Emotions can be very overwhelming, and if you live with a mood disorder, like depression or bipolar, emotions feel even more chaotic, like a rollercoaster—going too fast or too slow—that you can never get off of.
When I was deep in my depressive episodes, I tried to ignore my feelings. I pushed them to the side or at least attempted to. But depression has this insidious way of making you feel too much and not enough, sometimes at the same time, and I thought it was preferable to not feel anything. When you’re low every day, for months on end, maybe even years, the emptiness seems preferable.
Emotional repression is a defensive mechanism against pain. It’s like your body has shut down from the sheer despair that depression has brought upon you and can only function if it effectively cuts itself off from any emotion. You subconsciously push your feelings to the side so you don’t have to hurt all the time. It’s your body and mind’s way of trying to survive the onslaught that won’t leave you alone.
Repressing your emotions may seem to work in the short term, but it doesn’t. You always have the nagging feeling at the back of your mind that something is wrong, yet you can’t pinpoint what. You can go about your day pretending that everything is fine and that you really are fine, but deep down, you know you’re not. You know something is wrong, something you’re ignoring, something you’re trying to push away. It’s locking the monster in the closet, but the closet can barely contain it, and the monster’s thrashing makes its existence, although not seen, clear.
I find that this emptiness is even worse than the overwhelming hurt that comes with depression. Feeling nothing at all detaches me from the world. I don’t feel pain, but I also don’t feel joy. I don’t feel anything, which, in a way, numbs the human part of myself. Pretending an emotion doesn’t exist doesn’t make it disappear. It actually makes it worse. The more you try to shove your feelings away, the more they grow—and it’s only a matter of time before everything you’ve repressed explodes from your chest.
One of the most important things I’ve learned in therapy is to experience my emotions through mindfulness and not to attach judgment to them. If I’m happy, I’m happy; if I’m sad, I’m sad. That doesn’t mean I ignore why I am feeling the way I do, but it does mean accepting and noticing the emotions. I’m not a “bad” or “good” person for the emotions I experience; they are my reactions to the world and what’s happening around me. That’s all they are, objectively. This can be difficult to do when living in a world where we push toxic positivity on ourselves and others.
We think it isn’t OK to be sad or angry or grieving because those emotions feel unpleasant to us or because we think they somehow make us “weak.”
They show that we don’t have complete jurisdiction over our own minds, and that is scary. But emotions are not something we control, not when we initially feel them. However, how you choose to express, hold, and reflect upon them is up to you.
Allowing yourself to feel freely, unbidden, and uncensored is a wonderful thing. To deny yourself emotions is to deny yourself of humanity. You are not an emotionless being—you are full of emotions, some that feel great, others that feel not so great. It’s a part of living. It’s a part of being alive. And sometimes, when you think you’re falling apart, you start to realize that maybe the exact opposite is happening; sometimes acknowledging what you feel is the first step toward healing.
We’re here to remind you of the truth that you are not alone. We encourage you to use TWLOHA’s FIND HELP Tool to locate professional help and to read more stories like this one here. If you reside outside of the US, please browse our growing International Resources database. You can also text TWLOHA to 741741 to be connected for free, 24/7 to a trained Crisis Text Line counselor. If it’s encouragement or a listening ear that you need, email our team at [email protected].