What have you got to cry about?

How many times have you tried to open up to a friend about your dark feelings, only to be told that you need to focus on all the things you are grateful for, all the positives? Stop feeling what you are feeling, because there is always someone worse off than you?

I’m not criticising anyone. I’ve been that person too. I have such a keen sense of appreciation for everything I have in my life and I’ve trained myself over the years to look for the bright side. I’ve often found it difficult to understand the emotions of loved ones who are suffering or struggling with life, with their mental health.

I too have tried desperately to encourage them to focus on all the good they have in their lives. I thought that was throwing them a lifeline. Helping to drag them back out of that black hole. Now I know different.

Thank you Covid-19 for humbling me once again. I’ve spent so much time alone during lockdown, have become unemployed almost overnight, have so much uncertainty hanging over me right now. Initially I had a total meltdown. I’ve worked so incredibly hard and made so many sacrifices to get to this point, and I saw it all slip through my fingers so quickly. But then I accepted what was happening and set about entertaining myself during this paid holiday I was getting. Imagine how lucky I felt to get paid for not working day and night… A luxury. Self-employed people never had this support before. So I have a lot to be grateful for.

Some will be triggered by my reference to a paid holiday. Ask yourself why? I’ve merely chosen to switch my point of view, to make the most of a bad situation. Putting a brave face on it doesn’t change the fact that my business(es) came to a grinding halt and I found myself, like many others, without an income. This is my perspective, my choice of words, it has nothing to do with other people’s experience of becoming unemployed at this time, and it’s in no way meant to trivialise the financial difficulties many of us find ourselves in. If you’re triggered, why? It’s important to recognise what’s really happening.

Lockdown is not all day-drinking and having the craic. After weeks of being at home alone I became a little overwhelmed by loneliness, an emotion I never thought I’d feel, as I’m a self-confessed hermit and like hanging out at home by myself. But eventually it got too much.

At first I didn’t understand why I was feeling so sad. I paced up and down, I called friends, I cried, I slept, I did yoga, I meditated, I worked out, I got tired and couldn’t do much at all, I drank some wine, I got bored of drinking wine. Until I started crying one day and couldn’t stop crying. Sobbing inconsolably. I know this dark place, I’ve been here before. So, what’s happening and why am I feeling so stuck, why can’t I just enjoy the simple things that kept me happy for the first few weeks? Sure aren’t there so many people far worse off than me? What have I got to cry about?

I recognised that it was loneliness that I was feeling. Maybe I’m not such a hermit after all. I just have such a busy life usually, that when I get home I don’t want to see anyone, I want the peace and quiet and solitude to recharge my batteries. But living a life of solitude for weeks on end is too much.

OK, so I gave myself the time to recognise that this was loneliness trying to get my attention. It wanted to be acknowledged. So now what…

I spoke openly with loved ones about this new experience with loneliness, and was triggered when told to be grateful for everything I have, not to forget how lucky I am. Totally triggered. I have got so much to be grateful for, and very little to complain about. But does that mean my feelings are invalid?

What I really needed was just to express these emotions, to give them a name, to be heard, maybe to hear that it was ok to feel this way. It’s a valid emotion after all.

So now I understand. In the darkness you need to just be. It needs to be ok to not feel ok. Because it totally is ok.

When I allowed myself to sit with these feelings I was able to understand them more. I was able to get to the bottom of them and then accept them and figure out how to feel better. I wonder if that’s where the expression comes from – to get to the bottom of it. I was even able to acknowledge where I’ve gone a little off my path in life, what’s really important to me, and what I want to do going forward. What a gift! I got back in touch with my heart, my passion, my life plan that I had maybe put aside or been delaying while I worked on everything else that I’ve been working on these past few years.

If we are never allowed, or never allow ourselves, to get to the bottom, then how do we really listen to that internal voice and get ourselves back out of that hole? Only we can do this for ourselves, no amount of good intentions from others is going to make a damn bit of difference. How do we recognise and accept what we are really feeling. How do we take action to make change, if we don’t know what needs to be changed? 

So what can we do about this?

Let’s stop pretending that we have to be ‘up’ all the time. Denying our emotions is dangerous and unhealthy. Let’s allow each other to explore our feelings without being asked to push them down, put them aside, pretend they don’t exist, or worse, be asked to believe that they are invalid altogether.

Now, I’m not saying that it’s healthy to dwell on these dark emotions either. We are not these emotions, they do not define us, they are not permanent. Feeling these dark emotions doesn’t mean there is something wrong with you, it certainly doesn’t mean you are broken (broken is a word that triggers me when used to describe people).

Having emotions is part of being human. The good, the bad and the ugly. All human, all acceptable, all healthy. What’s important is that we allow ourselves and others the space to process these emotions. And seek the help of a professional if needs be. There’s no shame in seeking help. Our friends and family members are not mental health professionals. When we need professional help we should feel comfortable seeking it. And we should all feel comfortable with our own limitations in this respect too. If you don’t know how to help, that’s ok. You don’t know what you don’t know. It’s ok to express that and state your boundaries. Encourage loved ones to seek professional guidance if listening and holding space for them is not sufficient. 

I remind my yoga students often, that there isn’t really any negative emotion. We use the terms positive and negative a lot, but no emotion is really a negative one. It feels bad, yes, but it’s not negative or evil. It serves to help us understand where we have a trigger that needs to be worked on, or maybe where we need to explore and make changes. So it’s a catalyst really. The nasty side of that emotion occurs when we don’t acknowledge it, when we lash out, project, think that it’s someone else’s problem. When we acknowledge and process the emotion there’s no need to feel that it’s negative or harmful. It’s the denying of it that causes harm.

So let’s ask that question again – what have you got to cry about? And what better time than lockdown to allow yourself and your loved ones the time and space to explore the root of those tears and to process those challenging emotions.

Write, draw, chant, sing, smash all your empty wine bottles into the recycling bins to vent some of that anger! Cry if you want to cry. But don’t waste this opportunity we’ve been given. Don’t waste those tears. Go right into those emotions and ask where they are really coming from. Get to the bottom of it now, because we may never have an opportunity like this again. I certainly hope we won’t, I’m so over lockdown!

And if you need support to do this, reach out to someone.

Stay safe everyone. Look after yourselves, and look after each other.

Virtual hugs.

Aideen

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