At some point in the last couple of years, the phrase “all the feelings” became one of my new favourite things to say. I’m not sure where it came from. As someone who feels overwhelmed by the proliferation of online platforms (is that even the right phrase?) I’ve never had a tumblr page and I haven’t spent much time on the site. So when “all the feels” burst onto the scene and out of the mouths of those on tumblr, I was oblivious. But I get the sentiment: sometimes you just feel all the things all at the same time; sometimes it’s all the good things, sometimes it’s all the bad, and sometimes it’s an hot mess of both. I’ve always had a lot of feelings. When I’m happy, I’m really happy; when I was an angsty teenager, I was a super angsty teenager; and when I’m anxious, it feels like the world is literally going to fall to pieces all around me.
I’ve consistently been told (by family members and boyfriends) that my feelings are irrational, which is pretty much synonymous with “you’re feeling too many feelings.” As though there is an acceptable amount of feeling that one needs to never go over. There’s a long, long history of women’s feelings being proclaimed excessive and pathological. Just look at Freud’s famous case study on hysteria: Dora felt too much disgust (at the thought of having sex) and too much desire (to have sex), therefore: hysterical. Don’t most adolescent girls feel kind of ambivalent about the idea of having sex? Sure, Dora was not technically an adolescent anymore, but c’mon Freud — at one point you argued that you didn’t see a point to foreplay and said that we should just go right from holding hands to doing it. So who’s the one we should be analyzing? (Please note, I’m pretty down with other things Freud has said, but most of the stuff about women and sex, not so good).
Besides being psychoanalyzed by Freud, if you feel too many feelings, you also run the risk of being blamed for being “too sensitive.” Like, “If you didn’t feel so many feelings then maybe this shitty thing I just did wouldn’t be such a big deal.” Or, “you’re being irrational” when you cry = you have too many feelings. Again, you’re fault, not mine.
It has taken me a long time to get away from the harmful, shaming narratives around having all the feelings. I don’t want to beat myself up for being sensitive; I don’t want “sensitive” to be some dirty word; I want to accept that I feel things the way that I feel things; if you want to call that excessive, then that’s up to you. But let me just have my feelings. Don’t try to box them into the realms of “rational thought” or appropriate limits. What would be more helpful is if you said, “okay, maybe I don’t understand why you’re feeling so many feelings about x right now. But I don’t need to understand. I need to cultivate empathy and openness towards your experience of the world. This doesn’t mean that the way that I experience my feelings is wrong or bad. It’s just different.”
As someone whose had severe-anxiety since childhood, but also prides herself on being a fairly logical and rational human (thanks academia), I’ve had a really hard time letting go of my own judgements around my anxiety. Like, when I feel really anxious and then become paranoid that someone has or will break into my apartment in the middle of the night and cause me harm, I know that the chances of this happening are slim to none. But I’ve had this fear since I was a child and for a couple of months when I was a teenager, I slept in my old bed in my dad’s room, scissors under the pillow, unable to fall asleep until 5am, a time that somehow felt safe to me. Then, after 3 hours of sleep, I would get up and go to school. I would get my brother to walk up the stairs first, me in the middle, and my dad behind me when it was bedtime. I feel grateful that they never denied these requests. But part of me can’t help but wonder why this wasn’t some sort of red flag for my dad. Perhaps being a single parent who was slowly developing ALS was all that he could handle. I forgive him for that.
As I got older and started going to therapy, my anxiety has gotten better. But there are times when anxiety and paranoia take over and it can take hours before I can calm myself down and feel like things are okay again. In the past, I would beat myself up by thinking “you know that this is irrational so just stop feeling afraid.” And then I had a therapist who said this to me: “If you had a child and that child was afraid that there was a monster under their bed, you wouldn’t walk into the room and say, ‘why are you so afraid? There’s no monster. Just go back to sleep!’ No. You’d probably hug them, check under the bed and in the closet (just in case), and tell them that you’d never let a monster hurt them. And so pretend that your anxiety is that child and see how that feels.” The answer: it feels pretty great. I’m so grateful for that analogy. It’s so easy for me to be compassionate towards others, but so difficult to be compassionate for myself. I’m getting better at it though.
A little over a year ago, I decided to start taking anti-anxiety medication. After years of intensive therapy and regular exercise, I had managed to get rid of the harmful narratives around my anxiety (and other traumas); I’d learned a bunch of tools for managing my anxiety when it happened. But I still felt my anxiety; like two bricks sitting on top of my lungs, I’d often realize that I wasn’t really breathing. It actually hurt to take deep breaths. I’ve always been so proud of friends and loved ones in my life who’ve decided to go on medication for anxiety and/or depression. And yet I kept telling myself that I didn’t need it; I was strong enough to fix this problem. But there’s no getting rid of my anxiety; there’s only management, mitigation. So I developed a bit more compassion for myself and decided that my decision to take this step (a step that would make me feel better), was empowering. And it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. My paranoid thoughts are very few and far between; and when they do pop up, they don’t last long. I feel like I can breathe again. Life feels more manageable.
And yet: I still feel a lot of feelings all the time. That’s just the kind of person that I am: a person with all the feelings. But instead of viewing that as a negative, I’ve tried to find ways to turn it into a positive, like learning how to cross-stitch so that I could make this:
Feeling pretty good about having all the feelings…
Still have to colour in the heart and frame this little guy
And because this onesie is pretty great…
There’s a positive side and a negative side to every quality: assertive can quickly turn into controlling; supportive can quickly become co-dependent; honesty can sometimes become meanness. So having all the feelings, feeling things a lot, doesn’t need to be bad. It can be a lesson in compassion towards others and towards oneself.Tags: anxiety, compassion, fear, feelings, shame, therapy
This post was written by Margeaux