actually do feel pretty good.

In the past I know for sure that I would have suppressed my emotions in such a situation, I certainly wouldn’t have let myself cry for two days straight, nor ask the advice of and hug a near-stranger in a supermarket queue (I’d met him two days before!), which I did do on Monday.

When we have strong emotions, we have two options.

Strategy #1 is to follow our urge to “get rid” of the emotions,

resist them, try to shove them into the cupboards of our mind and body, and distract like mad.

If you’ve ever done this like I have on many occasions, you may have noticed that the shoving down of emotions inevitably leads to random uncontrollable emotional outbreaks, often at the wrong people, sometimes in your head.

What you resist persists.

In the past I know that repeatedly trying to ignore my emotions has eventually brought on a feeling of numbness and flatness that didn’t lift for ages.

If you try to numb out your painful emotions, you’ll also numb out the positive emotions.

Clearly, strategy #1 is ineffective, despite the fact that for most of us it is our go-to strategy that we use instinctively.

Strategy #2 is completely counter-intuitive.

It involves observing and allowing the emotions in all their chaotic forms,

letting them move through us in whatever mad crying-on-the-floor-sounding-like-a-whale expression they come in, until they’ve done their dash.

Observe the emotions as you would dark clouds in the sky –

you know they’re not forever, and you know there’s nothing you can do to “get rid” of them,

so you just accept that the storm is there and let it run its course.

Like a storm, my emotions created chaos earlier this week, swished everything around and rained and thundered like mad. Not dissimilar to the Melbourne weather earlier this week. But on Tuesday, my internal storm seemed to have run its course – for the time being anyway – and I woke feeling calm and clear, refreshed even.

Like storms, emotional outbreaks often clean up all the dust that is fogging our lives, leaving us feeling clearer and lighter.

As I said to a friend earlier this week as we walked through the forest discussing the struggles we’ve both faced,

pain is the strongest catalyst for personal growth.

I look back on every painful, emotional experience from my life and I can clearly see the huge lesson each event taught me, and how I grew as a result.

So if you find yourself going through a load of painful emotions,

let yourself experience them, observe them, welcome them, allow them, don’t try to shut them down or try to numb them out.

Try out strategy #2 for a change, see how it works for you.

Your emotions have something to teach you,

You’ll only learn it when you’re ready to listen.

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