|Nov 20, 2018||1|
I hate feelings. It’s an unpopular opinion and one that I strongly hold. You won’t see my tear-stained face at the latest romantic drama. One of my best friends from college used to joke that I had a hard card. I’m fine with fun feelings like joy and excitement. Those are easy. Embarrassment, guilt, sadness, and virtually every show of vulnerability — those are the gut wrenching awkward difficult ones.
The British have the stiff upper lip and keep calm and carry on. Virtually every black family will tell you not to air your dirty laundry. You’re supposed to keep your pain, stress, soft spots behind closed doors. This sentiment is reinforced if you’re a black woman. You’re so strong that you’re supposed to keep on pressing even when everything is falling apart. Breaking down, at least publicly, is not socially acceptable behavior. You put on the armor, shore up your facade, and move through the world doing what needs to be done without complaint or faltering.
Possibly because of this attitude, I used to think that my anxiety was normal or even desirable. Constant worry about the other shoe falling kept me sharp. I’d work over time to anticipate all of the obstacles and sources of resistance. Once I mapping out every scenario, I’d make my contingency plans and equipped to keep on pressing. Even though I devoted all of mental energy toward running through every calamity, I’d run on fumes so I could make the work appear effortless. The occasional “How do you do so much?” provided a tiny bit of validation for the anxious overwork. Until one day, I just couldn’t anymore. I couldn’t keep all my bases covered and couldn’t maintain the facade.
I’m the first to tell people that I think that everyone should go to therapy. It’s a powerful space to raise your self-awareness and increase your inner peace. Therapy helps you read and write the handbook to your brain. The benefits can’t be overstated. And neither can the deeply profound mental discomfort of laying yourself bared for analysis and prying into the convoluted ways that your brain plays tricks on you. Therapy both made me feel like I was delusional and also made me trust myself more.
I don’t know if it’s possible to be resistant to therapy or temporarily immune, but that concept would describe my initial therapy sessions. I’d fight advice to practice deep breathing and I would intentionally neglect my therapy homework because I thought it was silly. To be honest, it felt like an attack on the anxiety I thought made me successful. Therapy didn’t really work until I started to take off the armor that I used to protect myself day-to-day.
Until you’re in therapy, you don’t realize that there is a way of doing therapy and being in therapy. I thought I could power through fixing myself the same way that I powered through building startups. Instead, I needed to learn to slow down and reflect. Also the choice of therapist affected how much dirty laundry I aired. Once I found a black female therapist, I found someone who understood the complexity of the weight I placed upon myself and the weight forced upon me by others.
Unfortunately for my strongly held opinions about feelings, I had to talk about all those uncomfortable feelings that I previously avoided. You don’t know how allergic you are to vulnerability until you discover the richness of the English language in communicating the nuance of blended emotions. I would say I was mad and then after digging deeper, I could describe the feeling as a combination of disheartened and overwhelmed. I felt like the emperor with no clothes on.
But that’s the thing about feeling naked. There’s no such thing as a comfortable suit of armor. That emotional armor was terribly restrictive and hard to move throughout the world with it on. Once I took it off, I felt lighter. And that lightness helped me free myself of the pressure of the anxiety. Anxiety did not drive my success. I made me self-sabotage promising opportunities, avoid pursuing my real interests, and left me feeling exhausted. Anxiety makes you run on a boom and bust cycle because you’re too scared to slow down to rest rather than burning out. Building a healthier version of yourself means confronting your worst fears and errors in judgment — so many feelings. But choosing to move forward with your naked emotional vulnerability leads to more of that joy that we are all looking for.
I’m writing an unedited personal essay everyday of November for #NaNonFicWriMo, the non-fiction spin on #NaNoWriMo. You can find daily prompts on my Instagram. Want to join in? The only rules are at least 750 words about the daily prompt and tag #NaNonFicWriMo to share.